Over the past months and across the globe, theatre has offered comfort to audiences across the world from the comfort of their own home. Access to theatre performance archives and innovative digital presentations of pre-planned productions have been on the rise, but the future of theatre performance and what this will look like remains hazy.
Back in May 2020, a group of four local freelancers teamed up to experiment with possibilities and dynamics of online performance while Malta was in a semi-lockdown and when the gathering of people in entertainment and performance venues was not allowed. The performance was one of the first efforts to engage with live online possibilities in the performing arts sector in Malta.
This performance, presented to a live audience on Zoom, inspired ARC Research & Consultancy (led by Davinia Galea, Mario Frendo, Stephanie Bonnici and Elaine Falzon) to develop a research project titled ‘Chronicles of a Spring not as Planned: Resources for Online Performances’.
Supported by the Malta Arts Fund Special Call, they have developed a toolkit with the aim of enabling small, independent theatre companies, producers, directors, performers and theatre practitioners to explore live online performance possibilities. Resources developed by ARC Research & Consultancy include a toolkit and report which aim to enable small, independent theatre companies to explore live online performance possibilities.
In this Q&A Davinia Galea, managing director of ARC Research & Consultancy, explains how one might go about creating a live online performance, that is a performance which depends completely on digital technology to be shared with and experienced by an audience.
Is there a format that works best when it comes to performances created for online contexts?
In our case study, a solo performance was adopted for artistic and practical reasons; the scriptwriter wanted to experiment with this format, recognising that it would be more practical and less problematic to produce. The production group agreed to this for aesthetic and financial reasons.
What are the technical considerations when producing an online performance?
Bring in the technical experts at an early stage in the process. Budget for adequate technical resources. Consider the space, technical set-up, including a good internet connection and draw up a list of available platforms. See which one matches the aims of your production and allows your audience to have the best experience of the performance.
What should the team for an online performance look like when compared to that of a theatre performance?
Patient, professional and emotionally intelligent. You need to be sensitive and aware of the different dynamics when experimenting within different contexts. Parameters of roles may be different to what is normal in live performance contexts.
Should you charge for an online performance and how should you go about it?
Based on our experience with Mill-Kċina ta’ Connor, people were mostly willing to pay from €5 to €10 for a 25-minute performance. This would include 5% VAT. A VAT permit number cannot be issued for online performances. The only way to go about it is to issue a fiscal receipt for every payment received, unless it is a donation; then no receipt is required.
What do we know about the type of audiences who might buy into online performances?
Online performances offer an element of accessibility that may not always be possible with theatre performances. It is possible to reach out to international audiences and specific social groups, such as parents with young children, the elderly, and individuals with mobility problems.
What is the biggest opportunity and the biggest challenge when producing an online performance?
It is an opportunity to stay true to yourself as an artist and towards your work, to take risks, experiment and be innovative, while reaching out to new audiences. For the small-scale practitioner used to working live theatre, it is a big challenge, as you need the experts, equipment and software required to make your work relevant and up to standard, while experimenting with a digital platform in a high-tech world.
Will online performances replace live theatre performance? Will there still be a place for online performance if and once live theatre as we know it is back?
John Steinbeck’s much-quoted phrase is so apt here: “The theatre is the only institution in the world which has been dying for four thousand years and has never succumbed. It requires tough and devoted people to keep it alive.” Online performance offers an opportunity for a new medium. I believe they will continue to live side by side, as do cinema and theatre.
For more information, contact email@example.com at ARC Research & Consultancy.
This project is supported by Arts Council Malta.
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