We’ve been seeing an uptick in digital content consumption in the wake of the global COVID-19 crisis. And with the nigh-impossible feat of viewing art in person right now, artists of every discipline have been experiencing cancellations, rescheduling, and general losses on their projects. But necessity is the mother of invention, and one Canadian playwright has taken his own projects cancellation as an opportunity to help anyone in the same boat as him. Enter Nick Green with The Social Distancing Festival.
Green, a Toronto based theatre maker, was anticipating the opening of his and Kevin Wong’s musical theatre project In Real Life, slated for lucky Friday 13th of March 2020. Of course, as with the vast majority of theatre projects, the run had to be cancelled. But Green felt it was important to still be able to share even part of the hard work that went into his project, and that other artists should have this opportunity as well. Green began The Social Distancing Festival as a means for Canadian artists who had recent and future productions cancelled to showcase aspects of these projects- pictures from installations, streamed readings of scripts, yet-to-be-released songs. Unsurprisingly, given the openness of the submission process, The Social Distancing Festival quickly garnered international attention and has some submissions of previously recorded works by artists and companies. Not only a space to host content, but the website also features avenues for donations as well as an old-school community forum for artists to connect over these straining times.
The works that are featured on The Social Distancing Festival website are varied in medium and content but show a beautifully broad spectrum of artistry- though each that have been selected gives off a feeling of comfort and connectivity in these trying times. One of the featured works is from Toronto based opera company Against The Grain, whose premiere of their new work BOUND had been cancelled; in lieu of content from BOUND, they present the CBC live stream of their production of La Bohème, an English translation of the iconic Puccini opera which was also the first live-streamed opera in Canada. The piece was performed in a seated bar, and its presentation and content of freezing artists in sub-par living spaces are certainly still poignant today.
One of the works from outside North America that ended up joining The Social Distancing Festival is Paris-based Foto Femme United’s C*nsorsh*p, “an exhibition which gives voice to women, non-binary and trans photographers to show their photography without fear or threat.” The collection of striking works highlight mostly nude female and femme-identifying models in stark, natural framing, and comes from photographers all around the world. The photos are sharp, raw, and powerful, representing all manners of body image and conditions (such as mastectomies) that are not often shown or discussed in mainstream artistic discourse.
And one offering comes from a particularly topical place at this time- Wuhan based visual artist Li Wan. Wuhan being the centre to the outbreak of COVID-19, one can imagine the surprise and swiftness of artistic closures in the past couple of months. Li Wan’s untitled piece takes the shape of a marriage bed made of white paper, green flowers hanging from the headboard. Li Wan states that the idea comes from their feelings of isolation and sadness after a hard breakup and many conversations about marriage during this time. She asks the public if they have figured things out for themselves, and invites them to write their answers across the bedspread. A simple idea executed beautifully, its works like this that thrive on human interaction that are most sorely missed in these times of isolation.
The Social Distancing Festival is indicative of a very particular zeitgeist right now- artists and audiences around the world are wiling the days away in their living rooms until the epidemic begins to cease. And there is a thirst for connection in a time where it is unwise to be with loved ones we don’t live with- which is one of the primary comforts in times of uncertainty and difficulty. But even if not exactly what we need or want, either for social interaction or creativity, people are finding ways to make these connections happen. Nick Green’s plan is giving a platform for that desire, and it’s something to be celebrated. And if there’s one way you can thank him, check out some of the beautiful songs for his postponed production In Real Life here.