What does a theatre festival look like online?
The Fringe Festival has long been the pièce de résistance of the Edinburgh annual calendar. From some of the biggest names in entertainment to the small, unknown artists who are yet to be discovered, the festival is all-inclusive and caters to everyone’s interests. Performances range from circuses, musicals, operas, one-man shows, spoken word, and exhibitions. This extravagant celebration of arts and culture has not been able to go ahead in its usual August splendor due to the Covid-19 outbreak; this is disappointing to not just a global audience, but to the thousands of enthusiastic performers who were eagerly waiting to take the stage and showcase their work.
In 2019, more than 3 million people flocked to Edinburgh, the largest audience in Fringe history. With the festival having to move online this year, artists all over the world have worked long and hard in order to fill the gap and attempt to capture the diverse and revolutionary experience of being at the Fringe. Francessa Moody, a London – based theatre producer said: “Edinburgh Fringe is the way that arts organizations, venues, TV production companies find new work – the fact that it doesn’t exist this year will have a significant impact.” Artists and performers went above and beyond to bring the festival to life. Corrie McGuire, a comedy producer created a virtual front row in which 10 audience members could volunteer to “sit up front” and have their microphones taken off mute so that performers could hear their reactions. This combatted the “zoom fatigue” that many people had felt amid the plethora of online meetings and events during the pandemic. Comedy Central came out with a brand-new series called Comedy Central at The Edinburgh Fringe that saw 10 comedians perform stand-up sets in front of a virtual audience. The Fringe has functioned, since its inception, as a trend-setter for theatrical performances across the globe. That being taken into consideration, one could expect digital theatre to be the next evolutionary phase of the theatre industry. But the transition from physical to online performances has and will continue to have a drastic impact on artists, especially those from marginalized backgrounds and those at the fragile start of their careers. On the bright side, this has given a chance for the already cohesive community to be far more generous by paying forward to those in need with theatres across the country developing their community outreach programmes. In addition, the National Theatre began streaming some of their greatest hits, once a week every Thursday, making theatre more accessible than ever. But along with this shift to digitised media comes panic – it shows how easily theatre can be reproduced on the internet, and massively downplays the experience and what makes it unique. Another concern is the fact that digital content caters more to the privileged and entrenches elitism. It would be impossible to monetize the process of distributing digital theatre successfully. The future of the arts is quite uncertain, but thousands of people lie in wait, hoping to have one last glass of wine at curtain call.
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