Rehearsing and performing co-created music remotely: Can you help?

The lockdowns and physical distancing measures introduced to contain the spread of Covid 19 have had a devastating impact on the performing arts – music, theatre, opera and dance. Barely able to perform in public for almost a year, artists have had to experiment with ways of working remotely and/or using digital technologies in creating work. As we approach the anniversary of this crisis, it’s becoming clear that the situation is not going to end soon, so these novel ideas will become both necessary and normal. 

Last year, I began working with three community opera projects, as part of Traction, an EU funded project that is researching opera, digital technology and social inclusion. Like everyone else, we were blindsided by events, and spent most of last year trying to make progress through the storm. Workshops began in Covid-secure conditions, were suspended, re-started, postponed. Some moved online, others out of doors. But one way or another we are going forward.

A small-scale production will take place in Portugal in June, so that we can test the co-creation process, the technology and the art itself. Other projects are happening in Ireland and Barcelona. We are doing what we can, and we are learning all the time. We are also working hard to build, test and operationalise innovative digital technology to support the co-creation and performance process. (When I say ‘we’, I mean the Traction consortium, with research centres and universities in Spain, the Netherlands and Ireland: my competence in digital technology does not extend very far.)

As we move into the next stage, experimenting with how to rehearse and produce community operas in Covid-secure conditions, we want to enlarge our discussions to involve others with experience in this field. I know that some music and theatre companies have responded to the crisis with imagination and creativity, finding new ways to work online and adapting technologies to new uses.

If that includes you, I’d love to hear about your experience. Over the coming weeks, I want to host two online discussions focussing on:

  • Co-creation and participatory art online (workshops and/or rehearsals)
  • Performance and digital technology (online and/or hybrid)

Please share your ideas about how digital technology can help sustain participatory and community art practice during and beyond this crisis. You can use the comments box below or the contact form to write to me directly. I’ll draw together everything I learn and share it as widely as possible. The collective knowledge of people who co-create participatory art is an extraordinary resource, and we need to it now as much as we ever have. 

PS In focussing on digital technology, I recognise the inequalities that deny access to millions of people, and create new structures of exclusion: they are part of what the Traction project addresses. Still, we need to do what we can with these tools in the present situation, while working to remove barriers to equal access. And of course digital technology will never replace the existing ways we have of creating and experiencing art: it’s just another range of tools with which humans can be creative. 

The photo above shows user testing of a digital tool for co-creation in Barcelona for Traction in December 2020 (Photo: Vicomtech).


  1. ‘Mill-Kċina ta’ Connor’ (In Connor’s Kitchen) was an online performance held on Zoom on 15th and 16th May, 2020. This original play in Maltese was produced by myself (Tyrone Grima) and Elaine Falzon. The script was written and directed by myself. The piece was 25 minutes in length and focused on a religious fundamentalist blogger who transmits live streams during the lockdown. The blogger relates a dream in which the Virgin Mary appeared to him, giving him a recipe that will cure everyone from the pandemic. The blogger cooks the meal live, with all the obstacles faced in the process, including phone-ins, mishaps in the cooking process and his ailing brother who lives on the upper floor of the house. The rehearsals of this one-person performance were held online. The performance was held online too, with the kitchen of the actor doubling as Connor’s kitchen. The action was filmed and transmitted in real time to a paying audience who had the link to watch the performance. Although the actor spoke directly into the camera of his laptop, as a blogger would do in real life, the performance was recorded with a professional camera to ensure good quality of image and sound. The phone-ins were done through Zoom itself. Three ‘implanted’ actors who were part of the audience called in during the show. Zoom allowed the audience to see each other as thumbnails throughout the performance, simulating the dynamics of a live performance where the audience sees the actor but also sees the other members of the audience. This dynamic was particularly felt in the fifteen minutes before the performance started. As people logged in, they started greeting each other and an organic and spontaneous pre-show discussion ensued. After each performance there was a planned Q and A session that focused on the nature of online performances and the process and experience of this particular performance.

  2. Hi François,
    I’m part of a team leading body and movement workshops for LGBT refugees and asylum seekers with an advocacy and support organisation called Micro Rainbow. Since the summer, we’ve moved the dance work online and it’s been a big learning curve. We miss the physical interaction and coming together but we’ve still had positive experiences together and have been able to connect to a more geographically dispersed group. MR supports participation with buying data for people and wifi where people are in fixed accommodation. But there are challenges about signal strength and the physical spaces that people are trying to work in. We’ve just started a new phase of the programme supported by PHF so we’re trying to evaluate and reflect on how it’s all going to ensure the work is most useful and positive for everyone. It would be great to hear how others are navigating their challenges and opportunities.

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