Trapped in our homes for so much of the last year, we have relied upon the arts like never before. From high-end television dramas to live-streamed theatre and concerts, we have turned to the arts to help us escape for just a few hours to a different place and forget about the pandemic.
It is important to remember, however, that many who work in creative arts have struggled during this time. In March 2020 productions were shuttered, the doors closed on the West End, and many performers were left without livelihoods. The industry will feel the effects of COVID-19 for a long time. Research from NTT DATA UK found 51% of those furloughed in the creative arts are now looking to change their career.
Arts and technology
At NTT DATA UK, like many other organisations, we have looked to constantly innovate how we run virtual events. We wanted to create something that was as inclusive as possible, bringing together teams and our clients in a safe space to interact and build lasting relationships – wherever they are. As we looked for options, we eventually came across Doorstep Productions.
Doorstep Productions is an amazing organisation launched to bring the West End right into people’s homes and support the arts industry. The company was set up by four-time Olivier Award winner and eight-time nominee Maria Friedman, alongside leading West End star Adrian Der Gregorian. Maria is a titan of the industry and is widely considered the UK’s most successful leading musical theatre actress, winning her first Olivier Award in 1995 for her one-woman cabaret, ‘Maria Friedman by Special Arrangement’.
Doorstep Productions is a shining example of the huge variety of talent that makes the UK arts scene the envy of the world. Thanks to a brilliant tech team, using cutting-edge camera equipment, they could live-stream a packed show of musical hits from Doorstep’s company of West End stars into the homes of our teams and clients watching at home. So ‘An Evening in the West End’ was born.
‘Art is transcendent’
I was one of the few people lucky enough to be in the theatre at the Bishopsgate Institute to see the show being performed live. It was an unbelievable thrill to see live theatre once again. One of the performers captured the feeling beautifully when she described how “art is transcendent”. To see performers in costume on stage, utterly in their element, brought together with an audience through the magic of technology, was something to behold.
Watching the show, I was blown away by the resilience of those who work in the creative arts; continuing to perform and entertain, when their industry has been challenged by the pandemic perhaps more than any other.
Every song was a joy. ‘One Day More’ in the Les Misérables medley felt like a rallying cry of an industry that refused to give in. ‘Phantom of the Opera’ embraced us all in its haunting, ethereal beauty. But it was the raw emotional power of the performance of ‘Memory’ from Cats that will stay with me for a long time – I defy anyone not to cry as the song soars to its conclusion.
The importance of storytelling
One of the most humbling takeaways from the event may well be the Q&A with Maria and her team. They spoke with honesty about the huge impact of COVID-19 on their lives, depriving them of purpose and putting on pause some glittering West End careers. Facing these challenges, Doorstep was – in the team’s words – a “Godsend for the industry”. The team recalled moving memories performing on doorsteps for delighted families, in hospices and hospitals, bringing all the emotions of a night at the theatre to people trapped in lockdown.
Doorstep’s innovative spirit is a case study in the importance of staying agile and adapting to circumstance – vital for any business. Maria described how the arts faced a crisis in March 2020 that was unprecedented even in wartime – much of the West End soldiered on despite during the Blitz. Her team rethought an approach for the creative arts sector, tapping into a huge pool of West End talent and using new tech channels (as well as tried and tested outdoor performances) to connect with an audience hungry for the arts.
There is also a bigger lesson here about the importance of storytelling and connection. The disruption of the pandemic put at risk our ability to interact and build bonds with each other. Musical theatre performers thrive off that ability to build a personal connection with each and every member of the audience, selling a wonderfully compelling story. These ideas can be applied fantastically to how we work with our teams, and with clients, communicating creatively, forging relationships, and bringing everyone along on the journey.
Thank you to Maria Friedman, Doorstep Productions and everyone behind the scenes who made our Evening at the West End such a success.
We should never forget the arts and why they matter. We can all do our part, whether it is going to the amazing team at Doorstep Productions for your next personal performance or work event, or of course when restrictions allow, returning to see all that live theatre has to offer.