Thinking Digitally: new ways to create

The Global Pandemic left the majority of creatives without their usual platforms to share work, but artists are ingenious people and very quickly looked to online, for digital solutions to allow them to continue creating. Major institutions such as The National Theatre have been screening their recorded output free of charge online, musicians are staging online gigs and zoom events have become and everyday occurrence. However, all these ‘performances’ are reactions to a situation rather than an attempt to fundamentally ‘think digitally’.

If we want to ‘create’ digitally we probably need to think in a different way about the creative process. Firstly, what is digital performance? It might be easier as a starting point to look at what digital performance (probably) is not:

  1. A performance designed to be staged in a physical venue (although there may be elements common to both) re-worked for on line delivery
  2. A performance online that would be better served if performed in a physical venue
  3. A recording of a performance shared on line

Watching your favourite artist perform on their couch because you can’t see them live, or sitting down with your house mates to watch a show at the National Theatre on your laptop is great and totally valid as a performative experience for both artist and audience. But it’s not ‘Digital Performance’ in the purest sense.

Digital performance exists because of the environment in which it exists, not in spite of it. As to what ‘is’ Digital Performance that’s another question entirely, and one that thankfully is yet to be fully answered. The examples of what is ‘not’ Digital performance all have one thing in common. They are reactions based on need. ‘I can’t play a gig, I’ll perform live on the internet’, ‘We can’t stage the show, we’ll play a recording of another show on the web’. Digital performance should be led by the medium and be inspired by the opportunities of digital creation, rather than the limitations.

What are the opportunities of working digitally?

  1. Global audience – you can reach people across the world
  2. Interactivity – your audience can interact with you personally in real time (hence the popularity of live on line quizzes)
  3. You can create discreet communities around what you are doing
  4. You can speak directly to individual audience members
  5. You can work simultaneously in more than one medium: live, video, sound, gifs, imagery, gaming, can all be combined
  6. Performance duration can take on whole new meanings. Performances can be live and recorded, you can respond to audiences in real time and after the event.

These are just the first six opportunities that come to mind, but even as I write I am thinking of more and developing ideas from those first six. Digital performance challenges us to think differently about what we create, how we create and ultimately how it is received by our audience. The word ‘Performance’ may itself be a hinderance to thinking digitally. Digital ‘experiences’ might be more useful as a term.

At time of writing the world is still dealing with a global Pandemic that has placed most of us in doors and looking out through our digital screens at the world. Once we return to our more familiar life patterns, we may no longer need to play songs from our couch. However, the opportunities of digital creation will not only remain, but they will increase as our access to creative partners become easier. Hopefully the legacy of our time in isolation will be a new understanding and enthusiasm for digital performance/experience that will see digital performance take its place alongside other forms of performative creativity.

If you are thinking about creating digitally remember two things, a limitation is nothing more than a sign post telling you to take a different direction and start your journey by looking for the opportunities.

Steve Ansell, Artistic Director stage@leeds and stage@leedsDigital