If a production of Macbeth is curated and performed within the confines of a worldwide pandemic and isolation restrictions, was it ever really performed? Does creativity die once a live audience is taken out of the frame, or is it just as valuable of an outlet to creatively explore new means of production that adapt to the current confines of the world? Covid-19 has no doubt impacted the nature of live performance that we’ve all become accustomed to over the years. If a production is created, there must be a live audience to view it, participate and interact with it and its entourage of actors. However, what if this pandemic was an opportunity to redefine how a performance is not only conceived but adapted to fit whatever obstacles (i.e. an “indestructible” worldwide pandemic) is thrown in its direction. Are arts dependent on live reactions and the thrill of anticipation, or has Covid-19 genuinely provided us with a new age insight on what genuine artistic conception could be?
When Covid-19 first breached Australia, and as the rules and regulations regarding distancing and isolating began to surface, the way in which the Arts would be impacted became a cloudy subject. The arts, particularly theatre, makes up a substantial percentage of Australian tourist revenue, particularly in New South Wales with one of our major landmarks being that of a concert and performance hall, the Sydney Opera House. With such a large tourist influx and almost just as the first term of school holidays started, we were hit hard. The stay at home restrictions meant people couldn’t leave to see live performances, but not only that, the distancing regulations meant that these hubs for live artistic exploration could not produce the shows they were planning to, and the need for the arts within the pandemic began to diminish. This slowly became globally impactful, with New York’s Broadway and London’s West End (seen as two of the most highly regarded and visited theatrical performance spaces) closing amidst their own country’s regulations. Australian musicians, art curators, actors and performers alike almost overnight, became unsure about the stability of an industry they had worked so hard to build up and become a part of. The perplexing nature of Covid-19 made in overall an unpredictable subject, with there really being no estimated time in which everything could return to “normal”. However, when have creatives ever been comfortable within a job in the arts? People knew that if a niche market was created for them to perform once, then they were going to pursue a way to create one within the confines of the pandemic. So, the strive to create the new “normal” was among us.
With the strict stay at home order seeming like a fever dream to us now as restrictions slowly begin to dissipate day by day, the unsure nature of the pandemic lead creatives to work hard and fast to provide at home live entertainment. But then the question still stands, if theatre and live performance as a whole depends so much on the energy and emotive response created by the presence of a physical audience, could there really be means to replicate that same participative experience from the confines and comfort of your own home? Honestly, the answer comes down to people’s own opinion and adaptability. The replication of speaking and performing/acting to a live audience can never fully be realised when isolated, however the nature of modern conferencing and social media software has provided temporary immersion into the feeling of viewing a live performance. Zoom as an application has become a staple within performing among a mass audience from home. Typically used by teachers to hold classes from home, performers have been selling online tickets to at home shows that they hold over this platform. Whilst it is up to the performer to try and immerse the audience into the reality of whatever they have conceived from home, the use of computer webcams does provide the performer with the typical audience participation they so tend to desire. Whilst obviously this platform was never designed to hold show stopping theatrical manifestos, it has been an outlet for performers (particularly comedians), to practice and adapt material they have created from home to a “simulated reality”. Drag performers similarly have used the “live” feature on particular social media outlets (i.e. Facebook, Instagram, Twitch) in combination with lights and even sometimes projectors that they have access to from home, in order to realise a fully fleshed performance to a larger audience. Whilst these platforms do not have the same face to face connectivity as Zoom, they realise the club performance scene and uniqueness of performance art from their own homes. These means of performance also create an international accessibility, and thus be even more valued than simply performing in one space for a live audience. Could this type of online portrayal of live performance have continuity after the pandemic? I can see it as a means to creatively explore and test out new material and ideas, but once again it really comes down to the participants and their personal opinions about the integrity of live performance.
Covid-19 has left creatives feeling unsure about their place within the world. The haphazard nature of the pandemic really has no foreseeable time limit, however, there are still reasons to persevere through. The preservation of live performance via social media and conferencing applications has allowed people to maintain interest throughout such daring times, but it has also created such an unbearable want to be out and seeing these productions live again. If anything, we have been provided with an opportunity, Time alone is precious for artists and performers, as we have the freedom to create and develop ideas we might not have foreseen before this pandemic arose. The arts will not die when there are still artists creating. Take this time to reflect on what you could bring to the realm of performance after all this. Think about what you want to see, what productions you could see yourself being a part of. Try out the online means of performance to keep the creative juices flowing within this time of worldwide confusion. People need the arts to provide an escape from the harsh nature of our reality. Be that escape, because the first industry to start up again will be ours if and when we let it. Is Covid-19 scary for the arts? Undoubtedly. But will it destroy it forever? Not a chance.
From Zac Khatziagelis