November 9th 2020 will go down as the first day that real hope was provided that an effective vaccine was well and truly on the way. There will be ups and downs but at the moment, there is good reason to be positive about the future.
BUT … Yes, there’s always a ‘but’, isn’t there?! If we think that we can continue as we were, we are wallowing in a world of delusion. The effect of what will effectively be a whole year of closure of the theatre industry has had an enormous impact. Even the concept of a ‘new normal’ is fanciful. The observation that we can all refer to ‘going back’ and ‘normal’ are signs that our default attitude errs towards comfort, control and complacency. It is a form of self indulgence that we can no longer afford.
Change is afoot. Our industry is about to get even more stimulating, more creative and more imaginative than ever before. Why shouldn’t it be better than before? The cleaner the sheet of paper you start with, the more innovative you can be. It is time to address the twin issues of sustainability and resilience and in doing this, we have the advantage over many other industries. There are other nagging issues to include into the bigger picture, whilst we have the unprecedented advantage of this blank sheet of paper. Our inherent creativity and diverse skillsets will produce innovative solutions. Whilst we got hammered in 2020, the view could be promulgated that we got the short sharp shock whilst others will have to address similar issues to ours over a longer period of time. We will be ahead of the game!
Looking at the bigger picture, the last 30 or so years have seen progress like no other period of time. I’m not sure that progress is the correct word, but generally speaking, the meaning is understood. The impact that the human species has had upon the environment and subsequently the human race itself has been remarkable. It is not unreasonable to promote the argument that human behaviour has had an impact on the origins and subsequent spread of pathogens, which has ended up with the Covid crisis. We are acutely aware of global warming issues and know that we have to act sooner rather than later. The Covid crisis is a shot across the bows and we need to get a move on. Now that the USA looks to be rejoining the Paris accord, it is full steam ahead.
One of the significant elements of progress in the last 30 years has been the role of technology and the pressure it imposes on humans. The human capability to deal with progress is limited and many people simply can’t keep up. Whilst we all make valiant attempts to embrace technological change – by the time we have caught up, we are still behind, because progress is simply too fast. We are consistently asked to do more at an even quicker pace without the necessary time for human reflection and consideration. This is the NOW culture. Over recent years, a process of dehumanisation has been eroding our lives where we have become enslaved to technology. There are huge issues growing in relation to loneliness and mental health. This is not just a Covid issue – it has been going on for many years but the Covid crisis has simply hit the fast forward button and dumped us into a place that we might’ve been in in about four years time. Human interaction is essential for our well being. Technology has its place, of course, but if we allow the drip, drip, drip of progress to march on unchecked, then one day we will wake up with a crisis. As with anything in life, it is tempting to go with the flow for an easier time, but in the longer term, there is often a price to pay.
We need to understand what we call progress. What is our purpose as humans? We have forgotten about people and what makes us all human. We have allowed our culture to be pushed around and dictated to by this thing called progress and not by human and cultural values.
Progress and technology have a valid place in our own industry but it is really important that we reflect about this issue. We must be very mindful about the preponderance to settle for something because it works better than we thought it would. Streaming is all well and good but is it better or worse than a conventional film or TV production? You can watch a streamed production and it clearly has a certain value for many reasons.
One should always be mindful of an important question: Where did it start? Inevitably, all routes lead back to live performance. This is where performers really learn their craft. Technicians and support staff too – ‘curtain up’ is in the blood. Live performance is the gold standard. How long ago did the Musicians Union launch their ‘Keep Music Live’ campaign? It is as relevant toady as it was all those years ago. If we allow the public to perceive that there is equivalence between live and streamed, then we are endorsing false equivalence. Live performance is as much about the audience experience, the excitement, the tension, the emotion and many more human attributes as it is about the performance itself. It will be up to us all to drive our industry into a place which is going to make sense. The big test we are going to face concerns the speed we can remobilise and the scale of what it is going to be. We have a complex ecosystem and how we pull it all back together is not going to be easy. How we reboot must address the future. It must also address our heritage.
We now have the opportunity to address the new balance and to drive our industry into a place where resilience, sustainability and creative can all live in harmony. This is why we need to gather together for REBOOT. We would like to invite you to join us and join the conversation.