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Dear SPARC Family,

As the coronavirus pandemic has progressed this summer, so many things have been hard for our students, including not having their SPARC classes and programs. The laughter and friendships, the compassion and acceptance, the challenges and accomplishments, the beauty and inspiration, and the sense of community are ties that bind the SPARC family. It has been extraordinarily difficult for all of us – students, faculty, staff, and volunteers – but we continue our commitment to using the power of the performing arts to heal and inspire ourselves and others.

Many programs are resuming this fall! The SPARC team has been adapting and planning for the resumption of our programs virtually and with some in-person options. We carefully considered in our planning the public health guidance specific to the performing arts, the physical limitations of our teaching/performance spaces, and the needs of our students. Lots of details about our programs are below.

But first: the effects of the pandemic go beyond the loss felt by not gathering in person. The pandemic has also brought about very real strain on SPARC’s finances that will impact all aspects of the organization, including its staff. At the start of the fall term, many members of SPARC’s core staff will move from full-time to either part-time or adjunct/contract status for the time being. This plan, which was announced to staff at the beginning of August, is aimed to retain as many of SPARC’s talented and committed staff as possible, keeping them involved in the programs and administrative initiatives to which they’ve dedicated themselves over many years. SPARC acknowledges the difficult circumstances these staff members have and will experience because of these changes.

We also want to acknowledge the hardship faced by faculty, production team members, fellows, and staff who’ve previously lost work with SPARC. Many of the people who have made SPARC special are facing very tough times. Our people are the heart of the organization, and the foundation upon which our values are manifested in our programs. We look forward to a future when health and economic conditions allow SPARC to operate all its programs at full capacity.

Here’s What to Expect this Fall, Winter, and Beyond: 

Classes and Workshops 
Virtual multi-week classes will run in 4-week sessions online, utilizing new video technology to enable meaningful connection between our faculty and students, from Pre-K through high school. SPARC also plans to hold limited in-person single-day workshops in our new outdoor classroom space and/or other outdoor sites in the community. Safety protocol details will be available at registration time. Registration opens the first week of September. 

NEW! SPARC Delivered
Bring SPARC to your backyard, driveway, parking lot, neighborhood park, or anywhere we can safely practice 10-feet social distancing recommendations for dancing and singing. Team up with neighbors, homeschool teaching groups, and others in your “quarantine pod”, and SPARC can come to you for a safe, fun, outdoor theatre experience. Safety protocol details will be available when bookings open. Bookings will begin the first week of September.

SPARC will be offering two production opportunities during the academic year, one in fall and one in late winter: a festival of short plays, and a radio play. Opportunities will be available for both actors and theatre tech students. We have to wait until early spring to make a decision about SPARC’s summer productions. Fall video audition details to be announced next week.

Touring Ensemble
SPARC’s Touring Ensemble will also return this fall. Video audition details coming soon.

Live Art
SPARC’s inclusive Live Art program will resume this fall, with most classes occurring in SPARC’s new outdoor classroom space. There will also be an online class available for those that prefer it, and the Leadership program will also meet online. Classes will begin in early October, and following an extended winter break, will run through early June.

However, the large public Live Art concert, one of Richmond’s favorite annual arts events, will not occur in June 2021. Industry guidance suggests a high likelihood that large concert events, especially indoors, are likely still to be discouraged at that point. First and foremost, Live Art is an educational program, and we are thrilled that those experiences can continue this year, even without the public event to culminate them.

Summer Camps
As with SPARC’s summer productions, it is too early to tell if public health guidance will allow for our traditional summer camp programs, or if we will have to pivot to providing different summer camp options in 2021. Stay tuned!

SPARC’s program for LGBTQ+ youth and allies, in partnership with TheatreLab and Richmond Triangle Players, will proceed this fall. Spectrum will present its previously postponed Wardrobia performance via Zoom in the coming weeks, and then the program will begin its new program year online this fall. Newly interested students will have a chance to apply for Spectrum later this fall.

SPARC’s student-led high school outreach group, F.I.R.E. (Friends Igniting Real Experiences), will continue its work this fall. Comprised of student leaders, the group aims to make lasting equitable changes in the Richmond community. Interested high school students can APPLY NOW

New Voices for the Theater
We are very disappointed that New Voices must take a one-year hiatus in 2021 due to the cost of the program. The program will resume in fall 2021, with support to school teachers across the Commonwealth to encourage the teaching of playwrighting, culminating in the two-week residency and Festival of New Works in July 2022.

School-Based Programs and Partnerships with Other Nonprofits
Including Stages, Right Now, after-school drama clubs, and partnerships with other schools and nonprofits
SPARC’s programs in schools – both during the school day and after-school – are currently paused until the schools are ready to proceed. We remain in close communication with all our partner nonprofits to determine the timeline for when it is safe and beneficial for our faculty to return to their facilities.

I know this is a lot of information, and I welcome your questions. Please feel free to contact me at RRipperton@sparcrichmond.org.

We have said from the start that we must ensure that SPARC survives this crisis, so that it will be here for current and future generations of SPARC students. While we struggle with the difficult decisions represented in these updates, we also welcome the arrival of the next chapter, in which we can reconvene our students and welcome them back to discover their shine.

With gratitude,

Ryan Ripperton
Executive Director and Chief Inspiration Officer