Written by Heather Tyrrell, AKA Tricity Vogue.
Heather is a writer, performer, producer, and musician. Her eclectic professional portfolio includes ten years in television and another ten in cabaret. As a television script editor, scriptwriter and development producer she worked on shows including Teletubbies, Holby City, and My Family. Her time as Story Editor for children's programme Byker Grove was her favourite TV job. As cabaret performer Tricity Vogue she's taken five hit shows to the Edinburgh Fringe, and runs several long-running London cabaret nights. She fronts the 9-piece Tricity Vogue's All Girl Swing Band, who sell out iconic London venues including Wilton's Music Hall.
It's March 2021 and I haven't performed live on stage for a year. If you'd asked me twelve months ago what I did, I would have said “I'm a cabaret performer, I play ukulele and I have an All Girl Swing Band.” Like all musicians, that description of what I do feels a bit historical right now – my band gigs have all been cancelled or postponed and we won't be back on stage together until July 2021 (fingers crossed). But I have still put on cabaret shows and performed on ukulele since last March – just not in the same room as my audience.
The plan was, last spring when the WebinArt team settled on my webinar and blog post for this year's programme, that I'd be talking about running live events. But how can I talk about something I haven't done for a year?
So I'm going to talk about the alternative that's been my and many other creatives' reality since Covid came along: running events online instead of in a live venue. I've talked to a few friends and colleagues in different creative fields about their adventures moving events and shows online over the last year, and I've gathered my thoughts about my own experiences. If you're planning some online events, or thinking about blending both online and live content for your own projects, I hope there'll be some useful steers to be had from our insights.
I asked four fellow creatives, and myself, nine questions. Here's a sample of the answers. I'll cover more in my webinar, when I'll be able to respond to your questions too.
Pictured: James Millar’s Zoom “teletypes"
What previously live events/experiences have you moved online in the last year, because of Covid 19?
"I've taken Zoom-based portraits using the Victorian wet plate collodion process, as I've not been able to have my subjects physically in the studio. I called them “teletypes”. The process creates an image on a sheet of glass or metal with a large-format camera, developed on site. The camera is trained on my laptop screen. It needs a longer exposure – the subject has to stay still for up to a minute. But it's still live. I've also been making digital tintypes. People send me a digital file and I photograph the screen and make a print on metal or glass."
Analogue and digital photographer. The Tintype Studio, his bespoke 'wet plate' analogue photography studio and dark room opened this year near Melton Mowbray in rural Leicestershire.
Pictured: Tricity Vogue
Have you created entirely new digital content in response to Covid 19 restrictions, rather than simply moving a live event online? If so, can you briefly describe it?
"A new ukulele group started in March 2020 at the instigation of fellow-performer Sarah-Louise Young, who gathered together a group of performers and theatre-makers interested in learning ukulele, and asked me to teach them. The “Keen Beans” have been meeting weekly ever since, and are still going strong as a social support network through the pandemic, as well as a focus of musical practise, and have expanded to include a number of my former students from other workshops and classes I've taught. The group take turns to suggest songs they'd like to work on – old favourites, new discoveries – and we spend time talking about the associations the songs carry for us, as well as what's going on in our own lives, alongside actually playing some music."
Heather Tyrrell, AKA Tricity Vogue
Cabaret performer, ukulele player, singer-songwriter, All Girl Swing Band leader, musical theatre writer, novelist, journalist, former television writer and script editor.
Has the online content you’ve created sustained you on a par with the live events you previously ran – financially and/or creatively? Have you found a way to make a financial and/or creative model work online for you?
"I definitely miss a live audience. There is an energetic exchange which is missing. It’s like suddenly losing your sense of smell. My instinct to read a room and respond can’t function as it did. I’m used to improvising and shaping my material around an in-the-room response. However it has been very satisfying to reach different audiences and even do a live broadcast for a theatre in the US. Financially I have had to work twice as hard for half the money but I am grateful I have found ways of earning. I’m teaching more than I was and also launched a bespoke songwriting service. I haven’t really been drawn to social events online (partly due to screen fatigue and partly because large groups of people staring at each other aren’t my idea of fun)."
Actor, singer, writer, cabaret performer, teacher, theatre-maker
Pictured: James Millar’s Zoom “teletypes"
What elements of your formerly live events have proved irreplaceable? What, if any, elements have you found online alternatives for?
"Most of it really, other than the Zoom “teletypes”. The entirety of what I do cannot be moved online. I've got to be physically at an event to photograph it, or have someone physically in my studio. There's only really landscape photography left. Online alternatives can only be very limited.
There've been fun parts. The Zoom portraits have taken me all over the world to Las Vegas, Sri Lanka, Liege and LA. I wouldn't have seen or spent time with those people without lockdown.
It's also been an interesting positive experience from a creative point of view, as a collaboration with the subject at the other end – how the subjects light and frame the portrait is up to them."
What practical challenges, pitfalls and solutions have you encountered?
"Sound has been tricky. Facebook Live is great but even with Original Sound activated Zoom still compresses. Lighting is king. I’ve started to use an ethernet cable in case of poor wifi. Jamkazam is the closest we’ve got to getting rid of a time delay for rehearsals when two musicians are in different places but I wouldn’t trust it for a show. Neighbours have sometimes complained too, but now I give them warning!"
Have any unexpected silver linings or fringe benefits emerged from running online events?
"Our flagship event is an art exhibition where we usually get 100-150 people through the door – our online equivalent got over 500 visitors. I did not see it coming and am still shocked by the numbers. I’ve really enjoyed the pivot to online working – it has opened up so many new avenues of working, I have upskilled and learned new programs which has helped my personal development. It changes your way of thinking and potentially the events industry for the future."
Kelly is an Event Manager for the University of Leicester, Film Producer for GM Finney Productions, Performer for Skytribe Studios, Director of Social Enterprise Iconic Music Dance Drama Ltd, and Trustee for Voluntary Action Leicester. In 2019, Kelly won the East Midlands Women’s Award (EMWA) Outstanding Woman in Arts, Media, and Music.
(I had the pleasure of mentoring Kelly in last year's WebinArt scheme!)
Will you continue your digital offerings after Covid restrictions are lifted? Why/why not?
"Yes I think so, as it’s nice to teach/facilitate people that live all round the country/world!"
Emma is a performer, arts facilitator, co artistic director of Crows Nest Theatre Company, Associate Artist of White Rabbit and one third of The Bluestockings Society. She regularly runs arts and crafts workshops with recent work focusing on bringing the arts to participants living in isolation
What online events have you attended that you felt really worked, or didn’t, and why/why not?
"Watched a live solo show that didn’t have enough bandwidth so you could either hear or see the performer but rarely both at the same time!"
Do you have any tips for creatives planning online events or experiences?
"It's good to reach out and connect with people for your own sanity and to keep the creative process going, keep your profile going, maintain the connections you made before covid came along. Keep trying to innovate and find ways around the restrictions we're under."
See what Heather does as Tricity Vogue here -
WebinArt members can access our upcoming webinar 'How to: Reimagine a Live Event Online' with Heather on 2nd March at 10am. During this webinar, Heather will dive into three golden 'how to's for creating online events -
1) How to: Dream up an online event that people want to participate in
2) How to: Troubleshoot in advance to avoid live mishaps
3) How to: Bring human contact into the digital realm
To learn more about joining WebinArt, click here.