Marlena Tronicke: Lives under Lockdown: Negotiations of Precarity in the National Theatre of Scotland and the BBC’s Scenes for Survival Series

Scenes for Survival, a 2020 series of short digital artworks co-created by the National Theatre of Scotland and the BBC, is designed to support the economic and creative survival of Scottish playwrights, actors, directors, and, thus, the theatre industry at large. On one level, the over 50 one- and two-handers, filmed in isolation and thematically diverse, call attention to the manifold challenges individuals are faced with under lockdown. On another, they throw into relief how such challenges – and, with it, specific coping strategies – are unevenly distributed, always predicated upon questions of gender, class, race, sexuality, age, or able-bodiedness. The series thus scrutinises the intricate, and sometimes intersecting, dimensions of precarity, a term which has been readily claimed and contested by various societal groups and industries in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Drawing from selected monologues, such as Catherine Grosvenor’s Listen to Me (dir. Shilpa T-Hyland; perf. Taqi Nazeer) and Kevin Gilday’s Courier Culture (dir. Graham Eatough; perf. Jatinder Singh Randhawa), I explore the ways in which the format negotiates precarity on the thematic as well as formal/aesthetic level. Whilst on the one hand constructing the viewer as passive and partly also privileged onlooker, the series’ idiosyncratic format opens up an additional, often contradictory, perspective that relies on identification between viewer and actor/character, and that therefore fosters community building. As I suggest, Scenes for Survival certainly identifies theatre as an essential and indeed resilient commentator in times of crisis; at the same time, however, the series has to navigate the seemingly intractable conundrum that its reliance on a digital and, most importantly, non-live format raises wider, systemic questions with regard to the precarious position of theatre as an art form.

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