April 21, 2020

Culture In The Time Of Corona


We find ourselves in unsettling times. For our young people, the structure of the school day has vanished, along with it the daily comfort and security of seeing friends as well as participating in sport and the other extra-curricular activities the school day provides. It won’t take long for the initial excitement of this unprecedented change to wear off, to be replaced with the inevitable ennui and listlessness that comes with a lack of externally imposed structure at such a young age.


Fortunately, a number of our cultural spaces are now offering online performances, exhibitions and viewings. This might be a brilliant activity to build into any home-schooling timetable, acting as a change from purely academic work and providing a welcome break in the day whilst remaining engaging and informative for young minds.

Leading the way is the National Theatre, currently streaming weekly performances. Last week, the highly acclaimed One Man Two Governors was streamed on YouTube a performance that, so far, has attracted an audience of over two million. At just under three hours, this might be a little long for young attention spans, so why not break it up into 30-minute episodes, to be viewed at set times, built into the timetable over the course of a week. This week, Jane Eyre is available, bringing Brontë’s most famous work to the stage. This kind of performance can be a great way to engage young minds with what might otherwise be weighty classics a little advanced with them. Spend time after the viewing to discuss the performance, perhaps writing down a few questions to ask your children. These can range for more straightforward questions for younger viewers such as ‘what is the role of family in Brontë’s novel?’ through to more comprehensive questions for advanced viewers: ‘how does the novel comment on the position of women in Victorian society?’


The Royal Opera house has followed suit, with its #OurHouseToYourHouse series of live streamed performances. Younger children might enjoy Peter and the Woolf, 30 minutes of bright costume, quirky set design accompanied by a chirpy instrumental score. For more advanced students, the upcoming performance of Cosi Fan Tutte (April 10th, 7pm) may appeal, a lighter opera (refreshingly free from blood and gore) that follows a similar theme to that of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.

Moving away from the performing arts, a range of galleries have now included virtual tours on their websites. There is a plethora of establishments to choose from, but there are two that stand out for me. The first is our own Natural History Museum that has something for all ages. An added benefit of these interactive guides is the sensation of playing a video game, which may help to engage younger users. Perhaps use the virtual guide to explore forgotten species, or to find a skeleton to use as the base for a fact-finding mission. If your young ones are interested in the great works, then I would suggest the virtual tour of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, home to some of the greatest pieces of the likes of Vermeer and Rembrandt.

Whilst these activities are a welcome distraction from attempts to follow the curriculum from home, their value in development is also significant. It is from these culturally-oriented activities that imaginations can be sparked, new ideas inspired. It was my own visit to a Forgotten Spaces exhibition in Somerset House that sparked my interest in urban space and regeneration, that ultimately drove me to apply to Oxford to read Geography and understand more about the space we live in, and the social, economic and political factors at play within urban space. Such experiences can hone our understanding of fields we are unfamiliar with, and perhaps go on to form the basis of future Personal Statements and Admission Essays. We find ourselves in a time where physical exploration of such venues is not an option to us, but we are lucky that technology has allowed us to explore remotely in most cases to an impressively high resolution.

Of course, nothing will replace the excitement of interval ice creams, the hush of a crowd as the lights go down, or being up close to see the brush strokes of a great master. But whilst we come together to work through these turbulent times, how fortunate that we have the internet to provide the more than satisfactory alternative.