Mapping the status of the performing arts field

In January, Scenekunstbruket sent out a new survey to performing artists who work with children and young people. This time, we wanted to hear how the artists' reality and activities have been affected by the past year. How do they view the future and their own artistry? Many of the respondents called for meeting places for the professional community and the need to maintain networking opportunities and infrastructure in the field. We want to address this and are establishing networking groups for performing artists to share experiences and support.  

The survey is the third survey Scenekunstbruket has conducted during the corona pandemic. The information from this and from other contacts with the art field will be used as a basis to advocate for the field and to initiate other activities to meet the needs of performing artists in the future. Here are some of the responses from the survey. 

Willingness to take risks 

We asked the question: Has the pandemic changed how much risk you're willing to take with projects? E.g. artistically, financially? If so , how and why do you think it has changed? 

Generally speaking, we see that artists have not changed their willingness to take risks to develop their art. There are also some who see new opportunities. Most have developed a practical approach to the situation, where artistic development and risk are still important, but where the artistic practice has changed based on what is possible and how the performance can live over time - with and without restrictions. The answers also vary because the companies are organized in different ways, had different degrees of touring planned for 2020, and different conditions for receiving compensation:

"Not financially, there is always a risk to take into account. Artistically, it's a difficult assessment to what extent you should 'corona-adapt' projects that take place far into the future. And uncertainty about whether you choose to do so or not affects the possibility of receiving grants for new projects."

"I've always taken risks (...) Creating projects should always be risky, it's part of creating art, so Covid 19 hasn't changed my thoughts on that. But the framework around it has become much more uncertain and that means it requires more motivation on my part to start new projects."

"The situation has strengthened an already existing desire to expand and rethink what a performance space can be and how a performing artist relates to the audience. What role do they play in the experience they are part of?

"I always choose art, high risk and low pay over everything else. But I've become careful with contracts." 

"The willingness to take risks hasn't diminished, but we've become accustomed to making plans with many reservations. The uncertainty means that everything takes a little longer." 

However, several say that the situation has changed their willingness to take risks. Much of this is linked to the economic situation:  

"It's not about risk, but that it has become more difficult to organize as you are so dependent on financial support being in place from the start." 

"Yes, both financially and artistically. Digital performances are a risky project in terms of finances. It's unusual not to know what revenue opportunities exist and how willing the audience is to pay for digital content."  

"You don't know how long the situation will remain as it is today.It's important to keep working, to be creative and important to initiate projects even if the financial framework is not in place. It's not uncommon to take financial risks, but it's scarier to do it today when you don't know what the future will be." 

Digital opportunities 

How artists have responded to digital dissemination methods varies - for some it has given them a new lease of life and will shape their work in the future, while others have made it clear that they will not be working in this way again:

"I'm pretty sure I want to continue working in theater, and equally sure that working digitally is not for me. That brings with it some uncertainty, of course."  

"It is necessary to increase digital competence. At the same time, it is becoming even clearer how important the collective and interactive is for performing arts work." 

"As far as I'm concerned, the lockdown has really shown how important the physical meeting is for the performing arts. Digital can be a supplement to a certain extent, but it's obvious that something is lost for the audience and for us who present the performance. During the first shutdown in the spring of 2020, it was important and natural to be present digitally. We feel that this pressure has decreased throughout 2020 and for 2021 we will prioritize physical meetings. Digital will to a greater extent be a supplement."  

Thoughts on the future 

The pandemic has had an impact on artists' thoughts about their own work and the future.  

We asked the question: Based on your experiences after the lockdown in 2020. What kind of thoughts do you have about your artistry and work through 2021 and beyond? The answers show that the situation has forced creativity in many when it comes to collaboration and dissemination. Where some see opportunities and maintain a positive view of the future, we also see that everyday life is characterized by uncertainty and discouragement for many, and some go so far as to reconsider their profession as an artist: 

"It calls into question very fundamental and basic principles for me. Why performing arts at all. Am I/we needed?Is there any value in what I do? How much am I "worth" as a workforce in Norway and as a citizen." 

"(...) the pandemic has made me very uninspired and unmotivated, and thoughts of "giving up" as a performing artist and becoming something else are more present than before. Loose plan to study to become something else from the fall of 2022." 

"As a company, we will continue to work with our art. However, we have had to look for other work that provides financial gain until the situation changes. With another job and less time for unpaid administrative work for our own company, the focus on the company in the recent period has been far less than before." 

"We're worried about finances, but of course more worried about losing valuable practice." 

"We feel that things have been put on hold and that we've lost a lot of time during an important period in our artistry and life. The plan was to produce a lot during this period to lay the foundation for a higher income and permanent employment in our own company. The goal is to get a mortgage, but all that will have to wait a little longer now." 

"I'm thinking that I might have to come up with something else soon." 

Others are more optimistic about the future and their own projects, but many are worried about the performing arts field, the infrastructure and opportunities for collaboration. What will happen to the network, the expertise, and what will the many canceled performances do to further activity? 

"I'm excited about the consequences of the Covid-19 lockdown going forward. I feel that the situation has discouraged me and that it's harder to motivate myself to create new projects on my own. It's also difficult to sell shows and many have been canceled." 

"I just hope to keep my head above water until it's possible to network (...) again." 

"While I'm waiting for 2022 and (...) festivals, the situation has made me focus on what's close to me. I'm working on new projects and collaborations with local players. Projects that can adapt to restrictions "maybe" have a better chance of surviving and hopefully will have the opportunity to develop later. Although the situation is demanding and very unsettling, I also see it as a positive challenge in my artistry." 

"I have previously thought that theater is not important. Now I think it is." 

"Very unsure how it will affect the work over a longer period of time, but as I said, I think there will be an accumulation for everyone in the independent field that will have major ripple effects." 

"That we must constantly adapt to new formats, and that artists can easily fall through the cracks when society faces challenges. That we need to work even more locally, and explore how we can take art more to where people live. And that you're only really strong if you have access to infrastructure such as rehearsal rooms etc, which you will also have keys to when people close their doors." 

"(...) I think we need to focus a LOT on getting some of the audience back to open events." 

Desire for community 

There is great variation in how the various artists and companies have handled the past year. The conditions vary, both in terms of art form, organizational form and where in the country they are located. That's why we also asked what the needs were and what we could do to help. As expected, production opportunities, co-production opportunities and screening and rehearsal facilities are consistently desired:

"Production resources are of course always the most important thing, but all resources such as professional guidance, premises and co-production forces are worth more than their weight in gold. Anything that facilitates the opportunity to create within a narrow framework." 

One thing that many respondents mention is the lack of a sense of community and the need for professional and social meeting places. Networking opportunities, mentoring opportunities and arenas for meeting new people or discussing new ideas:

"(...) at a time when we are so isolated, Scenekunstbruket can be a unifying factor and a way to feel a sense of belonging, both to the field, but also to one's work as a performing artist" 

"It would be nice to have professional meetings/events to hear how others solve, for example, infection control when working with children and young people. Does anyone have experiences from DKS, for example, that could be useful for others to take on board? Contracts, remuneration for digital productions, etc." 

"(...) I experience both myself and others need for support from the field, and a sense that we as independent performing artists stand together in this and can help each other through the pandemic." 

"Many people work alone. It's very challenging in these times. The need for community is great. Both professional and social. Maybe we need help to facilitate this. I'm not sure exactly how this should happen (...) the problem with the pandemic is that many people are becoming more introverted and the barrier to seeking out others is increasing." 

For Scenekunstbruket, these surveys over the past year have given us a good insight into the needs of the performing arts field. That's why we're now tackling this in a very concrete way and setting up network groups for performing artists and actors who work with performing arts for children and young people. This will be a low-threshold service that will meet approximately once a month. The meetings will be on Zoom so that artists from all over the country can join, and there will be opportunities to talk about challenges, brainstorm ideas, share experiences and get professional content.

Read more about the groups and sign up here:

Photo: Evan Dennis on Unsplash