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Crowdsourcing Theatre Practice in a Time of COVID

Despite the enormous challenges of the pandemic and its associated closures, theatremakers across the globe continue to do what they do best: create, perform, and otherwise demonstrate their remarkable resilience. Some of the new forms and modes of access are clearly born of necessity—Zoom fatigue abounds, and many find it inconceivable that theatre has moved to virtual modes.

Yet among all the loss and limitation, there are also new possibilities, whether for integrating technology, creating new hybrid forms, collaborating across continents, or reaching new audiences.

screenshot of a zoom theatre piece

a farm for meme by Virginia Grise. Directed by Elena Araoz.

New works and modes appear with dizzying speed, so that it is challenging for any one viewer or practitioner to keep up. We each have projects that attempt to make sense of the transformations while engaging artists in the discussion. At UCLA, the Diversifying the Classics project, directed by Barbara, will be convening a series of roundtables on the futures of theatre this fall and winter to track what has been occurring and what place the classics might occupy in the new landscape. At Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts, Elena’s project, Innovations in Socially Distant Performance experiments with, explores, and documents transformations in virtual live performance and socially distant productions. Its website offers “a place to create community, share information, inspire invention, and document the expanding art form,” with an emphasis on sharing the tools and techniques of a reimagined trade.

Crowdsourcing seems essential if all of us are to chart these transformations. Although performances across the world are now ostensibly at our fingertips, the sheer number of new works and the disruption in traditional modes of advertising, presenting, and reviewing make them difficult to track. Much interesting work is occurring outside the United States in places that provide more state support for the arts or where theatremakers have long made do with very little.

Although performances across the world are now ostensibly at our fingertips, the sheer number of new works and the disruption in traditional modes of advertising, presenting, and reviewing make them difficult to track.

Particular ecosystems yield impressive results: In Madrid, the Teatro de la Abadía, already known for its commitment to cutting-edge performance, is funded through a private/public partnership, and was thus quickly able to commission digital and distanced pieces from companies such as Grumelot and [los números imaginarios], while others were still limited by lockdown rules. In Mexico City, the adventurous EFE Tres Teatro has transformed balconies and building courtyards into performance spaces for a modern mountebank with El merolico desde su balcón.

In the United States, it is arguably the smaller and more agile companies, or even individual artists turning their closets into performance venues, that have tacked quickly to producing virtual theatre, while more established institutions struggle to turn around larger ships. At the same time, while practitioners may have abundant inspiration for virtual performances, they often lack the technical know-how to make them happen. New collaborations may become necessary as designers pivot to digital modes. For all these reasons, the challenge seems to be how to collect and share information on new practices.

close up of colorful paper in various shapes, like flowers

Electric Flower Garden by Katherine Matthias

The knowledge commons HowlRound has already become an invaluable resource in this context by presenting, streaming, and archiving a wide range of work. Now, Diversifying the Classics and Innovations in Socially Distant Performance are partnering to launch an open-access list of productions and their innovations for anyone to consult: Digital and Distanced Advances in the Theater Arts (DDATA).

The list will depend on everyone’s willingness to take a few minutes to enter and describe the productions they know best. Whether you are a practitioner, producer, curator, scholar, or simply an interested viewer, we invite you to fill out this survey with whatever information you have about innovative productions you have seen or participated in. Help us spread the word, particularly beyond the United States, so that DDATA can gather the most complete and diverse record of how theatre endures. In return, you can consult the list for a growing record of some of the most notable work out there, get the word out about the work you find meaningful, and connect with others who share your commitment.

A few things to consider when you fill out the survey: We would be happy to receive multiple entries on the same piece from different participants or viewers. We will collate them into one entry on the DDATA list. And if you feel your piece has not been represented correctly, please contact us at [email protected] and we will address any issues.

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