The incredible rightness of being — live-and-in-person.
Have you seen it yet? The electrical current that seems to light the faces of an audience when they are reunited with their tribe after nearly two years of pandemic isolation? Broadway is reopening shows that were abruptly canceled in March of 2020 and audiences and performers alike are weeping and cheering and celebrating the connection they’ve so desperately missed. This ceremony is being echoed across the country in theatres, concert halls, sports arenas, and yes, even in conferences, trade shows, and events.
It feels so good to be back, even if we’re not full throttle. As I’ve noted elsewhere, human beings are social animals and when we come together as co-performers of the ceremonies and celebrations we hold dear, an ancient and transformative alchemy results. I’ve never heard this transcendent moment described better than by performer, songwriter, and musical polymath David Byrne in this recent YouTube post. If you only know him as a member of the iconoclastic band Talking Heads you have missed the insights Byrne generously shares in blogs, TED talks, regularly issued playlists, and assorted media.
One of my favorite moments is when Byrne talks about how the 19th Century sociologist Emile Durkheim coined the term “collective effervescence” to describe these mystical moments that can only happen in inspirational, live, face-to-face group encounters. For Durkheim, these were literally religious experiences, such as could be found in a tent revival or other church event. But as Byrne notes, so much of our identity as human beings best finds expression in how we connect as a group. And this fundamental aspect of who we are – how we define ourselves – has been missing.
I won’t waste your time trying to express what David Byrne states so eloquently. Instead, I urge you to watch his video, listen closely to his message, and think about its implications for our industry. We are stewards of the human experience. As show producers, designers, content creators, performers, entertainers and event hosts – I include everyone loading equipment, hanging banners, working at an exhibit – each of us has a role to play in bringing people together in a time and space where we can experience more and be more than we can alone. This is the power of live-and-in-person gatherings. This is essential social engagement. This what we have been missing. It’s the collective effervescence we are empowered to give back to the world. Let’s do it; let’s be whole again.