In a world of isolation and disconnection, technology has been a lifesaver during this pandemic, especially for the arts.
Like every other industry, the live entertainment scene was dramatically impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Broadway theatres went dark last March and will continue to be closed until at least May of this year. This hasn’t stopped artists from finding new ways to entertain audiences.
Instagram Live, Twitter, YouTube and other live-streaming platforms have become a popular way for comics, musicians and other personalities to reach an audience. The Miller Symphony Hall in Allentown has transitioned their usual orchestral concerts into a streaming format. Even film festivals have been forced into going digital. The upcoming Sundance Film Festival is just another film festival that is going all-digital this year where you buy tickets, which allow you to reserve spots to online screenings. To create some semblance of their in-person counterparts, the films are shown and sometimes feature Q&A’s after screenings.
While most live theaters aren’t open, Zoom has become a viable option for table reads. Actor Sean Penn hosted a charity livestream, which included a live table read of the hit 1982 film “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” which contains Penn’s breakout role. Some of the actors included Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt and Matthew McConaughey. The live table read has clocked in over 3.8 million views as of Jan. 2021.
Even with digital screenings and live streams becoming a viable option, live music hasn’t completely ducked out of the spotlight yet. Busking was banned in Ireland this last winter, stopping the annual Christmas busking in the streets of Dublin. This busking usually featured some of Ireland’s most famous musicians. “The Late Late Show” recorded a concert on a large indoor stage where the musicians were spread out, almost resembling an Elevation Worship concert.
The SteelStacks in the Lehigh Valley are also offering in-person, live music. They have indoor seating, which must be reserved ahead of time, and people can sit and listen so long they spend at least $10 on food and beverages.
A vital part of stand-up comedy is being able to interact with a crowd. Earlier in the pandemic, various celebrities hosted Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night show and suffice to say, it was hard to watch comedians such as Sebastian Maniscalco or Sarah Cooper do comedy routines in front of a fireplace and no audience. Some comedians, such as Ricky Gervais, have stayed away from doing actual comedy routines, opting for Twitter live-streams. On these live-streams, Gervais casually talks to his viewers. Others, such as comedian Mark Ellis, have attempted to do live shows to an audience digitally. His most recent project was a New Year’s Eve comedy special with guests, which was recently made available to rent or purchase.
“Saturday Night Live” also found a way to live up to the “show must go on” mantra. “The Wall Street Journal” recently explored how they were able to continue their season last fall. Testing is frequently done, the talent is separated for the most part until rehearsals and only take off their masks when the cameras officially roll and NBC even took the precaution of adding plexiglass into control rooms where a lot of workers would be in close-quarters. Pictures from the usual table reads are almost unrecognizable from what you would normally see. Tables are spread out with only one person seated at a time, with others sitting spaced-out in bleachers. To their credit, they were able to get through last fall and will be resuming their season on Jan. 30.
Dr. Anthony Fauci does seem optimistic about live theatre returning in the fall of this year. According to “Deadline,” a timetable of “early to mid-fall” was given. Fingers crossed that this is true and live theater can open their curtains once again.
Sources: Billboard, Broadway, Deadline, Sundance, Mark Ellis Live, Miller Symphony Hall, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Irish Times, /Film, SteelStacks, Vulture