As the realities of the Covid-19 pandemic were realized late last Winter, live Performance Art venues were forced to shut down and postpone show openings. Theatres, orchestras, and festivals all shuttered their doors and canceled upcoming events.
The news from the Canadian Association for the Performance Arts remains grim in 2021. Employment in the arts sectors fell by 9.6% in January, the fifth consecutive month of setbacks. Overall, January is down nearly 40% in employable hours in the arts sectors compared to last year.
Despite the ongoing lockdowns and the constraints on performing arts, some organizations have been able to act quickly and think creatively to keep relevant and alive. Sticking to their mantra of “the show must go on,” they have been able to make changes to the way that they express their art, and redefine how their art is received by the public. Because of these changes, long-term implications for performance art are beginning to emerge.
The New Normal: Masks and Mirrors
Coronation Street made the news this week by using a creative work-around to social distancing rules – they had real couples stand-in for kisses.
Film crews in most countries have returned to work, but with strict protocols to ensure actor and crew safety. In addition to their kissing-doubles, Coronation Street has been using split-screen footage (think Lindsay Lohan in Parent Trap), and optical illusions to make their characters appear closer than they are.
There are other good news stories too. In an interview with CBC Ottawa, Marilena Gaudio, the Programming and Rentals Officer at the National Arts Centre, talks about working with artists virtually during Covid restrictions. “It gives us a different way to discover and connect with new music and artists,” Gaudio said, in response to how she sees the work she is currently doing. “This period of moving to a virtual platform has marked the beginning of an evolution in the performing arts.”
The National Arts Centre has been hosting virtual performances using the hashtag #CanadaPerforms. Meant to be a temporary measure, during the first three months of lockdown it hosted over 700 free live streams, with over 5 million views. The live streams continue, with performances every few evenings, giving Canadian artists a platform to continue to showcase their music. The performances offer the option of sending artists tips via PayPal and e-transfer.
Virtual Theatre and Dance
Connecting with audiences is the main component of performance arts, which can be tricky when your audience is watching you on live-stream from their living room. Yet out of the Covid pandemic came Digidance, an initiative to stream Canadian performers to patrons across the country. Their launch was the presentation of the Paris Opera Ballet’s Body and Soul.
This innovation to online performance is having unanticipated benefits, delivering quality presentations “without the barriers of transportation, physical mobility, and affordability.” This week tickets went on sale for More Than Dance, We Are A Movement, a film featuring Red Sky Performance, an indigenous dance, theatre, and music company. The tickets are priced based on the number of attendees (Solo or Family) and start at $16.
Innovation is central to the performing arts, and in the face of ongoing lockdowns due to Covid, these advances are key to the survival of the arts sector. Some changes may not be permanent, but others will have lasting impacts on how art is produced, showcased, and received by the public.