It was something of a circuitous route getting to yes, but the third Original Thinkers Festival will happen — like so many other festivals this year — virtually.
Original Thinkers founder and ringleader David Holbrooke found himself mentally going in circles since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. His dilemma? Festival or not to festival?
“I spent so much of the summer in a circular mode,” Holbrooke said. “Should we do it? The answer is ‘yes,’ now more than ever.”
The events of the day played heavily into his and his staff’s decision to move forward with their now-three-year-old annual October gathering of presenters, intimate conversations, film and performance. The Black Lives Matter movement, which swept the nation following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, certainly nudged Holbrooke’s thinking, he said, not to mention the pandemic itself and all the ancillary issues that stem from the disease.
“There’s so much going on right now,” he said. “I realized we have to be involved and figure out a way to say something.”
In an email sent to OT supporters, Holbrooke wrote, “We believe, now more than ever, that this remarkable moment in history calls for original thinking.”
And so, he and his staff, including content curator, Laura Shaunette, are brainstorming just how they will bring their innovative programming to audiences that have, for the festival’s first two years, gathered as a tribe to attend to some of the world’s most creative movers and shakers.
The OT staff was already pursuing the theme of loneliness in the digital age, a theme that, Shaunette said, has only been made more acute by the isolation many have imposed upon themselves in the age of covid.
“Loneliness is being amplified during this time,” she said. “We felt it’s really important for people to be talking about it.”
“We have spent a lot of time trying to figure out what is safe and sensible for OT in the time of COVID-19 and are working towards a hybrid festival that features a dynamic virtual program along with a limited in-person component,” the OT email read. “Our lineup, which we will announce in the coming weeks, examines the seismic issues mentioned above and also delves into other areas where original thinking is thriving. Science and art, culture and community abound in our shows as do hope and optimism, both of which have been in short supply recently.”
Holbrooke acknowledged Shaunette’s role in helping shape the festival’s content. “Young people taking it to the streets,” he said, are the generation that Shaunette represents, he said.
“She pushes out programming in a way that’s very exciting.”
In the meantime this summer, OT has hosted a series of taped conversations called Original Thinkers Presents, in which Holbrooke explores visions for a post-pandemic world with past and future OT guests. Those can be heard at originalthinkers.com. Guests have included James and Deborah Fallows, Peter Sims, Brandon Victor Dixon, Jane Ferguson, Sharon Chang and Jillian Richardson.
A typical OT weekend (this year’s is scheduled for Oct. 1-4, though the virtual programming availability may expand beyond those dates) is comprised of a series of programs each featuring a keynote speaker, film, conversation and performance. There have been instrumentalists, singers and dancers.
According to the OT email, most of the festival will be on an as-yet determined virtual platform. Holbrooke and Shaunette agreed there may be some in-person element, which could take place in the Transfer Warehouse, but that it is, for now, the more unknown element in festival programming.
“The meat of our programming will be virtual,” Shaunette said.
The virtual format has the ability to expand the young festival’s audience, as passholders will be able to attend from around the globe, from the comfort of one’s home.
“We look forward to offering some context and thoughtfulness in this profoundly confusing time,” Holbrooke wrote. “Please let us know if you have any questions or thoughts and we will be in touch soon.”
Details about pass sales and virtual programs will be announced in the near future. For more info, contact OT at firstname.lastname@example.org.