Culture Vulture

Livestreams almost like the real deal

As performing venues close during the coronavirus pandemic, check out livestreams of artists for a more authentic and interactive experience than watching pre-recorded videos

Coldplay frontman Chris Martin swears as he hits the wrong chord on the piano.

He later turns to me and affirms my social distancing efforts. "The right thing to be doing is staying home... And not buying too much toilet paper," he says.

No, I do not have a direct line to the British star, but it does feel like he is singing and speaking to me as he streams live on Instagram.

Martin was kicking off Together At Home, an ongoing virtual music series, launched by the World Health Organisation and non-profit group Global Citizen to unite people during the coronavirus pandemic.

With the cancellation of concerts and events across the world, livestreamed events on Facebook and Instagram are now filling the void.

Aside from famous musicians sharing their music, there are livestreamed ballet lessons, yoga sessions, improv shows and orchestral performances.

Although the magic of a live performance can never truly be replicated, some of these livestreamed performances come pretty close to the real deal.

In fact, there is an added layer of authenticity as artists play acoustic sets, let down their guard as they broadcast from the comfort of their homes or chuckle at themselves as they fumble with apps and platforms they have never used before.

Singapore artists and venues have also made some attempts to broadcast online after stricter social distancing rules kicked in.

Last Friday, The Private Museum held a virtual opening for its new exhibition Silhouettes: Collecting Singapore Modern; the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and jazz musician Jeremy Monteiro went live over the weekend; while Improv theatre group Improvanopolis has streamed two of its shows live.


Catch singer-songwriter John Legend (above, with his wife Chrissy Teigen) as he performs in the virtual music series, Together At Home. PHOTO: JOHN LEGEND/INSTAGRAM

Says Improvanopolis producer and director William Landsman: "There is something exciting about the chance to see something live. I think it's why a show like Saturday Night Live still works, it's the understanding anything could go wrong and there are no edits."

Because livestreams allow artists to take requests or say hi to individuals who type them messages during the session, they are more interactive than watching a pre-recorded video - although those, too, are invaluable in these times.

As I watch these livestreams, I am reminded of Fievel the mouse in the 1986 animated classic An American Tail, singing Somewhere Out There to the moon, while his sister, whom he has been separated from, duets with him "beneath the pale moonlight".

To those quarantined across the globe, even though I know how very far apart we are, it helps to think we might be watching the same artists, laughing at the same jokes and swaying to the same music.

Here are some livestreams to watch as we hunker down.

1. TOGETHER AT HOME

Go to: www.facebook.com/GLBLCTZN

A stellar line-up of musicians and singers have signed up to be part of this virtual music series including John Legend, Charlie Puth, Jennifer Hudson and celebrity couple Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes.

Legend is a personal favourite. His raw talent shines through as he breezes through songs such as All Of Me, Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water and Stevie Wonder's Love's In Need Of Love Today.

Besides calling for people to stay home to prevent the spread of the virus, he also advocates helping those who might be struggling financially due to loss of work caused by the pandemic.

His wife Chrissy Teigen and daughter Luna join him and make song requests of their own. Having a human jukebox like Legend in my living room would definitely make it easier to stay home, but I guess him streaming live comes a close second.

Check out the Global Citizen Facebook page for upcoming livestreams. Teigen did a shout-out to American singer Ariana Grande, so maybe she will be up soon.


2. SHOWSTOPPER THE IMPROVISED MUSICAL

Go to: bit.ly/2wM57yg

Six talented actors take suggestions from their virtual audience on Facebook and Instagram Live, as they craft a completely improvised musical.

The suggestions for the setting include a Scottish Isle, a closed theatre and a petri dish. They eventually choose the first suggestion, resulting in Haggis the musical.

The award-winning group chose to livestream its show from the Lyric Theatre in London, following the closure of theatres in the West End.

Apart from a few seconds of low-quality videoing where heads are partially cut off, the 45-minute show includes different theatre tropes and even a song done in the style of hit musical Hamilton.


3. SOFA KING FEST 2020

Go to: www.sofa-king-fest.com

The website calls itself "an emergency response online music and arts directory aimed to minimise your Covid-19 boredom". And it does just that.

Here, I was made aware of livestreams by artists such as country star Garth Brooks, American singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge and soul singer Aaron Neville (go to their Facebook pages to watch videos of the livestreams).

Neville's voice is a balm that soothes frazzled nerves and he sings for a good one hour and 40 minutes. After singing what is supposed to be the last song, like a kid in a candy store, he says "one more, one more, one more" and swings into a little-known song titled Bells In My Heart, which will leave your heart singing.


4. IMPROVANOPOLIS

Go to: www.facebook.com/Improvanopolis

For something closer to home, catch Singapore group Improvanopolis as it plays out different scenarios - including a staycation party with lots of hand sanitiser - using suggestions from the audience, much in the style of American TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway?.

It has streamed two of its improv shows live and will stream its next show tomorrow at 8pm. Check out its Facebook page for updates or to watch the past livestreams.

The show's producer and director William Landsman says: "Comedy is how we get through these tough times. A sense of humour can help."

He adds that the group has staged four shows (in front of an audience) in the last month and, after the shows, "people would come up and say, 'I needed that'".


5. COPPER BEECH INSTITUTE

Go to: copperbeechinstitute.org/online-offerings

Reading pandemic-related world news keeps me up these days and the best way to wind down is with some pre-bedtime yoga.

If I am still up at 12.30am Singapore time, I drop what I am doing and join the virtual session set up by Copper Beech Institute, a non-profit organisation based in the United States that teaches mindfulness and meditation.

There are online offerings every day, but I am partial to the Live Mindful Movement sessions on Wednesday and Friday mornings, which involve simple movements and stretches while encouraging mindfulness. These are conducted on virtual meeting platform Zoom.

Speaking of which, I think it is time to roll out my yoga mat and join the 43 other people participating in today's session.

Keep well everyone.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 31, 2020, with the headline 'Livestreams almost like the real deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe