Art, it seems, is spilling into the virtual sphere way faster than anyone could have foreseen. In this pandemic, basically everything has gone online: office meetings, parties, and even the shows and concerts we used to love seeing live. But in our sudden shift to the virtual, what is lost and what is gained? We had a chat with local live performers in quarantine to see how they've fared in this transition to the new normal.
Taking a hit
Technology, undoubtedly, has helped a lot of industries thrive in ways we possibly hadn't imagined. But moving towards this virtual future, there's a lot of compromise and sacrifices these artists had to deal with. "In live performances, there is the element of the unexpected," Stephanie expounded, "the performer and the audience are committed to being on an adventure together where anything could happen by being in the same room." Though there is the comments section where the audiences can spill their thoughts online, this shared experience is still more difficult to feel in online performances. Stephanie also confessed, "I miss the face-to-face interaction with people, live applause and cheering, knowing instantly how people feel when they hear my words."
For live artists, this audience-performer interaction is an important aspect of their art. Feeling the beat and moving to it allows SueKi to express herself. "When I’m performing I feel like I cannot lie, all I have is myself at that moment." Live shows are all very spontaneous and she feels very much in the present. And doing this in front of the crowd, SueKi is able to connect to her audience better.
Jillian agreed, saying, "It's really the ability to connect and communicate through music, words, and movement that makes it so special." Since most of her performances are for kids and families, she loved seeing their faces light up. "It also makes me feel so elated thinking I was once an audience member wishing I could do what people on a stage do!" Jillian reminisced. But now, performing without that collective reaction, she finds all the work extra draining.
As musicians who perform jazz, Project Yazz finds having an audience especially important when they perform. According to them, "[The genre] is all about communicating your ideas in real-time both to the musicians we are playing with and the audience." Their immediate response is a huge help, because, "you can immediately see the reaction on people’s faces when a performance is good or bad." More than that, Faye and Bergan feel that "playing without an audience is like talking to yourself in the mirror, not very satisfying or exciting. The magic of intimacy, sharing a memory, or experience that is uniquely in the moment is lost."
Opening new doors
Some art forms like the spoken word, as Stephanie has mentioned, have already been moving into the online world. "A lot of it is already experienced in the digital realm through videos, and this has made more poets experiment with combining different disciplines, like video art, installation art, film, and music," she expounded.
Despite losing some aspects that enrich their performances, all six of them found that this new situation gave them an opportunity to learn new skills and collaborate. SueKi, for one, learned that "virtual performances have the advantage of directing the audience’s gaze, or playing with more effects either during shooting or editing."
While sharing their art online has been a wonderful discovery in some ways, live performers in quarantine still definitely hope to go back on-stage for real. As it stands, however, this is all wishful thinking for now. We have no idea how the world would be like after it survives the pandemic, but it's a collective belief among them that their resilient communities will be there to support one another, no matter the mode they choose to express it. After all, in SueKi's words, as artists "we create art in response to life, and we will somehow figure out ways for art and artists to survive." They're live performers in quarantine, who live to create and inspire, and nothing — not even the four corners of their homes — will change that.
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