As we edge out of lockdown, Bronwen reflects on Digital vs Live performances and what we could do as a sector to enhance, support and advocate good practices during these culturally constrained times.
Hi, I’m Bronwen, I work for The Touring Network alongside other freelance event production and community arts facilitation roles. 2020 has certainly been an interesting one. At the start of the year I was gearing up for a jam packed summer with various productions across the UK and Internationally, including a Touring Fund Tour across Scotland. It would have also been my first time at The Gathering with The Touring Network, showcasing 12 live performances on the Isle of Skye. It was set to be my most exciting year yet!
Then everything came to a standstill. Venues, theatres and performance spaces boarded up; all the norms of viewing, interacting and participating with arts and culture felt flipped upside down, thrown out the window and lost to the wind. We were all left grappling with how to navigate a spectrum with no real contact, no audiences and so many questions!
How can I perform and rehearse by just looking at a screen?
How can I produce and plan without a tour and most people furloughed?
How do we maintain engagement with our audiences?
What about the lights, the acoustics, the set and performer chemistry?
What will our technicians do?
How can we create without our usual assets and inspirations?
How do we continue to reach those who need us most?
Is it possible to move our services and practices online?
What is online content?
Where has my drive gone?
So many of us struggled with motivation, seeking to find it online in the tangled world of social media. The focus for most of us in the live production industry has always been that moment of adrenaline in live contexts and this new digital stage has been, for some, a really difficult readjustment.
In my role at The Touring Network, I have been encouraging, advising and supporting our members to value Artists, their intellectual property and the administrative time and planning involved with creating any online content.
It is vital that we don’t lose sight of the LIVE event whilst sustaining the livelihood of our artists in this interim of no live performances.
Remembering that a live event comes with so much more presence and aesthetic that could never be effectively replicated digitally. However, likewise, there are many digital aspects that would have been impossible to coordinate in a live event.
But the two worlds are very different and we should view them without pre-existing expectations based on our experience of the other. Utilising them not only as individual stages but also as partners that can work together going forward.
For instance, we have curated a series of showcase performances and are inviting our promoter members to host them online for their communities as a way to get feedback ahead of making performer bookings (you can find out more about KEEP RURAL ARTS LIVE: Spotlight Sessions here). Some of our promoter members who have already experimented with hosting live-streamed performances on their platforms are reporting never-before seen engagement rates, great feedback and a solid foundation for new-culture hungry community members who hadn’t previously shown interest!
Whilst some performers have been keen to perform online, producers, programmers and promoters must respect that some artists rather not perform or produce anything at all than to create something constrained by the online format.
As mentioned previously, there are elements of a live production that are unable to be replicated online and we as consumers should respect that artists may not want to produce work without these tangible elements.
And likewise, artists should not feel pressurised by us as audiences, promoters or funders to create in the digital context either.
So how can we support the value of art during these times?
As a Promoter
– Respect & understand if the artists’ decision is to not to work digitally
– Respect the artists who want to create different types of work that is more suitable for the online stage
– Pay all artists you commission for any online content
– Share your online event experiences with other promoters
As a Performer
– Give credit where credit is due to commissioners, funders and support
– Share your online experience with other performers
– Make sure you have clear donation avenues for yourself or promoters to advertise
– Consider the realistic expectations for live touring in 2021
– Be aware of the difficult funding landscapes, high overheads and reduced hours that venues and promoters are dealing with
– Understand and consider the pressures on everyone in the industry
– Always Promote and support the return of the live event!
– Support and advocate for your local venue or promoter
– If you’re able to, donate, share and shout about when you watch any online work
– Buy productions or merchandise from the artists
– Buy tickets in advance of next year
– Support the sector through crowd funders, donations, petitions and campaigns
– Shout about the importance of the live event to your peers and MPs
If you are a member looking to find out the benefits of digital vs live performances for your community and how we can help you, get in touch.
To find out more about Keep Rural Arts Live: Spotlight Sessions and how to get involved read here.
Click here for useful resources from us and others during COVID (scroll to the bottom)
Useful campaigns to support and shout about: