In a world that is trying to find a “new normal” during the Covid-19 pandemic, socially distant concerts are among the latest efforts to get the all-important arts sector back on its feet. On Saturday 15th August, I attended one of the first of these new-style concerts in the UK at the Virgin Money Unity Arena in Newcastle.
Whilst I was enjoying the show, I gave some thought as to whether the format could be a potential option in order to stage Eurovision 2021 in Rotterdam with a live audience. As a Eurovision community, we are coming to terms with the fact that unless there is a widely distributed vaccine in the very near future, the Eurovision of years gone by probably won’t be possible.
So when life gives you lemons, you take this as the perfect opportunity to consider how our beloved contest can be rejuvenated and reworked to make its big return in 2021 in the age of Covid-19.
How does the concert work and is it safe?
The new Covid-secure arena is a lot more like a festival setting than an indoor, Eurovision style arena. The stage looks like any other outdoor stage, and the audience, rather than gathering in a large crowd, each gather in individual booths.
These socially distant booths are fit for up to five people (all from the same party, of course), and at our concert one ticket bought you one booth. The booths are equipped with chairs and each both is separated at a safe distance. You don’t need to wear a mask whilst you’re in the booth, but you do if you leave the booth to use the toilet, or visit the food and drinks stalls in the arena. Of course, there are plenty of hand sanitiser and handwashing stations around the arena.
In order to enter the arena, you must enter by car. Once you’ve parked your car, you’re shown to your assigned booth by a member of staff. Entry is staggered, so it takes a while, but it’s no different to arriving hours early for a Eurovision show in order to be at the front of the audience.
What does this new format lack compared to the Eurovision shows we’re used to?
The obvious flaw with this new format is that it’s outdoor, so the atmosphere is certainly weather dependent. There’s no huddling in the audience to keep warm, so I imagine that a cold and rainy day would seriously dampen the spirits of the crowd (if you pardon the pun), as well as the overall mood of the show.
Of course, if Eurovision was in Tel Aviv or Lisbon next year, it wouldn’t be an issue, but Rotterdam may not want to take this gamble. As well, the EBU requires that Eurovision is hosted in a covered arena, but could they make an exception for the Covid era?
The next unfortunate consequence of a socially distant concert is the there is no community spirit when the crowd is all six feet apart. Every time I’ve attended a Eurovision show, I’ve had wonderful conversations with people from all over the continent, and this meeting of nationalities is one of the fundamentals of the Eurovision Song Contest.
Though as we can all imagine, there’s no way around the fact that mingling and forging new friendships will be a lot more difficult at Eurovision in the age of Covid-19.
That being said, could this format be the best way forward for Eurovision?
Despite inevitable flaws, I really wouldn’t be too mad about it, if Rotterdam decided to build their own arena in a similar style to the Unity Arena in the UK. For starters, I really wouldn’t miss the scramble for a good view in the standing areas of the audience. Or crossing your legs for hours because you think going to the toilet would mean losing your place in the crowd.
Furthermore, I find this format actually works better for a show like Eurovision, which doesn’t require any audience participation. For a band that relies on calls and responses from the audience, or screams for an encore, this new format would force them to find a whole new way of including the audience in their shows. When we’re separated, we simply can’t all chant together as a crowd.
However the Eurovision audience have never been required to participate in this way, we can just sit back and enjoy the show.
The most important factor perhaps, as to why I would like to see a format like this in Rotterdam, is that it ensures an audience has the chance to see the show live. I’d forgotten how happy live music made me after five months in lockdown, and my first concert since lockdown really reminded me.
You get the same buzz as any other show, and you don’t need to stand on your tiptoes, or sweat in a stuffy crowd, in order to enjoy it.
What do you think? Would you like to see Eurovision 2021 as a socially distant, outdoor concert? Let us know in the comments!