Editorials & OpinionFeatures

XTRA Debate: Should we have more or less access to rehearsals?

As of yesterday, we have seen the first rehearsal of every semi-finalist fighting for a place in the final. However, does our consumption of rehearsal content lead to a detrimental impact for the acts and contest as a whole?

The oddness of rehearsal week

To me, rehearsal week is a strange period in the Eurovision calendar. Everything, yet nothing happens at the same time.

For fans, this is the first glimpse of what we will see in the live broadcast. Will acts provide a carbon copy of a national or pre-party performance? Will they emulate their respective music video, or do something completely different? For internally-selected acts who have avoided the pre-party season this is the first time to see if the studio cut can be emulated in a live setting.

However, for delegations staging concepts/outfits/props would have been submitted months ago. Hours would have been spent practising on home soil before coming to the arena of the year. So in many respects, these rehearsals are ‘nothing new’. Yet there is a big distinction between perfecting the performance in practice, and the reality on camera.

While some things may be amended, there is only a finite amount of things that can be changed in the second and consequent rehearsals. Tightening up camera angles or trying out a new outfit? Not a problem! Starting from scratch with a new backdrop, props and choreography? Think again. Every act wants the best performance possible, which leads to a huge amount of pressure to succeed.

The untold toll of rehearsals?

However, like many things in our society which is bending to instant gratification, our desire to see and know everything can easily become detrimental. A slip-up of any sort can too easily be brought up in a press conference in the form of many uncomfortable questions. Reports or anecdotes may hit national media outlets, leading to a lot of excessive stress/anxiety for delegations. Back in Vienna, it was around this time last year a certain participant was met with bemusement and horror due to her outfit. After hearing the response from the media, you could see a light in Trijntje had dimmed somewhat and her performances suffered. The teething problems of a Barbara Dex winning frock possibly cost The Netherlands a place in the final.

The ‘infamous’ dress…

For some acts, this level of scrutiny can clearly be too much. Back in Kyiv, Luisa Sobral rehearsed in place of Salvador, due to his poor health. Similarly, a welfare issue of young or relatively new acts like, Blanche who was often cited as being nervous, has to be noted. Nerves, or even a substitute can easily be translated as a weak set of run-throughs, which has a ripple effect in press polls and the odds of who is likely to qualify or even win.

Balancing act

In this sense, an argument could be made for closed rehearsals to reduce this scrutiny. Delegations have a degree of breathing space to perfect the performance on stage, before letting the world-at large make instantaneous judgements on a 15 second clip or live stream descriptions. But is this the best way forward?

However, this additional privacy seems to go against the grain of where the EBU wants the contest to go. Going into Eurovision 2019, the #100daystoEurovision campaign helped promote the idea that the Eurovision Song Contest is not merely one night of the year (or three if you count the semis!). Broadcasters have made additional efforts to promote and discuss the contest, including preview shows and even a podcast from the BBC! Clearly, the aim of all of these efforts is to help show the scale of the contest. There is a balance that needs to be juggled between getting as much exposure as possible (helped by consistent content of rehearsal footage), and the other issues I’ve raised above.

That said, if the Eurovision channel decided to stream rehearsals in an effort to satiate inquisitive minds, the magic of the contest is lost. Any excitement evaporates and the contest would become overly formulaic. A small teaser gives just enough for fans without spoiling the show.

Solution?

One compromise that could prove fruitful is amending the level of accessibility for the first run-through of the first rehearsal. No screens. No volume. For the first few minutes of each acts allocated 30mins, delegations can truly have a dummy run. Initial technical hiccups, stray camera angles and vocal deviations can be caught behind closed doors. This will also allow delegations who are planning jump-cuts or other advanced camerawork (see Estonia or hints from Norway!) to do so while keeping up the suspense a little further! Though subtle, this change can alleviate a number of the issues I’ve highlighted above. Furthermore, this chance wouldn’t reduce the coverage of media or restrict content for the fandom!

Every rehearsal should be taken with a pinch of salt… right?

What do other members in the team think?

Look for the middle, says Constantinos

This is a tricky one. On one hand, I am of the belief that artists should not be penalised for mistakes made in rehearsals. Even though I am perhaps as far from being a singer as is humanly possibly, I feel for the artists. First rehearsals are THE time to make mistakes, so that said mistakes can be ironed out prior to the actual performance(s). Therefore, giving any more access to first rehearsals than we currently have would both amplify and exacerbate the inevitable and natural mistakes made, and enable them to impact how fans view the act overall. I think the best example of this was Blanche in 2017, who was all-but-written-off after her first rehearsals, but ended up finishing 4th that year. Why? Because they polished the performance up after the first rehearsal. With this lens, I could see an argument for making rehearsals closed altogether. 

On the other hand, the main purpose of covering the rehearsals is to preview the staging of each act. Eurovision geeks like me wait months to see how songs are going to be staged, and that has little to do with how the acts sound in rehearsals. Further, in order to keep the contest relevant in this content-driven world we live in, fans need to feel as part of the process as possible. Therefore, it would be impossible to restrict access to the rehearsals any more than they currently do. The EBU have opened a pandora’s box, and the evolution of the Eurovision fandom via social media is the key to the show’s longevity. I think enabling journalists in the press centre to stream rehearsals on the ground and posting produced snippets on the official YouTube channel is the best compromise. 

Ignorance is bliss, says Aivis

When I first watched the Eurovision Song Contest back in 2003, I felt overwhelmed with magic and surprise. Everything was unique and unexpected. I had no idea what to expect from anyone (and to be frank, I heard the songs for the first time during the final performance itself). That changed in 2008, when I started following the rehearsals. My experience has been affected by rehearsals, as my excitement for the finals has diminished.

As fans we are used to knowing everything beforehand, and as such we are conditioned to have certain expectations. Our obsession with some acts make it very difficult for some acts to live up to expectations – and the Netherlands 2019 is a prime example of this. Wouldn’t it be great if we saw Duncan’s performance for the first time on the night of the semi-final itself?

I feel that access to rehearsals and videos primarily benefits the bookies. It doesn’t benefit the experience of fans, many of whom go ballistic over their favourites flopping. It causes pain and removes the excitement for the night itself. Of course, it also drives traffic to websites – but I prefer quality over quantity.

This constant surveillance must also negatively affect some performers, especially the younger ones as Oliver suggests. I want to argue that ignore is a bliss that would benefit fans. If the fans could only read about the rehearsals, the excitement would multiply before the event.

Then, if the Eurovision channel shows us a 15 second recap of each song a night before the semi-final, it would create even more excitement. That would be indeed a dream come true, because we would not know what to expect from anyone, other than what we’ve read about the performance. After all, it could also allow the delegations to polish their performance without fans shouting about every little detail.

There’s always a loser, says Nick

I somewhat agree with everything that has been said above. Seeing a lot of rehearsal footage takes away some of the surprise you’d get in the big shows on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. I’m however more than willing to admit that that surprise isn’t the main key to watch the show. The songs and performances are what I care about and I don’t mind seeing them ahead of the show.

Like Constantinos, I feel it’s worth looking at what rehearsals do and mean for the artists. One feels for them if a rehearsal goes horribly wrong. I remember wwatching the stream from Baku in 2012 and hearing Engelbert Humperdinck miss his big note time after time. A rehearsal is a chance for them to work on the performance they want to give on the nights that matter.

However, and this is the core of my opinion, artists should also take responsibility. Us fans know there’s work to be done and artists tell us that work needs to be done. There’s no need to hide that. They need to take responsibility for the visual and vocal performance they’re giving, together with their delegation. They also benefit from receiving feedback. Eyes on Martina Barta’s backdrop, Blanche’s white dress – feedback that worked for the acts in question. It also made Trijntje Oosterhuis doubt everything there ever was, but there’s always a loser where there are winners.

Obviously, we look at those that were ‘hurt’ due to rehearsal footage being published. Not publishing anything would however hurt those with amazing performances. Just think about Eleni Foureira and The Common Linnets. The fact that a hype was built around them definitely helped them in terms of results. Closing the doors means you protect those who don’t do well, whereas you punish those who do. The current system of not showing the full three minutes on the first rehearsal is the best idea. I would also be in favour of giving every act a run through or two on their first rehearsal without anyone seeing it. But in the end, transparency is always key.

What are your thoughts? Should rehearsals be slightly more closed off, or should we have more access to the contests preparations? Let us know your thoughts in the comments and on social media @ESCXTRA!

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