Volume Seven: WHAT'S IN THE PROGRAMME?
in conversation with Davinia Jokhi from HOME Manchester
The Guardian released an article last week (October 2021) saying: “that 56% of publicly subsidised theatres that had at least one online performance during the first 18 months of the pandemic have none scheduled for the autumn season,” which maybe doesn’t come as much of a surprise. But it certainly makes one think about ‘what is the future of digital work?’
On the back of this it feels a very interesting time to share our conversation with Davinia Jokhi from HOME Manchester.
(Reading not your thing?
Don't worry, we've recorded the text below so you can listen to it instead. Click here to listen)
Within less than a week of HOME having to close their doors to the public in March 2020, HOME announced their new digital programme of work: Homemakers. What started out as 5 commissions, was then repeatedly extended, only coming to an end in August 2021 having featured 45 pieces, encapsulating a huge variety of different mediums and forms. Some were live events on Zoom, others were pre-recorded films, interactive experiences, handwritten stories delivered by post. A personal favourite was ‘How To Win’ (by Hidden Track) an online game released in 5 instalments, with each instalment created from audience suggestions about what the rules of the game should be. Resulting in a brilliantly chaotic and hilarious game that manages to comment on capitalism, climate crisis, and workers rights all whilst allowing you to escape to the circus and invest in a potato based pyramid scheme. (It’s still available to play on Hidden Track’s website here.)
Musing on what the appetite for online work has been and how that has changed over the last 19 months, Davinia explains, “I think initially, the appetite for digital was not born out of people wanting to see work, but to support artists and venues. I think there was a real acknowledgement that: ‘Oh my God, everything shut down. Nobody's been able to make anything.
"And we are finding now that the appetite is tailoring off. And I think that there’s a number of factors. Obviously people are bored of being on their computers all day, because that's their main source of work now. I think the weather isn't helping because it's really nice and everyone wants to get outside.” (You can tell we had this interview at the beginning, rather than the end of Summer, but I think it’s still relevant).
Potentially a damming response, when considering the future of ‘digital theatre’ particularly when you think of the statistics of how many theatre’s aren’t including online work in their programs. But not so quick… when I issued that challenge, asking if it was just a fad brought out of necessity not desire, Davinia is quick to counter; “Oh no, I think that it will continue, definitely! Because I think it's shown the variety of techniques you can use, the different forms you can use. And it's also opened up a whole world of accessibility for people. Not only [in terms of ] being able to provide for people who identify as D/deaf and disabled, but also geographically. So I think it will continue. I think more people will now be able to adapt digital into their live work as well, because they've had this whole period of time experimenting with what's possible. And I think that the appetite will pick back up again, once people are not sitting in their houses at their computers all day, and that it actually goes back to being quite a novelty that you can sit at home and watch something. So I think that there will be an audience for it.” It won’t come as much of a surprise then, that HOME at least, is continuing to programme digital work in their Autumn season this year.
This idea of appetite returning once the novelty returns is a feeling that was echoed when we spoke previously to Terry O’Donovan from Dante or Die, who are continuing to create work for both in person and online audiences: “I think if the theatre makers make really interesting stuff- people will watch and engage. I think the key thing is going- ‘What's out there that you can make in this way that we couldn't make in a live space?’ because it offers you different storytelling aspects. And it's also not TV and it's not film, it's this performance medium that we're all kind of figuring out and playing with and experimenting with. And that makes me really excited. Because it's something new. It's a new way of exploring these devices that we are with all day every day. If these spaces can become new to us, and we can see new things through them then that's great.”
As Talent Development Producer it was of course interesting to hear Davinia’s thoughts on what specific support artists have asked for when making non-in person work. She acknowledges and sees the variety of skills that a creator can suddenly need (a basic knowledge of Q-Lab is sadly no longer enough). She talks of artists having to build apps, design websites etc, which to any of us (or at least to me) sounds like a very daunting task. But, as Davinia notes “it seems to me that a lot more artists are just going ‘oh well I’m going to do this now’. And just trying it and having a go and not being as frightened of technology as they were before.” Maybe one thing this year has given us is a certain courage and resilience, we’ve now spent so long in the digital space (from family zooms, to work calls) that it doesn’t feel as removed from our artistic language as before.