Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring, the Reif Arts Council has been at the forefront of innovative, socially distanced arts programming. From drive-in and boat-in concerts, to safe outdoor shows and virtual performances, the Reif never wavered from their mission of providing arts opportunities to northern Minnesota.
“We were the first arts organization in Minnesota to offer drive-in concerts and were noted for doing so in the Star Tribune. Our mission became extra important during the pandemic. It was do or die for us. We watched as other arts organizations shut down operations and knew if we didn’t adapt, we could be next,” said Reif Arts Council marketing director Paul M. Gregersen. “Taking this approach allowed us to look forward, while others were stuck in limbo. Our new Virtual Field Trips stemmed from this hard work and foresight.”
The new program is a series of educational productions on Reif stages that are broadcast live via the internet to schools across the region for classrooms and distance learners to watch, enjoy, and most importantly, learn from.
“With schools and learning adjusting this fall to COVID, traditional in-person field trips are pretty much out of the question for most classrooms this school year. These Virtual Field Trips allow teachers and students the opportunity to experience fun, creative and educational lessons live from the Reif Center,” Gregersen said. “Our first performance will have more viewers online than we have actual seats in our large Wilcox Theater. Schools from the Grand Rapids area, to Bemidji, International Falls, Hermantown, Wisconsin, and Michigan have registered for programming. Thousands of students, who would not otherwise have the opportunity, will engage in these activities. The responses we’ve received from principals, teachers and parents have been incredible. Everybody is very excited.”
For a school to participate, principals or administrators are required to register on the Reif website. The cost is $250 for one school with unlimited classroom usage. After principal registration, teachers reserve a spot for their classroom on the site. Each one-hour performance is filmed in 1080p HD on multiple cameras for a unique experience. The videos are available for seven days online after the performance. Curriculum materials that follow the programs are available for teachers to incorporate into their classroom lessons.
The first event, Friday, Oct. 23 at 1:30 p.m., is The Circus Science Spectacular, a two person show that uses the magical world of circus to teach concepts like forces and motion, simple machines, matter, air power, chemical reactions and more. The performance is geared toward students in grades three through six.
The Circus Science Spectacular originated through a unique partnership with professional educators. Steve Russell and Kobi Shaw worked side-by-side with teachers in classroom settings, incorporating circus arts in the instruction of core curriculum concepts. All of the content is researched and tried, supporting actual concepts of science.
Trained by Ringling Brothers Circus, the Shaws’ performing skills in comedy, juggling, magic and balancing bring the dimensions of novelty, surprise, and fun to the mix.
“The circus science show is the perfect performance for us to launch this series with,” Gregersen said. “When we designed the concept of our Virtual Field Trips, it was performances like this that we hoped to provide. We are excited for things to come to fruition.”
The series will continue the following week on Friday, Oct. 30 at 1:30 p.m. with a performance and lesson by renowned Native American Fancy Dancer Larry Yazzie.
Yazzie performs flamboyant movements passed down by his ancestors through Native American song and dance. He is a charismatic performing artist: a Champion Powwow Men’s Fancy Dancer, an Eagle Dancer, a Native American Flutist, Lecturer, Master of Ceremonies, Model, Actor, and Singer. He founded Native Pride Productions, Inc., a Native American theatrical, dance, and performing arts company based in Minnesota (2003) and has performed throughout the world sharing his culture.
From the Meskwaki Settlement in Iowa, Yazzie has been dancing since he was seven years old. His mission is to educate, inspire, motivate and empower diverse communities to bridge cultural gaps through Indigenous traditions. He is a two-time World Champion Fancy Dancer, has been in three film productions and has performed twice in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
“Larry is a great addition to this series. He has been a favorite among our in-house school audiences for quite a while with his incredible moves and colorful clothing,” Gregersen said. “This is a much needed, culturally aware program for all ages.”
The October Virtual Field Trips are sponsored by Paul Bunyan Communications. November and December events will be announced soon.
Those interested in sponsoring a Virtual Field Trip for a specific school are encouraged to do so by contacting the Reif, Monday through Friday, noon to 5 p.m.; (218) 327-5780. Home schoolers are also welcome. For more information, visit reifcenter.org/vft.