Have online events become the new normal?
During the COVID 19 pandemic the events industry was one of the hardiest hit with venues having to shut their doors all across the world. However many venues, including Seamus Heaney HomePlace, recognized an audience was still there and in dire need of some source of entertainment and a positive outlet. So… they invested in producing online events.
In April 2020 Seamus Heaney HomePlace launched it’s first ever online event programme which included renowned author, Glenn Patterson, singer-songwriter Anthony Toner, award-winning poets Maureen Boyle and Stephen Sexton and the short story writer and playwright, Rosemary Jenkinson.
The ‘Keeping Going’ series of readings and performances, named to recall Seamus Heaney’s poem dedicated to the perseverance and stamina of his brother Hugh- a regular attendee in The Helicon, was aired via the HomePlace YouTube channel and proved to be a huge success.
Since then HomePlace has hosted a number of events including the celebration of the 25th anniversary of Seamus Heaney’s Nobel Prize award and the ‘𝐹𝑜𝑟 𝑎𝑖𝑟 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑓𝑟𝑖𝑒𝑛𝑑𝑙𝑦 𝑡𝑎𝑙𝑘’ series featuring Pulitzer Prize winners and a US Poet Laureate.
All have been a huge success, with viewers tuning in from the comfort of their own home in over 18 countries across the world including Switzerland, France, Japan, USA and Canada.
So a question is … will online events continue after the pandemic?
Find out Seamus Heaney HomePlace Arts Programmer Cathy Brown’s opinion on the new normal:
What made you decide to launch online events for SHHP?
When the initial lockdown came in to force in March 2020, our work at Seamus Heaney HomePlace was mainly taken up with the unenviable task of cancelling almost six months of planned events and refunding customers. However, the longer the lockdown progressed, the more apparent it became to us that we needed to maintain contact with our audiences and provide some of our services in an online capacity and so the idea for our first online season, Keeping Going, was born.
Plans had already been in place to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Seamus Heaney being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in December 2020, so we wanted to still mark this momentous date and so we designed a special online programme for that, which aired on 12 December 2020.
In 2021, we arranged a series of online ‘in conversation’ events, to replicate the success of these events in the Helicon, and six episodes of ‘For Air and Friendly Talk’ were produced and aired in March and April.
We have also worked with Listen Now Again, the exhibition dedicated to the life and work of Seamus Heaney, in Dublin, to co-host a lecture from writer and academic Richard Rankin Russell on the theme of Place and Displacement in the poetry of Seamus Heaney. This was a great opportunity for us to work with Listen Now Again and to strengthen the links between the two organisations.
What has been your favourite online event so far?
My favourite event, and our most successful to date has been our Nobel Celebration. It was a three hour event featuring academics, actors and friends of Seamus Heaney and we were honoured to include performances and readings by Fiona Shaw, Ciaran Hinds, Dan Mulhall and Fintan O’Toole.
What is one of the most positive things about hosting events online?
While we would much rather be hosting live events in The Helicon, it must be noted that there are some benefits to hosting events online. We are able to attract an audience from around the world, and our online events have seen customers book from America, India and Australia! These customers would normally not be able to avail of the Arts Programme at HomePlace, but by presenting online, they can get a taste of what Seamus Heaney HomePlace has to offer.
By hosting events online, we have also been able to book speakers who may otherwise not have been able to physically attend HomePlace. For example, in ‘For Air and Friendly Talk’ we were able to programme Tracy K Smith, Colum McCann and Paul Muldoon, all of whom live in America and would not have been able to appear live in the Helicon.
Presenting events online is also a benefit to our customers as it gives them the flexibility to watch events at their own convenience and not be tied to a specific date or time.
Are there difficulties with presenting events online?
The most obvious downside to online programming is the lack of audience atmosphere and participation. At HomePlace we pride ourselves on our welcome and customer service, as well as on the quality of events. We miss the interaction with our audience and the feedback we receive and online programming is never going to replicate the live buzz of a theatre.
What is the main difference between an online event and one in The Helicon?
The atmosphere of a live event cannot be captured online. For both the audience and the performer/ speaker, the lack of ability to make a direct connection is one of the downsides of participating in an online event. An event at the Helicon is not just about listening to or watching a performer, it is about being in a communal space, talking to staff and other audience member, purchasing books after the event and at times, meeting with and speaking to the performer. This just isn’t possible online.
Do you think we will see online events still taking place once the pandemic is over?
I do think that online events will remain once the pandemic is over and will be integrated into a wider season of events. Retaining a number of online events a year would allow us to book speakers who may not be able to travel to HomePlace and thus improving on the offering in the Helicon. We might also explore the recording of live events in the Helicon, which would then be made available to customers online, allowing us to grow our audience base.
The next online event at Seamus Heaney HomePlace is The Night Always Comes: Willy Vlautin in Conversation. Click here for more information and tickets.