Xylitol doesn't taste like sugar and it doesn't give you that high.
The inexplicable desire of the live performer is to be among other people expressing their creativity. The emphasis here is on being among other people. For some reason we are drawn to this set up. To be in a community, to share. You can call all sorts of reasons to the table here, blame narcissism, the ego, the show pony, whatever, but fundamentally the live performer seeks an experience that is grounded in connection between humans.
To face the risk and vulnerability (which means the ability to be wounded) is to ask will I be loved tonight or will I be wounded? With live performance there is no mirror to see yourself in, you don't do it for your own reflection, daringly you let the audience reflect your offering. The performer can feel when the human connection is strong and when it is more fragile. This feeling of human connection cannot be measured. It can't be graphed or treated clinically. Live performance feeds off human connection, which can only be caught in the pace of breath, the pit of the stomach, the melting of the heart, the twitch of irritation, the widened eyes, the upturned edges of the mouth - the wildness of the feeling body.
To put this wildness online is to decapitate the live performer. It separates the body and the mind. It puts focus on the mind, the analytical side, the intellectual, the editor. It eliminates the physical practice of the artist that is grounded in the extra sense of FEELING. How long should I dance for? I will feel it out. It cuts off the wildest part of ourselves, our arms, our feet, our legs, our pelvis, our heart, our genitals. The wilderness of the human body is lost.
To encourage artists to put their work online as if it is no major gear change is an oversight. Behind it are good intentions, sure. But there is an emotion here behind these gestures that is not being expressed. The real emotion of despair, and the despair is causing hasty gestures that may damage the creative arts more than help them. There is despair in our field right now. To not be allowed to be in community, in a group, banned from human connection is despair.
When working online performance is curated. When performing in live entertainment someone can curate themselves as much as they want, but it is the human exchange and breath of feeling where performance thrives. There is no editor in live performance, because it is in the moment, everyone is at the mercy of the human condition, to feel, to move and be moved - it is based on human connection. And play.
In a performance, to push the edges of that human connection is play. Just as there is play between the hinges of a door. Can I slam my audience tonight? Shall I gently close that moment? Will I sway rhythmically with them? Live performers are loved for their play because in turn it makes the audience playful. The audience becomes active in the practice of feeling. Humans are mysterious things and as much as science may try to pin the humans into boxes there remains in live entertainment an inexplicable feeling that feeds the watcher. You can bring in mirror neurons, and co-regulation and what not here to explain it if you like. But when someone performs live, the audience becomes that too. They become the comedian, the dancer, the guitarist. They live another life. So theatre as it originates is a place where you have visions.
When I watch someone online I watch THEM having a vision, I watch THEM experiencing something. I am not needed really, an audience is not needed for this event to occur. And this is the scary thing about a mass, desperate jump towards making work online right now. The powers that be will see this. And they will see that it is more ecomonic. It's easier. Wow, you can analyze it. It's easier to count. It's easier to pin down. The powers that be will say, so why do we need a venue when people can do this in their own home? They will say who got the most likes? They are worthy, let's give them some grant money. They will say art can be online! Hooray, FINALLY, those artists don't actually need all the things they've been screaming for for all of time.
We see a complete halt in the entertainment industry, we see a push to generate online material (as if it's some sort of easy leap) and then we see a massive defunding of Australian arts organizations. That's my paranoid side coming in.
But artists are naive, and I work in the field of clown, and I see The Fool in all artists. They say what happens if I stand on the edge of this cliff, with my bag packed and step off it? All artists are fool hardy folk, live performance isn't safe. They ask, for no gain other than sheer curiosity, What happens if I do this?. What will my audience do? Will they gasp? Will they breathe in? Will they vomit? Will they heave? What bodily response do I want to illicit? The circus performer says what if I climb to the top of this, then jump? The clown says what if I spend an entire hour trying to do this one menial task? The songwriter says what if I don't speak this story, but sing it? And now in hopefulness, naivety, good will and with a tasty $1000.00 quick response grant we might put our art online despite ourselves and everything we've ever worked for.
Independent artists are rarely driven by financial incentives, they play with the edges because they are following a pleasure, a bliss or a feeling. And it's something they cannot get a feeling for until they face a live audience afterwards then they may edit their work based on felt senses. We are in the practice of felt senses, of feeling, feeling together. Feeling is a two way street, a four way street, a bustling intersection. We are in the practice of feeling with each another. In doing so we risk people not feeling the same and we feel that in our dizzy gut. Online work, a system, based on non-embodied, curated and edited representation is a one way dialogue with a passive viewer. There is no adjusting in the moment. There is no vulnerability here. There is no co-regulation. There is no risk. There is no true human connection.
As soon as we too hastily throw this deep importance of human connection away the very soul of our art form is in danger. Do we value this format? Do we value this sharing of guts and of eyes? This ancient format, the ritual of storytelling in a community. Artists stick to your feelings. Is it something to not be seduced by a 'pivot'? The lure of instantly translating your human practice into 2D is there right now, and feels like a premonition into an eery future. It kind of looks nice like a lolly, but when you eat it it doesn't have the taste of real sugar and it probably won't get you high.
Written by Kimberley Twiner.
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