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Is there a place for online events post-COVID-19?

Written by Arts, Culture

Most of us had not even heard of Zoom before lockdown was implemented, yet the little online platform is now so ingrained in this new way of living, connecting colleagues, families and friends and introducing us to virtual quizzes and quarantinis.

It has been incredible to still be able to access conferences, music events and book talks from the comfort of our own home. But, as we begin to come out of lockdown, will virtual viewing be a sustainable way of hosting events post-COVID-19?

The increase in virtual viewing has allowed us access to events we most likely would not have time for or be able to afford in person. As I would normally be studying up in Newcastle, I ended up missing a lot of art events in London that my mum and I used to visit on the weekends when I still lived nearby. I realised what a privilege it was to have such easy access to the Tate exhibitions and the RAA which simply isn’t possible for people who live in other parts of the country.

During lockdown, however, when the galleries opened their doors to an online audience, art was finally accessible to anyone who wished to appreciate it.

I was thrilled to see how they had created a fantastic virtual tour of exhibition spaces and even more thrilled that most of the events were majorly subsidised or even free to attend. 

While art exhibitions can easily capture an audience both in person and online, it is more tricky with music performances. Festivals, open mics and concerts are hugely immersive experiences for both an audience who are surrounded by the sounds on stage as well as the performers who should be playing to a live crowd of people. While an open mic performer relies on being noticed and can still achieve this through video, the added social aspect with friends and drinks is what makes a live performance all the more memorable; with these elements lacking there is a risk of audiences being unable to totally engage with a virtual alternative when watching at home. It is so easy to get distracted by other members of the family, or a phone call, or the doorbell ringing with your food delivery; all are things you wouldn’t even be considering if you were physically attending the event. 

That said, a very successful lockdown adaptation was National Theatre at Home. Each week over 10 million viewers tuned into the YouTube screenings of shows such as One Man, Two Guvnors, Jane Eyre, A Streetcar Named Desire and many more. I love theatre and would always be so excited if I got to see a show just once a year, usually around Christmas time. What a treat to have a different show EVERY WEEK for the first few months of lockdown and to see such incredible, well-known actors performing. The National Theatre has opened the enriching world of stage to so many who may not have had the opportunity to visit theatres before now. I hope that when it is safe again, the theatres will be a place people want to support in person to keep the creative arts running. 

Returning to the pre-COVID days will probably happen as quickly as it went and after so long in isolation it won’t take much for event organisers to entice us to revert back to old habits. Gone will be the days when we fear handshakes, unexplained sneezes and sharing food. 

Except, lockdown is not the only occasion in which people are forced to stay home. Many are restricted due to caring responsibilities, illness and financial burdens, so to have an option to experience art and culture beyond television, could be life changing for many families. Even if most people will begin to attend events like they did before COVID-19, perhaps the option to view online should not be totally abolished. With subsidised tickets to make up for the lack of real interaction, there could be a large amount of profit in opening up events such as NCLA, Edinburgh Book Festival, and theatre performances to the virtual world. 

Featured image: Chris Montgomery via unsplash.com

Last modified: 7th September 2020

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