As part of Tech Week, we have invited a number of local creatives to write about how technology has influenced or impacted their creative practice. For this Tech Week blog, Anna Braithwaite considers how barriers have been removed in lockdown and we should be careful not to put them back up in the future.
I'm blogging this straight after my second live-streamed Zoom performance for Free Range (http://freerangecanterbury.org): now that’s a sentence I never thought I would write! (To be honest, I hadn’t even heard of Zoom until thirteen weeks ago.) It was a surprisingly authentic live experience; the connection between audience and players was palpable. To my surprise, I have found that live performance with your audience all in the same meeting really does feel better than the slightly more atomised experience of watching ‘on catch-up’ after the event.
At the beginning of lockdown, as I watched with alarm my gigs and teaching work melting away, I threw a lot of energy into researching ways to perform online, but in real time. I consulted with experts and set myself up with the best technology I could, but I eventually decided that the performances I had planned for the ‘old world’ were simply no longer viable. Rather than try to finesse these ideas into working online, I decided to play with ways of creating new work that embraced the ‘imperfections’ of video-conferencing software (lag, drop-outs, etc.) and attempted to make virtues of its quirks.
Working with my colleagues and friends in the Montrose Composers’ Club (www.montrosecomposersclub.com) and Free Range Orchestra over the course of a series of musical ‘experiments’, it became clear that improvisation could work surprisingly well online, so long as everyone optimises their Zoom settings*. This is something we will continue to explore over the coming months. The learning curve may be a steep one, but I feel the need to get up to speed as quickly as possible because I think that, as a professional performer, it is vital to have expertise in whichever platform you have built your performance on. I am not an expert yet, but luckily I have found audiences to be very forgiving, as we all feel our way through the unexpected glitches and happy accidents inherent to the medium. Furthermore, and much to my own surprise, the process has been an enjoyable one.
I don’t think that this brave new online world will make live performance redundant, but it will certainly allow performers to cultivate new audiences. In our current locked-down reality, I have gained a greater appreciation of the needs of those for whom accessing live performance is always an issue: people without childcare, those with mobility issues or mental and physical health conditions that make theatres inaccessible, carers, those that live in remote communities: the list is a long one. I intend to build online access into all my projects in the future and to find funding for creating greater accessibility to live performances both through the use of BSL and the choice of venue.
Of course, it is not just audiences who benefit from greater awareness of the new opportunities for access that online performance offers. There is a whole community of musicians and theatre-makers out there who can also benefit from a continued shift towards making and showing work online.
“Home working and Zoom meetings have become the new norm. The theatre industry’s weird obsession with face-to-face connection has died, or at least hibernated. Theatre screenings, meetings, workshops, and advice sessions are all moving online. Disabled artists have been fighting for this stuff for years.” Naomi Westerman [https://weareunlimited.org.uk/i-once-socially-isolated-for-three-years-and-all-i-got-was-this-lousy-ptsd/]
These last few months have allowed me to experience a little of what it might be like to face the accessibility issues disabled artists encounter on a daily basis. There is not only the inability to gain entry to the spaces in which live performance and rehearsals normally take place, but also the ongoing isolation of working from home. Linked to at the end of the blog, I have found some great articles that look at the impact of lockdown on the future of performance making. I hope that able-bodied artists, and the industry in general, will use this time to learn from their disabled counterparts about new ways of working together and that we can continue to share innovations and new collaborative methods in the future.
“I guess this notion of being out of view is something we, as disabled artists, are so used to and something we need to tackle.” Ashokkumar D Mistry [https://www.shapearts.org.uk/blog/artists-in-lockdown]
Online performance is certainly not the whole solution to problems of accessibility in the arts: for example, many don’t have the equipment to use Zoom. Once online, there is still the need for subtitles, BSL interpretation or description to make content accessible to as many as possible. However, having now tried it for myself, I believe that the virtues of streaming have perhaps been overlooked. If, in the post-lockdown future, you return to performing, or running workshops, conferences, knitting groups, yoga lessons or art classes in person, please leave the Zoom on so that everyone can stay connected, not just the attendant few.
*to read more about my research into musical collaboration online please go to the ‘news’ section of my website: www.annabraithwaite.co.uk
Further reading and useful links:
Link to recordings of live streams made for Free Range:
Advice for live performers wanting to take their work online:
Improving accessibility in video conferencing and remote meetings:
Creating your digital identity including advice on making your digital content accessible:
Examples of performers using online technology to reach isolated audiences:
- Creation Theatre: https://www.creationtheatre.co.uk/whats-on/time-machine-live/
- Les Enfants Terribles: https://www.enter-the-prism.com
- Alwynne Pritchard: http://www.alwynnepritchard.co.uk/wordpress/index.php/recordeddelilvery/
- Bastard Assignments: http://bastardassignments.com/work/lockdown-jams/
Tech Week is presented in partnership with South East Creatives and is an exploration of digital ideas in and around Folkestone.