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Time to Spare: Art in the time of corona

The arts - be it theatre, visual art, poetry, comedy, or anything else - give us a place to switch off, escape to and be entertained.

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Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

Never has how we spend our time been so turned upside down. Mundane tasks like shopping and picking up medicine require more planning, while time that might have been spent socialising, watching sport or going to the movies, yawns empty in front of us.

Time, and what we do with it, stretches and constricts depending on our circumstances. Whether you're furloughed, working from home whilst teaching kids, or working longer shifts in a riskier-than-ever environment, it feels strange and unsettling.

The arts - be it theatre, visual art, poetry, comedy, or anything else - give us a place to switch off, escape to and be entertained, and perhaps provide space to untangle, process and express difficult or unpalatable feelings.

With this in mind we've brought together a few ideas about how to access performing arts in these strange times.

The National Theatre is releasing a new production from its back catalogue every week on YouTube, each available for one week. So far there has been the highly-acclaimed One Man, Two Guvnors, a slapstick farce that will not be to all tastes but which James Corden credits with changing the course of his career, Jane Eyre, and Treasure Island, a family-friendly rip-roaring adventure worth tuning into for the great sets alone.

The Royal Opera House have uploaded ballet and opera onto their YouTube channel using the hashtag #OurHouseToYourHouse, providing an opportunity to sample productions you may not otherwise have come across. Handel's Acis and Galatea is mind-blowing. Being unaccustomed to opera, an hour and thirty-eight minutes could be a tough watch but this only reinforces what can be true of theatre in general - if you let it, it really takes you out of your comfort zone.

The Sydney Opera House is offering an interesting programme of talks, opera, theatre and music, and filmedonstage.com is streaming Broadway musicals, although this seemed a little fiddly to access.

Soho Theatre On Demand is a new service from this vibrant producer of new theatre, comedy and cabaret, offering great shows for £4 each, with all proceeds going to a variety of charities dealing with coronavirus. For the month of May, you'll be able to rent the recording of the stage show of Fleabag, which received rave reviews. There is also a good choice of new comedy available.

It's worth keeping in mind that stage sets don't always translate well and some productions work better on a small screen than others. The rather unimaginative set of One Man, Two Guvnors probably framed the cast successfully if you were part of the huge and hysterical energy created by the actors, whipped up by a live audience as they are carried along by the ridiculous antics of James Corden, but it's all rather lost when you're sitting on the sofa eating crisps. Conversely, Acis and Galatea's backdrop is a classical landscape which sets off the dancers and creates a spectacle that somehow makes opera more accessible. Secure in the knowledge that you can leave the sofa at any time, you find yourself more easily hooked.

Tuning in from the comfort of your living room may not be quite the occasion that going to the theatre is but we recommend dressing up, having pre-theatre drinks and perhaps a late supper somewhere interesting afterwards, like your kitchen. Either way, there is still a thrill elicited from visiting The Met, the Sydney Opera House or National Theatre - the sheer global nature of what is available, as well as the scale and variety of productions you can access. It's easier than ever to challenge yourself and try something different.

Another fantastic place to do this is to explore the list of 500 museum websites offering virtual tours. You can visit exhibitions in Europe, Chile, Japan, South Korea, and just about anywhere else you can imagine.

It's especially moving to see artists collaborating from their homes. Search for #HearTheWestEndSing or 'St John Passion in Isolation'. Groups of musicians, artists, dancers and singers are using technology to share their skills and passion. Somehow the magic of their craft is actually enhanced by glimpses of reality - messy kitchens, tiny attic rooms, a bathroom or a larder - amplifying a powerful voice or a well-played instrument. Ordinary people are creating extraordinary beauty in these strange times.

And there is the stuff you can make yourself. Local collective Kurious Arts are posting daily prompts and welcome your flash fiction, poems, scripts, paintings and drawings. They're even offering a prize for the best one.

And, if all else fails, you can have fun making a TikTok. I think recruiting a teenager helps with this.

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