Developing a Show in the Time of Covid
So, in 2020, my sister and I decided that the Covid19 lockdown was the perfect time to develop a new arts project! If the arts industry was dying, then we would be like a creative Terminator, splashing around in the lava, refusing to go gently into that good night, giving a thumbs up to all who looked on even if all was melting around us.
Clearly I'm being facetious. We'd dreamed of creating a duo for some time, it just so happened that the moment we got our butts into gear to take action in early 2020... da da da daa... you can guess the rest. You were there too.
In hindsight, working on our new musical comedy project - The Wynter Of Our Disco Tent - during lockdown actually did turn out to be positive timing for us:
a) for our own mental health, to have something so wildly fun and stupid and escapist to focus on; and
b) we were able to secure some excellent professional development support thanks to two initiatives that sprang up for artists in response to Covid.
The first of these was the "Must Go On" program run by Creative Arts Alliance. This was held entirely over Zoom - for obvious reasons - and included regular sessions, with six participants (including us) and each week a different industry expert to offer guidance on our respective paths. We were also paired with a mentor - who was specifically picked for our unique project by our overall project mentor Liz Burcham - who could offer specific guidance and feedback over several sessions. My sister and I were DELIGHTED to be paired with the utterly fabulous Adam Brunes from The Little Red Company. It was magical.
By the end of this program... what? We had a vision for what we wanted to achieve, we had decided to go with an interactive "dear diary" inspired show, where we get audience members to send in their genuine diary entries and high school letters was something that both fired us up creatively AND had the added benefit of creating audience interaction before the show had even begun.
Our next phase of development was made possible thanks to a Continue Creating grant from Moreton Bay Regional Council, which allowed us to undertake a series of mentorship sessions with the BEYOND amazing Cal Wilson, to help us creatively thrash out the idea and come up with a backbone outline of our first live show.
So... in terms of actually developing an artistic project in these new Covid times, we definitely had one of the best, most supportive of support networks with which to tackle it. So I thought I'd share some of the things we learned along the way!
COLLABORATING WITH PEOPLE YOU NEVER IMAGINED Thanks to Zoom we could access an incredible mentor in Cal, who we otherwise wouldn't have been able to afford (factoring in travel and accommodation) nor would she have been likely to have the availability in her schedule. (At the risk of sounding mercenary, the reality is that with lockdown and the cancellation of So. Much. Work... many artists suddenly became extremely available and in need of income. I think the positive side of this was that if you wanted to work with somebody who usually would never have a second spare in their schedule, providing you could find a way to pay them properly, the impossible became... less impossible.) As a side note to artists: I still think we should be challenging our preconceived limits on who we can work with now. With everybody so comfortable now on Zoom (and all the other platforms), there really is no reason NOT to consider your dream collaborator, mentor or sensei anywhere on the planet. During lockdown I did a writing workshop with Bryony Kimmings in the UK, something I doubt she would have done without lockdown happening. It absolutely is never the same as being in the same room as each other, but my goodness it's pretty incredible to realise that connecting and working with people you never would have dreamed possible actually IS.
TWO (locations) IS COMPANY, THREE (locations) IS A CROWD When my sister and I were in the room with each other, sharing a laptop chatting with Cal, it was much easier to keep the conversation and ideas flowing. As you no doubt know, chatting online certainly doesn't make conversation flow particularly naturally at the best of times, but we found the sessions where all three of us were in different locations and thus adjusting for three different timings, things felt very stilted indeed. Which is one thing when you're trying to have a meeting, but when your purpose FOR that meeting is to be getting things flowing... it is a hurdle.
COMEDY IS ALL ABOUT TI....... MING See the above. It's more than slightly unnerving to throw out a joke idea... and have to wait the 1, 2, 3 seconds until it is received on the other end. I daresay I think this makes comedy particularly challenging to flesh out over the Zoom meeting. On the plus side, it builds the steely portion of your nerves. #comedysilverlinings
MAKING FRIENDS WITH REALISM Being realistic has never been my strong suit. Indeed I think entering the arts requires some level of self-delusion just to keep you going when all the odds seem against you. But in venturing cautiously into this new arena of collaborating comedically online, we had to be... well, if not realistic in scope, maybe realistic in scale. Originally we pitched Cal the idea of directing us, however we were all a bit nervous about how this would actually work over Zoom (given so much of directing is actually being in the space/blocking out, etc.) But when she counter-pitched us the idea of helping mentor us to develop the script, all of us let out a collective sigh of awesome. It turned out to be an excellent call.
CREATING ON AN UNPREDICTABLE TIMELINE Ordinarily we'd have been writing this show for a set deadline: this Comedy Festival, that Fringe Festival, the other premiere event... but for obvious reasons this was not going to be the case. This isn't a 'creating online' specific problem but it definitely is a 'covid times' issue for artists in developing new work. All timelines are written lightly in pencil now, erased, re-written, and updated later. Which, if you're like me and thrive on the adrenaline of a solid, imminent deadline to actually get your motor revving, is a challenge.
EMBRACING DIFFERENT FORMATS Once lockdown hit, my sister and I went through a phase of wondering whether we should be rethinking the entire project to be a web series or a Tik Tok account or... or... or... our knee-jerk reaction was to shelve our idea of a live show immediately, given that who knew when restrictions would lift (if they ever would? And in the longer term, what does 'restriction' mean?) We have obviously decided to move forward with the live show plans with Cal's gentle loving guidance, however exploring these other options has become less of an "this OR that" and more of a "this AND that". Once we are getting closer to having our live show ready, we'll be generating some videos and if all goes to plan (because when does it NOT?!) a podcast. They can feed each other, round and round, back and forth. I doubt we'd be looking into that so seriously had it not been for having to think outside of the box during lockdown.
Have you created work by collaborating online during these new times? If so I'd LOVE to hear your stories, what's worked and what hasn't and what you've learned along the way!