SUSAN GRAY CONSIDERS THE EXPERIENCE OF ONLINE ARTS IN LOCKDOWN AND HOW AUDIENCES WILL MANAGE THE NEW NORMAL WHEN VENUES OPEN
As the curtain rises on Lockdown Act II, run time 3+ weeks, it’s a good time to take a breath and reflect on what the past month of practically limitless online access to theatre, opera, art and cinema has taught us about experiencing a vast cultural landscape on the small screen.
Decent broadband connection makes all the difference between seeing a production as its creator intended, albeit on a smaller scale, and experiencing unintended fades, jumps and dissolves. Most annoying with films, because every second feels under threat of disruption and becoming less immersive. Early weekday mornings when less people are online, have become prime viewing time.
If a 20 minute Zoom conference cannot have immunity from household noise or surprise guests, what chance a three hour opera? Protected time is the new currency for accessing the arts. Sovereignty over attention is becoming a new frontier in the move towards equality.
In the early days of Lockdown, when many arts organisations were rushing to put shows online, it felt difficult to keep up, especially if the plan was to watch at the same time as a friend and chat afterwards. Now the rhythms of online arts have become more ingrained: Hampstead Theatre’s plays go up Monday to Sunday, the Royal Opera House premieres on Friday at 7, and the show is available for 30 day, while the New York Met has a different opera up every day, with a 23 hour window to catch the show. Some films are being released early for home viewing, such as Misbehaviour, released this week. And Curzon Home Cinema also offers twice weekly Q&As with directors and actors. Both Andrew Haigh, director of 45 Weeks and Force Majeure’s director Ruben Ostlund are talking about their works the week after next.
What Will Normal Look Like?
Theatre and cinemas were among the first places to be closed during the pandemic. When they reopen will there be a surge of people longing for a shared cultural experience, and the feel of red velour seats? Or will audiences have become so used to free, painstakingly curated art, consumed at home, that booking tickets and travelling to venues will seem too much bother? On the bright side, the human need for connection, and the opportunities lockdown has provided to see how art is made, for instance BBC Singers recording of mini St Matthew Passion, could bring a stampede to the live arts. And the incredible media work by classical musicians and theatre directors, to bring their online productions to the widest audiences, could recruit new champions for the arts, even elite ones like opera.
Who will get to make art in the future is another question. There has been a tendency by big organisations to put past bestsellers online, big showstoppers, often written, directed and starring established names. It is ironic that one of the few films directed by a woman, currently on release, is Haifaa Al Mansour’s marvellous The Perfect Candidate, made in Saudi Arabia. Women, young creators and marginalised groups and voices, may have to fight even harder to get their place in the public square.