The lockdowns and physical distancing measures introduced to contain the spread of Covid 19 have had a devastating impact on the performing arts – music, theatre, opera and dance. Barely able to perform in public for almost a year, artists have had to experiment with ways of working remotely and/or using digital technologies in creating work. As we approach the anniversary of this crisis, it’s becoming clear that the situation is not going to end soon, so these novel ideas will become both necessary and normal.
Last year, I began working with three community opera projects, as part of Traction, an EU funded project that is researching opera, digital technology and social inclusion. Like everyone else, we were blindsided by events, and spent most of last year trying to make progress through the storm. Workshops began in Covid-secure conditions, were suspended, re-started, postponed. Some moved online, others out of doors. But one way or another we are going forward.
A small-scale production will take place in Portugal in June, so that we can test the co-creation process, the technology and the art itself. Other projects are happening in Ireland and Barcelona. We are doing what we can, and we are learning all the time. We are also working hard to build, test and operationalise innovative digital technology to support the co-creation and performance process. (When I say ‘we’, I mean the Traction consortium, with research centres and universities in Spain, the Netherlands and Ireland: my competence in digital technology does not extend very far.)
As we move into the next stage, experimenting with how to rehearse and produce community operas in Covid-secure conditions, we want to enlarge our discussions to involve others with experience in this field. I know that some music and theatre companies have responded to the crisis with imagination and creativity, finding new ways to work online and adapting technologies to new uses.
If that includes you, I’d love to hear about your experience. Over the coming weeks, I want to host two online discussions focussing on:
- Co-creation and participatory art online (workshops and/or rehearsals)
- Performance and digital technology (online and/or hybrid)
Please share your ideas about how digital technology can help sustain participatory and community art practice during and beyond this crisis. You can use the comments box below or the contact form to write to me directly. I’ll draw together everything I learn and share it as widely as possible. The collective knowledge of people who co-create participatory art is an extraordinary resource, and we need to it now as much as we ever have.
PS In focussing on digital technology, I recognise the inequalities that deny access to millions of people, and create new structures of exclusion: they are part of what the Traction project addresses. Still, we need to do what we can with these tools in the present situation, while working to remove barriers to equal access. And of course digital technology will never replace the existing ways we have of creating and experiencing art: it’s just another range of tools with which humans can be creative.
The photo above shows user testing of a digital tool for co-creation in Barcelona for Traction in December 2020 (Photo: Vicomtech).