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‘The Festival of the Arts’ is coming to your living room!

Traditions don’t have to be canceled just because the Brandeis campus is closed. The annual Leonard Bernstein Festival of the Arts is finding a way into your home this weekend through a project that has been dubbed “Create@Brandeis Living Room Fest.” Living Room Fest is an online celebration of the arts, full of performers who have worked hard to show off their talent in the arts and share their passions. The festival will span the entire weekend, May 1 to May 3, with a special event on Thursday, April 30.

Sam Forman ’21, who helped develop this year’s program, said “Within basically five weeks we’ve completely changed the format and message of the festival into the Living Room Fest, teaching ourselves new platforms and methods of delivering the community-building programming the Festival normally brings to the Brandeis community,” he wrote in an email to The Brandeis Hoot. “It’s definitely a really involved process but it’s been so engaging and rewarding seeing it all come together for next weekend.” Despite the time constraints, the team behind Living Room Fest was able to organize something large and impactful, a true testament to the strength of the love of the arts in the Brandeis community.

This online event will be conducted on a couple different platforms. Ingrid Schorr, Director of the Office of the Arts, wrote in an email to The Hoot, “Most of the live events are on Facebook and some are on Zoom. We made that decision based on a good deal of deliberation and consultation with experts. When an event requires a certain kind of interaction, like improv comedy, we’ll use Zoom. The not-live programs: slide shows, videos, etc. will be posted on the website.” One video is already available on the “gallery” section of the Living Room Fest page on the Brandeis website. 

The lineup for the festival is huge! Each of the three days is packed with tons of events to tune into. Schorr said that there are over 50 presenters, with even more proposals still coming in. The large prospective turn out is indicative of just how close the festival is to the heart of the Brandeis community. Nina Bernstein, Leonard Bernstein’s daughter, even made a video to comment on the importance of an event like Living Room Fest. Leonard Bernstein created the first Festival of the Arts almost 70 years ago; it is clear that the love of the festival has carried on even after he passed. 

The full schedule for the festival can be found on the Brandeis website. The lineup has a little bit of everything: musical performances, dance lessons, live theatrical performances, films, improv shows, even a digital audio lesson. Some of these performances mention troubling topics, but there is a disclaimer in the descriptions of those events on the schedule website. 

One event that stands out is the “True Crime, True Punishment: Who Murdered Marie-Joelle” saga that takes place over three days, mimicking the nature of a serial podcast. This podcast was put together by Brandeis alumnus Andrew Child ’19, who presented in the festivals while he was an undergraduate. He joined the lineup after Schorr reached out to him as a potential presenter for the showcase. Child was able to put together about 90 minutes of content, despite the short deadline and the lack of face to face contact with others. In an email to The Hoot, he wrote, “I wanted to crack open our national fixation on the true crime genre and examine it, but in a way that was whimsical and silly (although maybe also macabre)…Most of the cast recorded their lines on their phones and has no clue about the narrative outside of their few scenes. I then edited the actors’ recordings alongside the original music and the sounds I had been collecting.” This event is a murder mystery for the cast and the crowd alike!

Another intriguing performance is the play being directed by Rose Freudberg ’20, “John Proctor is the Villain.” The cast will be performing live over Zoom in an effort to reclaim the theatrical spirit that quarantine so rapidly smothered. “The actors will still be interacting with one another in their videos and the actors will perform some action, but the emphasis is now on the text and hearing the words of the play read aloud,” Freudberg explained.

“One positive of this format is that we actually get to hear the stage directions that the playwright wrote read out loud, which provides another layer of depth to the content of the play,” she added in an email to The Hoot. This play, which follows students studying “The Crucible” contains heavy themes. According to Freudberg, the play deals with feminism, sexual assault and power imbalances; there will be a discussion following the performance to start a dialogue about these more sensitive topics. 

Despite the themes of the latter two events, the festival is not a dark event. There are plenty of family friendly events, mostly taking place on Friday afternoon. These events include guided crafting sessions and tutorials on new ways to be active while at home! Highlights of the family friendly event include putting on a circus in your living room with the help of Marci and Marisa Diamond of Diamond Family Circus and mosaic making with Lena McCarthy. 

Though we can’t party at Springfest or color outside of the SCC, creativity from both Brandeis students and alumni, as well as other participants from the Boston area, can be seen through Living Room Fest. The festival is not exclusively for the Brandeis community. As Ingrid Schorr wrote, “this festival is accessible to anyone with an internet connection, whether you are a Brandeis community member or just happen to come across it on an online calendar.” It’s an open festival, designed to bring the joy of art to all it can reach.

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