The performing arts in the face of adversity

Photo by Ahmad Odeh on Unsplash

By Cristina Vázquez

The performing arts have clearly demonstrated their ability to cope with adversity, be it economic crises or the pandemic caused by the coronavirus. They always look for spaces to continue subsisting while their artists contribute with their social work.

It is enough to remember the emergence of Microteatro in November 2009 in an old brothel in Madrid, where 13 rooms housed 13 independent groups to present a theatrical piece, from 10 to 15 minutes, sharing the same theme: prostitution, for an audience no larger than 10 people.

Microteatro has venues in at least five countries in cities such as Miami, where the same works are represented in English and Spanish, Bogota and Leon, in the case of Mexico, demonstrating its success despite its detractors.

The context in which this theatrical movement appeared was marked by the economic crisis in Spain, the cuts in culture and the increase in VAT that caused the loss of spectators and the closure of many a theater.

Cristina Oñoro Otero, from the Complutense University of Madrid, relates in her article When theater is necessary: new theater formats a decade later (2009-2019) that during the years following the outbreak of the crisis, the offer of original proposals grew like foam in unconventional spaces: houses, shops, rooftops, prisons, hairdressers, old brothels, porters.

And those proposals were not limited to the Microteatro. They also covered immersive, ambulatory and serial theater. «We must also point out the success of the public, the dynamism of the programming, the reduced price of the ticket, as well as the use of social networks and attractive web pages for the diffusion and publicity of the shows,» says Oñoro Otero.

The offer of small-format productions, although not so recent, has gained new momentum. It occurs, for example, with Sofar Sounds, a project born in London in 2009, which organizes intimate concerts in unique spaces in more than 400 cities worldwide, including Mexico City, Toronto and Chicago. What makes it interesting and attractive is keeping the place where the show will take place a secret. It is revealed 24 hours in advance, via email, in which they provide the address to the public that has been selected to attend.

The names of the musicians who will perform live are also not disclosed, on the premise that all artists should be treated with the same respect, whether they are famous or not.

Occasionally poets, comedians or dancers also participate. Sometimes you have to pay for tickets, and other times the audience makes a cash donation at the end of the concert. The artist may well receive the production of a video or a fixed payment or in exchange for his performance.

At first, Sofar concerts were only organized in the houses or apartments of the hosts. Now concerts are held in offices, warehouses, galleries, museums and even ships.

In Chicago, the city where I live, the concerts known as Candlelight have generated increasing interest, where you can listen to, literally by candlelight in an intimate atmosphere, works by composers such as Beethoven, Vivaldi or Chopin and recently a special series of black composers.

It is a multisensory experience in inspiring venues to enjoy classical music programmed by FeverUp, an app whose objective is to propose to the user a personalized list of events that take place in some of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world (Mexico City, Toronto, Montreal, Madrid, New York, London, Paris, Barcelona, Los Angeles).

Like Sofar Sounds, the location where the concert will take place is revealed until the last moment. It can be a basilica, a cathedral or a mansion, among other spaces, but here too the capacity is reduced and that guarantees a greater closeness to the interpreters.

These small-format productions can easily adhere to the health regulations imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as maintaining an adequate distance between viewers. Which shows, once again, how workers in the performing arts manage to escape the crisis with creative and innovative proposals, while betting on economic reactivation.

As I said at the beginning, the performing arts always find ways to turn around adversity, to raise awareness and to seek a more pleasant life. In this era, they also do it under models of inclusion, gender parity and easy accessibility.The show must go on!

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