BY LINDA INNES
On 20 March 2020, the doors to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s campus were forced to close in line with the Covid-19 national lockdown. Over the course of a weekend, the great migration to online learning, teaching and performing began in earnest, and on Monday 23 March, a new digital channel, RCS at Home, was launched.
This new online platform was formed to be a place where the RCS community could keep ‘creatively connected’ in this unknown era of social distancing, and help to spread joy whilst combating isolation. RCS threw open its digital doors and asked for submissions from students, staff, alumni, partners and audience members.
What followed was an outpouring of art from all corners of the globe, as the RCS community engaged in creating digital performances, writing blog posts, sharing tips and techniques to get one another through lockdown, and publishing research papers, all through RCS at Home.
Some of the earliest RCS at Home content included a performance from Traditional Musician of the Year and RCS Lecturer Jenn Butterworth streamed from her living room, BBC Philharmonic clarinettist and graduate Fraser Langton playing every part in a Quarantine Clarinet Quartet, a Wellbeing blog series aimed at keeping us physically and mentally healthy and an Exchange Talk with Dr Emily Doolittle discussing her research on bird song.
Principal Jeffrey Sharkey also took part, performing Scott Joplin on the piano from his living room on the first day of RCS at Home.
He said: “Lockdown was an anxious and uncertain time for everyone. We had to close our campus and our venues but it was so important that we continued to share our art in creative ways such as through the RCS at Home platform.
“It was, and still is, an opportunity for the RCS community to stay in touch with people all over the world. Our community may be virtual, but it is our hope that we can continue to inspire, uplift, unite and entertain.”
Very quickly, students and staff responded to the restraints of lockdown in the most creative way. Two new digital festivals took place within weeks of lockdown beginning. Propel: a festival of digital performance premiered more than a dozen online performances by Contemporary Performance Practice students using mediums of live work, recorded performance, interactive websites and the telephone.
Students from across the School of Drama collaborated virtually to create the On the Verge festival, with digital performances from MA Classical and Contemporary Text, second-year BA Actors and BA Performance in BSL and English students. In total, 15 brand new On the Verge performance pieces streamed to online audiences, reaching thousands of viewers across the world, including Hide/Bound (watch below).
pieces of content published
RCS Presents concerts premiered
views of the platform
countries tuned in to view
As graduation neared and the realisation that there would be no opportunity to showcase final year performance became clear, imaginative solutions were found. BA Musical Theatre students turned their final show The Baker’s Wife into an online sharing, and received a special message from original composer Stephen Schwartz.
BA Modern Ballet students worked with choreographers Diana Loosmore on the Ballet Graduation Showcase and with Jamiel Laurence on Jam Jarring to create two new stunning dance pieces, all performed and filmed from their homes across the globe.
The work of the community did not go unnoticed and RCS at Home was featured alongside the Met Opera and Berlin Philharmonic for its efforts in producing art during the pandemic.
“Sitting at home isn’t where you’d expect to enjoy world-class performing arts, but the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is aiming to shift people stuck at home away from Netflix and towards something more highbrow with their digital platform RCS at Home.” The Guardian, April 2020
Also within the RCS at Home platform is the RCS Presents concert series, created by the Artistic Planning team, with the vision of sharing music performance on a global scale.
At the height of lockdown, in spring 2020, RCS Presents premiered weekly concerts from RCS staff and visiting artists, commissioned to bring joy to homes across the world during this period of isolation. Artists included percussionist and Yamaha Artist Calum Huggan, Manchester Collective violinist Rahki Singh, saxophonist Tommy Smith OBE and the piano and clarinet duo Steven Osborne and Jean Johnson.
RCS Presents has continued in the new academic term of 2020/21, with two concerts premiering each week, a huge artistic and educational achievement with each concert rehearsed, performed and recorded under strict Covid guidelines. These concerts have given students unique performing opportunities on an international scale and a great insight into the world of digital performances.
Head of Artistic Planning, Samantha McShane says: “Everyone at RCS, staff, students and our creative community, has adapted to this global pandemic in an incredibly inspiring way. In term one alone we worked with cellist Steven Isserlis, mezzo-Soprano Karen Cargill, composer Errollyn Wallen, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra as well as presenting our first Digital Guitar Festival, which reached a global audience.”
“What is abundantly clear is that the arts has given us hope, a sense of community and inspiration during these incredibly difficult times for us all. We hope that you have all enjoyed a bit of RCS light throughout the darkness.” Sam McShane
RCS at Home continues to evolve to suit the needs of the RCS community. In the last month of 2020, thre new theatre productions premiered on the platform. The Bacchae, The Speculator and The Assumption were all performed and filmed during November 2020, with all three receiving excellent reviews for both the performances and the scale of the production work involved.
The RCS at Home platform has allowed these productions to have an audience – it might not be a live audience but it has seen thousands of people tune in to watch.
Joyce Deans, Head of Acting says:
“Being able to stream our students’ performances to the world has been an incredible experience for us all. We have learnt so much during this process and I am thrilled for the students to see how positive the response has been to their work.
“Of course, we desperately miss live audiences, but using digital screenings has allowed us to connect with a wider audience online, while we continue to create and make live work.” Joyce Deans
Claire Lamont, Head of the BA Performance in British Sign Language and English programme said: “Now the need for stories, theatre and music feels more urgent than ever. Our desire to connect has arguably never been stronger.
“We recognise the privilege in being one of the first to bring theatre to the stage. And, especially exciting for this to be with the world premiere of a new play, The Assumption by Douglas Maxwell, a thrilling piece that demonstrates the creativity of staging work across both British Sign Language and English. We hope to reach new audiences on the RCS at Home platform.”
As 2020 draws to a close, there is much to reflect on. One thing is clear; our artists are still here. At RCS, its students will continue to create, make, devise, rehearse and perform. And you can continue to watch the newest content on RCS at Home in 2021.
Watch some of RCS at Home best bits: