The performing arts during a pandemic

By Ande Jacobson

With the country in the throes of an ever expanding pandemic, all non-essential group activities have been suspended. This is of course a necessary measure to help slow the spread of a serious health threat. Numerous businesses are affected, and many won’t recover with such a sustained stoppage of commerce. Not unlike sporting events, this is also a particularly devastating blow to the live performing arts where audiences normally gather to enjoy the efforts of artists presenting theatre, music, and dance right in front of them. Audiences cannot gather in person at this point, and realistically with social distancing, performers can’t perform in their normal fashion either since that would put them in close proximity to one another. In an attempt to keep the arts alive, even in these difficult times, this situation has sparked a widespread and creative use of technology.

With the advent of social media, videos have been shared ever since platforms and easy access to video production applications have been around. Now, given the ubiquitous and necessary prohibition of attending any live performances in person, many more musicians have started diving into the deep end using applications such as Acapella to record individual and group performances to share with their communities. Unlike audio-only music recordings, these add the visual element to the performances. In some cases, players record multiple parts of a piece themselves and mix them to present a pretty polished product. In other cases, they do the same thing but with multiple players each recording one or more parts from their various locations that are combined to present an even bigger product. Many of these are appearing on Facebook and Instagram, so viewers need to be on those platforms to enjoy the music.

Schools have taken to remote learning, and that includes music programs, but many are continuing to have rehearsals with each player sitting at home and logging into an online meeting. Because of various service delays, those can sometimes stray pretty far from ideal, but they can still provide a positive group playing experience. Recitals have moved to online formats as well, and those are working fairly well, particularly for solo performers.

Several professional companies have started preparing streaming performances for their ticket holders. Some of these performances had been recorded for archival purposes prior to when social distancing started, while others are using social distancing practices and streaming modified live performances of various productions. These companies are using the money from their ticket sales to help support the artists involved in the productions during this difficult time, and it’s a great way for patrons to continue to support the arts.

The Metropolitan Opera, in addition to their weekly public radio broadcasts, is now making a different video performance from their Live in HD series available to the public each day, free of charge, until the crises has passed.

On the community level, many theatrical productions have either been canceled outright, or they have been postponed until we get through the crisis with the hope that some productions will be able to be rescheduled. Many options are being explored, such as eventually performing an in-concert version of some staged musicals when it is safe (for performers and audience members alike) to do so.

We all hope that the arts will again be back, in person, live, once the current health crisis passes, but it could be some time before that happens. In the meantime we can continue to support the arts remotely. The artists appreciate the support, and the community is just a little bit brighter because of their efforts.


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