16th April 2021
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How We’ve Made Performances During Covid-19

hybrid performance
By Marcus Lilley

In my first TheatreArtLife article, I stated that during the Covid-19 pandemic, a new hybrid model of performances has emerged. This new hybrid model has mixed performance and technology to great acclaim. In this article I wanted to share a further insight into how this model of creating has manifested itself and how some non-digital approaches have also yielded some fascinating results.

In the summer of 2020, I signed up for a project called Letters from Cletheorpes . It was a project by New Perspectives Theatre Company who are based in the UK. After signing up, you received six individual post cards through post which told a lovely narrative drama. I won’t go further into explaining it incase you wish to take part yourself. What I enjoyed most about this was that it neatly tapped into the feeling of when you receive something in the post and gave you something to look forward to. There was also the feeling of having something physical to treasure. It reminded me of why I often collect theatre programmes, it’s that sense of having a physical reminder of the experience.

Project Intimacy was a two experience created by Riptide and which I took part in January 2021. The concept was to develop a relationship with a stranger over the period of the experience. Before it began each participant was asked to fill in a detailed questionnaire about themselves which would be matched with another participant. Then during each day of the experience we were given provocations via a text message as a starting point for that day’s conversation. To begin with all communications were done by text message. This was exciting as each day you were finding new things out about your partner.

This was one of my favourite experiences I have done during lockdown. I forged a close relationship with my partner for the experience and I discovered a lot about myself.

Catherine, my partner for the experience has very kindly agreed to share her thoughts from the experience, which I am really grateful for:

‘Signing up for something I didn’t understand has been one of the best things to come from Coronavirus and lockdown.

Project Intimacy was presented as an ‘immersive production’. I was most interested in finding out how the producers would curate not only an immersive experience from a remote setting, but also how the ‘show’ would evolve over the two weeks. Being paired with a partner was initially challenging as we had to keep our anonymity (no photos, no disclosure of age, gender, or location) and at the same time find common ground. The daily prompts set a general framework. On reflection I think this aspect helped me a lot personally to open myself up to a stranger to build the connection in a respectful way (scraping back the preconceptions I would unconsciously make on someone’s demographic/image). With each day that passed, the prompts became more intimate and I felt like I had known my partner a lot longer than just a week. The application of the immersive production to my every day life has been immeasurable, and one that I think would be hard to make the same statement if the production were to have taken place in a traditional theatre. Taking the uncertainty of what activities would be in daily prompts by being more easy going in my life, along with building a meaningful friendship have both been very enriching in a time of disconnect of lockdown.’

Following on from Project Intimacy, I wanted to share how filmmakers have approached creating work in lockdown. Tom Greenidge, a UK filmmaker who has created a range of short documentary films, created a film in lockdown called Lets Reconnect where he got back in touch with people who he had lost contact with over time. Here he shares what the process was like and what things he learned:

‘During the first Covid-19 lockdown last year we all realised the importance of friends, family, and social interaction. With face to face contact no longer possible, many were embracing video calls to interact with others. I decided to take this one step further by using this shared situation as an opportunity to make a film about reconnecting with long lost friends from around the world.

I wanted these video calls to be meaningful and honest, touching on the subject of friendships and social ties in the modern world as well as the global pandemic that everyone was experiencing in some shape or form. The film captures the key moments from each individual video call, compiling them into an engaging narrative. What ends up unravelling as perhaps the most revealing and relevant topic of discussion is the nature of male friendships.

I wanted to make another film but lockdown severely reduced opportunities. The situation forced me to think creativity about what I could do within my own home and with people I already knew. The first thing I did was go through my entire list of Facebook friends. I then sent messages to the friends I had lost contact with or had not spoken to for a long time. The response was overwhelming, I did not actually expect so many to respond and agree to do it. In the end I must have spoken to about 30 people, each conversation lasting at least 30 mins, some a lot more!

I recorded each conversation using Zoom. I then compiled and edited all the footage using Adobe Premiere Pro. Editing so much content into a short, impactful final film was a huge challenge but aided because I had asked everyone the same set of questions. This gave me a loose narrative and structure to work to. I originally thought that I would need to feature a lot more of myself in the film and that sharing personal stories/memories with people would be the most interesting aspect. In the end those wider themes around the pandemic, friendships and social ties were much stronger and relatable to an audience.

My focus throughout this process was on making the film. What I discovered was that catching up with some many people like this was also great for my wellbeing. It felt great relating to people, reflecting on old memories, and having honest conversations. It made lockdown easier as I had this project to engage me and focus on. The global pandemic also brought everyone together, we all had this shared experience in common.

Tom is the Delivery Leader for national charity Volunteering Matters. He made the career transition into the charity sector in 2016 following successful volunteering projects in Zimbabwe, Romania and Malawi. Tom remains an independent filmmaker who has been self-producing documentaries for ten years since graduating from The University of Portsmouth with a first-class honours degree in Television & Film Production.’

You can watch Tom’s film here.

I am a firm believer in creating using limits. Limits help us focus. One can often think that unlimited scope is preferable but limits present challenges and opportunities.

The Covid-19 pandemic has deprived us of physical spaces in which to tell our stories but its presented a new sphere in which to experiment. Whether it’s the online limits of Zoom or YouTube or whether it’s how we make stories for people staying home, limits have caused to think more ‘outside of the box’.

A very special thanks to Catherine and Tom for sharing their thoughts in this article.

Also by Marcus Lilley:

Has 2020 Given Us a New Hybrid Model of Performance?

What Makes Theatre So Special?

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