Hybrid communication

The arrival of the pandemic at the beginning of 2020 signaled, inevitably, a period of stalled growth in all cultural-related activities: cinemas, theaters, museums, and festivals recorded minus 70 percent of their activities, minus 73 percent of admissions, and minus 78 percent of box office spending.

Concert activity has suffered the most, in absolute values, with a loss of 83 percent of spectators and an 89 percent drop in box office spending. The reduced capacities of the short reopening in summer 2020 did not allow for the staging of events by major national and international artists.

Also heavy is the fallout on the theater, affected both in the midst of the 2019-2020 winter season with the abrupt interruption that occurred starting in the second half of February, and at the start of the 2020-2021 season with the second lockdown.

These events inevitably marked the emergence of further organizational problems for cultural institutions: the closure of buildings, and the relative absence of international and domestic tourism, meant that no revenue could be received from the ticketing system. There were numerous problems, including organizational ones, as the need arose to adapt to new state regulations in terms of contingency compliance and, most importantly, to a new type of cultural fruition that has never occurred before due to the inherent nature of performance art forms: the absence of the audience.

Let us take a step back, trying to explain in a few lines the nature that, cultural entities such as the Theater have in relation to the definition of “relational good.”

The difference between most art forms and Theater comes to light in one elementary aspect: theater arises as a nonreproducible relationship between individuals.

The constitutive qualities of the theatrical experience, corporeality and co-presence of otherness, bring to light some essential features of this good, and make it interesting for the purposes of an economic analysis that considers this art as a relational good. According to this approach, the theater good is configured as. Cultural phenomenon that cannot be conceived as a mere “public service”, but rather as a desirable resource, good in the ethical sense of the word, something good for civilization. Seen as a relational good, theater is an experience that brings richness to the human and social fabric with an increasingly well-known influence on people’s happiness, quality of life, and overall growth, which does not forget the importance of the well-being of individuals to realize the well-being of society as a whole.

Moreover, it is well known that the theatrical ritual, inherent in the collective dimension of man, is defined by the simultaneous co-presence of individuals who act (the actors) in front of individuals who observe (the spectators), and exists solely in the relationship established between them in a physical space devoted to this interaction.

At a time when the participatory component has been lacking due to force majeure dictated by the stringent health measures, most of the organizers have been working to respond in a very short time on alternative ways to create New forms of participation by harnessing the potential of digital channels.

Is it therefore possible to call theater a performance that takes place in the “absence” of the participatory parts?
Not wishing to contradict what has been said about the characteristics that define theater as a relational good, it is worth recalling the principle of simultaneity that defines a relational good we must take note that for the enjoyment of the theatrical good the level of participation proper to the doer and the receiver, the identity of the participants, as well as the quality of the environment become crucial.

The digital channel has a great merit: it brings decentralized audiences closer to the theater because it allows audiences to be anywhere, just as it allows actors to act from anywhere.

Indeed, this lockdown period has seen a gradual resort to cultural supply solutions aimed at a public connected: live streaming, events via zoom, theatrical performances in real time on social video sharing platforms, all tools that enabled organizers to communicate their cultural offerings to subscribers or casual viewers through a computer or smart TV.

The phenomenon witnessed for some realities was the materialization of the potential mass audience as opposed to the traditional niche audience: people who might not have participated in a live performance because they might have been physically distant from the performance venue have been involved.

The biggest bet downstream of the closing period will be to integrate traditional offerings with digital offerings and develop hybrid communication strategies: with shows that can simultaneously reach a present audience and a connected audience. Strategy capable of
“develop an industrial-type plan for culture, paying attention to the changes taking place, in order to seize all the opportunities”
as suggested by Siae Director General Blandini.

To date, the entertainment world, which has always been conservative and traditional, has used digital as a transcription of analog. A case in point is the “booklet” with the schedule of performances that is given at the beginning of the season to the subscriber. Often its status is translated from analog to digital to be placed on the web without respecting the logic of online communication that provides for interaction, the possibility of insights on other platforms, and immediate and direct participation.

Theater has 26 centuries of history, and it will not be this Pandemic that will interrupt the cultural experience that takes place there as a collective ritual, but as a relational commodity, theater organizations must also address new and different audiences from the traditional, adopting new channels that can bring unexpected results.