Arts

Welcome to the Social Distancing Festival: a wonderful celebration of art for not-so-wonderful times

Playwright Nick Green's musical got cancelled because of COVID — so he started an online festival for impacted art.

Nick Green's musical got cancelled because of COVID — so he started an online festival for impacted art

The logo for the Social Distancing Festival. (Nick Green)

Last Friday, March 13 — which might as well be years ago at this point — Toronto playwright Nick Green became one of the many artists to have a production cancelled due to the need for social distancing. Beyond the disappointment, what quickly followed was a discussion between Green and his collaborators about how they could work virtually to continue the piece. 

"It was particularly fitting, given that the show" — a musical called In Real Life he was developing with Kevin Wong — "is set in a dystopian future, and much of the show theatricalized virtual communication, so part of this change was kind of inspiring as we talked about doing choreography over webcam and running scenes over Zoom," Green says, "That said, it was also quite worrying. Writing is already a very lonely profession, and going from full-time rehearsals to many hours alone at home brought out all sorts of feelings."

Green is single, and his family lives across the country. So suddenly he was facing what could be a dark time, during which he knew it might be hard to stay creative and productive.

"On top of that, I started hearing about all of the other artists who were finding themselves in a similar situation: disappointed, scared, and discouraged. So an idea came from me while I was furiously driving to a meeting, thinking about how we artists need a place to come together virtually and share our work."

"A Facebook post led to a website, which led to a huge response from artists all over the world. "

Nick Green. (Ryan Parker Photography)

That website is The Social Distancing Festival, a truly extraordinary (and fast!) response to the madness of the pandemic. It's a space for celebrating work that has been affected by COVID-19.

"[It is] growing by the minute," Green says. "At present, the plan is to present submissions from artists who have had their work cancelled/delayed/disrupted. This can vary from design sketches for a cancelled show, to cell phone footage of the cast of that opera singing their favourite song, to a writer reading a scene from their play that was supposed to open. In addition, a very important feature that I'm working on is a directory of live-streamed performances around the world."

Green is hoping the site can be a "gathering place" of sorts. 

"I'm calling it a TV Guide of exquisite art! So many places are doing cool things, but you only hear about them if you follow them on social media. Bach Collegium Japan did a stunning streamed concert a few days ago, but so many didn't even know it was happening. So I'm working to collect these and am populating an events page so people can browse everything in one place. This time could become very conducive to binge-watching Love is Blind (no judgment, love it) and sliding into depression. My hope is to connect the global arts community to raise morale, and help keep people inspired and motivated."

Design sketches from ONE by Jason Carnew, a Ghost River Production that was slated to be produced at Factory Theatre, but was cancelled. The designs are by Snezana Pasic. (Snezana Pasic)

So what can do to help keep Green's hope alive and well? The site has a donation page with a listing of several arts organizations and companies, which he is continuing to add to all the time.

"If you see something you like, reach out to them and share their work, as well as consider finding out a way to donate to them directly," he adds. "In terms of supporting the Festival, I'd say that spreading the word, checking back in with it regularly, and retweeting/sharing updates on events would be very helpful. Also, if you know an artist who has had work cancelled, bug them to get something submitted! If you sing, maybe you can reach out to that composer friend and offer to record a little demo or read a scene with your writer friend."

Welcome to the new normal, at least for now — and be grateful visionary folks like Green are doing whatever they can to make it as manageable as possible.

CBC Arts understands that this is an incredibly difficult time for artists and arts organizations across this country. We will do our best to provide valuable information, share inspiring stories of communities rising up and make us all feel as (virtually) connected as possible as we get through this together. If there's something you think we should be talking about, let us know by emailing us at cbcarts@cbc.ca. See more of our COVID-related coverage here.

About the Author

Peter Knegt has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and spearheading the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag and interactive project Superqueeroes, both of which won 2020 Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also a stand-up comedian, the filmmaker of numerous short films and the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.

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