The Sound Cafe
A Design Brief for Covid Times
By Kayt Lucas.
Calling all bored Canadians, artists and arts workers, Let's consider what IS possible.
Remember the last concert you attended? The freedom? The pure joy? Maybe it was your favourite artist whose records you know every word of. That was a long time ago. My heart aches alongside you. For real.
I write this to offer some hope. To the public, to the artist and to arts workers. This piece might bend your mind a bit, but I truly hope it does, because hope is always worth a leap of faith.
Did you notice the red lights on Tuesday, September 22nd? Those are the events spaces that yearn for you too. Their empty interiors are weird without you. Many are on the brink of permanent closure.
The artists miss you too. With broken hearts. Imagine having a whole life with audiences and the almost daily joy of sharing one's whole self with the public. And then suddenly you can't anymore. Your inspirations sincerely yearn to share time and space as much as you do.
The theatre workers, technicians, designers and tour support personnel are all standing by. Those red lights? That was us. Arts homes, entertainment offices, pubs, restaurants, theatres, arenas, stadiums and landmarks turned red the other night. That's our force. We're not working because the pandemic sent us home. And many of us have had to leave the industry, for as long as it takes.
But don't despair completely. Artists and designers are persistently creative. It won't be the same as it was for quite a while yet, but slowly, events are going to evolve. Please be patient over winter. Please! Because next year is going to be interesting in the entertainment world.
Small venues are already figuring out some intelligent workarounds for presenting low capacity, tiny concerts. And every neighbourhood audio nerd has had to wrestle with new sound issues in their local establishment as covid shields have now been installed. This phenomenon, along with live streaming, will be particularly kind to roots music of all kinds. Many venues will be limited to solo and duet acts. And with reduced capacities, paid attendance from home will become part of the equation for live music of all kinds.
Look for moderately sized events, in large, well-designed outdoor spaces. I'm very excited for some of the event designs I've seen in development. With good information and well practiced good behaviour, we're learning the new social graces of living safely in public spaces. Our industry has forever evolved to keep audiences safe. Covid times are no different.
Here's what we know. People are going to find ways to congregate. We are the professionals who are going to offer you safe ways to do that, hosting extremely worthwhile, professionally curated, safe experiences. Covid-19 has effectively given us our parameters for what IS possible. The creativity is going to be cool. I'm telling you.
Think about it.
We're getting used to the relative comfort of uncrowded spaces. I've always loved spaciousness. We're growing accustomed to what it feels like to be respected and safe, in covid terms, knowing when we can disarm and what serious precautions it requires to get to that state. As creators and hosts, that's our design brief. That's what we do. Where there's a will, there's a way. And having something safe to do, may save a few lives.
You will see more drive ins, so you will learn to love seeing shows from your car and paying quite a bit for it. Believe me, you'll figure it out. It's worth it. While sports broadcasts at drive ins tend to be hype, car horn extravaganzas, concerts aren't so much. They're awesome. If you haven't been to one yet, consider it seriously. You can bring your car. Your car! It's like bringing your own couch and stereo system to a concert. Don't miss your chance to see your favourite Canadian band from your car because this won't last forever. And if you have a cool car and want to pay for a front row spot, you can show it off too.
Since our country effectively becomes a touring island, we'll see some Canadian artists criss crossing our beautiful country with long stands in particular venues as opposed to venue hopping. With moderate crowds, it'll take longer to recuperate costs, so double headers will be common. Be prepared for ticket prices to go up, but save a few dollars to buy vinyl. 😉 Canadians talent is amazing. This country is home to such a huge contingent of world class artists. If they're all home right now, I'm hoping that many of us get to see them. Somehow.
Calling all designers, artists and enthusiasts: consider a few genres that have promising chances of working in Covid times. Safe spaces and experiences are beginning to have particular characteristics and routines. Respectfully, the learning process for the public is generally coming along well, albeit for a few major mistakes that we'll likely overcome in time.
I imagine walk-through experiences will pop up. If you had the chance to see Van Gogh, that was a awe-inspiring space to visit. These can be done inside or outside. For example, the Aurora Festival of lights could have been a successful concept for the public to enjoy, if a timed system of traffic flow were implemented. But unfortunately, the financial state of the events industry has reportedly made this impossible this year, even though it could've been managed as a valid Covid-safe experience.
Outdoor dining will be possible in certain places throughout the year. By next spring, we'll all know which exterior heaters are the best. And which places have deployed new creative concepts that enhance the heated, outdoor dining experience. With so many new cooks in the world, restaurants will have to attract dine-in customers with evermore uniqueness, as well as safety.
Small discos with social distance courtesies may be possible. We need places to dance and move our bodies. I can imagine buying an hour on a safely designed dancing spot with a live DJ playing. An outdoor space, or tented area with open sides. In fact, it may be worth an evening out to watch other dancers when they have their spots. Silent, socially-distant discos would be cool too.
Audio walking tours of all kinds are totally possible. Content could include historical or theatrical experiences in interesting places, or rather safe, Covid-rules-acceptible spaces. Audio-reality walking tours would be easy projects for the theatre community to create. I'll never forget an art experience I had in 2000 at Gairloch Gardens in Oakville, created by Canadian artist, Janet Cardiff. It led me all over the garden and brought me to many visceral, emotional moments. Beautiful.
Remember Pokemon? Certainly something like that could be designed with covid social distancing in mind, we could play quite safely out in the world. Virtual reality will definitely start to integrate more commonly. In fact, blended virtual and real world creativity will be really cool. Much variety. Imagine if real world physical elements existed, actual game-specific structures for those who play. 😉 Mind blown yet?
Car culture has obviously returned with a vengeance. Let's make it safe for the public. If car gatherings are going to happen, designers ought to be all over the opportunity to create optimal conditions for safe performance and viewing. Think hard. It's possible. And worth saving some lives.
Speaking of car culture, someone ought to trick out a car wash with lights, sound and video and charge for the added experience. Car wash festival? Every one a different theme? In Canada? In winter? Come on.
These may take time to develop, but idle creative minds do the strangest things. Necessity is the mother of invention, and human nature is to connect. That's why events are important. And that's why we're going to have to learn how to build safe ways to do that, and why the public will continue to learn how to navigate safely. I am as certain that concepts that we haven't thought of yet will transpire, as all the new books that will be released this Christmas. ...Lockdown orders? Writers have apparently been writing. Load your e-readers, people.
Calling all movers and shakers: I believe there's a case to be made for the need for physical, real-world experiences. I'm not expecting it to happen overnight, but for the long, dark wait till spring, it'll be evermore coveted by the public when they're ready. This winter's cabin fever will be challenging. Anything new, that is also proven to be safe, will be a relief. That's a powerful demand. A captive audience.
There are profound mental health aspects concerning physical interaction with the real world. Designing fun, fulfilling and inspirational experiences could literally save lives this year. We'll have had enough of screens soon enough. Especially those who work and learn online. The real world beckons, but only if it's safe.
I am not deluded that these concepts will save the entertainment industry. They won't. Simply, these are possible pivots that are worth considering and may employ some more of our outstanding local talent. Designing for safety starts with covid-safe designs, must meet the criteria for insurability and it must be financially sustainable; three very challenging acts to balance.
Sponsors and governments have to be part of this. There's no other way. It is already too late to save quite a few of our cultural national treasures, as well as much of the infrastructure of arts organizations and arts workers' careers. As we slowly begin our new endeavours, the business has to be reimagined and reinvigorated, essentially from scratch.
But not completely from scratch. Theatres still exist. Either we'll have to use them differently for a while, or we'll have to wait for a vaccine, as well as for most people to have it. Lights, audio and video equipment is all in shops, probably destined for storage, if not sold. But it exists, and much of it may very well be repurposed for alternative creative experiences.
Artists and arts workers also exist. Irreplaceable and worth the world. With our country's creative legacy, I believe in the force of our Canadian expression.
Deprived of the arts, Canada has a crisis of cultural identity. The reruns are getting boring. We miss the vitality of our cities and towns so badly, it hurts. Not only is it time to recognize what is lost, it's time to honour those losses by getting excited about what else is possible.
Kayt Lucas is a poet and singer with hundreds of tunes in her catalog. Her songwriting style alludes to rock, blues, folk, and sometimes country. She plays mandolin and octave mandolin.
As a former dancer and aerialist, Kayt’s musicality originates in dance and choreography. Kayt also works as a rigging technician in the live concert industry, a job which gives her insight into the special theatrical world of the greatest performing artists in the world.