Wasn't this a good idea?
Welcome to my first full blog post. I don’t think I’ll always say hi, mainly because it feels weird. This week I’ve been thinking about the theatre industry in the UK and where I might sit in it and I’ve put together some of my thoughts below so enjoy.
In December 2020 I graduated from my second arts degree. I completed my MLitt Theatre and Performance Practices at The University of Glasgow. A great achievement that I have aspired to for years and I am really proud of myself. But now what?
What a time to be getting an arts degree, right?
As a person, I can be fairly negative – just a wee warning. I’ve grown up with imposter syndrome being reinforced since school, so naturally when a global pandemic bulldozed through an industry, I was trying to get a start in, I assumed that I’d made the wrong choice.
I’m sure there are plenty of graduates who are feeling the same overwhelming sense of dread that I am.
So, what do we do?
What are we getting ourselves in for?
Making it or just Making?
I recently read a report by Prospects Luminate on graduate prospects in creative industries. And let me tell you, it wasn’t what I needed as the seasonal depression met up with Covid depression. Some of the key points I took away from this report were:
· Prior to the pandemic the creative sector in the UK was growing at a rate that was five times that of the wider economy.
· The creative sector employed approximately 2 million people
· Creative graduates are less likely to have permanent employment with 9.7% of performing arts graduates being self-employed – substantially higher than wider graduate average of 1.1%.
Could be a good thing right?
· However, it is estimated that by the end of last year (2020) 287,000 freelancers and 122,00 permanent creative workers would be terminated.
And I’m out here being, “hey, I’ve just graduated and have minimal professional experience but would you hire me please so I can pay of all the debt I just got?”
It’s difficult to write a blog of the plight of the arts graduates, looking at the number of job loses the industry is facing. How can I really say that I should be the one employed where thousands of better experienced and skilled individuals are facing uncertainty and economic hardship. I think the only way to move forward is to not think about the individuals but think of the wider industry and the changes that need to come to make room for everyone. The theatre industry was not perfect and there were massive problems. It is easy to romanticise what we’ve missed over the last 11months but perhaps this could provide the substantial shakeup that theatre needed.
I’ve heard a couple of times that the industry is grieving the loss of what theatre was and where it was going, particularly as discussions begin to arise around the fate of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2021. However, creatives are resilient. We are able to create out of nothing. In fact, in the previously mentioned report they stated that:
“creative graduates are arguably well placed to deal with labour market uncertainty they may even be in a position of strength in developing new opportunities due to their creative talents, enterprising nature and ability to continually self-promote.”
And that’s what we’ll do. We will deal with it and we will create.
Tik Tok Killed the Theatre Star
Naturally, the biggest change to theatre over the last 12 months (apart from the constant closures) is the surge in digital performance. I wanted to discuss how I have interacted with digital performance since the pandemic hit.
Last summer companies began to release recordings of prior performances, some free and some ticketed. I originally planned to eat these up as fast as possible to fill my theatre shaped void, however, I very quickly got screen fatigue.
I spent five years at The University of Glasgow studying various forms of performance and this was mainly done through documentation. Glasgow’s performance scene is incredible, but it was through recorded archived performances that I was able to experience performance that related specifically to my areas of interest. I’ve never been a fan of watching performance in this way but having an underlying academic objective made it easier to commit my attention to the screen. I’m sure I’m not alone in having struggled to watch these achieved performances for pure pleasure and entertainment.
I’m sure we all agree that any performance is best experienced live. That’s kinda a core element of performance, right? It’s about the buzz and the atmosphere. About the post-show discussions with your pals. What I’d give right now to be crammed into a sweaty, studio space feeling the excitement as the performance begins. This just can’t be replicated, and I think what really gets in my way of committing to these recorded performances is FOMO.
FOMO is the ‘fear of missing out.’
It seems silly to have this feeling of FOMO watching a performance that was recorded in 2016. But it is watching these past audiences enjoy themselves (this is particularly obvious in comedy which is the kind of performance I enjoy the most) that reminds me that I am alone, in my pjs that I’ve been wearing all week and complete separate from the performance. As a very dramatic, pessimistic twenty-something these experiences have begun to feel quite melancholic – regardless of the performance I am watching.
I feel like I’m being very mean to recorded performances. I don’t think I hate them. I just dislike them in comparison to live theatre. But perhaps I’d be nicer if I thought about digital performance in isolation. Which I should, because there are very different forms of performance, each with its own merits.
Digital theatre is new and exciting and may just be able to achieve the accessibility goals that live performance has had for years. Digital theatre doesn’t require travel, meaning you could experience theatre that might never have been able to travel to you. It means you can experience theatre around your own schedule of work or caring responsibilities. Perhaps you have access requirements that prevent you from comfortable sitting in an auditorium for two hours.
It is also important to note that digital performance is not entirely comprised of recordings of previous performances. Theatre have been created solely for a digital platform for a long time and the pandemic has only accelerated this and created a bigger interest and excitement. I’ve read many tweets, articles and blogs talking about the acceleration of this over the last year but one performance platform that I haven’t seen discussed in the UK as much is TIKTOK.
TikTok is a video sharing platform where users create up to 60 seconds videos of various types of content. Think of it as the Vine (RIP) of the next generation. I have gotten seriously hooked on the app and I have been noticing for performance being created in the form of sketches, standup and live music. Most impressively the TikTok community from around the globe created a new musical over the course of a couple of months. Ratatouille the Musical, yes, a musical about the rat chef we all know and love. TikTok has a predominately young audience who are creating and absorbing performance all day, every day. This is something the theatre industry should take note of. I am by no means suggesting we all rush out and start making tiktoks to replace live performance (But I’m not exactly saying that’d be a bad thing ;) ) but I think there is something to learn from the way young people have flocked to this app to create and interact with each during periods of isolation.
The pandemic is so awful and scary and just really shite. But, we can’t deny that theatre needs a good shake up. Maybe now is the time to look somewhere different for an idea of what theatre is, can be and what is does for the people who need it.