Pascale Aebischer
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Adaptation and resilience in the performing arts

At the start of 2023, live events are said to be thriving: talking to the Artistic Director of the Theatre Royal Plymouth, which had just finished its ‘best season ever’, and other live events organisers in South West England, Emma Ruminski concludes that live events are selling out and audiences are flocking back to theatres and sports fixtures, hungry for culture and life in general to return to ‘normal’ (Ruminski, 2023). This impression would seem to be corroborated by economic data: citing estimates by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), a report for the House of Lords Library suggests that ‘in 2022, music, performance and visual arts contributed an estimated £11.5bn to the UK economy’ and that in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the sector ‘had recovered to above its 2019 level’ (Hayes, 2023).

The long-awaited and hoped-for recovery of live performance, however, is neither pervasive nor solid. Under the surface, the tectonic plates of the UK’s creative industries have shifted, and deep fault lines have emerged. Live performing arts have suffered from ‘the converging challenges of COVID-19, Brexit, and the legacy of austerity’ that exposed structural weaknesses in the industry (Shaughnessy et al., 2022: 1; see also Kolb and Haitzinger, 2023) and made international touring into so mighty a logistical and administrative challenge that the National Theatre ‘shelv[ed its] plans to tour productions to mainland Europe’ (Slawson, 2021). Symptomatically, Cornwall-based touring company Kneehigh, a regional theatre company with an international reach and reputation, has wound down, citing ‘changes in artistic leadership’ (Gayle, 2021); Oldham’s 138-year-old Coliseum is shutting its doors and London’s Riverside Studios, a key venue which over decades had built up a reputation for fostering exciting new live theatre and dance, has entered administration (Halliday, 2023; Wiegand, 2023). They join the growing number of performing arts organisations that are quietly folding across the UK.

Arts Council England’s reshuffle of its National Portfolio Organisations for 2023–26, which involved a redistribution of funds outside of London in alignment with the UK Conservative government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda, has sent additional shockwaves through the world of theatre and opera. Three major opera companies – i.e. organisations that serve local and national communities and that employ large numbers of highly skilled singers, musicians, dancers, technicians – were among the headline losers (Kenyon, 2022), leading to online petitions, heated debates within the sector, an adjournment debate in the House of Commons (Brader, 2022), and eventually some partial back-pedalling by the Arts Council (ENO, 2023). In theatres, cast sizes have noticeably shrunk, and industry professionals speak of greater rates of illness among casts and crews and more costly cancellations or postponements of shows than were common before the pandemic. And whereas pandemic mitigation measures in 2020–21 meant that disabled audiences and people who are often excluded from participation in the arts were able to perform in and watch shows online, very few theatres continue with the online provision, with the recovery, supported by financial incentives in the form of taxation,1 focusing predominantly on in-person shows (Walmsley et al., 2022: 44). This is just one example of the ways in which, as a House of Lords report acknowledges, ‘a policy landscape characterised by incoherence and barriers to success’ is, at the start of 2023, still hampering recovery for the creative sector (House of Lords, 2023: 3).

Adaptation and resilience in the performing arts investigates a range of aspects that contribute to shaping the policy and industrial landscape of theatre and dance as they emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. The volume’s narrative arc takes us from thinking through questions of digital access and innovations in telepresence that have the potential to transform live performance practices of the future, through the experiences of the creative workforce and freelancers during lockdowns, to examining analogue live arts and performance programming in rural and urban areas and reflecting on the lessons that might be learned regarding how better to integrate communities and the artists who live within them to create vibrant local cultures. While no sector of the creative and cultural industries remained unaffected by the pandemic, live performance was left particularly vulnerable to public health restrictions banning people from gathering in groups. Since in-person live attendance is central both to live performance’s ethos and business models, theatre and dance took longer to recover than, for example, film and TV production, which was able to resume in the UK from July 2020 with COVID-safe protocols in place (Walmsley et al., 2022: 31).2 Barred from in-person performance indoors, theatre and dance companies and venues struggled to survive.

Some companies hunkered down and waited for the storm to pass, using the ‘pandemic pause’ to reflect ‘on the social value and civic role of theatre’ and ‘accelerate their anti-racism and diversity action’ (Gray and Walmsley, 2024). We are more concerned in this volume with the parts of the sector who rapidly adapted their working practices, organisational structures and the spaces in which they were able to connect safely with audiences, whether digital or outdoors, and who either adapted planned projects or created new work that responded to the pandemic environment (Busby et al., 2023: 5). Many pivoted to delivering local arts for health and wellbeing activities, such as those outlined in the Pandemic and Beyond volume on Creative approaches to wellbeing. In fact, throughout the pandemic, the performing arts industry remained alive and made itself more visible than ever through energetic lobbying activities designed to counteract some of the harmful effects for the sector of pandemic mitigation measures, along with funding decisions that seemed to privilege buildings over people, permanent staff over the self-employed and freelancers, the ‘crown jewels’ of British cultural institutions over smaller and regional companies. Grassroots groups like Freelancers Make Theatre Work also prominently took issue with the perceived hostility of government and government-sponsored campaigns to professions in the arts (Gilmore et al., 2024b; see also Chapters 4 and 5 in this volume).

It is also clear that the impact of the pandemic was not felt equally across all cultural organisations: the pandemic both ‘aggravated and accelerated existing inequalities and longer-term trends across the arts and cultural sector’ (Walmsley et al., 2022: 4). Built-in inequalities resulted in significant variation in the way that organisations were able to adapt. While some larger and financially buoyant companies were able to weather the storm by furloughing staff, pausing the production of new live performances, and securing Cultural Recovery Fund grants and loans, smaller companies desperately sought to generate alternative funding streams to stay afloat, whether through new live productions delivered in ‘COVID-safe’ ways, or through new partnerships (e.g. with charities, gaming companies or health service providers) and sources of R&D funding. In doing so, some smaller companies found ways of reaching new and more geographically spread-out audiences and were able to open up new markets, including overseas (e.g. Aebischer and Nicholas, 2020: 88). As Gemma Kate Allred and Benjamin Broadribb observe, ‘the individuals and collectives who created digital productions during the pandemic’ were motivated not only by a desire ‘to keep theatre alive […] but also out of a need to survive. They simply did not have the financial reserves or the funding to shut down indefinitely’ (2022: 3).3

The lack of financial reserves also hit individuals in the creative and cultural workforce. Within the broader workforce, those younger than 25 and those without degrees, along with female freelancers, were the most likely to drop out of the industry altogether (Feder et al., 2024). Freelancers were affected more than any other group, both in terms of financial and mental health impacts (Siepel et al., 2021: 23; Freelancers Make Theatre Work, 2021; Maples et al., 2022; see also Chapters 4 and 5 here). Throughout the UK, already precarious creative and cultural workers faced many barriers to accessing support, with multiple policies and schemes announced in a piecemeal manner creating significant obstacles to securing funding (Gilmore et al., 2024a). As a consequence, formal and informal networks and resources, such as those detailed in Chapters 6 and 8 in this volume, became particularly important for helping organisations and the cultural and creative workforce to adapt to frequent changes in guidance, support mechanisms and audience behaviours (Walmsley et al., 2022: 22; Gray and Walmsley, 2024).

For many artists, organisations and local authorities, the pandemic represented a significant opportunity to re-evaluate their values, aims and objectives. Organisations used the pause in ‘normal’ activity to ask: ‘who is this for?’ and ‘how do we do it?’ (Walmsley et al., 2022: 19). For artforms which often located value in the liveness of the in-person encounter, lockdown restrictions forced a reflection about how theatre and dance might be of value in the absence of physical proximity, co-presence of performers and audience, and dancers’ fundamental reliance on touch and ‘kinaesthetic empathy’ (Tsitsou, 2022: 27). As such, the pandemic represented a significant intervention in decades-old debates about liveness, and while digital and online theatre was establishing itself in mainstream culture and raising questions about the essence of theatre and liveness already in the run-up to the pandemic, the hiatus in in-person performance brought about by lockdowns and social distancing measures accelerated these trends. The opportunity to experiment with new ways of creating community and presence at scale and for more practitioners to engage in made-for-digital theatre that did not rely on physical co-presence between the performers has led to practical and theoretical re-examinations of ‘liveness’ and its connection to physical or virtual community and co-creation (e.g. Allred, 2022; Fuchs, 2022: 5–10; Pietrzak-Franger et al., 2023), and to a growing body of literature that is focused on critical analyses of live performances and viewing practices during the pandemic (e.g. Aebischer, 2022; Allred et al., 2022; Bissell and Weir, 2022; Chatzichristodoulou et al., 2022; Fuchs, 2022; Gammel and Wang, 2022; Liedke, 2023). These debates and analyses inform but do not overdetermine the contours of the work undertaken by the contributors to this volume.

In response to urgent calls from policymakers and industry professionals for the evidence on which to base policy and business decisions, the research teams within the Pandemic and Beyond portfolio grouped together as ‘Bridging Distance in the Creative Industries’ began, between mid-2020 and 2022, to explore the adaptations and innovations within the broader creative sector: from libraries and heritage sites via museums and exhibitions to theatres and dance. Their interventions made a tangible difference to policy decisions, professional practice and sectoral strategies.4 Additionally, data on audience attitudes and the impact of the pandemic and remote ways of working on the creative workforce were needed at speed to feed into the decisions that organisations were forced to make about how to get through the crisis, as well as shaping the policies to support the industry. The sector itself, via commercial and other agencies and grassroots advocacy groups, produced multiple surveys and reports to meet this need and chart how the creative industries and their audiences adapted as the pandemic progressed (Freelancers Make Theatre Work, 2021; Underwood et al., 2022).5 Within the Pandemic and Beyond portfolio, a large collaborative research team at the Centre for Cultural Value (University of Leeds), led by Ben Walmsley, worked with cultural agencies and policymakers to systematically analyse the datasets collected by both agencies and the project’s own audience researchers, sociologists, statisticians and arts management specialists.6 This work has now resulted in the publication of the seminal report Culture in Crisis: Impacts of Covid-19 on the UK Cultural Sector and Where we Go from Here (Walmsley et al., 2022) and a book, Pandemic Culture (Gilmore et al., 2024a), the most comprehensive study to date of how the industry, its workforce and audiences have been transformed as a result of the pandemic.

The UK-wide research featured in Culture in Crisis and Pandemic Culture provides the broader creative industry context for the eight chapters in this volume, which take a more narrowly focused approach by exploring adaptations, performances and impacts of the pandemic on live performing arts by specific groups of artists or by investigating particular impacts on audiences and the creative workforce. The research projects we feature here responded to the urgent need for evidence regarding the viability of programming performances in digital media or the open air. Often building on their existing networks in theatre and dance, both in the UK and internationally (specifically in Singapore and Latin America), our research teams, many of whom straddle the divide between academia and practice, worked with creative practitioners and adjacent professions, such as local authority event managers, to understand the skills and technological innovations that such a pivoting towards digital and outdoor performances would require. The researchers are interested not only in the digital and analogue adaptations made during the pandemic, but also crucially in the material conditions of working in this way and in the physical, artistic and mental health impacts of changes in the artists’ working practices and the consequences these may have for theatre and dance in the years to come. ‘Digital performance’, in particular, is explored here as an embodied set of practices that require physical and psychological adaptations as performers come to terms with collaborating with others through technologies of telepresence that generate unexpected forms of connection and intimacy and impose new physical regimes and rules of engagement. The essays in this volume model a range of methodologies that include practice-as-research, qualitative analysis of survey and interview data collected from individual companies and subsections of the industry, and a critical look back at the UK’s pandemic response from a future vantage-point. Approaching the impact of the pandemic on live performance from such different angles affords multi-faceted insights into adaptations by companies, technological innovations, changes in working practices and the comparative benefits and drawbacks of policy responses in the UK and Latin America.

Interestingly, these insights are sometimes at odds with the dominant narratives about the creative industries during the pandemic. The resulting friction is productive in that it forces a reconsideration of generalisations such as that ‘digital distribution’ appeared not to have been ‘the great equaliser or diversifier that much of the sector was hoping it was’ (Walmsley et al., 2022: 68; see also Feder et al., 2023: 41, 52), highlighting the necessity to drill down further into the data and their analyses to understand what we can learn from practice that bucked those trends. In our first chapter, Richard Misek focuses on specific performances and emerging technologies and demonstrates that digital experiences were highly valued by the audiences who did engage with them during the pandemic: for many within those audiences who had previously had to grapple with severe barriers to access, digital distribution of live performance did contribute to mental wellbeing and to making live arts more accessible. While the assessments in the middle section of this volume regarding the mental health impacts of the pandemic on freelance workers and young people in the UK add yet another piece of corroborating evidence to the well-understood grim overall picture sketched out above (Chapters 4, 5 and 6), the research teams examining digital and analogue adaptations found examples of grassroots innovation, values-led practice, creativity and community resilience that are beacons of hope (Chapters 2, 3, 5, 6, 7 and 8).

As this suggests, against the backdrop of the devastating impact of the pandemic on the live performing arts, our authors share the learning about forms of adaptation and resilience that avoid relying on the self-exploitation of precariously employed creative and cultural workers which Roberta Comunian and Lauren England powerfully exposed and denounced in the first year of the pandemic (2020: 116–117; see also Walmsley et al., 2022: 64). Working at pace to provide insights that fed into organisational and policy decisions and technological developments, the primary focus of the research presented in this volume is on adaptation, survival and forms of non-exploitative resilience, modelling a type of solutions-focused performance research that combines analysis with drawing out conclusions and recommendations for practitioners, industry organisations and policymakers. Our authors concentrate on industry structures, collaborative approaches to local authority engagement and creative practices that foster more sustainable, wellbeing-focused and inclusive creative communities. This book, then, affords insights into innovations and practices which, with the right kind of policy support and funding environment, constitute a road to recovery that is values-led and imbued with the sense of ‘creative optimism’ that was shared by many live performance artists during the pandemic (Svich, 2020: 3).

This volume is organised into three parts: it begins with digital dissemination and innovations, moves on to consider the pandemic effects on the creative workforce and ends with hybrid and analogue adaptations. What unites the essays is a shared sense of purpose that was strengthened by the authors’ exchanges in the course of the Pandemic and Beyond workshops and podcast conversations they participated in. That shared purpose is evident in the values of inclusion, community, innovation, equity and care that inform their reflections on the impacts of the pandemic and the lessons that can be learned to prepare the live performing arts and the communities they serve for future crises.

The opening essay on ‘The present and future of digital theatre’ sets the stage for the section of the book that is concerned with digital adaptations. Noting that the ability of digital cultural provision to diversify arts consumption during the pandemic seems to have been limited, Richard Misek homes in on the ways in which digital dissemination of live performance had significant benefits for existing audience members who had previously been presented with greater, often invisible, barriers to engagement with the arts. Complementing empirical evidence analysis with qualitative research allows Misek to produce a more granular and nuanced understanding of the accessibility benefits of digital and hybrid forms of performance and to conclude that quality, including in the ‘booking journey’ that takes the audience from the box office through to the performance, is a key determinant of engaging older audiences. In the wake of the pandemic, disabled people and the d/Deaf, as well as older participants and those unable to travel to venues because of sickness or caring responsibilities, now see streaming as an accessibility feature. The current reduction in the number of streamed performances, which Misek argues is mainly due to the high cost of such provision, has a potentially devastating effect on these audiences, who are not explicitly catered for by the new R&D initiatives that, as we emerge from the pandemic, push the sector towards immersive AR, VR and XR technologies. These technologies, Misek concludes, may themselves offer new creative ways of increasing the accessibility of live work: as his case study of Sacha Wares and John Pring’s Museum of Austerity for English Touring Theatre demonstrates, it is possible to integrate multiple digital accessibility options within an artwork or performance as a feature that is intrinsic to the experience.

A similarly hopeful and ethics-led approach to immersive technologies, here in the shape of practical experimentation and innovation involving motion capture, also informs Daniel Strutt’s essay, ‘Dancing into the metaverse: Creating a framework for ethical and ecological telematic dance practice and performance’. Strutt worked with a team of dancers and creative technologists to create an open-source software tool, the ‘Goldsmiths Mocap Streamer’. The tool allowed dancers from different locations to share a virtual third space in which their avatars, animated by the data collected by the motion capture suits they were wearing while dancing, were able to interact meaningfully with one another and virtually ‘touch’. Against the backdrop of the pandemic and the climate emergency, and in relation to the history of cybernetic and telematic theory and practice-informed thinking, Strutt explores the technology’s ability to mitigate the need for touring and lower the barriers to access to collaborative digital spaces. His essay advocates a ‘technoetical’ approach ‘that weighs audience experience and artistic aspiration against environmental impact’. Key to his thinking are the reflections of the dancers involved in this project, who discuss their experiences of virtual presence, touch, gravity and immersion, and how the technology acts as their ‘poetic collaborator’. The dancers’ accounts of how the technology afforded an augmented sense of proprioception that enabled non-normative modes of dance embodiment, and that involved a distinctive affective and embodied investment in the avatar and its kinaesthetic possibilities, which was furthermore dramatically heightened when their avatar began to interact with and experience empathy towards other dancers’ avatars, contribute much-needed evidence of the artistic and even activist potential alongside the experiential impact of digital technology on the artists who use them.

Steve Dixon and Paul Sermon’s essay picks up on Strutt’s preoccupation with giving artists the technological tools to connect and ‘touch’ in a shared virtual third space and exploring the new creative modalities afforded by those tools. ‘Breaking the fifth wall: Creating theatre on a telepresence stage’ shares the learning from a research collaboration between UK and Singapore-based project leads who used videoconferencing tools to provide ten professional theatre and dance companies in the UK with a stage platform for live online performances for which the project team designed visually immersive sets. This, then, was an alternative to Zoom and to the ‘boxed-in’ aesthetic for performance that was dominant in the first lockdown and that limited performers in their scope of movement. The chapter documents the various approaches to scenography and visual design adopted for each of the company ‘residencies’, and the artistic experimentations that resulted in ten live online performances. These performances serve as a starting point for a reflection on technologies and techniques that used a combination of twentieth- and twenty-first-century videoconferencing and vision mixing softwares along with physical green screens to create live shows that could be streamed to audiences live and that, in one configuration, could incorporate audience members into the production. The effects generated during some of the experimentations resulted in what Dixon and Sermon term ‘theatre+’: a transformative hybrid live performance mode that has a distinctive aesthetic and ontology and is capable of creatively expanding what is possible on an analogue stage, enhancing the performers’ own sense of proprioception and emotional connection with their scene partners in the process.

While the first three chapters thus map out how digital spaces and virtual co-presence may render the creative practitioners more resilient and adaptive in a post-pandemic geographically dispersed global creative community, the second part of this volume looks at the working conditions in the creative industries during lockdown and thinks about how to foster workforce and audience resilience through adaptations to networks, industry working practices and audience engagement. As Sarah Price, Stephanie Pitts and Renee Timmers document in ‘Weariness, adaptability and challenging “viability”: Creative freelancers and pandemic resilience in South Yorkshire’, the ways in which freelancers were left particularly vulnerable by gaps in initial rounds of government support had wide-reaching impacts on the creative ecology. The authors’ quantitative data analysis and interviews with creative freelancers in the Sheffield City Region reveal the deleterious effects of government rhetoric regarding the ‘viability’ of creative professions. With many interviewees stressing that working in arts, culture and heritage was intrinsic not just to their professional but to their personal identity, the government’s ‘viability rhetoric’ cut deep, prompting feelings of self-doubt, loss of identity and questions regarding their contribution to and place within society. Despite prominent campaigns in support of the arts throughout 2020, almost half the project’s survey respondents reported feeling less valued than before the pandemic, making it particularly difficult for them to be ‘resilient’ when ‘responsibility is put on the individual worker to be able to withstand a global pandemic, rather than critiquing the insecure employment structures in which they operate’. With public opinion and freelancers’ own perception of their value to society so strongly affected by government pronouncements, the authors advocate targeted funding to reboot the careers of the freelancers most negatively affected by the pandemic alongside a fundamental reassessment of how arts are presented in public discourse (including in schools). They call for policies by government and funding councils to be supported by more accurate data and by involvement of freelancers in decision-making processes, to ensure that risks are absorbed by the industry rather than individuals.

Many of these concerns are picked up by the next chapter, in which Pascale Aebischer revisits the infamous ‘Fatima’s next job could be in cyber’ advert which questioned the viability of creative professions in October 2020. ‘Reboot. Upskill. Rethink: A case study of digital adaptation in the creative workforce’ concentrates on the experiences of the creative workforce (freelancers and permanent staff) employed by Oxford’s Creation Theatre, often in partnership with Big Telly (Northern Ireland), throughout the lockdown periods. This case study is based on interviews conducted with company employees in the context of the ‘Digital Theatre Transformation’ project in 2020, followed by a second set of interviews carried out in September 2022 that shed light on the longer term consequences of the values-led adaptations and innovations that have made Creation Theatre emerge as a leading digital production company and an example of how ethical employment practices within the industry might enhance a company’s resilience. As Aebischer shows, for the creative team involved in producing a digital Tempest at break-neck speed in April 2020, digital work offered hope, structure, income and significantly better mental health outcomes than those in Price, Pitts and Timmers’ sample of freelancers struggling through the pandemic. The chapter explores the rapid adaptations this group of theatre workers made to pivot to digital formats as they upskilled within their chosen professions. Live digital performance, the interviews show, is technical and physical and draws on hybrid skills sets derived from theatre, television and radio. While requiring adaptation to demanding physical regimes, it also has significant wellbeing and accessibility benefits for the creative team, along with sustainability benefits for the company. The agility with which the company used its technological innovations to pursue new partnerships in turn unlocked new funding opportunities that made it possible to offer fairer contracts, more inclusive working practices and increased financial stability for the workforce and a model for values-led resilience for the industry.

The final chapter in this section transports us into the future and shifts its focus from freelancers to young arts practitioners, as it looks back to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on young people engaged in online creative projects from the vantage point of 2063. From there, Paul Heritage, Poppy Spowage and Mariana Willmersdorf Steffen reflect on the rapid-response project Heritage led with People’s Palace Projects and a team of artists and academic partners in both Latin America (2020) and the UK (2021). The multidisciplinary research underpinning this essay arises from the digitally enabled cross-cultural collaborations set up by the ‘Far Apart but Close at Heart’ project, which aimed to build self-confidence in young people engaged in participatory online creative projects at a time when pandemic mitigation measures were aggravating an ongoing global mental health crisis in young people. The fictional future vantage point, supported by an approach that challenges the Eurocentrism of knowledge production that dominates current discourses regarding the impacts of COVID-19, creatively catalyses an incisive critique of the different approaches to the arts in the (by 2063 no longer united) United Kingdom and Latin America, arguing for a much more comprehensive integration of participatory arts activities in public health provision in order to support young people’s mental health resilience and recovery. The chapter revisits the evidence gathered through analysis of artworks, surveys, interviews and workshops that involved young artists from ten cultural organisations in Latin America and the UK as research partners, shedding light on how arts organisations working in under-resourced, lower-income communities were able to offer vital support for the young. In doing so, this chapter not only gives voice to marginalised narratives, but it offers important insights into the sometimes radically divergent experiences of the pandemic, support systems and digital arts provision of young participants in the UK and Latin America that point to the need for large-scale policy interventions.

Part III of this book considers how live events were reimagined through analogue solutions to the challenges of venue closures and restrictions on social gatherings. ‘Going digital’ was not the only way that creative organisations and performers responded to the inability to gather in indoor performance spaces. The final two chapters in the volume are accordingly united in their focus on performers who took their work outside during the pandemic, where they could safely conduct performances with a live, if socially distanced, audience in attendance. In ‘Reconfiguring dramaturgies of place: Local authority event management during the COVID-19 pandemic’, Giselle Garcia explores how the pandemic accelerated a shift in thinking about the value of outdoor performances at the level of local government. Based on surveys and interviews conducted with events managers in UK local authorities (LAs) as part of the ‘Outside the Box: Open Air Performance as Pandemic Response’ project, Garcia documents how, in having to create events tailored to local communities, LAs began to recognise that outdoor events and performances hold value that reaches beyond the economic impact of attracting tourists and external footfall to the local area. Garcia describes how, in forcing them to think carefully about how to maximise their local assets and about how best to serve their local communities, the pandemic led events managers to reflect on the specific histories, geographies and community structures of their towns and cities. This resulted in events that were both more inclusive, aiming to open up public space to marginalised groups, and more sensitive and responsive to local contexts and ecologies. Turning to the future, the chapter concludes by suggesting that the pandemic will have a lasting impact on how events managers and teams perceive their roles, and therefore the types of public events and performances that they facilitate, with more LAs collaborating with creative producers and local creative talent to create events that are community-driven.

Our final chapter complements Garcia’s essay by providing case studies that demonstrate the value of small-scale arts and performance initiatives that are created with and for the local community. In ‘Reinventing live events, reinventing communities’, Sarah Pogoda and Lindsey Colbourne detail two examples of arts projects that ran during the pandemic in rural north-west Wales: Metamorffosis, a week-long combined arts festival with indoor, outdoor and online elements, and Utopias Bach, an experimental and inclusive arts initiative open to all with a focus on the benefits of small-scale working. As Pogoda and Colbourne explain, both projects were created for a local rather than a tourist audience and were formed outside of formal arts establishments, with a particular emphasis on experimental formats that foreground co-creation with the artistic community and audiences. Through this, both projects challenge ideas about ‘where and how we gather, and with whom’ for shared artistic experiences, returning us to the fundamental issue, explored earlier in the volume by Dixon and Sermon as well as Strutt, of how to negotiate co-presence and touch when physical proximity is both potentially dangerous and legally restricted. The case studies detailed by Pogoda and Colbourne, however, offer approaches for tackling and interrogating the problem of presence which do not dispense with the live, in-person experience. The authors argue that the innovation required to negotiate restrictions on presence resulted in novel experiences which helped audiences to feel connected despite social distancing measures. This chapter underscores the importance of small-scale work and community co-creation to building resilience for both artists and audiences; the authors conclude by suggesting that recovery in the creative industries might start by considering the value of small-scale and long-term work, and by prioritising deep engagement with communities over a focus on large audience numbers.

Together, the chapters in this volume thus contribute to the growing understanding of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on live performance and provide insight not only into what went wrong, but also, importantly, into what went well: the practices, innovations and serendipitous discoveries that pave the way towards making live performance more sustainable, equitable, values-led and able to withstand future shocks. Resilience, these essays show, stems not principally from the individuals’ financial, physical and mental ability to cope with disruptions to the industry and from their willingness to ‘go the extra mile’, but rather from a set of practices that centre the needs of the individual artist and/or audience member and that work collaboratively to embed inclusion, security, adaptability and care within creative communities and company structures. It is when creative practitioners were supported by strong networks and a values-led company ethos, and when accessibility and sustainability were part of the thinking behind technological innovation, that artistic communities grew stronger and much of the most exciting new work was able to develop despite the challenges of working through a pandemic. With the right leadership and structures of support, practitioners found ways of connecting with one another, with technology and with audiences to create the live shows that were a lifeline for so many culture-starved people during the pandemic, contributing in measurable ways to the wellbeing and resilience of performers and audiences alike.


1 In the UK, Theatre Tax Relief explicitly cannot be claimed for productions where ‘the main object, or one of the main objects, is to make a relevant recording’. Made-for-digital shows that are performed online only and productions that are hybrid, with equal weight given to digital audiences, are therefore ineligible and disincentivised from creating a quality digital component as ‘one of the main objects’; see, accessed 5 March 2023.
2 The Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) splits the creative industries into nine subsectors, of which ‘music, performing and visual arts’ are one (House of Lords, 2023: 6), and this is the subsector which suffered the greatest job losses in 2020–21 (Siepel et al., 2021: 8). It is noteworthy that none of the Pandemic and Beyondprojects were concerned with supporting the music industry, although many arts and health projects represented in volume 2 of this series did investigate the relationship between visual arts and wellbeing.
3 In its written evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee in 2020, the Theatres Trust estimated ‘that approximately 35% of theatre charities have less than one month’s reserves and 59% have less than 3 months reserves’ (DCMS Committee, 2020: 22).
4 For a full list of projects in this cluster, see https://pandemicandbeyond. (accessed 5 April 2023; available at least until February 2028). The impacts of this cluster are documented in Aebischer et al. 2022: 12.
5 For the initiatives and projects collecting survey data on the impact of COVID-19 on the Creative Industries, which was updated throughout the pandemic, see the list collated by the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre (led by NESTA) at her-to-share-how-covid-19-is-impacting-the-sector (accessed 15 April 2023).
6 For more information about the ‘“Impacts of Covid-19 on the Cultural Sector and Implications for Policy’ project, see https://pandemican ustries/impacts-of-covid-19-on-the-cultural-sector-and-implications-for-policy/ (accessed 5 April 2023; available until February 2028).


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