Last month, Karen Gillingham and Johnny Langridge, respectively Creative Director of Learning and Participation and Director of Membership and Communications at Garsington Opera, joined Omar Shahryar of RESEO for a live video chat with the network members of RESEO to discuss a very topical theme: how to offer education activities online.
When the UK lockdown started in late March, Garsington was preparing to launch into its Opera First programme for schools alongside community opera rehearsals and a project with local hospitals. Combined, the projects would have involved hundreds of members of the local community. “My initial response to the situation was a feeling of responsibility to all our young people and community participants,” Karen said, “So Johnny and I put our minds together, and within a week we had put out the first Monday Motivation.”
For the past six weeks, Garsington has been offering weekly 20-minute song and movement workshops fronted by Karen, composer and facilitator Hannah Conway and a guest artist, each presenting from their own living rooms. While Garsington had been working on the idea of a digital resource pack over the past few months, the lockdown made it necessary to come up with new solutions in a very short amount of time.
“I normally think about digital as something that needs to be quite polished, with a pilot year and expert input, but given the current situation, we thought, let’s just do it,” Karen said.
“I don’t think digital can replace a live experience, but if people feel comfortable joining in with something that they ordinarily wouldn’t as a result, that’s a real plus point,” Karen said. Garsington Opera already has several innovative digital projects under its belt, including the 360° film Person 181 made in collaboration with the BBC and Dare to Dream, a children’s opera bringing together children from Syria, Uganda, Bangladesh and Buckinghamshire.
“We’re thinking about how digital content can extend or deepen the impact of the live experience, rather than replace it,” Johnny continued, “One really exciting thing is being able to bring together strengths of different organisations and different content providers. People are developing really exciting tech, and we think it’s important to consider creative applications early on in the process”.
Currently, lag times make collaborative live performance with musicians in different physical spaces very difficult. Johnny hopes that low latency technology will soon make that a thing of the past: “I have real hope that we can talk to the gaming community around technology that they’re using. At the moment, you can’t have a piano in one city and a singer in another, it just doesn’t work. We’re currently building a new facility for learning and participation work, and one of my hopes for that is that it’ll have a super fast low latency line.”
“When you do a workshop with 40 or 50 people in a room, you can feel the atmosphere,” Karen explained “When you do something digitally, you actually have no idea of how it’s going”. Participants, who take part via live streaming on Facebook or Youtube, can leave comments and provide feedback. “We’re reviewing the feedback every week, and a lot of it has been positive.”
Length is another issue when it comes to live education activities. As Karen said, “You can’t have a three hour or a full day workshop online”. The Garsington team came up with the idea of putting out pre-recorded videos on Friday inviting people to create something at home with a link with the Monday Motivation session, “A bit like saying, “Now go off for 10 workshop minutes and create this piece”,” said Karen “For example, this week, we just did the Carmen opera set in a matchbox.”
“I think every project needs looking at slightly differently, with different ways of communicating. And Monday motivation is one of them. It feels very positive to be putting something out there, to be sharing work and exploring what a workshop feels like” she continued.
“I would just encourage everyone to keep thinking big,” Johnny concluded “It’s situations like this that show us that we can thrive and survive. I think we’re going to be pleasantly surprised by what’s out there.”