Multimedia Company in Chicago Connects Audiences, Artists During Pandemic

When theaters across the city shut down last year, a local multimedia company took the performing arts from stage to screen. With the help of some celebrated collaborators, they kept audiences in touch with artists. 


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Marc Vitali: They’ve captured the biggest Broadway and touring shows and local institutions like Giordano Dance

HMS Media was a key player for 30 years before the pandemic hit.

Then, they adapted.

From a virtual music video to benefit the Arts for Illinois Relief Fund to a Chicago Shakespeare special from atop Navy Pier — HMS Media was a lifeline for performing artists, creating more than 50 digital arts performances.

And full disclosure: they’ve worked with WTTW over the years — and they did this Great Performances special for PBS in 2018.

We spoke with the co-founder of HMS about their pandemic pivot.

Scott Silberstein, HMS Media: Prior to March 2020 we were busy as ever, going all over the country in every kind of theater. COVID brings that to a screeching halt, and rather than stop and quit, we start talking with everyone we work with. We got on the phone, started Zooming immediately. What can we do, how can we rise to this occasion? What kind of stories can still be told? What kind of music can still be made?

We felt it incumbent upon ourselves to find production scenarios where we could get together with all of our longstanding collaborators – Steppenwolf, Chicago Shakespeare, Lookingglass, Lyric Opera and so on — and figure out, how do we make content safely? And how do we get it to people in a way that they can receive it in a way that feels theatrical, that feels like an arts experience?

Vitali: Silberstein believes that streaming and virtual programming are here to stay – and will expand the reach of the artists.

Silberstein: Not only do I think that a hybrid of stage and screen is the future, our entire industry seems to think that. There’s not a single part of the worlds in which we work — Broadway, national tours, Chicago music, theater, dance and improv — that hasn’t embraced bringing content both to screens and to stage.

Now suddenly we can look at Chicago performing arts as a place where international audiences will come. And I’m thrilled by that because, for my money, I don’t think it gets better than Chicago for the performing arts.

It feels like between COVID and the social and cultural changes that we’ve experienced that it’s called on every skill set that we’ve had to hone in the last 30-plus years of doing HMS Media, and that was terrifying and thrilling at the exact same moment. And that’s usually where some of the best art happens, that wonderful nexus point between abject fear and the thrill that you might create something together that you could never have done by yourself. 

More on this story

HMS Media is currently working with the Grant Park Music Festival. Below, watch the full video for “Sweet Home Chicago.”

Follow Marc Vitali on Twitter: @MarcVitaliArts

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