HOW COVID-19 IS RESHAPING THE PERFORMING ARTS
In Hong Kong, as elsewhere around the world, Covid-19 brought live shows to an abrupt halt. Although they are already returning as physical distancing measures are relaxed, what has become clear is that the past year has changed the way companies and performers approach their craft – and how performers relate to their audiences. The question now is to what extent these changes will live beyond the pandemic.
For many, the restrictions of the past year have been a stimulus for trying new things. “The pandemic has been a wakeup call making us conscious about how technology affects our life,” says Mathias Woo, co-artistic director of Hong Kong’s leading experimental performance group, Zuni Icosahedron. “Imagine a lockdown without technology – we wouldn’t have been able to communicate. It would have been completely different psychologically and physically.”
What is most striking are the many different ways in which technology has been adopted – either as a tool or as a source of ideas. Smaller companies were the first to react. Last April, when the pandemic was still being counted in weeks rather than months, playwright Yan Pat To saw Zoom as a way to revive his play How to present Love life of Hong Kong people to Aliens? with an online adaptation. As schools suddenly found themselves having to use the internet to deliver classes, he says, “That was the perfect format for a play whose protagonist is a secondary school teacher.” Moving the show online also allowed him to broaden the play’s reach, adding drone footage and a collaboration with Taiwanese visual artist Chiu Chihhua to the performance.
Contemporary dance choreographer and performer Joseph Lee similarly saw video conferencing software as a way of staying in touch with his audience. “As we couldn’t perform, we decided to show our rehearsals instead,” he says. “We put several cameras around our rehearsal space so people could watch us via Zoom. They could choose the angle they wanted, comment on what they were seeing and talk to us.” Exploring the possibilities of video led from one thing to another. “Showing our rehearsals was a great chance to let people learn about our methodology as artists. We found ourselves becoming much more flexible in the way we produced work, both offline and online.”
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