400 words #014: individual experiences

I have been thinking about the artist-audience experience quite a lot recently.

Originally I was thinking about how the audience experience exists when you are watching/reading/listening to digital cultural content. However this evolved to encompass the performer’s experience.

Without having an audience to react to how does that change the performance?

To be totally honest this thinking was triggered by something I was reading about how the notion of ‘home and away’ has no real bearing on the way football is being played at the moment (i.e. without crowds). Historically the ‘home advantage‘ has been pronounced, however the crowdless matches that have been played this year has questioned that.

In a cultural context, what does the absence of a physical audience mean for performers and artists?

I do think that this question has validity beyond the current crisis.

Digital audiences will never be ‘physically co-present’ and rather than bemoan that as never ‘being as good as the real thing’ I am interested to see how people confront that challenge in creative ways.

One thing that digital can be good for is to create a feeling of intimacy between the performer and the audience member. Digital experiences are typically enjoyed alone. Headphones and screens can bring you closer to an artist than you would ever be able to manage in a traditional setting.

It’s one of the reasons that podcasts can feel so intimate.

There have been recent examples of organisations trialling this sort of one-to-one interaction in a performance context.

This New Yorker piece on digital theatre audiences shows there’s clearly an appetite out there for this sort of more intimate/confronting experience (although it’s definitely not something I’d ever see myself doing).

Elsewhere, in a classical context, there was this example of orchestras in Germany playing to one audience member at a time, which I think could work very nicely as a digital thing.

400 words #005: Many types of live

Last night I, and a few of my Substrakt pals, watched the ‘live’ broadcast of the Bridge Theatre’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (which is available to watch, until the 2nd of July).

This was the first time I’d tuned in for one of the ‘live’ broadcasts. With other recordings they’ve put out I’ve usually caught up after the initial premiere.

And I was surprised, and moved, by just how communal and live it felt.

At points I was quadruple screening (with an eye on Twitter comments, the live chat on YouTube and the Substrakt Slack channel which had a steady stream of conversation about the show, as well as watching the play).

I’m sure there are many people who will roll their eyes at this.

And indeed over recent months I’ve read, and heard directly, from leaders in the cultural sector who feel that this sort of experience is a ‘pale imitation’ of ‘the real thing’.

Which, in my opinion, couldn’t be more wrong.

There was a lot of nonsense in the live chat on YouTube, as there often is, but there were also lovely examples of people helping to explain to Shakespeare first-timers (or for people who didn’t speak English as their first language) what was happening and why certain choices in the production had been made.

A similar type and tone of conversation formed on Twitter around the #BridgeDream hashtag, which also included the (now regular) sight of the inimitable Lyn Gardener live tweeting her commentary alongside the broadcast

As I watched all of this unfurl around me I thought about a conversation I had with Dr Kirsty Sedgman for the Digital Works podcast (which will be released soon) where she talked about ‘different types of live-ness’.

We discussed the need to move away from dogmatically clinging to the ‘in-person, in-venue’ experience as the ‘purest’ form, of which everything else is just an echo.

The complex, multi-layered ‘live-ness’ that I witnessed, and was a part of, last night was as enthralling, as joyous, and as meaningful as any experience I’ve had in a theatre.


Even though we were watching a recording of a play that happened a year ago we were enjoying a shared experience which spanned the globe (I saw comments in the chat from people tuning in from the Philippines, USA, India, French Guiana, and Croatia).

Surely that is something to embrace enthusiastically.