InterView – The Arts Are Back, Hopefully

The Arts are Back, Hopefully.
by Chris Murphy

As a musician, I so dearly miss the feeling of playing to people, making people want to dance, sing along and enjoy themselves. This is what makes the arts so exciting. The possibility of opening back up this month is truly magical and be one of the catalysts that brings back that “normal” feeling. But like the giant asterisk * on the cover, it is up to us to make it happen. We need to stay smart, be safe, watch out for each other and make sure we protect ourselves so we don’t bounce back into the pandemic. As a musician and follower of the arts, we are all hopeful that this opportunity brings out the best in people so this is possible. We caught up with some of our local professionals that have been navigating this difficult time, and have been very creative and are ready, along with us to open up. So let’s do this right friends and help these people open up. Let’s catch up with Roy Stevens of Opera Modesto, Caroline Nickel of the Modesto Symphony and Lynn Dickerson of the Gallo Center for the Arts.

ModestoView: Is there something you learned about how the arts can survive during COVID?
Roy Stevens: The COVID crisis demonstrated how so many of us are able to pivot and solve new problems as they arrive. It was a difficult and challenging year for everyone in the arts, but many of us also were able to do amazing new projects that in a normal year would not be possible. For us, the arts are not just back, but they never went away, they just changed format. Opera Modesto is in the midst of our FESTIVAL @ HOME, 8 months of on demand streaming content that includes three operas, two youth concerts and three brand new pro concerts filmed live (no audience) in the Foster Theater at GCA with 6+ camera angles.

The most remarkable thing of all was that Opera Modesto, not being able to perform in theaters, made a movie. Not just a movie, but one that has (so far) won about 70 awards in international film festivals around the world. THE RACE is a world premiere youth opera commissioned in 2018. It is a mash up of five famous Aesop’s Fables: The Tortoise and the Hare, The Bear and the Bees, The Hares and the Frogs, The Fox and the Grapes, and The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing that is amazingly delightful, enjoyed by all ages.

Since we couldn’t perform The Race live in 2020 as planned, we made a movie, shot on location in magical settings of west Modesto orchards, fields, vineyards and by the Tuolumne River with RED cameras, drones and starring 19 wonderful and diverse youth artists, ages 11-19, from the central valley THE RACE will have two public showings at The State Theatre on June 30, 4:00 and 7:00 PM, $7 tickets, and will include a Behind the Scenes/Making of a Movie in the Pandemic feature following the main feature

This month, we filmed OPERA IN THE HEIGHTS, which features Aerial Trapeze performances by Nikola Printz, a truly amazing opera singer. Filming Nikola from above, below and angles all around the theater will be incredible.

Also exciting is our “Story Into Song Literacy Initiative” opera for the year. We will be working with local school districts, as well as international schools, through the State Department, homeschoolers, Learning Quest, etc. In fact, I would like to invite any teachers, homeschool parents, district administrators to contact me if they would like to make use of THE RACE in the future. Also people that know teachers and administrators locally and elsewhere, including internationally, should put me in touch with them. Our SOI, Summer Opera Institute will take place, hopefully in person during July.

MV: Anything you want people to know about Opera Modesto.?
RS: Opera Modesto continues to be excited to partner and collaborate with many organizations in the area, especially those interested in literacy and ESL. We will again be inviting teens to the final dress rehearsals of our main stage operas, and we will have “Free to Readers” performances of the bilingual double bill in January. I would like to invite potential collaborators and partners for the Literacy Initiative, and for THE RACE, to be in touch with me:<>

Opera is just storytelling, dramatized on stage, often with some of the greatest music ever composed and featuring great voices. Opera Modesto believes in making opera accessible and enjoyable to all who have the courage to give it a try!

Like many performing groups, the Modesto Symphony learned how to go virtual and with a group as large as the symphony, it is a little more complicated, but they did it, but the magic of the symphony is to truly see it in person, something that Caroline Nickel, is excited to present along with the Symphony creative team.

ModestoView: What is something you learned about how the arts survive during COVID?
Caroline Nickel: This pandemic taught us all the importance of human connection. The arts have always played a significant role in bringing people together and enriching communities. This was became more clear after a year with a pandemic that kept us all out of the concert hall, yet we still managed to remain creative and found other ways to offer music to our community – and our community responded. The arts survived—the MSO survived—during the pandemic the same way we did before, because of the value we bring and the support of our community. It’s that connection and support that will keep us thriving for years to come. While we missed performing in-person, we never lost our connection to the community and we are so grateful for that.

MV: Now that the door appears to be opening, how are you planning and how have your plans changed?
CN: We are definitely looking forward to performing in-person again! There will be some changes this year to ensure that our musicians, audiences, and staff all stay safe, but being able to take the stage again and connect with the community in-person will make everything worthwhile.

MV: What will your new season include and when will it start?
CN: We’re really excited to share 2021-22 season and we’ll make a full announcement soon! The community will get the chance to meet our Music Director finalists and see them each conduct one of our Classics concerts and both Holiday Pops and our Holiday Candlelight Concert are scheduled to return this December! Plus, we’re going to have a really thrilling movie concert that we can hardly wait to announce!

MV: Anything you want people to know about Modesto Symphony?
CN: We cannot thank our supporters enough for helping us through this pandemic. With their support we were able to produce a full concert, recital, or video series once a month that was made completely free to everyone. These free offerings made classical music more accessible and we hope we can continue to reaching new people when we return to the stage. Also, you can still watch our streamed concerts at

The Gallo Center, one of our brightest lights, has survived the darkness and is now planning a return to the stage. We grabbed a moment with Lynn Dickerson, as she prepares to transition to new CEO, Chad Hilligus after over a decade of smart, friendly and professional management of the Gallo Center.

ModestoView: What is something you learned about how the arts survive during COVID?
Lynn Dickerson: I was reminded that there is no substitution for live entertainment. The streaming thing never caught on. And I hear from people daily who tell me how they can’t wait for the Gallo Center to reopen and how much they miss GCA shows. Our town isn’t the same without the Gallo Center being open.

MV: Now that the door appears to be opening, how are you planning differently?
LD: Obviously there are still a lot of unknowns in terms of how readily patrons will return. Unfortunately for the Gallo Center, social distancing in the theaters isn’t an option. For us to be operational, we will have to seat the full house to make things work financially. Governor Newsom’s news about fully re-opening on June 15 is music to our ears, no pun intended. We are taking as many safety precautions as feasible with air ventilation, hand sanitizer stations, plexi-glass shields, deep cleaning between shows, etc.

MV: How have your new season plans changed?
LD: We will be launching the 2021-22 season, with 130 shows, in just a few weeks. 90% of those shows were already booked for the 20-21 season that never came to be, so most of the shows have been postponed at least once. Some of the shows are on their 4th or 5th rescheduled date. It’s a great season with lots of variety. Some old favorites and some new shows & artists who have never played the Gallo Center before. I’m biased but I think it might be our best season yet.

MV: Anything new want people to know about the Gallo Center they may not know?
LD: Just that the Gallo Center is as ready to see our patrons as they are to see a show. It’s been way too long. My personal prediction is that this season will be a little like opening for the first time in 2007 – lots of excitement and interest. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and I believe our loyal patrons will be very excited to return to the Gallo Center.

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About the Author:

Chris Murphy is the President and CEO of Sierra Pacific Warehouse Group and Publisher and Founder of ModestoView Inc. Chris worked globally in the cycling industry returning to Modesto in 1996. He is also the founder of the Modesto Historic Graffiti Cruise Route, Legends of the Cruise Walk of Fame, Modesto Rockin’ Holiday, the Modesto Music History Organization and co-founder of the Modesto Area Music Association. Chris is married to his artist wife Rebecca since 1985 and has two daughters Madison and Abigail, both graduating from Modesto High and UC Berkeley. He is lead singer and guitarist for his band, Third Party that donates their performances to non-profits.