Performances of Our Times: Creativity Reimagined

Somewhere in a corner of his house, late-night talk show host Jimmy Fallon sets up his frame and begins the show with his monologue. As he finishes his first joke, he looks for some validation in the direction of his children, who are least interested some of the times while wreaking adorable havoc on other occasions – so much so that Vulture declared that ‘Jimmy Fallon’s Daughters Are the Real ‘Tonight Show’ Stars‘.

Seth Meyers’ monologues are interrupted by wasps in his house while Conan O’Brien lies on the floor with his camera to talk to a still-in-bed while wrapped-in-a-towel Russell Brand.

As the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic and with the deployment of preventive measures – ranging from physical distancing to partial and complete lockdowns – entertainment forums that require big crowds have found themselves in a challenging position.

The shooting of most film and TV productions has been halted the world over. Citing a huge crisis, many production houses and channels are exploring new and innovative ways to develop content. For example, ITV in Britain has been able to produce a short TV drama with help from the families of its cast members currently spread across England.

In Australia, TV production of Neighbours will resume with the cast following social distancing on set and by using special camera angles to make characters appear closer together. Many film productions that require animation and VFX work are also underway amidst an announcement of an unprecedented filmmaking venture, in which Tom Cruise has joined hands with NASA to shoot a film aboard the International Space Station.

The challenges under the global lockdown are not limited to the production level but it also exist at the consumption end. The theatrical releases of many films have been stopped because cinema halls are closed. Many producers have been considering releasing their films on streaming platforms.

Citing the crisis, in an unprecedented announcement, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said that they would now consider movies that have been released on streaming platforms because of the pandemic – something that has been the subject of much debate over the last few years as a lot of direct-to-stream excellent content has been left on the wayside when it comes to the prestigious film awards.

Live entertainment industries are also facing a crisis. As things stand now, it will take a long time before global sporting events can be held because packed stadiums would require the free movement of people across the world. If social distancing continues to dictate lives for a longer period, sporting bodies and broadcasters might be forced to consider conducting these events in empty stadiums.

Also read: ‘Shit is Gettin’ Real’: COVID-19 Pandemic Reveals Cracks in Celebrity Capitalism

Considering a 50-over cricket match between Australia and New Zealand took place in Sydney without any spectators in the stadium just before the lockdown, it’s not an impossible option. Many music or stage artists have already resorted to performing in empty halls. With the cancellation of many live outdoor concerts, music artists from all over the world are coming together to perform online concerts. But it’s a bleak situation because unlike the business of global sports entertainment, most of the revenues for the music industry come from live performances played against thousands of people in arenas across the globe.

While traditional film, TV, stage, stadium productions are finding things much more challenging, it has been a much smoother ride for online creators. There has been a surge in online content production and its varieties. There are even vlogs about ‘react to TikTok’ on YouTube and it’s very popular among a certain section of people. To the advantage of online artists, they have been performing from the confinement of small rooms, kitchens, halls, backyards, open-air rooftops even before the lockdown; providing a sense of tactility and intimacy unique to that of TV and film production.

At a time when the entire world is battling a pandemic, socio-economic fractures have never been this exposed, people who could afford the privileges of being at home and healthy are finding various creative impulses to express their despair and hope. It’s also worth noting here that amidst the prevailing uncertainty under the lockdown, much-needed motivation perhaps isn’t coming from some famous artists or celebrities but from some unknown people in Italy, Iran, India, and other corners of the world – who are inspiring people by playing music in their balconies.

Having said that, at least for the moment, from budding TikTok artist to world-famous performers, all have resorted to doing the same thing – push the button and record. Performing spaces have coalesced not only due to the lockdown but also because new technologies and the media ecosystem have allowed this condition to emerge. The convergence of new and big media has been going on for a long time and it has reoriented and de-stabilised old binaries and hierarchies of mediums.

Under the lockdown, performers have never been so well connected, leading to performances and collaborations that have never been imagined. Artists of all kinds are showing their power. We are witnessing a change in the kind of content being produced; how and where they are being produced and consumed. The definition of ‘creator’ itself has been re-imagined.

Performers and performances have never been so ordinary and grand at the same time. It is indicative of what the relationship between spectators and its spectacle could look like when the motivation for art is simple – just to be alive and entertain ourselves.

Amol Ranjan is currently studying MPhil Media Studies from the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Featured image credit: YouTube screengrab