What does a live performance look like during a pandemic?

With physical gatherings out of the picture, performers are exploring unexpectedly innovative new ways to keep the arts world alive


“The Extravaganza” promotional poster/ 88Rising

When I bought tickets to “The Extravaganza,” an online concert event created by musical artist Joji to promote his new album, “Nectar,”  I didn’t 100% know what I was getting myself into. My closest guess would be something similar to a high budget “Tiny Desk Concert” like you see on NPR. But when I checked Instagram a few days later and saw promos for the event, including but not limited to: a dunk tank, Joji dressed as a minion from “Despicable Me,” with the official promo having showgirls and a terrified, screaming Joji bleeding profusely at the nose and mouth, I thought to myself: I really, really don’t know what I’m getting myself into.

“The Extravaganza” was a mixed bag. While it did have straightforward performances of Joji’s most popular songs, there were more unique performances as well, including him running an obstacle course while performing the song “Run” and refereeing a boxing match while haphazardly singing “Pretty Boy.” Along with this, there were interludes including an opera singer and an illusionist as well as a running gag with Justin Timberlake, who repeatedly appeared during the show despite Joji lamenting that “they don’t have room for this in the budget.”

The theatrics and obvious efforts that were put into “The Extravaganza” were certainly entertaining, but it brought up many questions about live performances during a pandemic in general: how do performers keep the attention of the public in a platform as detached as an online live stream, and is it working?

Despite the lack of in-person performances as a huge initial setback, the obstacle has produced creative solutions to keep even just a few entertainers working. The solution was obvious: live stream it. The iHeartRadio Music Festival, normally a huge pull for big crowds, switched to a live broadcast, which produced the now viral cover of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass,” performed by Miley Cyrus, a performance that has amassed just over seven million views in the last three weeks alone.

A big mode for performers to live stream their events has been the streaming platform Twitch. Originally a platform meant for streaming video game playthroughs, the website has now been widely diversified. From small, independent musicians who would have otherwise been performing in bars or restaurants to drag performers, who’ve used the Twitch platform to create the “Digital Drag Fest.” Twitch allows viewers to tip streamers, so viewers were able to support their favorite performers through Twitch or individually through the performer’s Venmo, which was included in the description of each stream. The streaming event was only meant to last a couple of weeks, from March 27 to April 12. It ended up lasting two months, with over 200 performances, allowing 40 queer artists who would’ve otherwise been jobless to perform.

As for how well these virtual events have been doing, the answer seems to be very well. Recently, KCON, a popular convention for K-pop fans hosted a virtual ‘convention’. This event renamed KCON: TACT included live-streamed performances and virtual meet and greets with fans via Zoom. Over its ten-day run, from Oct. 16-25, the event racked up over four million views from 125 different countries, according to Forbes. It’s clear to see that regardless of platform, people are willing, perhaps because they are more able to now than normal, to view and support artists.

This trend of massively successful live streaming events may signal a change in how we interact with the performing arts going forward, even after the pandemic. Digitally viewing performances, a practice once underutilized, if ever utilized at all, has now become an essential medium for the performing arts to make their voices heard, and for the first time, be more accessible than ever.

Email Isabel at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @fibiotibula.

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