As cultural festivals go digital, organizers aim for global reach, a hybrid online and offline presence in the future-Art-and-culture News, Firstpost
Online migration for an event anywhere in the world now makes it possible to recruit more experts for a global audience. However, the constant challenge for everyone is to stay one step ahead, to make the formats interesting, and to schedule interactions that are deep and as personal as possible.
If there’s one thing the pandemic has forced each of us to do, it’s to adapt. We find ourselves doing a lot of what we did earlier, but with a different approach. Take the wide range of cultural festivals that we attend regularly. Unsurprisingly, many of them have migrated online this year, such as Tata Literature Live! Mumbai LitFest, which ended on November 22. Likewise, Bacardi NH7 Weekender took place on December 5-6, while the Bangalore Literature Festival, although scheduled to be field-based with limited audiences between December 12 and 13, will broadcast all of its sessions live via Zoom.
Several festivals have taken advantage of technology to reach their audiences and have evolved with new formats and spinoffs from their flagship events. In April, Teamwork Arts, organizers of the annual Jaipur Literature Festival, launched JLF Brand New World, an online literature series. This was followed by their other virtual initiatives such as âWords Are Bridgesâ Jaipur Literature Festival, celebrating language-based literature.
Organizers of the Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa launched Serendipity Arts Virtual (currently running until December 21), among other projects earlier this year. This online initiative offers organized projects, performances, workshops, conferences, engagement-based initiatives and speeches around the arts.
As a result, several events have been put online, generating a new experience for festival organizers who now organize for a virtual audience.
Leverage technology for a virtual audience
Speaking to a range of organizers, it is clear that taking the online route was a natural step forward. As with anything new, there have been issues with adoption and adaptation to the technology, but the learning curve has been short. With the public also quickly discovering the ropes of a virtual existence, organizing online events has been an interesting exercise.
Take music for example: The pulsating energy of Bacardi NH7 Weekender first went live this year, after 10 annual editions in the field. âWe did not compromise on the immersive experience of the music festival, even though it took place digitally,â said Manish Chandnani, vice president of OML Live, OML Entertainment Private Limited. âThe festival featured a global chat where the audience could speak to everyone live. With the Spotlight function, the audience could download 15-second videos of themselves enjoying the festival. There were fun bar games and an option to invite friends to private virtual parties, âhe adds. The organizers appealed to their communities and content creators to align their social media vision with the festival’s themes, shared happiness and fun.
While it was the effort to increase interactivity in an online music show, the organizers of the Ranga Shankara Theater Festival 2020 (RSTF2020), which took place the last week of October, worked things out a little differently. .
âAll of the RSTF2020 tracks have been pre-recorded and streamed through our ticketing partner,â says Samyuktha Manogaran, Program Associate. âOf the six pieces that were part of the festival, four were pre-recorded, one was live and one was recorded at the Ranga Shankara in Bengaluru, before the festival started. The directors shot a variety of ways – some used Zoom, while others filmed the entire play in one location and gave it to us. One of our directors placed an actor in our auditorium in Bengaluru and another in Delhi. The Delhi actor was projected onto the seats of our auditorium and the whole thing was filmed. It was like a video within a video for the public watching, âshe adds.
With the ongoing Serendipity Arts Virtual, each organized project has been conceptualized with the Internet as a site in mind. âIt meant rethinking our use of space and engaging audiences,â says Smriti Rajgarhia, director of the Serendipity Arts Foundation and Festival. The curators of Serendipity Arts Virtual have independent sites that further explore their projects and give the public the opportunity to revisit the projects.
Several of these projects – such as “The Last Poet” by Amitesh Grover, a multi-tiered business with theater, film, sound art, creative coding, digital set design and live performances, and “Future Landing” by Veeranganakumari Solanki, which looks at a portal website as a virtual studio, bustling with viewer participation – using the help of coders and other digital technicians. âThe process and the behind-the-scenes testing is almost as exciting as the project itself,â says Rajgarhia.
The Bangalore-based Neev Literature Festival for Children has completed three annual editions. In August 2020, they decided to go live and turned the festival into a yearlong event. âWe had children from all over the country in our book clubs and also in some round tables,â says Kavita Gupta Sabharwal, co-founder of the festival. âWell-to-do readers love this format, and we see names that are regularly present. Our speakers appreciated the attention to detail in the event structure and engagement. One of the things we did was a conversation between a global and Indian expert on children’s literature. The last one with Emily Drabble from Book Trust, UK and Sayoni Basu from Duckbill Books, India was a journey for the two of them, through books through time and space. Emily ended this discussion by wanting to get into Indian children’s literature, which is not yet globally accessible. Who knows, this might just be the way to start, âshe said.
While this may be one of the happy outcomes of a festival going digital, it was interesting to see how this step broadened the reach of events in ways you might not have noticed. previously.
Greater participation and technological challenges
Festival organizers are fairly unanimous in their view of expanding global audiences for their events now that they have chosen to go online, while being heavily reliant on technology.
âAt the Front Lawn site of the Jaipur Literature Festival, our maximum audience was around 13,500 people,â explains Sanjoy K Roy, Managing Director of Teamwork Arts. âOn JLF Brave New World, we’ve averaged between 29,000 and 32,000 (people) per episode, with favorites at 80,000 and 120,000. As we continue to celebrate our festivals geographically in London, New York , Toronto, etc., going online has allowed us to develop in countries and places where we were not present â.
But, he adds, the technology has been a challenge. It doesn’t matter if you are in Gurgaon or New York, what matters is the strength of your signal. âWe have had the most difficult times making sure that different time zones come together, from Australia to the United States, and everywhere in between. Our speakers and colleagues have been on their feet at all times, recording, matching the times and making this impossibility possible. There were times the moderator gave up in the middle of a sentence and I had to step in with little knowledge of the speaker’s job, pretending everything was fine, âhe explains. This is a problem that other organizers have also echoed.
The Bengaluru Poetry Festival also went live this year, but they chose to go the asynchronous route. This meant that guest poets recorded videos of themselves (individually or in a group video interaction). These videos were then edited and uploaded to the festival website and social media platforms at the same time on the day of the event. âGoing asynchronous has greatly reduced the anxieties and challenges of hosting a live online festival,â said Subodh Sankar, co-founder. âBut being online has not opened up avenues with the public so much as it has given us the opportunity to invite a large number of poets of Indian origin who live outside the country. In a normal year, with budgetary constraints and logistical challenges, we could not have imagined inviting so many foreign voices to this festival. This format allowed us to do that and help their voices reach a predominantly Indian audience, âhe says.
The Bangalore Literature Festival will go live on December 12 with its ninth edition. Earlier in June, the WorldLit digital platform launched with many interesting conversations involving international authors like Sophie Hannah, Deborah Moggach, Tracy Chevalier, Pico Iyer and others. Their live sessions drew hundreds of people. âFor this year, based on current registration numbers, we expect over 5,000 viewers to join us on the livestream. 2020 is âthe year of the zoomâ, and we embraced it. We enable QnA audio and video with the writers, which is a great way to interact for those who join online, âsays Srikrishna Ramamoorthy, co-founder of the festival.
At the end of the day, what most organizers seem to agree on is that going live has resulted in a number of learnings. Many believe they will now be working on a hybrid of online and offline versions of their events.
Online migration for an event anywhere in the world now makes it possible to recruit more experts for a global audience. However, the constant challenge for everyone is to stay one step ahead, to make the formats interesting, and to schedule interactions that are deep and as personal as possible. While it doesn’t take away the joys of a physical event and the sights, sounds and interactions that accompany it, going live has undoubtedly opened up several new avenues.