Culture from the couch: Best online concerts, plays and events

Living Well | Patricia Maunder | Posted on 07 April 2020

Victoria’s arts community is moving culture to the couch.

When gatherings of more than 100 people were banned in mid-March in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19, Australia’s theatres, concert halls and most other spaces for shared cultural experiences went dark. Some organisations quickly responded by welcoming us online, including the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, which performed two scheduled concerts before an empty auditorium, but live-streamed to a 100,000-strong global audience.

It was just the beginning. Like their counterparts around the world, Victoria’s creative community has responded quickly to the new normal, offering a host of inspiring virtual performances to soothe and transport us in stressful times.

Sleeping Beauty

The 2015 production of The Sleeping Beauty will stream on Ballet TV.


Here’s our guide to what’s coming up online


Virtual concert masters

A rapid-response initiative designed to support the fragile arts industry during the COVID-19 crisis, Melbourne Digital Concert Hall presented its first live-streamed performance on 27 March. The busy program managed by Melbourne musicians continues over Easter: on 9 April, Ian Munro begins a concert series of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas, and piano-sax Duo Eclettico are joined by mezzo-soprano Linda Barcan; on Good Friday the Australian Chamber Choir quartet give voice to the Italian Renaissance and Elizabethan England; and on Easter Sunday Calvin Bowman offers a Bach piano recital. Coming up, a concert series conquering Beethoven’s 10 violin sonatas starts on 16 April, and future performances will celebrate Australian composers and emerging artists. Bookings required, at $24 per concert.

Digital dance

The Australian Ballet’s longest-serving artistic director, David McAllister, was supposed to go out in a blaze of glory during his final year with the company. Sadly, the 2020 season he programmed has been gutted, so on 5 April the company launched a cinema-quality digital season on their streaming platform, Ballet TV. This season of 14 performances begins with David’s own 2015 production of The Sleeping Beauty. It will be available until Cinderella takes over (17 April to 1 May), followed by Graeme Murphy’s Romeo and Juliet (1 to 15 May), with more to be announced.

Cyber symphonies

The MSO has pivoted toward recently recorded performances at mso.com.au/youtube. A fresh concert becomes available each week for the Thursday Night (in) with the Symphony series. On 9 April it’s Handel’s Messiah conducted by Sir Andrew Davis. There are also the Sunday Sessions chamber ensemble concerts curated by MSO principal viola, Christopher Moore. Next up: Beethoven’s Septet on 12 April.

A night at the museum 

Enjoy a night at the museum from the cushioned comfort of your living room. Museums Victoria has opened its digital doors, offering everything from virtual tours to free documenatary streaming under its new Museums at Home program. Head to the Imax Melbourne Facebook page to keep up to date with live movie screening sessions (you're sure to have a roaring good time at their Dinosaurs Live event), tune into STEM classes at Scienceworks or deep-dive into Australia's proud multicultural history with experts at the Immigration Museum.

No strings attached

The Melbourne Guitar Festival was set to expand this year, adding a months-long series of concerts in regional Victoria and interstate to September’s main event. Instead, festival director Michael MacManus has moved his vision online with a 37-week, mostly live-streamed concert series featuring local and international classical guitarists. On 11 April it’s Crazy Nails, a playful, kid-friendly performance by Gaelle Solal and Boris Gaquere, then Matt Withers presents works from his solo album, Songs of Yesterday, on 17 April. Pre-registration, with a donation of your choice, is required.

Play time

Melbourne Theatre Company launched MTC NOW – Theatre Anywhere on 3 April, including the one-week-only gift of National Theatre at Home’s One Man, Two Guvnors, staring James Corden. This smash hit comedy is online until 9 April. Also worth a look is a virtual tour of MTC’s headquarters and a props treasure hunt. Coming up are play readings and in-conversations with the likes of Barrie Kosky, and a theatre-inspired bake-off led by an MTC staff member who moonlit on MasterChef. The company is also considering producing audio plays.

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Enjoy MSO recently recorded performances.


Arts Centre Melbourne digital showcase

Arts Centre Melbourne's Together With You digital showcase.


Yarra Valley Writers Festival

BYO vino on the couch for the Yarra Valley Writers Festival.


Life is a cabaret

“What good is sitting alone in your room? Come hear the music play,” sang Cabaret’s Sally Bowles. That’s not easy right now, so Melbourne cabaret artist Sophie deLightful is bringing the music – plus dance, burlesque, circus arts, comedy and more – to you. On 4 April she launched Cooped-up Cabaret on video-conferencing platform Zoom. Continuing fortnightly, these $15 live-streamed shows feature artists performing in their homes around Australia and the world, welcoming comments and tips (via PayPal) from pre-registered viewers.

Culture hub

Just this week, Arts Centre Melbourne launched its Together With You digital showcase. Expect free performance broadcasts, interviews, podcasts, family activities and close looks at items in the centre’s Australian Performing Arts Collection and Australian Music Vault. The initial offering is focused on popular music, from an Archie Roach video interview to a squiz at Kylie Minogue's famous gold hotpants.

Bookmark this

Instead of travelling to Victorian wine country for the Yarra Valley Writers Festival, it’s BYO vino on the couch as this inaugural event goes digital. Programmed by playwright Hannie Rayson and featuring authors including Christos Tsiolkas, Alice Pung and Tony Birch, the festival will be live-streamed from the homes of panellists and guests on 9 May.

Another literary event going online is the Stella Prize announcement, presented by the Wheeler Centre on 14 April.

The show must go online

Another initiative that came out of nowhere is Hope, which is gathering actors, playwrights and musical-theatre composers to develop 10 new works. Like the project’s three creative directors, most participants are based in Victoria, but near or far (including some Aussies in New York) they must collaborate virtually given social-distancing limitations. A reading of each work-in-progress will be filmed then streamed to the public every few days, starting on 21 April with The (M)other Life by Amity Dry.

More, please

Other virtual Victorian culture includes Melbourne Recital Centre’s performance library at live.melbournerecital.com.au, National Gallery of Victoria’s online tours, galleries, books and kids’ activities, and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image’s Virtual Cinematheque each Wednesday. 

Organisations expected to make digital-programming announcements soon include Victorian Opera – whose towering tenor Carlos E. Barcenas has already turned hand-washing into an operatic delight on YouTube.

Virtual pleasures from across state lines include the Biennale of Sydney until 8 June, and Australian Theatre Live’s Online Theatre Festival on Facebook. Next up: a pre-recorded performance of The Dapto Chaser from Sydney’s Griffin Theatre Company on 10 and 11 April.