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What does the future hold for live performances?

Artifax - June 15, 2020

With the COVID-19 lockdown still in place, there’s very little action in the world of live performances at the moment, but the situation is also forcing performers, venues, directors and event organisers to rethink their offerings and come up with dynamic new strategies in order to survive.

Performing arts are a central element of human expression, playing an important role in the everyday lives and interpersonal relationships of performers and audiences alike, as well as contributing to public discourse and social trends. While, at the time of writing, large group gatherings are unlikely to be permitted for some time, people are intrinsically creative – especially those involved in the arts – and so they are sure find ways to share their talents with the world and get their art out there.

Here, we investigate how the post-lockdown world of performing arts may look, accounting for shifts that were already underway and considering trends to expect as we look further forwards.

What does the future hold for live performances?
1. The transition to online delivery gains momentum

One development coming out of lockdown that’s likely to stick is an increase in live online performances – artists from DJs and musicians to children’s entertainers have taken up the challenge of keeping us and our families entertained in our homes, with both household names and unknown artists offering their services to the world, often for free. This is not completely new of course, but it has certainly increased considerably in the past few months, and it will be interesting to see to what extent this continues after lockdown ends.

A study published as far back as 2001 suggested that younger audiences who are gradually replacing the baby boomer generation are increasingly satisfied with screen-based entertainment and accustomed to having it available on-demand rather than scheduled. Does this spell the end for live performance, or will we see this trend reverse with a resurgence in the emerging audiences’ desire for public performance after so much social isolation?

If live entertainment is forced to shift further online, another theme to consider is how it can generate sufficient income with so much competition from large, heavily funded movie and TV productions that are already thriving in that world. Perhaps requiring online audiences to pay will become a new norm, with reduced ticket prices offset by a larger potential viewership – this possibility could be particularly valuable for niche and local productions that would otherwise struggle to find an audience. Performances that don’t directly generate income could also be used as promotional means to get people engaging with new artforms or attending live shows later down the line.

2. Budgets continue to ‘shoestring’

Even before the COVID-19 crisis began, creators had been continually forced to cut the costs of putting on their shows due to reduced access to funding, increasing competition and the difficulty of securing enough income from paying audiences to remunerate performers for their rehearsal and performance time, not to mention the cost of writers, costumes and sets, tech, venue hire and other staff and expenses.

Of course, this was caused in part by the wealth of entertainment options available both in and out of the home creating intense competition for the public’s time and coin. Having said that, the trend has only been exacerbated by the current situation, and with the full spectrum of leisure industries likely to be clamouring even harder for our collective disposable income once they reopen, it’s more likely to be intensified than reversed any time soon.

3. Things get more unpredictable

With investors tending to favour endeavours that can offer large profits, many of them are likely to continue moving away from high-risk projects towards big-budget productions that all but guarantee returns. On the surface, this could suggest that those who already have the financial muscle will have a better chance of succeeding while smaller outfits will suffer. However, the flipside of being bigger and more established is higher overheads and permanent staff to pay, which may leave an opportunity for more agile players such as solo creatives and amateur productions to flourish.

A big question at the moment is how long live entertainment will take to get up and running again. Even once lockdown has fully ended and the public are allowed to come out and play again, many may remain reluctant to return to spaces where large public gatherings are held for some time afterwards. Ultimately, there’s no way of knowing what the future holds, but it’s certainly fascinating to speculate on all the possibilities.

4. Creativity increases

We realise that things may not be looking entirely rosy, but in times like these it pays to look on the bright side. And one thing we can say for certain is that all of the above developments (not to mention the increase in spare time that many of us suddenly have on our hands) will be sure to draw out more of that irrepressible quality, that artists in particular possess in abundance – creativity. Performers, directors, venues and arts organisations are all in this together. It’s never been easy to thrive in the arts, but the adversity that these players now face will force them to work even harder to find new modes of creation that appeal to audiences, drawing them in and encouraging them to spend – and perhaps simultaneously unlocking supplementary offerings that can raise income and support their work. In addition, at a time of great change, people look to artists for inspiration and invention – so their work may well go beyond the art itself, contributing to the reshaping of societal trends on a broader scale.

News spreads fast in the modern world, and good ideas take off quickly as a result. We’re sure to see the emergence of new initiatives, funding sources and online platforms that we can’t yet even imagine, coming to the fore and supporting artistic creators and producers in presenting their offerings. We can say with confidence that as a social species, our insatiable need to perform and be performed to isn’t going to change – what remains to be seen is just what form this will take in the future world that we’re in the process of co-creating.

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