Heading to the theatre or attending a live music gig has long been an audiovisual feast. But as the pandemic caused live performances to become a thing of the past for the better part of two years, there were concerns the performance arts sector would struggle to continue without in-person audiences.
However, it didn’t take long for the creative economy to adapt, with stage performances, comedy shows and live bands turning to the virtual world to remain connected with their fans. Through live-streaming platforms, these digital-only shows highlight how modern technology enables the show to go on, even when people can’t physically get to the venue.
Now that theatre stages and clubs have reopened their doors, there are undoubtedly plenty of creatives and audience members looking to return to regular programming. Yet the performance arts sector can take invaluable lessons from the pandemic to create more dynamic and accessible spaces.
Performance Arts During the Pandemic
As the reality of lockdowns set in for countless people around the globe, art lovers looking to remain engaged with their favourite events sought digital alternatives in their droves. Online streaming was the obvious option, with most people already having access to the technology needed to attend such an event.
Although many venues looking to stay active in the scene simply had performers conduct their routines in front of a static camera, these approaches rarely impressed audiences watching through their smartphone or laptop screen. The artists and venues that made the pandemic’s unique circumstances work for them found fascinating ways to embrace technology and expand the definition of performance.
One of the most successful examples in Australia was the theatre production ‘Who's your Bagdaddy? Or How I Started the Iraq War’. Initially written for the stage, the show was reimagined as a live virtual experience, with nine performers operating from different rooms in the same house showcasing incredible coordination, movement and timing.
Across five consecutive nights, the two-hour live-streamed show was presented entirely in the moment, with no pre-recorded segments helping the actors and crew navigate the challenges of the digital landscape. Meanwhile, massive music festivals like Splendour in the Grass also held virtual reality events that combined art, technology and live music.
Moving into the Post-Pandemic World
Now that most artists and venues have returned to their normal operating procedures, many people have assumed that virtual performance arts events would quickly fade away. However, it seems there’s plenty of appetite from creatives and fans alike to keep these thrilling encounters at the forefront of the industry.
A March 2022 survey conducted by the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre looked to understand how venues felt about adding digital revenue streams to their operations long-term. To some surprise, almost half of respondents said they’re “developing a revenue-generating digital space or product” to support virtual events.
The rise of digital performance arts has also proved incredible for people with mental health issues and physical disabilities. With many venues lacking much-needed accessibility infrastructure, tuning in for a live event from the comfort of the home ensures everyone can experience what makes the arts so special.
As we look to make performance art even more inclusive and diverse in the years ahead, the importance of this virtual upheaval in the traditional arts landscape can’t be overstated.
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