Covid limitations have put a stop to many traditional outreach and partnership events in independent schools. But a bit of creative thinking in music, dance and drama departments across the sector has resulted in a whole new world of live streaming, recording and online audiences.
In 2020, innovative ensemble and solo performances leapt out of phones, tablets and screens as schools sought to reach out to their stakeholders online. The impact of this new concept of performance events in schools has evoked a re-think in marketing strategies and platforms, as performance in schools goes big and goes home in a virtual world.
Who could have imagined a Christmas without the pre-prep nativity play and the sequence of little waves to Mummy and Daddy from each sheep and shepherd as the warmest of audiences files in?
Traditional nativity plays, festivals, concerts, dance shows, musicals, school plays and overseas tours have all been seriously challenged for the past two terms. Parents, both current and prospective, have been unable to enjoy their usual access to school grounds and buildings as audiences.
“Schools have been bursting with innovation and new audiences have been found online.”
However, despite the loss of live performance as we know it, schools have been bursting with innovation and new audiences have been found online. As the schools’ curriculum migrated to online teaching and learning in March 2020, so did the extra-curricular music, dance and drama.
Performance events have still been a big part of school life. Winners of the Independent Schools of the Year 2020 award for Performing Arts, Wells Cathedral School in Somerset has been prolific in its creative output during the pandemic. The school has live-streamed its Popular and Commercial Music Concert, and its twice-weekly series of lunchtime concerts, reaching online audiences of up to 1,000 people at a time. Dancers have visited care homes and performed in the gardens for residents to watch from their windows. Mark Stringer, the director of music, explains that drawing on peripatetic music coaches and in-house teachers gives the school a huge range of knowledge and experience to fuel its performance output.
“The student generation looked at the same list of apps and platforms recommended for lockdown education with glee.”
And the students themselves frequently come up with new performance platforms and inventive ways of collaborating with fellow performers. Use of technology can often seem like a bit of a generation game. Some teachers may well have looked with horror at the list of apps and social media platforms recommended for a successful, locked-down, virtual education.
Meantime the student generation looked at the same list with glee. If students can teach a trick or two to their teachers in this Covid-defined, technological age, then this may herald a new style of collaboration as well as of performance.
It’s possible that we may even begin to see changes in the traditional curriculum, with subjects such as music technology entering the mainstream. Maybe the student performers of the Covid cohort will be the savvy agents and online producers of the future.
“Many schools also make use of arts collaborations to promote their brand ethos.”
Without a doubt schools are still performing. But ensuring that this work is seen and heard by their stakeholders requires creative thinking by the marketing and admissions departments. School performances often feed directly into marketing with engaging stories and imagery, and many schools also make use of arts collaborations to promote their brand ethos through showcasing the choices they make around arts projects on a local, national and international scale.
Participation in European choir tours, the national Shakespeare in Schools project, community festivals and other similar initiatives all tell a story about the participating schools. The marketing department at Norwich School has never been busier – online. In the summer, the school shared its virtual arts festival, Gather 2020, on YouTube, comprising an engaging collection of performances which culminated in a live-streamed Gala Night. In the autumn, replacing whole-school events, solo performances and student-led artistic initiatives found digital outlets.
Beth Gammage, the head of marketing, comments that, since lockdown, everyone is thinking in a different way. People are embracing the digital world. Beth witnessed an increased level of collaboration between teaching and non-teaching staff as performance went digital and a wider skill-set was needed to reach virtual audiences. Her response to Covid limitations has been exciting and inventive, filming, recording, uploading and sharing the school’s many and varied performances.
“Looking forward into 2021 and beyond there are no post-pandemic certainties.”
There has always been a certain disenfranchisement for parents without a local base who are unable to be at their children’s school for those pivotal moments in the school year. Similarly, those who work from home rather than at a distant office have commonly had greater flexibility to carve out time for school events. Now, through the agency of the pandemic, parents wherever they are have greater opportunity to engage with “their” school through the step change in virtual performances. For many marketing teams, this is a dream come true.
Looking forward into 2021 and beyond there are no post-pandemic certainties. Effective and relevant hyperlinks embedded in Twitter feeds, in-the-moment Instagram connections, recordings on demand, live-streamed performances and podcasts look set to take on the traditional role of the glossy, printed prospectus.
Seconds-long performance clips which are watched on a phone and instantly shared with family and friends can be a powerful tool, influencing the school’s word-on-the-street reputation quickly and effectively. Already schools’ reputations are influenced by informal performance clips which are shared and liked or cancelled by their students and parents.
The pandemic has taught marketing teams to harness their school’s virtual performing arts content and deploy it ever more effectively. Ground rules are essential. Schools may want to review safeguarding policies in line with a wider and more frequent online presence. They will also need to consider digital rights and licenses for virtual performances as they plan live, online or blended events going forward. School performances, locked down or otherwise, are still at the heart of our school communities. In the future, successful marketing departments seem likely to be those which embed their school’s performances into their digital recruitment strategies.
- Include short film clips on the school Twitter feed where they can be shared, creating a second wave of communication
- Place video content on the school website which plays when a user lands on the homepage
- Use tailored performance content in virtual open day presentations
- Take virtual performances with you out of the pandemic
This article first appeared in the latest edition of Independent School Management Plus print magazine.