Just a few months ago, a quiet unlike anything our venues have encountered before settled over Geelong Arts Centre, leaving a sea of empty seats without an audience and three well-trodden stages without a single performer.
But the pause gave way to innovation, thrusting the arts centre into a new world of digital broadcast. A new way to connect with audiences, and to bring artists back onto the stage, safely.
These Friday night live-stream performances have been the keystone to Geelong Arts Centre’s #WhereCreativityMeetsAtHome initiative, featuring Taylor Henderson, Tripod, Gillian Cosgriff, Amanda Harrison, Jessie Lloyd, and many more exceptional Victorian artists.
In the days and hour before a performer takes simultaneously to the stage and screen, a nimble team of theatre technicians, producers and marketers busily set upon rigging, promoting and programming.
Staging any live performance takes planning and care, and there’s even more to consider when you beam an image to screens of varying sizes and resolutions. Geelong Arts Centre’s lighting technicians choose the perfect fixtures to ensure what everyone watching at home is both flattering and exciting.
Head of Lighting, Dean Taylor said, “Most performances we host come with their own lighting design or require a fairly universal set up. We now have a great opportunity to be challenged and experiment with our spaces, learning and growing as lighting technicians.“
“There are certain demands that come with lighting a big stage but creating camera pleasing states and effects in a narrow field of view is a challenge within itself.”
A high-definition cinema camera sits in the stalls of the centre’s seven hundred and forty seat proscenium arch theatre, The Playhouse, and a further handful of mounted cameras are dotted across the stage, all feeding crisp visuals to a central mixing deck in the theatre’s rear.
From the mixing deck, a theatre technician settles in to act as surrogate eyes for the audiences at home, cutting between camera feeds to curate the story within a performance.
“Our performers place a lot of trust in our brilliant technicians to capture the magic that happens on stage, and they haven’t been let down yet!” says Joel McGuinness, CEO Geelong Arts Centre.
“It’s fabulous to watch the technicians navigate upwards of four-screens, to bring the audience watching at home the very best experience, while also managing audio levels and everything else a live performance throws at them.”
Working remotely, the centre’s programming team has been hustling to source solo or small ensemble acts that can be seamlessly distilled for the sightlines of a camera, while also adhering to social distancing protocols.
With every challenge, the team has found an opportunity, taking chances with the kinds of performances and performers engaged, while also thinking about the appeal to local, national and international audiences.
“We’ve had arts lovers tune in from all of the world; The UK, France, Hong Kong, Dubai, Canada and Japan. It’s been so exciting to share local talent with a global audience,” said Penny McCabe, Senior Producer.
“It’s been really interesting to program a new type of performance, while also under the physical constraints of social distancing. We’re seeing a lot of rehearsals via Zoom and artists commuting from Melbourne to Geelong in convoy, rather than sharing a car.”
With so many other organisations across the arts and major events space also impacted, a comradery in solidarity has seen new relationships forge and existing relationships cement.
“For me, the most impressive thing to emerge during such an uncertain time has been the willingness for tourism and arts organisation to rally together to promote the incredible creativity happening in our sector.” said Hugh Coldwell-Ross, Social Media and Communications Coordinator.
“We all recognise that together we can make an experience that cuts through the doom and gloom, bringing a bit of joy and reprieve to our arts lovers wherever they are.”
For a performer, it’s quite the ask to manufacture the energy usually fed back from an audience that would spur you on past those initial nerves.
Always on hand to assist the artists get their bearings in a new setting, Acting Director Production Operations, Angelique Helman says, “The phrase - This is really weird! - comes out a lot.”
“Our performers are used to an auditorium full of people. To sing to, to sing with and engage with. The missing round of applause or encore request is often the signal for an artist to know whether they did a good job. Without that, it can be very daunting.”
While all #WhereCreativityMeetsAtHome performances are live-streamed free, the centre has welcomed donations to support the initiative.
“I’ve been blown away by the incredible support of our patrons who have given what they can to enable us to continue employing artists and continue to do what we do best, bring entertainment, creativity and joy to our community.” said Kimberley Sinnott, Development Coordinator.
After a successful inception to the program, Geelong Arts Centre will soon offer the live-stream service to commercial hirers and community theatre groups who wish to bring their own events to life.
“Whilst this initiative has been a reaction to our current environment, we are also afforded an incredible opportunity to develop, learn and resource our capabilities in this area,” said Brad Rush, Executive Producer Programming & Creative Industries at Geelong Arts Centre.
“This challenge has allowed Geelong Arts Centre to innovate and we will have an established digital programming option that can progress alongside face to face programs.”