It’s a crisp morning in London, bright skies with a chill in the air. I’m sat in Covent Garden, one of my favourite spots, with a coffee and banana, looking out over the cream stone of the covered market, over towards the stylish Apple store and majesty of the Royal Opera House. It’s in limbo: that time when it’s clearly morning, but nothing is yet open. People are sweeping doorsteps, opening up, setting out chairs on the cobbles and preparing for a busy day ahead.
It’s not just the shops that are in motion: the street theatre here is well known. Opera singers frequently busk in one of the open air courtyards in the market and today is no exception. A girl with long blond hair and a giant scarf is warming up, setting out her CDs, we trade smiles as she rounds off another set of scales.
At the other end of the market i trade a nod with a guy with punky blue hair and a unicycle. He’s joining a crowd of entertainers holding clubs, firelighting kit, knives, anything that you can juggle with. All wrapped in heavy coats, clutching coffee. It’s the pre show gossip, the coming together of people who, in an hour, will be competing for attention, competing for your money. For now though, it’s peaceful, time for the community to gather and swap stories, to bond.
The difference between a community at work and a community at play is noticeable, especially here: when working, this is a bustling, thriving space, full of shouting, movement and energy. For now, it’s a place of stories and conversation, shared moments and solitude. We see the same in any healthy community, even virtual ones: sometimes focused and productive, sometimes just bonding, just passing the time of day.
Sometimes we rehearse, sometimes we practice, sometimes we perform. The opera singer has finished her scales now, retreating to a cafe, in that odd time between final preparation and actual performance.
You can’t have one without the other: if you’re an athlete, an artist or a performer, a writer or a presenter, you can’t be at your peak without practice, without new ideas being developed, new styles mastered, new learning. We rely on the community to give us feedback, to inspire us: what are other people doing, how can we collaborate, how can we compete in new spaces, how can we learn?