This article originally appeared in The Scotsman.

The world’s largest arts festival will return to Edinburgh this summer to the delight of audiences desperate for the live performance experience denied for most of them since 2019. What will have changed? In the same way that businesses around the world were spurred by the pandemic on to undergo digital transformation, lockdown also accelerated a shift in the way performing artists use online performance techniques in their practice.

There are now signs that digital performances may be here to stay. Not only has the collaborative nature of the digital medium unleashed creativity for performers and performance making it has triggered creative entrepreneurship as artists reach audiences around the world. Research has shown that the notion of ‘liveness’ which is often contested in digital performance work, is now replaced with that of participation.

In an industry marked by high levels of self-employment, performers aiming to make a living from their art must stay abreast of potential platforms, festivals and networks which allow them to set up and monetise digital projects that will help to sustain careers over the longer term. The rise of NFTs, or non-fungible tokens which use blockchain technology allow art buyers to own the original copy of a digital file opening up a multi-£billion market for visual artists, is also creating very real opportunities for performance artists, music makers and games creators.

Digital performance has a long history which pre-dates the internet. Today, digital creativity has transitioned from being a pivot responding to a moment of crisis, to contemporary innovation. Online gathering spaces for practice, research and knowledge exchange are becoming the new normal for artists who now congregate and share work and ideas through digital platforms. In this very rapidly changing scenario, performance practice has a crucial role to play in investigating the creative potential of digital technologies. Education providers have had to act swiftly to stay abreast of these new developments, ensuring the next generation of practitioners is equipped with the latest techniques.

The new MA Digital Performance programme at Queen Margaret University is leading the way in providing practical skills training in making live performance for online audiences, as well as covering theoretical and practical knowledge of current digital arts shifts. We are conducting extensive practice research in digital performance making, understanding the many benefits that working digitally can also have for in-person creative processes. The focus is very much on interaction within the medium and how to engage online spectators through new technologies.

Alongside more classic broadcasting of live performance, and use of popular platforms such as Zoom and others, there are applications that have been purpose built by performance artists specifically for digital performance, such as the UpStage platform. As the digital environment grows, there are no restrictions to what the imagination can conceive beyond the physical stage.

Fast forward into the near future, where digital and hybrid approaches will be part and parcel of contemporary performance practice, students of digital performance will be well equipped to fully and successfully embrace a career they couldn’t have imagined five years ago.

Bianca Mastrominico

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