After a tumultuous 2020 for the arts scene, live performances are finally coming back as social distancing measures begin to ease up. But with limited seating in venues, staging a live show is simply not as feasible for smaller arts companies, especially for those used to operating in smaller venues such as black boxes and studio spaces. A black box such as the 120-seater Drama Centre Black Box can still only seat up to 40 pax, and the 200-seater black box in Stamford Arts Centre only seats 50. Because of this, revenue from ticket sales remain drastically insufficient to cover the expenses of smaller arts groups.
Enter Strike! – a brand new, free digital theatre festival taking place across various apps and platforms online. Taking place this April, the festival unites seven independent theatre groups, as spearheaded by Patch and Punnet (P&P) and The Second Breakfast Company (2BCo), who will be joined by Bound Theatre, Impromptu Meetings, Runaway Co, Spacebar Theatre, and Attempts.
While the festival is hosted on instant messaging service Telegram, each group will present a work on any chosen digital platform during the course of the festival. The festival is free to attend and audience members can register here before joining the Telegram group chat. Audience members can then find links to the different performances in the group chat as the festival progresses.
“Even though we all primarily dabble in live theatre, we’re very excited about our lineup of digital performances which have been conceived and developed for the digital space. Going digital has pushed us all to think about performance, liveness, what we each stand for and what kind of stories we want to tell,” said Krish Natarajan, artistic director of P&P.
Bound Theatre presents Quartz. Held on Instagram Live, the performance follows Celeste, as her crystal shop threatens to close down amidst the pandemic. She decides to hold a free 10 minute crystal reading on her IG live, in a last-ditch attempt to salvage her business. The clients are a mix of live audience members and planted actors, as they begin interacting with Celeste and the other viewers during her first few readings. Celeste greets a regular who joins the live, but it quickly becomes apparent that she is not who she appears to be at first, resulting in a tussle over the viability of belief systems.
Impromptu Meetings presents Broken Telegram on Telegram. In the midst of the coronavirus, three friends take to the quizarium app on telegram to fill the void of their weekly trivia nights. Truths and relationships are called into question, all while the quizarium bot spouts out questions. How well do these friends truly know each other? And in which country did the first ever supermarket open?
Patch and Punnet presents Terry Teo’s Tech Tutorial Platform on Youtube, spoofing typical YouTube tutorial pages. The titular Terry Teo posts tutorial videos on some common platforms like Pinterest, Canva and Carousell. However, these tutorial videos, while being relatively informative and of course, hilarious, also contain a narrative of self-discovery and maturity. Over the span of 5 months and 6 tutorial videos, we see Terry’s relationship crash and burn and watch how he picks himself up and grows into a man who fends for himself.
The Runway Company presents Medusa on Instagram TV, proposing a new dating app for the modern lover. Now, watch as the latest AI technology pairs you with a personal virtual consultant that helps you make all the right moves to get your perfect date. Music meets experimental theatre in this refreshing take on dating as a millennial in the age of the Internet, and is presented as a screen-recording of one user’s experience on a new dating app, Siren.
Marking the first collaboration between Attempts and Spacebar Theatre, Hey, I Moved! is a multi-platform presentation, recalling old blogs and defunct handles. Receiving a link to an old blog from a friend, get ready to trawl the deep archives of the internet, when deactivated accounts were still active, Youtube still had star ratings, and blogskins were still a thing. Carmen is your friend, or at least, was your friend a long time ago. Through hyperlink hopping, the audience discovers fragments of Carmen’s life and the broken web that is the internet. As Carmen becomes entangled in a cult, what would you do?
Finally, 2BCo presents Search Engine on TikTok. Tensions rev up when the final two contestants in a last-hand-standing win-a-car challenge are mandated by competition organisers to broadcast their stationary journey online to draw views. Forced to keep themselves awake and audiences engaged, each contestant’s persona and background becomes fuel for judgement, leading to an unexpected social media backlash. Between privilege and privacy, how much of one’s true identity do you see online? How much are we expected to reveal for others when we stand to gain (or lose) from it? Once the filters are off, who do you trust more – the person before you, or your search engine?
Apart from performances, Strike! also features Tele Talk, which takes inspiration from moderated panel discussions at regular festivals. Tele Talk will take place at specific times on the same Telegram group chat and participants can respond freely if they wish, or can simply observe the conversations taking place.
Amidst this and other concerns such as the economic downturn and the loss of incubation spaces for independent arts, Strike! hopes to bring the seven groups together as a platform to create work, tell stories and remain visible in the eyes of its audiences as well as others in the theatre ecosystem such as the arts media, donors, grant-givers and policymakers.
“Live performances for small and independent groups are almost impossible to produce without making a significant loss,” says Adeeb Fazah, artistic director of 2BCo. “Beyond enjoying the performances, we hope that Strike! sends out the message that art will keep existing, despite the challenges we face, and in fact, because of it.”
Strike! Digital Festival 2021 runs from 21st April to 2nd May 2021. The festival is free to attend and audience members can register here before joining the Telegram group chat. Audience members can then find links to the different performances in the group chat as the festival progresses.