Performance arts do digital amid biting Covid-19 pandemic

Friday, July 24th, 2020 00:00 |

A number of heritage shows are adopting digitalism after the Covid-19 pandemic restricted travel and physical contact. Jackson Onyango talks up key players in the entertainment sector about the future of the performance arts industry, shifting to virtual spaces, monetising and predictions.

The performance arts sector is one of the hardest hit and affected industries of the Covid-19 pandemic.

But as it was witnessed in the British Fashion Week in early June in London, BET Awards 2020 on June 28 at Staples Centre in Los Angeles, and the Paris Fashion Week 2020 from July 9-13, could social gathering be a thing of the past?

Legacy shows boldly transitioning to this method include South Africa Music Awards 2020 (SAMAs) that will host their 26th edition in a unique five-day event proceeding from August 3-7, while MTV Video Music Awards will take place on August 31 at the Barclays Center in New York, USA.

Fashion designer and event organiser Oliver Asike intimates to Spice that it’s a new world and creative entrepreneurs are now faced with new challenges.

He says: “Things that relied on human interaction are now taking in a bit of adjustment.

From the creatives’ lens, we are thinking of new ways to express ourselves.

It’s now becoming a world of technology being the interface between business and consumer. The times are unprecedented, but it affects everyone.”

From the various laid out digital livestreams already rolled out, pre-recorded shows replacing live recordings as modelled by this year’s BET Awards, there are innovative solutions being adopted into performance arts that require social gatherings.

This change is not only exclusive to award shows, but even how movies and series abroad are being shot is witnessing a revolutionary period that may affect the industry for good.

“The way we are shooting our movies is changing. We are still in an experimental stage, but we are keen to observe how sets will have lesser people on site, whiIst exercising precaution to prevent the spread of coronavirus, as a permanent solution is looked for,” says London-based Kenyan cinematographer and film-rating executive Kinyua Kamau.

The readjustments

Kamau reveals that film crews, scenes, and scripts will have to be re-thought and modelled to suit the new norm: “It’s a creative era, different techniques will have to be outlined to navigate the times.

The strict measures, and the fear that people may take the disease back home have huge ramifications, and the film industry will have to see new ambitious ideas in order to continue existing.”

Phil Bresson a director at Insignia Productions, one of the top film production companies in Kenya says the demand for local film content has decreased since the government put in lace restrictions to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

“As a matter of fact we have had to slow down before going back on set, so as to ensure the safety of the actors.

We have to plan the scripts in a way we ensure socially distance of the actors on set is observed, and use long focal length to have distance between the actors and crew.

It’s a tricky time and we have to get the right balance between entertaining and safety,” he tells Spice.

The idea that outdoor concerts such as festivals, or in-house studio shows largely adored by many will return to our screens is affecting many fans.

A number of production studios have fallen under the auctioneers’ hammer, cinema halls have collapsed and job losses result, all as a result of the global pandemic.

This is testament to the fact that the entertainment industry is not immune to the pandemic.

“Animations, limited physical creative brainstorming sessions, Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) will become common. It’s definitely a creatively and business challenging time,” says Kinyua. 

TV and audiovisual broadcast specialist Eric Kinyeki reveals that companies abroad have been long working on a model to filter the effects of many fans having to miss out on their favourite programmes due to the social distancing measures.

“In the West, international video and camera equipment manufacturers have been exploring advanced technologies that will evolve the industry.

Things such as CGI will be normal soon, and video effects (VFX) software will slowly be accessible to consumers.

Despite their expense, this is the way to go because the world is changing, and we have to evolve with it,” Kinyeki intimates.

Kinyeki, a graduate of John Hopkins University of Technology with a Masters in Fine Arts, has been part of CNN, Turner Studios, Africa 24 Media, and China Central Television productions, among others. He says the creative industries “shall overcome the obstacles.”

This may affect employment of actors as CGI technology might take the places of actual humans on set, something that has been on trial on stage behind closed doors in developed countries.

Theatre, guild-shows, gallerias, stand-up comedy and any arena that involves a physical human performance, stage design, audio-visual accompaniment, lighting and pyrotechnics, are some of the arenas that are massively being disrupted. 

Time to digitise

Head of Content and Marketing at Tyler Perry Studios -Africa Kitawi Mwakitele reveals that in terms of his employer’s business, they are working on a lot of ideas.

However, he is an event organiser in Kenya through Hype Events, and is adamant that this is the time to effectively shape the digital space for Kenyan events.

“We are attempting ways to scale up and go digital, meaning we want a consistent means of monetising online content, but for the physical events, we had contractual obligations, and sadly we are done for the year,” he reveals.

Kitawi recently got into the podcasting space and has started producing online content including the partnership with Nigerian live band Alternate Sounds that will perform Kenyan music with a live feel, and the recording uploaded online. 

“The concept now is to work on partnerships with interested parties, get sponsorships, and come up with ways that will entertain and involve the audience virtually.

But talks are ongoing with different tech guys to develop platforms where artistes can earn from their crafts online, instantly,” Kitawi adds.

Mix and match

For local deejays, their cup is quite different. The government has announced a proposition to tax digital content, and also cited a lack of a license to play international music may see them fined. Kenyan diaspora DJs participant Sean Mwangi aka DJ GI, feels the government is being “oppressive and cynical.”

“The team at 254 Diaspora DJs created this free platform that runs 24 hours a day with thousands of fans tuned in from all around the world.

They do not pay us to perform on the Facebook group; we just apply for a slot on their site and perform!

Normally, how a DJ would earn from this kind of a gig would be through tips,” he quips.

He adds that deejaying is a passion for many players, and that staying creative is the only way one can capitalise and stay relevant in the craft.

“I can’t speak for all DJs, but I got some good tips during my sets from people in different countries who I’ve never met,” he says, adding that fellow DJs should stay positive and take up the idea of virtual shows without prejudice.

He says, “All you need to do an online performance is a space, decks (or virtual DJ), a phone with a camera and Internet.

It’s a really affordable and viable way to connect with and perform for different audiences at your convenience and in your element.

For many DJs in Kenya who don’t get gigs for all sorts of reasons though, this is a great way to continuously perfect your craft, grow your fan base, get feedback and build content.”

GI advises fellow spinsters to learn the basics of how to earn money from virtual gigs.

“I’d say whether you earn and what you earn from these tips relies heavily on the moves you make; your timing, quality of the set, how you ask for tips, your vibe and luck.

That being said, I will be doing another set on the platform today (July 24) from 3pm Kenyan time and I hope to do more and earn more from this and future sets,” says GI.

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