Without any genre intact by Covid-19, what does the future of the arts look like? What will come back? What modifications might be necessary to the sites? And our behavior? Are the days of moshing with sweaty strangers in grotty basements over?
To answer these questions, I decided to let myself be guided only by science. With Scally, I spoke to Daisy Fancourt, associate professor of psychobiology and epidemiology at University College London; Shaun Fitzgerald, member of the University of Cambridge and the Royal Academy of Engineering; and Anders Johansson, lecturer in systems engineering at the University of Bristol. All point out that their predictions are not written in stone.
Actors, dancers and comedians could find themselves confronted with another type of locking. Fancourt mentions film sets in the United States, where actors and entire teams agree to isolate themselves for two weeks before filming. “We could have partnerships locked up over a period of time,” she said. “Alternatively, if we can exist in a semi-locked state, with some social interaction allowed, theaters may be able to adapt their models.
“Instead of having several different shows with different companies entering and leaving, we could end up with scenarios like the Royal Shakespeare Company, where you have companies of actors who stay and make shows as a collective in one place. The number of social interactions within the company is therefore limited and it is easier to follow and trace if an infection occurs. “
Go with the flow
“Everyone’s talking about distancing,” says Johansson, “but what about exposure time? Using aerial cameras, he studied how people move around airports. “It’s not just the distance that brings you closer, but the duration. So any place where people move is preferable, as long as you manage the flows. “
The implications are manifold. Could immersive theater, where small groups move from place to place, become one of the safest art forms? Will we see galleries open, but with rules on how to move them? “You don’t want anything too prescriptive,” says Johansson. “But subtle changes – such as one-way systems and limiting the number of visitors – could work. I am more skeptical about places where this is not possible – cinemas and theaters, where people sit for long periods. “
The great outdoors
“One thing we know,” says Fancourt, “is that if you spend 15 minutes in close contact with someone, there is a high risk of transmission. But it’s lower outside, in part because there are fewer surfaces to touch and more air in circulation. ”
Scally thinks this is a good time to focus on outdoor or semi-outdoor events where a “concentrated plume of droplets” is less likely to hit you. “Until the 1950s, we had outdoor schools in England as part of our offering for children recovering from illnesses like tuberculosis. There is a real opportunity this summer for places to offer more outdoor activities for young people. In addition, many parties and weddings have been canceled – the use of things like their marquees could help support the arts. “
Shut your mouth
Hecklers and euphoric crowds beware. “Your actions can affect the amount of virus you transmit,” says Fitzgerald. “If you are shouting, it is more than speaking, which will be more important than not speaking. And if you shout, heavier droplets are likely to spread more. ”
The implication, then, is that poetry readings or classical concerts might be safer than noisy comedy. This is not good news for Fitzgerald who is a professional trumpeter in the Prime Brass group. “Does playing a wind instrument spread the virus? ” he says. “It is a good question, and I am not sure that it has been examined. At this time, we cannot return to the full glory of 1,000 people very close to each other. It is not allowed and it would be very inappropriate. “
The bad news for budding comics and punk bands on the sweaty underground circuit is that the quality of the place will matter far more than the chaos and atmosphere – above all, its ventilation is good. “The most important thing,” says Fitzgerald, “is to introduce large amounts of fresh air into a space that replaces the old air. “
If you are in a three-level basement, you should be very worried
He cites the case of a meal in a restaurant in China suspected of having been the scene of multiple infections: “The ventilation rate was one liter of fresh air per second per person, while the regulations for a typical UK office is 10 liters. . This restaurant had no open ventilation. The only air they got was under the door. So if you are in a basement with three levels below, I would be very worried. ”
Scally, meanwhile, believes that the need for a large audience could mean that independent intermediary groups are doing what was previously impossible: selling enenodomes, which are currently empty. However, such spacing, he concedes, “will not help the atmosphere.”
How small is too small?
Although some sites have wrested seats, this option will not be financially viable for many. Fancourt is planning more pop-up events: “Representation to a very small number of people but at a much lower cost. Ultimately, the size will depend on how we fight the virus. “It should guide the number of people you can muster,” says Fitzgerald.
Can we rethink loos and bars?
Spending a penny was of great concern to scientists. “The funding,” says Scally, “should be made available to allow sites to install automatic doors, motion-activated faucets, and hand sanitizer dispensers. Fitzgerald agrees: “In the United States, they have provided sheets of paper to cover toilet seats for 25 years. This would reduce the risk of contact. ”
Common areas, such as bars, were also a concern. Fitzgerald believes that places that think creatively and technologically will benefit. “You can order from your phone in advance and drinks can be dispatched to the tables waiting for you in the meantime. Maybe we should have done it anyway. “
Let’s go to nightclub in New Zealand!
Some cultural activities will have a hard time coming back. “Choral singing is unlikely to make a big comeback,” says Scally. “A choir would not really be a choir if they all had to stand two meters apart. ”
Nightclubs, or at least legal ones, also seem impractical. “Not until there is a vaccine,” says Fancourt, “or we come to a situation like New Zealand where they basically eradicated the virus. We know that it spreads quickly in large groups where there is close contact, especially indoors where there is also surface transmission. ”
I remember what Johansson said about the feeds. Can we all dance in a certain direction? “I see where you come from,” he said, “but because of the density of people, I would be pretty skeptical.” Scally says the nightclub in South Korea has caused a spike in cases after visiting three clubs overnight. “Concerts or clubs that involve close contact will not be possible for some time. New Zealand is opening because it was determined to eradicate it. But it looks like we have a long tail for that. “
No return – but that could be a good thing
“Our goal should not be to get back to normal,” says Fancourt, “but to find a way to adapt. It depends a lot on the financial side – where do arts organizations get support to do this work, given that the carpet has been removed from below? ”
Maybe we shouldn’t try to go back to the way things were anyway. “Maybe,” said Fitzgerald. “I like not being crowded against people trying to have a drink, then the bell rings just as I place my order. It’s an opportunity to think differently. ”
Much of Fancourt’s research focuses on the impact of the arts on physical and mental health. She cites WWII as a period of global crisis in which the arts, rather than being sidelined, were seen as vital. “They were essential to people’s mental health and to community spirit. Right now, in terms of social cohesion, camaraderie and morale, they are more important than ever. ”
“It’s not just about entertaining people,” adds Scally. “We must let the arts be part of the healing process.”
- The title of this play has been changed to reflect the fact that, like New Zealand, you can go to nightclubs in a few countries, including Switzerland and Guernsey.