Let’s Talk About… is our series of zoom meet ups – facilitating and enabling Arts and Culture professionals to share their thoughts, feelings and questions regarding the sectors’ current state and future. On Thursday 9 July, our topic was Going Digital and we wanted to share the discussion with you.
Please bear in mind, this discussion took place in an open and safe environment, and the highlights that follow are not that solely of DanceEast but an insight into the personal views, comments and debates shared by those who attended. Our hope in sharing this with you is that it may spark ideas or indeed encourage further discussion.
The group discussed the different approaches to digital content and found three areas of engagement most common; pre-recorded content, live classes on platforms like Zoom or a mix of both approaches called blended learning. Pre-records help to break down pressures and accessibility barriers; as users can take part at any time, determine their own pace by pausing and replaying content, and allowing people who might not otherwise attend dance classes the chance to try something new. The autonomy of pre-recording was championed.
“I feel that I have more control over pre-recording content than I do on Zoom. It means I must be the whole film crew: cameraman, sound, lighting as well as the performer.”
As facilitators, the teaching approach dramatically shifts with the use of different digital mediums. The group highlighted the way this necessitates good teaching practise.
“I’m used to instant feedback, as a teacher that feedback is impeded on a digital platform. With all the students on mute, I’m teaching to silence.”
“Articulating and describing how the body moves has to be really clear, not just physically, but in the use of language too. You must use the right dynamics in your voice, and positions in your space to orient people. Don’t forget, they’re in the real world, but to them, you are flat on the screen.”
Many felt that going digital had reduced the impact of the ‘liveness’ of an event.
“The biggest benefit of my project to children and families is the physical presence and response of individuals to the artists. You can’t pre-record that. How can we still reach children in hospital or isolating? How do we adapt a practise that is so much about presence?”
Some of the participants discussed specific theatre companies making interactive work, using a mix of pre-recorded content with choices that allow the audience to navigate a journey through a narrative. They encouraged each other to get excited about other digital platforms: Zoom is only one option, and there are plenty of other software options that allow for multiple cameras, overlays and drop ins to create professional and dynamic content.
Whatever the platform, it’s important to continually consider ‘why?’ whilst producing digital content. We must all make work within the conditions and limitations of digital platforms while considering what our work stands for artistically and creatively, and how this is reflected or enhanced by the method of delivery is integral to creating effective work.
Of course, this depends on the digital literacy of facilitators and their participants. Something which the group remarked on was the improvements in the technical capabilities of audiences over the last few months.
“Participants are asking me to keep a digital aspect to my work going forward. The option of zoom, as well as face to face sessions. Going digital has allowed for many opportunities and successes.”
The group then questioned what should be kept as we see a return to normality, with contributors keen to retain access to training as well as creative content.
“Lockdown and the move to digital has made Continuing Professional Development (CPD) really accessible for me. I don’t have to consider ditching a day’s wages on travel, food and training. I’m hoping it’s something that will stay.”
However, there is still a responsibility on practitioners not to lose sight of members of the community who don’t have digital access. Practitioners are reaching out via post, newsletters, phone calls and pen pal projects to ensure those outside of the digital world are not left behind.
The group shared a sense of limbo about the future of their creative practises.
“It took a year to programme our work and a day to cancel it all. None of us know the way forward, so working that out is tricky.”
The big takeaway that everyone agreed on was that going digital is not about attempting to replicate what we usually deliver. Once the understanding that this content will be a new and different endeavour, the opportunity can become exciting rather than daunting.
Whilst discussing the ability for digital content to broaden participation and create new communities, it was great to see members of the sector from across the East; Norfolk, Suffolk, Lincolnshire, and from London too, coming together to share ideas in our forum.