During the past four months, more than 60 island artists have taken to stages and outdoor arenas to bring music, spoken word, author talks, poetry and live dance to local audiences.
If reading that sentence made you feel whiplashed back to the dawn of 2020, when we all lived on a different planet, you can relax. These performing artists — including Vashon stalwarts as Kat Eggleston, Gus Reeves, Steffon and Arlette Moody, Sarah Chistine, Jennifer Stills, Kevin Joyce, Merna Hecht, Adam Cone, Danny Newcomb, Rebekah Kuzma and Joe Panzetta — have drawn sizable crowds, but they haven’t been the in-person kind.
Rather, they’ve all been part of a series of shows and other events live-streamed by Vashon Live — an upstart organization, run on a volunteer basis by a handful of islanders with a remarkable piece of equipment, who have devoted themselves to keeping the island’s vibrant cultural scene alive in the era of coronavirus.
Vashon Live is the creation of director Simon Clark, producer and camera operator Bonnie Schneider-Clark, artist-in-residence Jennifer Hawke, technician Lars Cain, camera operator Jackie Domi and booking/line producer/emcee Sarah Howard. Audio consultants include Martin Feveyear, Laird Gonter and Sonam Miller.
So far, the creators said, Vashon Live shows have had close to 250,000 views since the series began in early March.
Currently, the group broadcasts Friday through Sunday every week, most often from Snapdragon’s Black Cat Cabaret but from other locations as well. Vashon Live has also recently launched a cooking show, with Snapdragon owner Megan Hastings, broadcast on Tuesdays at 1:30 p.m. Plans for additional shows and more extensive collaborations in the community are also in the works.
Both live and archived shows, generally ranging from 30 to 60 minutes each, can be viewed at Facebook.com/VashonLive — a platform that is accessible to both those who do and those who do not use the Facebook platform. Soon, the shows will also be available on YouTube.
For Vashon’s Live’s producers, creating so many shows has been a whirlwind.
“We’re going to keep doing this,” said Howard. “It is taking on a life of its own and we’re just running to keep up.”
The tool that makes all the shows come together is Simon and Bonnie Schneider-Clark’s electronic field production (EFP) truck, which they used as part of their work for many years producing live video, scenery and lighting for touring bands.
With the capabilities of a broadcast studio in compact form, the truck utilizes the internet via wired, wireless and bonded cellular connections to move broadcast-quality HD video to a variety of end-users. Whether the truck is talking to Facebook or CNN, the delivery method is the same, with two manned cameras, one locked-off broadcast camera, two fixed cameras and a pan tilt zoom camera.
The truck has made it possible to broadcast from remote locations as well as from inside the Black Cat Cabaret, where stages have been set up so that performers can maintain social distances from camera operators and each other.
Safety protocols used by the crew and performers have kept the sets sanitized and participants masked.
“We had to write our own safety and cleaning protocols in terms of doing this,” said Simon Clark. “I’ve never cleaned camera gear and sanitized microphones so much in my life. It was a big thing for us to create enough trust for artists to come and be with us.”
Both sound engineering and video directing are run from inside the truck, away from the performers and camera operators. This leaves only two or three technicians in the performance space with the performers, all of them at least six feet apart, Howard said.
She added that the response to the shows, from local, national and even international viewers has been encouraging — and the performances have also been a source of income for the performers by a digital tip jar, through platforms such as Venmo and PayPal. Donations can also be made directly to Vashon Live, to support its operations.
For Howard, who is a dancer who has not only emceed but also performed on Vashon Live, the tips have been a much-appreciated source of income.
“I’ve done pretty well both nights I’ve played,” said Howard. “It isn’t a lot but for someone who just lost all their gigs, but it’s enough.”
According to Simon Clark, Facebook Live has also, from its beginning, been a place for islanders to safely gather in the time of quarantine.
“People were really liking it because they were seeing familiar faces,” he said. “They were hanging out in the comment section.”
Some Vashon Live shows have benefited charities including Northwest Community Bail Fund, Black Lives Matter, a scholarship fund for Vashon students of color and the Vashon Food Bank.
Still others presentations have been done in the service of bigger institutions in the community, serving as historical documentation of life on Vashon during the pandemic.
Vashon Live’s remote truck was there, for instance, to broadcast the socially-distanced graduation ceremony with students and administrators at Vashon High School, and also a private celebration of Memorial Day conducted by Vashon veterans at Vashon Cemetery.
For Simon Clark, the community has been at the heart of the effort, and Vashon Live’s partnerships with others have been key to its success and growth.
“We’ve grown this amazing team and it has reached the point where it just never stops anymore,” he said.
To find out what is coming up next at Vashon Live, visit facebook.com/vashonlive or check out upcoming offerings at vashonevents.org. To support Vashon Live, send a donation via Venmo to vashon-live, or through PayPal to vashonlive.