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31 May 2021
Covid-19: Theatre goes Digital - Provocations
IJPADM 2022 Special Issue 18.1
Kevin Brown, University of Missouri, USA
Nick Hunt, Rose Bruford College, UK
Peter Kuling, University of Guelph, Canada
Elise Morrison, Yale University, USA
Toni Sant, University of Salford, UK
One day, it happened; we were advised to stay at home. To not go out; not go to school; not travel to work; not attend theatres; not visit restaurants and bars; not see friends. Our lives became enclosed in small intimate spaces; and our social exchanges became mediated. Life on the Screen (Turkle 1997) as we have never experienced it before.
The impact of Covid-19 on live theatre and performance cannot be underestimated. Covid-19 changed everything – theatres and performance venues around the world closed, some for prolonged periods of time. Venues that had presented live performance for centuries went, suddenly, out of operation; the theatre and performance world took stock of the new ‘normal’. Though the situation differs around the globe, depending on the severity of the pandemic’s impact on national and local contexts at any particular time, live performance, across the world, has taken a mighty hit and will continue to suffer for the foreseeable future. Despite the devastating impact of the pandemic, people and communities around the world have found creative ways to respond to our ‘unprecedented’ (one of the most used words of 2020) circumstances so as to carve out some positive outcomes.
An article entitled “Coronavirus: for performers in lockdown, online is becoming the new live” (McCaleb 2020) discussed the speedily growing number of performers and venues who responded to the crisis by ‘going digital’ – most often, live-streaming events and music gigs. It concluded that this catastrophic global crisis has, inadvertently, provided an opportunity for artists to develop new ways of working with audiences, which might become “an enduring part of a new reality” (ibid). McCaleb is not alone in thinking that Covid-19 offers new opportunities for live performance using digital technologies; other scholars, practitioners and industry experts have written along similar lines (Mastrominico and Dean 2020; Hawthorne 2020; Nicholls 2020; Barlow 2020; Jacobson 2020; Aebischer and Nicholas 2020; Jamjoom 2020).
The International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media has been studying the intersection between live performance and digital technologies for the last fifteen years. As scholars, we and our communities have studied and created digital, virtual and telematic forms of performance long before ‘theatre went digital’ due to the impact of Covid-19. This special issue seeks to bring together expertise and experience from scholars and practitioners in theatre and performance, to reflect on the future of live performance during and following the Covid-19 global pandemic. Our collective insights, knowledge and experience can offer a unique perspective on live performance’s entanglements with digital technologies and provide food for thought for the sector’s future survival – perhaps, even growth.
Here we offer some provocations:
Live Theatre and Performance:
- What is the future of live theatre and performance as we know it? Will Covid-19 transform the industry going forward, and in which way?
- Has the shift to making and sharing live performance through remote, digital means made practices of Digital Performance (Dixon 2007), which have evolved over the past several decades, more mainstream? What strategies from the rich, experimental history of digital performance have proved particularly useful to pandemic era performance makers? Are there innovations in the era of zoom performance that are likely to revolutionize virtual performance making going forward?
- What does it mean for digital and virtual performance practices, once niche, experimental approaches to live performance, to become the new ‘norm’? What does it mean to have these forms of representation and reception enter the mainstream, by necessity? Are there new things we are learning from the experiments being conducted in Zoom and other online/virtual platforms? Are there shards of wisdom we have gleaned over the years through our online, distributed experimentations with performance and liveness, that can be useful to the performance arts community at large?
- How does the pandemic and ensuing events affect scholarship and artistic practice in the field of digital performance and digital arts? Is this a case of ‘the cart catching up with the horse’ or is this a brand-new world, where the rules of digital aesthetics, dramaturgy and theory are being rewritten so rapidly that even many of us so-called ‘experts’ can’t keep up? What lessons from the past history of digital media scholarship might help us to unpack and make sense of current events? How might we apply theories to these endeavours that have been debated in this field for years (such as Baudrillard and “simulation”; Benjamin and the “aura”; Auslander and “liveness”)? What do these theories have to say to the current state of digital media? Is there an oncoming tsunami - an inflection point of reckoning between the digital humanities and the performing arts? What awaits the field of digital media in the near future?
Gatherings (Virtual or Real, Festivals or Experiences)
- What is the future of the “festival” in times when it is dangerous to gather in groups? Are there material changes to the arts and festivals that will continue even after the pandemic is over? Are there means of digital communication that can be brought upon these problematics and allow artists to gather and audiences to experience digital versions of art in “virtual” spaces? We have already seen examples of this from both the music (e.g. Tomorrowland's virtual festival) and the theatre industry (e.g. Hamilton on Disney+). What other potentials exist in the arts to expand into virtual spaces? Contrariwise, is a move for the arts into more virtual venues a good idea? Does the transformative power of the festival rest in the Dionysian viscerality of the human bodies and their roles in the ritual, co-present in space and time? Or is there a potential for transformation also in experiences that are mediatized? Are there cyborg or hybrid versions of this ethos?
Artists and Funding (Public, Private, Partnerships)
- What are the new business models for live performance in the context of Covid-19 on-going and possibly recurring restrictions? What kinds of performance will survive the pandemic via emergent business models or gift economy practices?
- How does one teach performance in a pandemic? How did theatre and performance studies educators respond to the necessity of “moving” classes online? Were lesson plans adopted verbatim in a linear, “virtual” turn? What lessons have we learned from the shift towards blended learning? Are there any particular teaching philosophies that lend themselves well to this project? What forms of theatre education translate well in an online teaching environment? Does theatre and performance education need to rapidly adapt to the digital move to survive, or is there wisdom in holding on to the bases of its material aesthetics? How does one make sure that considerations about the human body are still at the centre of teaching performance as an art form, even when it is being taught online?
Virtual Bodies, Access, Interactivity
- As performance, education, commerce, and professional and interpersonal communications have had to move largely online, how have inequalities manifested in new and old (but perhaps newly visible) ways? From access to internet connections and computing hardware to facility with digital interfaces and virtual communication platforms, one’s ability to participate in virtual forms of assembly, performance, and education is deeply influenced by intersecting aspects of one’s identity, including economic class, race, gender, religion, sexuality, nationality, and citizenship status. In what ways have these considerations been further brought to light by the pandemic?
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Please submit your full article or document online, via IJPADM’s website by 31st May 2021.
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All submissions to IJPADM are subject to initial Editor screening and then a rigorous double-blind peer-review process before publication.
Special Issue 18.1 is being edited by IJPADM’s Editor-in-Chief, Prof. Maria Chatzichristodoulou (Kingston University UK) and Associate Editors: Dr Kevin Brown (University of Missouri USA), Dr Nick Hunt (Rose Bruford College UK), Dr Peter Kuling (University of Guelph, CA), Dr Elise Morrison (Yale University USA), Dr Toni Sant (University of Salford UK).
For any questions, do not hesitate to contact the journal’s Editor, Professor Maria Chatzichristodoulou: [email protected]
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