In mid-March, like most of America, we in the Performing Arts department were rather quickly sent home to—thankfully—continue our work remotely. Myself, along with Longwood’s other fountain performance designers, immediately set our sights on how we could continue on with our work from home—work that requires the use of highly technical design software that needs powerful machines to run the video rendering. We wondered how we’d be able to continue our work. And we questioned how different it would be. We’re used to working together, all in the same place, collaborating as we go. After all, we’re in the performing arts … we like an audience.
As we design our Illuminated Fountain Performances, we cheer one another on. We offer feedback. And when we go through a phase of doubt—as one always does when designing—sharing with our colleagues is always the solution. They offer their perspectives and reactions that are helpful to making the work stronger. We all collaborate in this way. Sharing with my colleagues was always the solution.
We all divided the workload and stayed in contact with one another. Working from home, for me, means working alone. I live alone with two cats who are rather disinterested in video-rendered fountains. So, the fountain designers began sharing shows on our phones, all from our respective homes. The voices of my colleagues are really needed more than ever. And with technology, we can have this much needed contact and support.
With impressive efficiency, our IT department helped us connect (and learn to connect) remotely to our offices, so we could access all of our music and files for the Main Fountain Garden, which are stored on a server. We needed to be able to access these to be able to continue designing, while sharing our music and information with the team. Our IT department has enabled us to do so seamlessly, so our entire team of designers can continue piecing together our new fountain performances.
By the time we had to begin working remotely, I had already completed designing some of the Illuminated Fountain Performances slated for the 2020 season and was working on one of our new performances, called Pure Imagination. This performance is intended to be a family-friendly offering, surrounding themes of creativity and the power of imagination.
To design this show, I have been relying on imagination and collaboration. When our team of fountain designers was first coming up with the playlist, I was not very familiar with a good deal of the musical possibilities. The designers often take on projects outside our familiarity, both to stretch artistically and to serve the guests. We love to play music of many cultures and eras in the Main Fountain Garden. As a team, we research a lot of musical options. We take informal surveys with our friends. We pay attention to what our guests want to hear and we think about how that music will resonate. For Pure Imagination, we did all of that. We looked at the design of the performance from different perspectives. After a few iterations, we came to a good playlist that is on theme and has both artistically solid choices and popularly known pieces.
While this is a show of music that I wasn’t all that familiar with, it has a playlist with which I am quite happy. I’m inspired by our target audience for the show and I’m dedicated to making it fun. Its themes of imagination and creativity are relatable, especially during this time. Admittedly, I am not the most whimsical person … the first week of designing Pure Imagination from home went a little slowly as I adjusted to this new collective reality. It was also pretty fun.
As I got further into the show, and as my own feelings about the current situation were developing, I began to see a little more in it. Like many, I felt the anxiety of uncertainty, of not knowing what to do, or what should take priority. And that slowed my creative work down markedly. Then I would plunge back into Pure Imagination. On the surface, the show centers on pop and feel-good music (boy, that was getting hard to relate to). Then, deeper into designing, I started to see hope, rejuvenation, and resilience.
When I’m designing, I like to let the music inform the design, almost to the point of forgetting that I’m there. I started to lose myself in the show’s songs, particularly Something I Want, Save the World, and I Believe. In Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s cover of Over the Rainbow, I saw the possibility of coming through hardship into something wonderful. In American Authors’ Best Day of My Life I felt camaraderie and fellowship. It reminded me of how I enjoy my coworkers and friends and am eager to see them. Let it Grow (Celebrate the World) from The Lorax has a message of hope, of determination, of belief that we can be better, that we can do better. Through these songs, I began to come into a more hopeful feeling. We can and we will grow through this. I can’t wait to be able to share this show with you on August 7.