We conceived this project back last summer and the offer letter arrived today, so we find ourselves in circumstances that have moved on, yet not in many of the ways we had hoped. Now in our third lockdown, the challenges facing artists in theatre and performance are more daunting than ever. According to a report that came out this week observing the effect on the cultural and creative industries across Europe, the Performing Arts lost 90% of its 2019 turnover in 2019-2020, equating to 37bn euros (£32bn). That means that it is the most impacted of the Cultural and Creative Industries (CCI) sector – itself averaging an impact of 31.2%, second only to aviation. And then within this dismal picture we also know that the impact is not evenly distributed and that freelancers particularly suffer from being left out of support that focuses on institutions. The question of how we Build Back Better requires long and difficult discussion and government support.
Our project has a focus on a specific set of possibilities – those for outdoor live arts, and in particular noticing the potential to reimagine what ‘open air performance’ might be. Even when we can gratefully return to audiences in some of our open air venues (and our South West region has some spectacular locations), could this be an opportunity to develop possibilities, more viable in the short term, that do not rely on the audience sitting in place as a crowd? And if many have found access to green spaces essential to health and wellbeing, and revived their interest in the more-than-human world, could we encourage this through an ‘alternative hedonism‘ (Soper) that offers sustainable and environmentally engaged live events? We find ourselves wondering what work might emerge in summer 2021, when performance is still likely to be restricted, and hope that through this project, we may be able to support the emergence of new approaches.
The image above is my own photograph of Hamish Fulton’s 2013 ‘Slow Walk’ for Penzance/Marazion, standing in a degree of proximity not possible at the moment (Cathy Turner).