CMCO: The gloom of no online recordings and rehearsals for performing arts

Early Music group Wicked Music People has cancelled a recording of its Dewan Filharmonik Petronas performance in Kuala Lumpur due to the conditional MCO. The recording - with no audience - was planned for online use. Photo: Wicked Music People

Many performing arts groups and practitioners in the Klang Valley are seeking clearer guidelines when it comes to the standard operating procedure (SOP) compliance for theatre recordings and rehearsals during the conditional movement control order (CMCO) from Oct 14-27.

While performances with an audience have been cancelled according to CMCO rules, many groups are unsure on how to carry out other behind-the-scenes theatre activities (such as rehearsals, recordings, space rentals). This has caused several of these events or bookings to be cancelled.

"Its very unclear what the rules are especially with live streams and recordings. More detailed guidelines would definitely be useful for musicians," says Lee Hai Lin, founding member of Early Music group Wicked Music People.

Wicked Music People was originally scheduled to perform an evening concert called "Wicked Endings II" at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas in Kuala Lumpur on Oct 28.

Due to the spike in pandemic cases, it instead decided to broadcast a recorded performance of the show. However, Wicked Music People now has to postpone that recording planned on Oct 14 in light of a decision made by the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra management with regards to the implementation of the CMCO.

"Although the pandemic put an end to our hopes for a public performance, the lovely folks at the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra proposed that we broadcast the performance directly from the concert hall - there might be no audience physically present with us, but we could still reach you virtually by video on the MPO's YouTube channel," read a statement from Wicked Music People.

"We were set to record the performance on Oct 14, but with heavy heart, we announce today that the reinstitution of the CMCO in KL and Selangor has obliged us to postpone this project."

Some performers wonder if a closed door recording session without an audience will be allowed under the CMCO. With all the live recording SOPs strictly observed, these performances, they mention, are meant for online usage.

"This will mean that we can continue pushing online shows and, at the same time, we do not need to turn away venue hirers who would like to do film shoots or live stream events at KLPac and we can still earn some income. If retail businesses and F&B have an alternative to go online, the performing arts should not be left high and dry," says The Actors Studio executive producer and co-founder Datuk Faridah Merican.

She adds that there is no clarity about whether rehearsals would be allowed. This was important as it affected shows not only within the CMCO term but also those lined up in November and December.

In the Government's guidelines, all business, economic and industrial activities can operate in CMCO areas. However all leisure, recreational and cultural activities are not allowed. Entertainment activities include nightclub or pub, recreation centre, theme parks, indoor playgrounds and cinemas, which are all not allowed.

Meanwhile, improv theatre group AIIA Improv (Artificially Intelligent Improvholics Anonymous) is resigned to no live shows - despite a limited audience - this month and has cancelled a scheduled stage performance on Oct 22.

The group, however, is not going to be idle this month. It is planning to get back to online shows in light of all the CMCO restrictions.

"We did a few shows online during the MCO period and just got back to live shows last month. We are definitely considering to do a show online this month," says AIIA member Tung Jit Yang.

Cloud Theatres co-founder Dennis Lee believes that as other businesses can carry on their everyday (economic) activities, production houses might be able to carry out non-performance activities too.

"In that case, rehearsals and recordings are still allowed as long as all SOPs like wearing masks and social distancing are applied. However, it depends on the production house whether they want to carry on with their recordings and rehearsals," says Lee.

One of Cloud Theatre's shows Living Together 1.0, which was supposed to take place this weekend and live streamed on its platform had to be postponed due to the impending CMCO.

Lee adds that in this situation where the number of Covid-19 cases are increasing every day, it might be a good idea for production houses to take a break until the situation in the Klang Valley improves.

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