They say there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. Nevertheless, contemplating a winter aiming to enjoy ourselves outdoors can seem a chilling thought. We need to wise up.
Outdoor performance is the future of safe live arts for the foreseeable future. It is also nothing new. It has been going on for thousands of years, and if you think a bit of winter and rough weather stops play, what about all of us who turn up in droves to shiver on the sidelines of winter sports? If it is fine for GAA and rugby, why not the arts? Plus, if we plan now, we may even be ready for the better weather to come.
The first thing to realise is that things have to change. Bending current models out of shape to suit the ongoing crisis simply won’t work. (Question: how long can something endure and still be called a crisis?) Plays in quarter-full theatres, micro-gatherings in major venues, and the economics of massive stages for outdoor festivals are not the future. Just as the visual-arts community has realised that the era of the international blockbuster is over, performance must reinvent too.
While the budget announcement of €50 million to the live performance industry is welcome, it must be used wisely. To subsidise old models would be to squander the opportunity to remake how we experience live performance, and the opportunity to reassess how we judge success.
Picture the Electric Picnic: for every one of the thousands that squash into the main stage area for the headline acts, there are also smaller groups for whom the experience of the second and third stages is equally enriching. It can also be considerably more intimate. So why not enable those experiences to be created as individual events?
These days, numbers do not equate to success. More, presently, is not better. On the subject of that, perhaps the single most damaging thing to the development of outdoor live events was the garbled Government announcement on August 18th that the permissible numbers for outdoor gatherings would be reduced from 200 to 15, even as 50 were still allowed inside at weddings.
Immediately the Abbey’s promenade production of The Great Hunger was in doubt, as was DruidGregory at Coole Park. Those shows did go on but, at the same time, a whole sector, putting their brilliant minds to making safer arts available, went confusedly back to the obstacle-filled drawing board.
Just to be clear: you are not completely safe outdoors. But, with precautions, you are safer than you are inside. The Health Service Executive’s guidance document on building ventilation during Covid-19, published last month, cites how, of 318 outbreaks in China, only one could be traced to an outdoor space. The document also notes a Japanese study that suggests transmission is 20 times more likely indoors…
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