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The Loft’s virtual Wordplay draws crowds; a conversation with Roz Chast

Screen shot of poet Major Jackson at Wordplay on April 20.
Courtesy of the Loft
Screen shot of poet Major Jackson at Wordplay on April 20.

What was originally planned as a one-day literary festival, the Loft’s Wordplay will end this Saturday after a month of virtual events, attended by four times the number of people who came to the inaugural Wordplay in 2019.

Last year’s in-person event drew 10,000, a healthy crowd for a first-time festival. More than 40,000 people checked in to this year’s Wordplay, signing on from all over the world.

Wordplay 2020 isn’t quite over, but Director Steph Opitz is already looking ahead to what this might mean for the future.

“We’ll be meeting next week to think about what we learned and what might translate to an in-person or a hybrid festival,” Opitz told MinnPost on Wednesday. “It’s been really cool to see people sign on and say they’re in Mexico City or Iceland. There’s an opportunity for us to do something that is still a gathering in Minnesota for Minnesotans, but there could be virtual components that bring in a wider audience – people who wouldn’t be able to get to our festival, or don’t have something going on like it where they live.”

Plus, those numbers. “It’s different to count in-person folks and online folks, but 40,000? Getting to that was in our five to 10-year plan. To be in year two and see those numbers is exciting. … Our average number of attendees per session – some watching live, some after the fact [events are archived] – has been about 300 people per session. We wouldn’t have been able to host that many physical bodies at a lot of our venues.

Steph Opitz
Courtesy of the Loft
Steph Opitz
“The last time I checked, Kate DiCamillo’s event had over 30,000 views. We’re not using US Bank Stadium! We couldn’t fit that many people. That’s incredibly inspiring and special to be part of.”

True, all WordPlay 2020 events, except for online classes, have been free. The on-the-ground festival would have cost $20 for a wristband ($17 in advance). Attendance to virtual events goes down when people have to pay for them. (That’s a conversation we will all need to have someday.) But awareness of the Loft has certainly increased. Relationships have been built and strengthened with other festival directors.

“We strongly believe that all ships rise,” Opitz said. “It’s been great to put that to practice, raise each other’s festivals up and share some talent and ideas. Learning from each other’s strengths will improve festivals all around.”

Five more free events remain in this year’s Wordplay. These include:

At 11 a.m. today (Thursday, May 7), in case you’re reading this early, Jana Shortal will moderate a conversation with “60 Minutes” host Scott Pelley based on his memoir “Truth Worth Telling: A Reporter’s Search for Meaning in the Stories of Our Times.” FMI and registration.

At 3 p.m. today, the director of the Portland Book Festival will moderate a conversation with Stephanie Danler and Erin Khar called “Facing Demons,” about their relationships with addictions. Danler is the author of “Stray,” Khar of “Strung Out.” FMI and registration.

At 11 a.m. tomorrow (Friday, May 8), Mara Hvistendahl (“The Scientist and the Spy”) and Jan Stocklassa (“The Man Who Played With Fire”) will discuss the process of investigating true stories of international conspiracies and cover-ups. FMI and registration.

At 1 p.m. Saturday, Karine Jean-Pierre (“Moving Forward: A Story of Hope, Hard Work, and the Promise of America”), Jennifer Steinhauer (“The Firsts: The Inside Story of the Women Reshaping Congress”) and Sylvia Acevedo (“Path to the Stars”) will discuss women role models. FMI and registration.

The picks

We mentioned the Twin Cities Early Music Festival’s HIP at Home concerts earlier this week. Two more videos –featuring Cléa Galhano on recorder, Donald Livingston on organ, both recorded at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church – have been added to the web page. One is music by Giovanni Battista Fontana and Gaspard LeRoux. The other is a delightful performance of Bach’s Sonata in C Major (usually played as a trio sonata for organ alone), with Livingston’s little dog, Margaret, curled up beside him on the organ bench.

Friday through Sunday (May 8-10): Free online screening of the award-winning film “Love Them First: Lessons From Lucy Laney Elementary.” MSP Film has partnered with KARE 11 and the City of Minneapolis to make this available in honor of all the teachers in our state. A live Q&A on Saturday at 7 p.m. will include the film’s co-directors and subjects. A hit at last year’s MSPIFF, “Love Them First” won the 2019 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award, the most prestigious award in broadcast journalism. Here’s the link.

Roz Chast, "Subway Sofa"
Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York
Roz Chast, "Subway Sofa"
Friday at 3 p.m.: “Is Now When I Should Panic?” A Conversation with Roz Chast. The acclaimed New Yorker cartoonist last came our way in 2013, when she spoke in Hopkins as part of Hennepin County Library’s Pen Pals series. Presented by the Museum of the City of New York, this will be an hourlong virtual conversation about her work, which fits perfectly with our anxiety-riddled times. Chast will discuss examples of her art and take questions from Fran Rosenfeld, the Museum’s Director of Public Programs and curator of its 2016 Roz Chast exhibition. Register here.

Danish String Quartet
Courtesy of the Schubert Club
Danish String Quartet
Sunday, May 10, at 4 p.m. through Sunday, May 17, on the Schubert Club’s website: Danish String Quartet: Last Leaf. The Danish String Quartet was originally scheduled to spend this month in the Twin Cities, playing all of the Beethoven String Quartets. That series has been rescheduled for later this year. Meanwhile, the Schubert Club will stream an encore performance of a concert the quartet gave in November at the American Swedish Institute. An evening of Scandinavian folk tunes, it was one of the 25 best things we saw and heard in 2019. If you can’t watch this Sunday, you have a whole week.

Walking through the virtual door at KCET, Southern California’s public TV channel, we discovered a fascinating series called Artbound and a film called “That Far Corner: Frank Lloyd Wright in Los Angeles,” which explores some of Wright’s strangest, most awe-inspiring buildings – including the Alice Millard House seen in HBO’s “Westworld.” Typing Frank Lloyd Wright in the search window led to a treasure-trove of films centrally or peripherally about Wright.

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