Last weekend’s 26th annual Global Fest cements Purdue Convocations’ decision to ditch virtual performances.
For Purdue Convocations, “powerful performances, shared experiences and incredible artists” are the benchmark, and in its attempts to live up to these standards, it has hosted three large-scale outdoor events free of charge over the past month.
The latest of these was Global Fest on Saturday, representing the culmination of Convos’ arduous, year long planning process.
Virtual performances proved burdensome and disappointing to both the Convos and audiences alike.
“Ticket sales under COVID were really unpredictable,” said Todd Wetzel, assistant vice provost for student life and executive director of Convos. “We found that everybody had screen fatigue, and even for those that did buy tickets, a lot of them didn’t show up.”
Heading into this process, the administration was forced to weigh what it did and didn’t know regarding the university’s pandemic regulations over the upcoming Fall 2021 performance season.
The program’s design had to be flexible enough to minimize being canceled because of COVID-19 and resilient in the face of these unknowns. The result was a complete renovation of the framework for the next two years.
Wetzel said the events were designed for “major impact, maximum flexibility,” and the unusual opportunity allowed Convos to program these “festival-like” projects that previously appeared too unconventional.
To work around shifting COVID-19 regulations, Convos instead scheduled outdoor extravaganzas like Squonk Opera and Mucca Pazza for the earlier part of the season, which offered an immediate solution to the possibility of being canceled.
“I really enjoyed the spontaneity of Mucca Pazza, they really just showed up out of nowhere,” College of Liberal Arts student Jaden Weiss said.
These events, alongside the upcoming “Choir! Choir! Choir!” gig on Slayter Hill from Sep. 30 — Oct. 1 comprised the “Week of Welcome,” which prioritized audience engagement with the musicians.
The summer weather and free admission to these events would likewise bolster student engagement at a time when 10,000 freshmen were entering Purdue.
“Instead of trying to sell these events, our funding shifted towards community contributions. We decided to give them away and signal the organization was still vital, still present and still contributing to the cultural landscape here,” Wetzel said.
These community contributions have come from a variety of sources that make up the Friends of Convos, which includes organizations like WBAA Radio, Purdue Student Fee & Advisory Board and Great Harvest Bread Company.
Wetzel said he was in dialogue with Squonk agents for eight years, and the unusual programming situation provided the perfect opportunity for them to finally come to Purdue.
Over the next months, Convos is hosting three films in Fowler Hall: a documentary on Frida Kahlo and two performances by the acclaimed National Theatre Live – Shakespeare’s "King Lear" and an adaption of "War Horse." To cap off the season is a free virtual performance of Manual Cinema’s "A Christmas Carol."
For the spring season, Convos is planning to return to theaters with a mixed program of Broadway musicals, dance, music and theatre. It will announce its program at the Party of the Season on Oct. 7 in the PMU Ballroom. TEDxPurdueU, which is advised by Purdue Convos, is also planning to return in February.
“Just because we can’t go into a theater doesn’t mean we don’t want to have powerful experiences,” Wetzel said. “We wanted to keep that spirit alive.”