Co-creating theatre online through a pandemic
“Taking part in the workshops that have been happening during the covid-19 pandemic has been a life saver for me. It has provided me with connection and given me substance to my life. It has been so much fun and has improved my mental health dramatically.”
(Brighton People’s Theatre member)
Brighton People’s Theatre exists to enable those who have fewer opportunities to engage with the arts to follow their creative dreams and tell their stories through theatre.
(Insert picture of zoom theatre workshop here)
From March onwards, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we developed a plan of online creative activities to encourage members to unlock theatre in their own homes. We’d never done anything like this before. We wanted to test the possibilities of remote co-creative theatre-making and to understand our role as a civic theatre during these extraordinary times.
Since March we have:
● Run weekly theatre workshops on zoom
● Run regular play-reading groups – where we read and talk about a play on zoom
● Run regular theatre clubs – where we watch a show online and come together on zoom to chat about it afterwards
● Run ‘Making Theatre Happen at Home’ workshops exploring costume, lighting and sound design.
● Co-created 4 short films with members capturing some of their creative output from the first lockdown
● Co-created a mini-pantomime ‘12 Days’ (a script and original songs) enabling around 20 of our members to co-create with 4 professional artists
In this blog, we’re going to share what we’ve learnt through doing this work. While a lot is lost through not working in person, we’ll share 3 surprising benefits of co-creating online and 3 principles of co-creating effectively online.
Three Benefits of Co-Creating Online
1. Increased connectivity
To our surprise, we discovered that people who found it harder to access our in-person activities found it easier to join us online. People were also very clear about the benefits of continuing to connect and feel part of something bigger than them during this time of intense isolation. Being able to share experiences of the pandemic and co-create theatrical responses to lockdown was important to people.
“I feel more confident. I have more of a purpose and a true sense of belonging and feel that I have something to offer others in the way of opinions and ideas and have more of a sense of self-worth.” (Brighton People’s Theatre member)
2. Increased creative agency
We regularly gave participants creative tasks to work on at home and share with the group at the following session. Although people love coming to in-person workshops, some were also brave enough to tell us about occasionally feeling intimidated by other people’s creativity and censoring themselves when in the room, as they thought their ideas weren’t ‘as good’. They found that by doing the creative task on their own at home, they stopped comparing themselves to others and just got lost in the flow of the experience.
“Before I knew it, I had lost a couple of hours banging pots and pans and cupboard doors, listening to the possible sounds and rhythms I could create. It was liberating to just do it without comparing myself to anyone else.” (Brighton People’s Theatre member)
3. Increased Intimacy
We found that after the initial awkwardness of talking on screen our sessions brought us closer to one another. We took in glimpses of people’s living rooms and studio flats, and in this unusually intimate setting we naturally opened up. We shared with unexpected honesty and learnt much more about one another than we had done when working face to face.
“I was surprised to enjoy the format so much. Found it really nurturing and warm – a bit like being back at college with a bunch of lovely new friends that came into my house. I could concentrate on what was going on better, focus on what people were doing or saying better. Learn better actually. And we seem to have done so much and found out about each other’s lives so closely. I didn’t expect this.” (Brighton People’s Theatre member)
Here is a short film we co-created with Romina, one of our members, about her experience of lockdown.
Three Principles of Effective Co-Creation Online
1. Expectations and Motivations
We learnt that it’s important to check in with co-creators about what their expectations are and what is motivating them to get involved. Before co-creating a mini-pantomime ‘12 Days’, during the pandemic, we discovered that for most people the desire to stay connected and have fun, despite the darkness, was the primary motivation for people.
2. Ways to Contribute
It’s important to be aware of what assumptions you might be making when co-creating online about how much time or creative energy people might have in their lives. We found that by creating lots of different ways for people to contribute, it enabled people to get involved in a way that worked for them.
3. Transparent Decision Making
Decision making in any co-creative process is tricky and not every idea that is put forward will make it into the final product that is being produced. When working online with people scattered in different locations it’s even more important to be transparent about how, when and why decisions are made and by who.
We have made a short film that explores these three principles in more depth that you can watch here.
This experience has been a huge learning curve for us. By its very nature, theatre is a collaborative art form that brings people together, to co-create moments of magic that couldn’t happen if they were on their own. Working remotely doesn’t come naturally to us as theatre-makers, yet this period has taught us that theatre can and does have real value, purpose and meaning in this new, virtual context.
Many of the lessons we have learned aren’t limited to an online setting, and we will embed what we’ve learnt to inform all our work in the future.
For more information and to keep in touch with Brighton People’s Theatre visit: