Sunday, December 19, 2010

Is There Life For the Live Performing Arts After the Internet?

A Spoonful of Sugar

Can the live performing arts survive the Internet? Ben Cameron thinks it can. The Arts Administrator who serves as the Arts Program Director for the Doris Duke Foundation is speaking out on the subject. This past February, Cameron spoke with passion and enthusiasm to an anxious crowd-- his feelings and hopes for the continued prosperity of the performing arts.

Ben Cameron, Arts Administrator
Cameron expresses what many in the industry feel, a fear that the Internet and immediate accessibility of entertainment online, will affect who attends live events and how often. Should we be concerned? Yes. Is it the beginning of the end? No. He emphasizes that the live performing arts must be part of a new reformation in order to survive.

Probably the most important point Cameron expressed was that the arts “invite us to look at our fellow human beings with generosity and curiosity”. He goes on to state, “We work to promote healthy vibrant societies, to ameliorate human suffering, to promote a more thoughtful, substantive, empathic world order”.

In his speech, Cameron doesn’t offer any suggestion of how the arts will survive or what we need to do protect them. Instead, he offers a call to action; not to fight technology and change, but to search for ways to co-exist.

Initially, I was inspired by this speech. After several viewings, what really impressed me, was what is missing from it... Answers.

Will Technology Be the Downfall of Civilization?

As technology evolves, it becomes easier for us to be lazy and ineffective. The very tools we have to enhance our abilities to communicate, allow us to communicate less. People need to talk! Email, texting and access to new worlds of information through the Internet are only effective if we are effective. They were created as tools to use, not as a replacement for good old-fashioned communication.

How many times have you misinterpreted an email, reading in a thought or emotion that wasn’t there? The fact is, without face-to-face visual communication, it is too easy to read between the lines and miss the point entirely. When we communicate in person, we take in the speaker’s tone, speech pattern, energy and mannerisms and the actual words may take on an entirely different meaning. As it develops, communicating through video chat can be more effective. It fills in some of the gaps allowed by email and texting, but if you cannot see the speaker’s hand gestures and feel the energy or intensity that exist in the moment, there is still an opportunity for misunderstanding.

How Does This Relate to the Live Performing Arts?

As wonderful as technology is, nothing can replace the actual true experience of being there. When we watch world events unfold on television or online, we get a sense of what is happening, we may even feel something, but it’s not the same as living the experience. We are only distant spectators.

Nothing will ever replace the feeling or experience of attending a live event. If you haven’t witnessed this already, watch a video of an event that you witnessed first-hand. Ideally, make it something that made a huge impression on you. Good or bad, it won’t feel the same. One of the main reasons (aside from lost revenue) that there is such an outcry against bootlegged recording of events is the loss of integrity that  occurs. A live performance is ever changing. Performers aren’t ever going to be perfect—but that perception of a performance in a live situation is completely different when viewed recorded online.  I can’t tell you how many times I have had students watch performances on YouTube and make negative assumptions about a performer or production. It is not the same. It is completely unfair to try and judge a medium when it is viewed as it was never intended to be conveyed. What may be seen as a flaw when viewed online, may be the very element that makes a performance exhilarating, live and in person.

I have a friend that will say about a location or point of interest, “I don’t need to go there, I’ve seen pictures”.  This is so untrue! A picture may be worth a thousand words… but it can never equal the actual experience of being there.

Live performance is organic. You see, hear, feel, touch, smell and experience it. If we want the performing arts to survive, we have to remind people of that. We must encourage people that have never experienced a live show to do so. Most important, we ourselves, that profess to love the art form, must attend as many live events as possible. Otherwise, it could disappear. Then, technology ceases to be a tool and becomes our master misintrepreter.


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