Since the coronavirus crisis started, artists have posted songs, speeches and even Shakespeare sonnets online to cheer people up, while others have staged impromptu fund-raisers, like the one-night-only virtual return of Rosie O’Donnell’s talk show, which featured one guest calling in from the bathtub.
But now, a group of New York performers is offering a twist on the concept: a subscription-based service offering a steady stream of performance videos, with all the proceeds to benefit New York artists in need.
The Trickle Up, launched on Monday, aims to keep things simple. For $10 a month, subscribers have access to smartphone videos by participating artists. So far, an eclectic mix of more than 50 artists have signed on with a promise to make at least three videos each, including the puppeteer Basil Twist, the comedian Bridget Everett, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwrights Suzan-Lori Parks and Annie Baker, the performance artist Penny Arcade, the directors Rachel Chavkin and Lear DeBessonet and the Tony-winning performer André de Shields (“Hadestown”).
The project is spearheaded by the playwright and performer Taylor Mac, who said he got the idea earlier this month when worries over the coronavirus mounted and he was figuring out how to, as he put it, “responsibly” close down his new play “The Fre,” which was in previews at the Flea in downtown Manhattan.
“One day, I overheard a woman in the lobby say she had three jobs yesterday, and no jobs today,” Mac said by telephone from the Berkshires. “I spent the first 35 years of my life living week to week, gig to gig. It’s just impossible for people to even buy groceries, to do basic things, with no stable income for a while, and then no income.”
In exchange for participating, Mac said, each performer will be able to designate an artist in need as a beneficiary. The goal is to get 10,000 subscribers, and depending on how things take off, continue even after the immediate crisis ends.
“We’ve all been canceled before, but none of us have all been canceled at the same time,” Mac said. “There’s some comfort in solidarity.”
The videos posted so far give an up-close-and-personal view of (one assumes) the spaces where performers are riding out the crisis. In her first offering, Parks, wearing oversized sunglasses and a cheery flowered dress, sits on a sofa singing along to an original song called “Colored All My Life,” accompanying herself on a steel guitar.
In another, the choreographer Miguel Gutierrez, whose experimental piece “The Bridge …” was at the Chocolate Factory in Manhattan in January, appears live from his mother’s house in Florida to offer an earnest ballad called “Hold Me in Yr Arms” (along with apologies for the out-of-tune piano).
There is also a reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s “On Loneliness,” by Mia Katigbak; a monologue by Dominique Morisseau from her play “Skeleton Crew”; and yet more earnest ballads (from a shellshocked looking Everett, who suddenly takes things in a welcome ribald direction halfway through).
Mac’s offering shows him sitting on a rock in a woodsy setting, reading the prologue from his play “Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus” — looking very cold and appropriately socially distanced.
He has already recorded himself reading the whole play — which ran on Broadway last year — in installments, from the same rock. It’s a far cry from his wildly maximalist productions.
“My entire art form has been about gathering people together to share space,” Mac said. “But what I see on the other side of this is the artistic solution: How can we still stay connected and build community?”