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WHAT NEXT FOR DIGITAL THEATRE?

By Richard Misek

Digital Access to Arts and Culture Beyond Covid-19

The last 20 months have seen a widespread pivot within the UK’s theatre sector towards livestreamed, on-demand, and digitally native performances. During this time, well over half of all UK theatres and theatre companies have created artistic content for online audiences. But following the lifting of restrictions this summer, there has been a ‘snap back’ to in-person performances almost as sudden and drastic as the initial pivot to digital. Research conducted earlier this month by our current AHRC COVID-19 project (‘Widening Access to Arts and Culture Through Video Streaming’), and recently reported on the BBC and in The Guardian, suggests that over half of all publicly-subsidised UK theatres that pivoted online during the first 18-months of the pandemic have now returned to producing live performances only. From conversations with researchers across Europe, it is clear also that this is part of a far broader international trend.

Why has this ‘snap back’ happened, and what are the implications of it?

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Masking emotions & sterilising care: ‘reset’ ethics and the unintended consequences of COVID-19

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused far-reaching consequences for health systems worldwide. In responding to the pandemic, decision-makers have to balance competing interests and difficult trade-offs have to be made. We are told that Government guidance continues to ‘follow the science’, but such guidance must also be values-based. Transparency in the values that underpin those decisions is crucial to support healthcare decision-makers and frontline practitioners during a pandemic, as well as to build public understanding and support for the balances struck.

Pandemics—and public health emergencies more generally—reinforce approaches to ethics that emphasise, or derive from, the interests of communities. Accordingly, in the acute phase of the coronavirus pandemic, attention was focused on saving as many lives as possible. The main focus of discussion was on infection prevention and control measures, and the approach that should underpin resource allocation between patients with COVID-19 in the event that demand for life-saving equipment were to outstrip supply. Guidance on ethical responses to the acute phase of a pandemic is readily available. In the UK, for example, the Pandemic Flu Ethical Framework was available to guide decision-making.