This four-part review series was sparked, of course, by my attending a few of the various digital events and spaces that have evolved because of our current times. These are all spaces and events that would otherwise have been held IRL - or more likely, would not have existed at all in the same recognisable form. If we could see into an alternate reality, where we were not nationally house-bound, I'm certain that most of these productions, and the ideas that came to be, would have likely been very different. She Goat would've continued touring The Undefinable, Joji, freed from the need to draw in crowds, probably wouldn't have taken the plunge into combining his comedy escapades with his musical one, if Chichester Festival Theatre already had Crave in mind, it would not have existed in the mind/void of the empty theatre, if not for the online gallery spaces popping up, and the frustration of artists and graduates etc, Profile Gallery might not exist at all, and if the economy and job market weren't in tatters, you might not have had this delightful four-part series to gorge on in your lunch break. There have indeed been some upsides to Covid.
However, the Frustration of The Artist is the key to all creation - even in The First Instance we see this with Eve, who, frustrated with Eden's flaccid status quo, fashioned herself the world's first 100% natural fibre bikini, and later, forbidden fruit in hand, she forged a collab between Adam and herself, as they dip their toes into menswear (we stan an entrepreneurial queen etc etc).
The key aspect here is, artists have always created ways in which they can thrive (or attempt to thrive) under harsh or unwelcoming circumstances. (Not that these circumstances need exist at all.) In theatre, playwrights would sneak past harsh legislative censorships by writing surreptitiously illicit verse; poor, LGBTQ artists have historically put on shows in pubs, bars and community venues, because their work hasn’t been valued by mainstream venues; and throughout the 2000’s and 2010’s musicians, comedians and all kinds of entertainers have taken to YouTube, Soundcloud and Spotify to hone their skills and grow their audiences. These avenues are not just in existence because of Covid - it's just that bigger companies and artists have had to join the struggle too. (Including the likes of Dua Lipa and Foo Fighters, National Theatre Live and the Royal Shakespeare Company - and big name comedians who missed their summer run at the Edinburgh Fringe ended up in SHEDinburgh Fringe.)
Digital spaces and events are of course very different to IRL ones, and I have no reservations in announcing my preference (surprise surprise, the IRL). But it's great, is it not, that we can watch more than we once could from the comfort (and safety) of our homes? I for one would not have travelled down to Chichester to watch Crave, no matter the critical acclaim of CFT. I might have not been available to make a Joji concert (or perhaps my friends would have “accidentally” forgotten my invite - you know who you are). The sheer amount of events and spaces that have been open to all throughout this period have been immense, and are just a google-search away. However, it's interesting that now we are all confined to our homes, we've adapted to creating accessible art. I say ‘accessible’ here to cover a large ground; accessible in that anyone from anywhere can attend; tickets cost a fraction of the price, you don’t need to be available to jump on a train, or get through a an intimidating and densely crowded venue, a venue that might not even have ramps or include hearing loops, BSL interpreters, or even that which solely includes alcohol as its social lubricant. Many people have had access to art during lockdown - and I know I’m not the first to suggest that we try to keep it that way from now onwards. For instance, why can’t theatre events have a live-streaming option too? Surely it would help keep theatres, venues and companies alive, and allow audiences to grow?
The answer lies in the lack of funding. Not only has the government’s art funding being continuously cut, and smaller theatres and companies are always the hardest hit, as well as of course, the freelance individual and the young and up-and-coming, who will work for very little in order to get their name out there. However, the pandemic has shown us that it is possible, and if we can get strike the right chords to keep making work in this way, perhaps there will be a silver lining to the suffering of the arts and entertainment industries.