It was another busy morning in a certain corner of the internet — a glassblowing demo, Zumba class and storytime with Mayor Emily Larson, who threw in some bonus breathing lessons.
“When things are feeling different, it’s important to calm down,” Larson offered, modeling how she breathes in like she’s smelling a flower and out like she’s extinguishing a candle.
Much of this fresh new content is aggregated at Virtual Duluth, the go-to Facebook page for live streaming the arts, entertainment, how-tos and exercise videos that have popped up in the wake of the call for Minnesotans to shelter-in-place. Last week, Gov.Tim Walz asked people to stay home to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Matthew Dressel, a local filmmaker and program director at Zinema 2, started Virtual Duluth around the same time artists started taking their canceled shows to the internet.
“I wanted to see more,” Dressel said. “I wanted to see them organized. I thought it made sense to pool them in one place.”
On Tuesday, Virtual Duluth was just about to crack 5,000 followers. Just don’t ask him what day he created the page — all of that is a blur.
“I don’t know dates or times,” he said.
This aggregation, according to arts aficionada Christine Pfeiffer Stocke, is exactly what people need right now. It's also been a source of information about all there is to see and do in Duluth, between the arts and businesses.
“The flash went off in (Dressel’s) head, and it was really a lifesaver for a lot of people,” she said.
Last week, Dan Neff of Lake Superior Art Glass started presenting daily live glass-blowing demonstrations — from pendants to ornaments. While working, he occasionally flips up his protective eyewear to check for questions and comments from viewers, or to offer a greeting.
His “fireside chats,” as he calls them, go live at 10 a.m.
This isn’t a stretch for Neff. The artists at his Canal Park studio and gallery often attract an audience as they work. Shifting online is a variation on that.
“I thought it would be a great way to connect with folks and show them behind-the-scenes stuff,” he said. “They can’t watch us in person anymore, but they can get a glimpse and have a more candid conversation and vantage point.”
He tends to get between 20-40 viewers while streaming live — but a video of him making his signature Lake Superior disk ornament that was posted on Monday had nearly 2,000 views by midday Tuesday.
Amber Burns is among the people tuning in to watch Neff’s work. But the actor-choreographer isn’t just a content consumer; she’s adding to the mix.
Burns, through her work at the Duluth Playhouse, has been offering virtual tap dance lessons, workouts and dance-alongs.
“We just wanted to keep connected with our community,” Burns said. “We have all these spring classes we normally teach. It was a way for us to continue the normalcy of those classes a little bit.”
Burns’ classes are streamed from her home, and she has found her basement to be the best spot to go live.
She is accustomed to teaching in front of actual humans — and because of that has been able to more easily make this transition.
“Since I’ve been teaching classes so long at the Playhouse in person, I can visualize what’s happening,” she said. “I know what corrections to make and the reminders I can give in the moment. That experience does help a little bit.”
Stocke, who co-owns Ignite Studio, is among the instructors from the downtown fitness spot who teaches virtual classes. She invented one specifically for this period in time: Punch It Out class, for those who aren’t looking for a dance-based session. Her reminder: self-care is not a selfish act.
"You can watch me be a goofball and laugh and smile," she said. "The world can wait for 45 minutes."
Though the virtual classes are free, Stocke said people have been making donations to the studio.
Dressel gathers artists’ streaming details. On weekday mornings, he creates a chronological list of the events he knows about, Virtual Nutshell. It includes the baton twirling with a local dance studio and the regularly-scheduled storytelling.
Or he shares a stream: a Bill & Kate Isles’ concert or kid farmer Truman Dugan's "Tractor Talk" or Teague Alexy live from the corner of a room with a Sir Benedict’s food and drink sign.
Dressel said he likes the interactive nature of Facebook live and the way artists and viewers can connect mid-show.
Much has been said about social media, Dressel said, and about how it doesn't create real connections between people. This is, though. In the past, you might not have known who was running what business.
“But now you’re in their home, and they’re talking to you,” he said.