Special Report: How do we save the arts after Covid-19 cripples sector?

The Covid-19 crisis has brought the arts sector to its knees, despite keeping us entertained throughout lockdown. Now, with the launch of the National Campaign to Save the Arts, writers, dancers, designers, musicians, and other creatives tell how they were impacted by the shutdown and what needs to happen next
Special Report: How do we save the arts after Covid-19 cripples sector?

The Covid-19 crisis has brought the arts sector to its knees, despite keeping us entertained throughout lockdown. Now, with the launch of the National Campaign to Save the Arts, writers, dancers, designers, musicians, and other creatives tell how they were impacted by the shutdown and what needs to happen next

The arts are the books you are reading, the TV shows you’re watching, the music you’re listening to, the artworks you’re fascinated with. They are the festivals you are missing, the live events you dream of, the galleries and spaces you yearn to explore.

Before and during this pandemic, it is the arts that have kept us company, been an escape, a voice, a release, a hope. The arts are our endlessly entertaining companion, the music, books, poetry, films, stories, and more. 

The arts provoke conversations, enrage radio show callers, provide heart-breaking reflection on our losses, and celebrate the unbridled joy of our successes.

The arts show us lives that reflect our own, making us feel safe, as well as lives that are different and new to us, challenging our thinking.

We use the arts to interpret and make sense of our place in the world. When words fail us, when understanding fails us, the arts articulate what we cannot. Musicians, writers, visual artists, dancers, actors, designers and filmmakers, and so many more - artists and arts workers tell our stories, they present us with the glories and failings of life in equal measure, providing us with choices to reflect on and giving us tools to help navigate our own unique journeys.

All the enriching artistic and cultural activities and experiences which are integral to our everyday lives are the result of work to create, work to make, work to manage, work to present.

The arts provide multiple benefits for the individual, and for society. Engaging with the arts contributes positively to education, health, and wellbeing.

These are emotional and societal benefits which cannot and should not be wholly measured through an economic lens. However, investment in the arts sector also makes economic sense.

The arts generate and create levels of revenue and ancillary work that far outweigh the investment.

Arts and culture bolster two indigenous sectors that are currently most challenged - tourism and hospitality. Ireland’s rich artistic and cultural landscape underscores our global offering as a great place to live, work, visit and do business.

This is why we talk about investing in the arts and not funding the arts because the exchequer and the country, business, society, communities, and the individual, including the artist, all benefit from that investment, everyone reaps the rewards.

A failure to invest equitably in the arts at this crucial juncture in recovery planning will seal the decimation of an industry that asks little and offers much.

There will be an irretrievable loss of wisdom and skills, and any recovery will be a journey that many, if not most, in the sector will be unable to undertake or sustain.

Artists will not be able to create, arts workers will be forced out and likely never return, arts organisations will close their doors, and Ireland’s artistic output will stagnate.

If we allow the arts to be left behind as we move to rebuild Ireland, attempts to restimulate the arts and culture sector down the line will be unachievable, there will be far too little left for any meaningful revival of the ecosystem that salves, sustains and sells our country.

We must #SAVETHEARTS 

- National Campaign for the Arts (NCFA), Ireland

TADHG COAKLEY 

 I had been waiting for the phone call for a while, and it came in mid-April. 

Tadhg Coakley
Tadhg Coakley

The news that publication of my second book, Whatever It Takes, was to be postponed due to Covid-19. It wouldn’t be coming out on June 17 but on July 31.

To be honest, I was relieved to have a new date at all. Things were so uncertain in April – with bookshops closed for the foreseeable future and everybody in full lockdown – I’d been afraid the publication might be put on some kind of semi-permanent hold, or worse, dropped completely.

The two launches I had planned, in Cork and my home town Mallow, were cancelled.

I was able to put this into perspective – these were the miserable days of peak curve, peak ICU pressure, peak nursing home deaths and job losses, peak fear, with families watching the funerals of their loved ones on laptops, sitting around kitchen tables. At a time when we weren’t sure we could even beat this bloody curse, let alone when or how or at what cost. How do you weigh up the fate of a single book against such immensity?

Luckily for me, the book had been completed, whereas other writer friends were struggling to compose or edit in the midst of a crippling uncertainty, inside a darker place within which even writers normally work. Normal was one of the first casualties of the pandemic, let’s face it.

I was aware, too, that musicians, dramatists, performers, actors and festival organisers were completely shut down without any immediate hope of practicing their crafts or making a living.

In any case, writing is a solitary act, a bubble wherein we’re cocooned inside a text (an unreal world), cut off – in the moment – from the real world outside it. And somehow I was able to keep on writing, I had to – for my sanity, if nothing else.

Channelling my inner Beckett: ‘You must go on. I can't go on. I'll go on.’ Wouldn’t you love to know what he would have made of all this?

During lockdown I was able to work on the autobiography of the great Cork dual-player, Denis Coughlan.

The timing of that was serendipitous, since I had sat down with Denis in December and January and recorded his life story safely then. That became my ‘lockdown book’ and I was grateful for it.

One thing was brought vividly home to me during the strangeness: how much we need the arts, how vital they are to any kind of tolerable existence. Imagine your lockdown without anything to watch, listen to or read.

How fragile and precious our music, our art, our drama, film, TV and writing are and how badly they need to be protected and nurtured by the powers that be. Now, more than ever. That surely must be one of the main lessons we’ve learned from Covid-19.

Save the arts, save our artists, do it now.

- Tadhg Coakley lives in Cork city. His second book, Whatever It Takes – a crime novel – is due in bookshops on August 7. Everything, the autobiography of Denis Coughlan, will be published in September. tadhgcoakley.com 

SANDRA O'MAHONY

On March 12 I got on a plane in Wellington. A couple of friends had told me that gigs were beginning to get cancelled at home. I didn’t believe them.

Sandra O'Mahony
Sandra O'Mahony

On the Auckland to Qatar leg, a Scottish woman heard my accent and told me the Irish schools had been shut. She clearly thought it was an overreaction. I did too.

By the time I got to Dublin, gigs had been pulled. The following day the pubs closed. It started to sink in.

The previous nine months had been the busiest I ever had, and I had some time off coming so the first few weeks were very much as planned. I applied for the Covid payment and stopped my mortgage and “secretly enjoyed it”. 

I have been self-employed for nearly 20 years and we are not used to getting any state support at all. It was a novelty.

Then more events began to get pulled, the diary emptied out, and the writing was on the wall.

Last year, I would arrive at wherever I was working and if I was not required immediately I would find somewhere to get the head down for 10 minutes. I was sleep-deprived and exhausted. You exist on adrenaline and coffee. 

But it was still very satisfying. Maybe not always in the middle of the bustle and turmoil, but there is always a sense of achievement after, the show, the gig, the festival.

That’s what is missing now. The adrenalin and the feeling of accomplishment. And the peace of mind you somehow achieve amongst the madness. 

You’re not thinking of anything else. In this industry, we are so defined by what we do. It’s our identity, it’s our social life, it’s our soul. You work all the hours, and you fit all the other life stuff around it.

Since March 12 I worked for one week. It was a charity event a couple of weeks ago.

People were clunky setting up, and the excitement was fierce. Nobody could stop talking.

I rang my boss on the way home and said ‘I’m so happy’. I really was. Probably the first time in months I said that.

But It also brought the reality of the situation home. There was no audience. We all wore masks. No one hugged. I don’t have any more work.

I’ve applied to go to university. Get a degree. That’s my plan. I’m really not sure what everybody else is going to do. I worry for them.

Right now I’m in West Cork helping my friends reopen their pub. We jump in the sea with the kids most days. It’s idyllic. They don’t know if they will be able to open. It’s also a venue.

No bands are booked. The live music and theatre industries need a bailout. Halls/venues/theatres will not be full for a long long time and if that shortfall doesn’t get financed, those halls, venues and theatres will close, and the talent on and off the stage will be lost forever. That’s my biggest worry.

Sandra O’Mahony is a sound engineer and production manager.

PETER POWER

I am in the business of gathering, a fact that became excruciatingly clear when the lockdown hit. Phone calls in hushed and worried tones, discussing cancellations, abandonments, postponements; an email box filling with endings, shock, apology.

Peter Power
Peter Power

It’s hard to watch something disappear and cease like that. It feels like grieving, all these emotions with nowhere to go. But truth be told the scale of the problem tore through my concerns for work like a tidal wave, and suddenly locking ourselves away was clearly the only viable response.

At first, there was a sort of societal hangover evident, people proclaiming they would use this time to be even more productive than before, like drug addicts coming off capitalism.

As the crisis deepened, we began speaking of the virus as a great leveller and conversations became more honest and vulnerable. 

For a while, it felt as if the bravado of being busy so deeply associated with the Neo-Liberal grind calmed.

And then, once the siren of survival stopped screaming and I had reached a point where I wasn’t terrified about rent, food, my family, or my friends, the whole experience became transformative.

We cooked together more, checking in on our neighbours from a distance, exercised, read, talked late, asked all the big questions of ourselves, allowed ourselves to cease chasing momentum and become still.

It felt like instead of always looking forward, we were looking around us. And difficult though it is to admit in a climate where so many lives and livelihoods were lost, the time away from everything has profoundly changed me for the better.

The arts, always at the coal face of change, has been no stranger to this immolating fire. The experience of watching our world and livelihoods collapse galvanised so many artists into action, lobbying our governments to see us as simply working people devastated like everyone else.

This argument is long in the tooth, but for the first time in my career, it feels heard. I am just a worker. I work really long hours for a really low wage. 

And like so many other people working lower-paid jobs associated with passions, I will no longer allow my government weaponise the idea of vocation against me.

What the virus has revealed for all of us is the society we have been living in is bound together by discrimination, inequality, radically immoral economy and a cult of productivity. Without the whirring sound of the machinery of industrialisation drowning out our thinking, so many of us immediately realised how in peril we are. That has led to an upsurgence in some of the most profound and ideological class, race, gender and access interrogations we have ever seen.

In many ways, these riots and marches proved that we gather for deep and ancient reasons, where who and what we are becomes manifest in community experience.

I hope the work artists do around the ideas of gathering is not forgotten and that when we rebuild society, we remember not only the things we grieved for, but also acknowledge the things we were relieved to see gone.

Peter Power is an artist from Waterford living in Cork. He is the current artist-in-residence of the Cork Midsummer Festival.

DEIRDRE DWYER 

The lockdown enforced by the Covid crisis facilitated a slowdown I didn’t know I needed. 

Deirdre Dwyer
Deirdre Dwyer

For the past four months, I have spent every night in my own bed, in my own home, a feat I hadn’t achieved in the last 15 years. 

My work, as a freelance theatre designer, sometime director, and occasional lecturer, usually has me pin-balling around the country from Cork to Waterford, Limerick to Dublin, and so this enforced period of stillness was at first a shock and then a relief.

Reeling, alongside everyone else, I gobbled up statistics and epidemiological models and began to realise that the very thing that makes me love theatre, the gathering together of strangers to experience a live communal moment, makes it a perilous pastime in the world that was just coming into focus.

I gathered with my industry colleagues in online rooms and watched on as some of them wept with despair faced with financial uncertainty and the creative void. 

We were confounded, trying to conceive of new working methods that would still protect the special ephemeral moment that exists between the audience and the performer and also could facilitate the joy of working together, making art as a team sport.

Turning away from the screen, I turned towards my garden. I planted and watched seeds shoot, sprout, and flower. I erected a swing on the tree, put up a festoon of lights and developed an obsessive relationship with the birds in my suburban garden.

The green beans have just appeared, and I’ll be harvesting the spuds soon. The tangle of tomato plants at the back door are starting to droop under the weight of the swelling green fruit.

I cooked three meals a day and drank red wine with my partner. We cleaned the groceries with disinfectant, and I sewed fabric masks. We ate beautiful takeaway meals from fancy restaurants at our own kitchen table and worried about spending any money. I fretted about my friends and family. I felt guilt. I felt relief.

I haven’t seen any member of my family in the flesh in more than four months. My sisters, brothers-in-law, and nephews live in Dublin and my parents live in France. 

They have all safely weathered this Covid time but I miss them. I miss hugging people and feeling their heavy pressure against me. Nothing is the same. But I have perfected the angle of the camera on my computer to erase my double chin in video calls.

And slowly things have crept back to busy. I’m still sleeping in my own bed, in my own home, and I feel so grateful for that continuity and comfort. 

I’m not driving the roads to meetings and rehearsals but I’m at work most days, at my desk, thinking about theatre, attempting to create, continuing to learn.

Socially distant production meetings have happened, with hand sanitiser at the beginning and the end. Projects are being planned and reimagined. We are thinking outside the box. 

We are inventing and discovering. We are beginning to hope.

Deirdre Dwyer is a theatre maker based in Waterford. deirdredwyer.com

KELLY-ANN MURPHY

I teach dance full time to students from the age of two all the way up to college classes. I also do choreography for the pantomine at the Everyman as well as numerous schools in Cork. I graduated with a BA (Hons) degree in drama and theatre studies from UCC in 2012 and have also been teaching drama ever since.

Kelly Ann Murphy
Kelly Ann Murphy

Covid-19 has had a huge impact on my work environment. When we closed on March 12, I’m not going to lie, I was looking forward to two weeks off as we had just finished dance exams with the ISTD and felt this ‘break’ had come at the perfect time.

However, once I realised that this was not a two-week break and was to last much longer, my attitude quickly changed. During lockdown, we moved our classes to an online platform to keep our students active and try and maintain some level of normality.

While it was great to keep in contact with my students during these unprecedented times, I found teaching online to be a lot more difficult and tiring than first expected.

I personally found speaking to a screen instead of face to face was the most difficult part as there was often a time delay which meant I ended up speaking to myself for a while!

However, there were a few good things to come out if all of this. I normally work late into the evenings, meaning I don’t spend much time at home. 

This time off allowed me to spend more time with my family initially and on the easings of restrictions with my fiancé. This time was mainly spent watching Netflix or Disney Plus!

We also used our online platform to continue with our Zumba classes three days a week. Just like everyone else when we started these online classes we never expected that they would still be taking place four months later.

We have completed almost 50 online classes and, with the help of Catherine Mahon Buckley and CADA, myself and Jessica O’Shea have raised €1,000 for Marymount which was one silver lining that came from this pandemic.

Thankfully we are now back in the studio and finished with our online classes. It has been amazing to see everyone, even if things have changed since March.

All of these changes, however, are worth it if it means we can return. Unfortunately, not all forms of the arts have been allowed to return yet and are for many they are still unsure as to whether they ever will.

I know Covid-19 has had a huge impact on everyone emotionally, mentally, physically, and financially, but I don’t think people understand the degree to which those in the arts have been affected.

I am lucky that I am back doing what I love, Others have not been as fortunate. Hopefully, after so many people turned to the arts during lockdown — be it actors, singers, or artists of an genre — people will continue to support them once they are allowed to return to work.

Without the arts we would have been lost during lockdown, so please let us not lose the arts on the road to recovery.

Kelly-Ann Murphy is head of dance with CADA Performing Arts.

STEVIE G

In March, I went from being the closing DJ at the Electric Picnic launch in Dublin to lockdown within 24 hours. The festival, like my own year, was subsequently cancelled but I knew straight away this year was a wipe-out. 

DJ and radio presenter Stevie G.
DJ and radio presenter Stevie G.

It’s a big blow for me but it’s the first world here and it was the right decision.

I had always done online shows anyway but did tonnes more immediately, and between March and June I was busier than ever and even though it was usually all free stuff it kept me very active.

I did online sets for Kaleidoscope Festival, Cork Pride, UCC, the Hope Foundation, Voiceworks, the River Lee for Cork Penny Dinners and Cork Midsummer Festival. I also moved my club nights to a virtual setting.

The part-time work that continued, for Cork’s RedFM and Echolive meant that I never asked for the Covid payment, and even though it would have worked out financially similar, I wanted to work as I love playing music.

It’s been tricky for a long-time regarding nightclubs. I ran one myself and know how tough it is, especially since unlike the regular pub trade clubbing doesn’t have a powerful lobby group. 

Give Us The Night do amazing things, however, and hopefully when this eventually clears, clubs will be treated different to pubs and get later hours. But I agree 100% we all needed to close.

I’d been trying to develop other aspects to my career but unfortunately teaching, one such avenue, took a hit too. I have been volunteering in the Cork Migrant Centre for three years at Nano Nagle Place and the project which I started with Naomi Masheti is gathering pace in a big way.

We now work with a huge group of teens from the migrant community and in direct provision, and have developed a number of projects with the likes of the Glucksman, Cork Printmakers, and Music Generation Cork.

Things have progressed greatly and we’ve had Andrea Williams spearheading the dance side of things for over two years now, and the kids have done loads of great shows. 

We also work with amazing artists such as Shane O’Driscoll and Kate O’Shea from Cork Printmakers and during June we facilitated the creation of an impressive Black Lives Matter artwork which now adorns the front windows of Nano Nagle Place.

The murder of George Floyd has pushed the importance of listening to our young voices to the forefront. We held a successful webinar too with Cork Migrant Centre.

We travel to the direct provision centres to continue our work but it’s worth remembering that those in direct provision are in a permanent state of lockdown and they feel the isolation we felt in April 24 hours a day, every day.

I face my own challenges and problems going forward but I realise I am blessed. I also realise, more than ever, that these are just some of the people who really need a platform in Ireland in 2020.

Stevie Grainger (Stevie G) is a DJ from Cork City who plays clubs/music festivals/Cork’s RedFM and also works as a youth co-ordinator for Cork Migrant Centre at Nano Nagle Place

CALUM FENTON 

I graduated from CIT Crawford College of Art and Design in 2019 and this year began a residency with Sample Studios’ visual arts programme, TACTIC Gallery, in Fitzgerald Park.

Calum Fenton
Calum Fenton

In my degree show last year, I was looking into the existential threat posed by environmental disasters and the feelings of angst or loss that accompany this threat. 

Nine months later, this threatening feeling of extinction became all the more real with the worldwide spread of Covid-19 — its intrusion an obvious and violent existential threat. My personal experience during the pandemic lockdown has been difficult and strange, as it has been for many.

When we relate to nature, we often establish boundaries between domestic and wild nature. A meadow, a pet, or a botanical garden are appreciated as a form of nature that will not harm us, they are under control. 

Wild animals, invasive species, or viruses are a chaotic and unpredictable form of nature.

The harmonious balance of one nature is disrupted by an invasion of another violent nature. We can often see this in ourselves too, on one hand, our civilised selves, based on law and order, and on the other hand our wild or uncivilised selves.

During times of crisis, this primitive survival instinct shows itself behind our mask of civilisation. No doubt many of us have seen this dark side of human nature during the pandemic: Panic buying, failed government response, stock market bailouts, and media propaganda chastising the public.

I started working with archival footage during the pandemic, as going out to shoot film was made difficult. Whilst going through the archives, I began to explore 20th century public-information films and how they instruct and reinforce certain social behaviours, roles, hygiene and relationship to nature.

I am particularity interested in imagery related to beehives and how our perception of nature informs our experience of collectivity. My current exhibition, Looking Glass, features a video piece projected onto a glass partition, made for Covid-19, displayed alongside architectural models.

Because of restrictions, we could not have a typical public opening so instead we opted for a virtual opening, where I participated in a live discussion with artist Pádraig Spillane about my work.

We had over 100 viewers during the live discussion, many more than we would have been able to accommodate for a physical opening. 

Pandemic restrictions have pushed many events online and in some cases, this has been a positive outcome. Every new development brings with it both challenges as well as new possibilities.

Even though the pandemic and subsequent lockdown made working on my artistic projects difficult, it directly informed my work. 

The pandemic has changed visual arts events for the foreseeable future, and I’m sure that when facing this challenge many artists will find creative and innovative ways to approach exhibiting their work.

Calum Fenton is a visual artist working primarily with video and mixed media installations

AISLING O'RIORDAN

I was sitting in work at the Kino when Leo Varadkar announced that the country was shutting down. We had just gotten our drink delivery and were heading into a full-on St Patrick’s weekend. We decided to take the rest of the day off and figure everything out the following week. 

Arts campaign - Aisling O'Riordan
Arts campaign - Aisling O'Riordan

It’s hard to even think of how naive we all were to what was coming.

The live music industry has ceased to exist in the last few months which is what I have dedicated my life to in the last 10 years. 

I’ve worked in various different roles either creating events (Southern Hospitality Board, The Good Room, and Quarter Block Party), helping promote them (Cork Opera House), or supporting artists within them (Block9 at Glastonbury and End of the Road festival).

All of that work started disappearing over the first few weeks of lockdown. 

The next big project I was due to work on was It Takes a Village festival and when we decided to postpone I spent two days on the phone with artists. I had a packed few months planned with returning to work at Glastonbury.

In 2019, I worked on the Block9 area with an incredible team. I worked the night shift taking care of all the artists in our fields. It was definitely one of the most intense and bizarre jobs I have had.

I was so excited to head back into that madness. The loose plan after that was to base myself in the UK for the summer to work on more festivals.

I spent the start of lockdown mourning this alternative timeline that I was convinced was happening just out of my grasp. I also spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted for my life when “things went back to normal”.

Before lockdown, I was tethering on the edge of burnout and my time off made me realise I never wanted to go back to that way of living. I was always working or recovering from working.

It wasn’t sustainable and it took a pandemic for me to stop and see that. I spent a lot of my lockdown time resting and getting to know the person I am outside of being busy.

In the last two months, a lot has changed in my life. I don’t have my job in Cork anymore, so I’ve decided that in the next few months I’m going to move to London. 

This might seem mad with everything that’s going on in the world, but I unfortunately don’t have anything left career wise in Cork.

I’m not sure what’s going to happen but I’m trying my best to be very excited. I want to continue working in music if that’s possible as the arts are what we all needed to get through this time.

It’s going be a rough couple of years for the industry to recover but the best art is made in the toughest of times and I’ll be there to support it in whatever way I can.

Aisling O’Riordan has been working in music and the arts for the last 10 years. She was one of the founding members of Quarter Block Party and Southern Hospitality Board and most recently worked with the Good Room (It Takes a Village, Kino, Live at St Luke’s). She is currently unemployed.

KAREN UNDERWOOD

I was all excited for a gospel gig with the Carrigtwohill gospel choir. I had rehearsed with the choir and the musicians. 

Karen Underwood
Karen Underwood

I was looking forward to another gospel gig at Christchurch in Cobh with John O’Brien in May while heading into the headline Soul in the City concert in the Everyman for June bank holiday weekend.

For the first time, I was headlining An Evening on the Quad at UCC. There were several weddings, a corporate speaking event, and four gigs at the back of the Cork Opera House for the Jazz weekend. 2020 yahoo! 

But on March 12 everything was gone.

I was faced with a Covid reality, a key question: When would I ever sing again, tell stories, perform with my friends? I was truly afraid for my life initially, but resilience has always been strong. I thought, maybe I can start writing again?

However, having no prospect of work and growing racial tensions in America darkened my thoughts and paralysed my hands. 

I was battling three diseases: Covid-19, racism, and depression. My trump card was played. I went to my wailing wall, my garden.

While I was in my quest of becoming the best gardener that I could be, my daughter then suggested that I try online performing. “Great”, I said to myself, “I can barely tweet and send emails.”

Interested in Christiana’s suggestion, I watched a few online performances and felt like the heart was replaced by some bypass machine lacking in sound quality. Because of the type of performer I am — incredibly needy and totally giving — I still question whether I can pull it off. It’s like starting all over again learning a new skill set, like eating without pleasure. Bleak. I know. 

Online prospects fill me with dread and inadequacy. It’s not completely ruled out, but it has to have soul if I’m gonna do it and I’m not speaking of genre.

In the meantime, if I see that flash of light on the road to Damascus and the spirit moves me to sing, I will. Ideas are starting to come now.

One such idea involves another Cork artist and the second a charity event. Yep, it’s now August and no matter how resilient that I am, I cannot see how and when the venues that I normally would play in can reopen in a way that is financially viable for the house and the musicians without relying on government and philanthropic support.

Thankfully, I have a loving wife, the best daughter, friends like family, and a beautiful garden.

There’s music in that for me for now.

Of course I cannot wait until I can sing songs and give myself fully to art and to the people that follow my music, but for now, it’s back to sowing Christmas spuds whilst singing in my garden.

Karen Underwood is a storyteller, writer and singer living in Cork for 23 years with her wife Mary McNally. When she’s not singing and writing, she loves gardening and entertaining at home.

JUDY HEGARTY LOVETT

As artistic director for the Irish Theatre Company Gare St Lazare Ireland and as the director for our many Beckett productions, I have seen both the artistic and business impact Covid has had on our company.

Conor Lovett and Judy Hegarty Lovett
Conor Lovett and Judy Hegarty Lovett

I’m sure everyone’s feeling Covid-19 in stages and waves of positivity and negativity. 

This month was to see the company inaugurating a three-week Beckett lab with theatre and literature students travelling from Montclair University in the US joining us at the Centre Culture Irlandais in Paris.

Following years of planning, we were looking forward to putting into action a method of teaching theatre through the plays of Samuel Beckett. That gig was the first to go.

The company was about to embark on a much-anticipated return visit to the lovely Coronet Theatre in London with part two of our work, How it Is by Samuel Beckett. Everything was booked: Flights, accommodation, the Irish Gamelan Orchestra of 16 players.

The set construction crew and materials were all in place. However, that London showing has now been pushed into 2021 with a fingers crossed marked all over it.

The next thing to go was our US tour in the autumn, which effectively is the end of all our live presentation in 2020.

But despite the changes, we are keeping the business and creative practice alive. We are online for now but are ready to return to the live event in time.

The blessing has been a continued and shared commitment to rehearsing online for part three of Beckett’s most sustaining and brilliant novel. The dedication of our core team has been bracing.

We rehearse three times a week by Zoom and I have noticed of late that our four-hour sessions are slipping into five and six hours.

We have put our 2013 production of Waiting For Godot online and we will shortly put a 2015 production of Here All Night online. We performed this work at the Abbey Theatre and on tour in 2018. 

We never expected that its next outing would be virtual.

We are working closely with the Everyman Theatre in Cork to find a date in autumn 2020 to present a version of our current work.

As part of the NCFA campaign to ensure support for the arts we also posted on Instagram little bursts of Beckett’s works with a unifying theme of doors opening and closing. 

It was remarkable how people responded to these randomly selected little extracts from Beckett, many comments seemed to link the extracts to the lockdown. 

Another example of how Beckett’s work has a universal and always relevant quality to it.

Of course the lockdown afforded a time for the company to reconfigure, recalibrate and rethink our companies resolve and reach. There is always a silver lining and I think we have in many ways been reminded of the value of our craft and the joy of the live performance.

Judy Hegarty Lovett is joint Artistic Director for the Irish Theatre Company Gare St Lazare Ireland

DARRAGH KANE

In March, when schools and colleges closed, businesses shut up shop and venues emptied, my phone stopped ringing. Little did I know then it would be silent for so long.

Darragh Kane
Darragh Kane

I had been working long hours, sometimes 12-hour days, seven-day weeks… and now, there was nothing. Bookings were cancelled one after the other. My calendar emptied. My inbox was bare.

Working as a freelance press photographer is precarious enough at the best of times — without having to worry about the economic effects of a global pandemic.

In the early days, I was left wanting more information — it may sound selfish, but the lack of definite answers created more to worry about than anything else. I was hooked on daily reports from Italy and Spain and was glad when lockdown eventually came here in late March. 

I knew at some point the Government would have to weigh up the cost of closing the country against the dangers of the pandemic.

But it was tough. The sudden halt in work was a like a dirty punch to the kidneys. As the vast majority of the country was going through the same thing, I made up the mantra “there is no room here for crucifixes”. 

I repeated it to myself daily before bringing the kids on the same walk, within our 2km limit.

The phone that was once always ringing and beeping sat silent on the table — I constantly checked it to see if it was working.

The lowest point for me came in May. As a person who constantly moves around and is doing something different every single day, the monotony of lockdown weighed me down in a manner I didn’t expect.

My two wonderful children who also had to deal with this new form of living needed constant love and attention and I found myself struggling to provide it.

Doubting myself as a good parent was just as crushing as the lack of work. Living near a beach was a saving grace.

In an effort to keep my mind and my children’s needs on track, I thought it would be a good idea to get back to painting.

In my late teens, I would occasionally sell a few still lifes or get the odd portrait commission. Not having picked up a brush in 20 years it was a romantic notion to think I could just pick up where I left off.

Comparing work I did as a 16-year-old hanging in my office to my sketches of Baby Yoda completed with my children while watching Art for Kids Hub on YouTube was more crushing than uplifting.

In recent weeks, restrictions have started to lift, but I am conscious that we are not finished with this and I don’t know when we will be.

As mentioned I shoot press, this can mean anything from the launch of a new light from Dyson to documenting hospital workers for the Health Service Executive, some of Cork’s wonderful arts and music festivals, sod turnings for Cork Institute of Technology or capturing some of the world’s biggest acts on stage at Live at the Marquee.

But my real love rests in theatre photography. In London, I had the pleasure of briefly working with the late Ivan Kyncl, easily one of the best in the trade. While press work has been very busy over the past 13 years I have also enjoyed travelling up and down the country shooting productions for the Everyman and Decadent Theatre.

After the summer, college graduations, conferences of all descriptions, launches of various events, profile photography, charity lunches, and fundraising balls fill up my diary. This is bread and butter work for most of us.

Trying to minimise the impact of a second wave, avoiding having another lockdown, and attempting to visualise the return of this work over the next few weeks or maybe
even months is both daunting and terrifying.

March turned into July very quickly. August will just as quickly turn into December. I’m already left wondering will Cork City Council allow a mass gathering to celebrate switching on the lights? Please let there be light...

Darragh Kane is a freelance press photographer

CAIMIN GILMORE

Before lockdown, I had been rehearsing for the Irish National Opera’s production of Carmen, with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. Over the course of rehearsals, speculation of cancellation quickly circulated.

Caimin Gilmore
Caimin Gilmore

I decided early on to weather whatever might be coming in my partner’s isolated cottage in West Cork. Surely enough it was cancelled, and gratefully, I’m still here.

Like the beginning of every year as a freelance musician, work was beginning to roll in with the RTÉ and Ulster orchestras and Crash Ensemble, and the unknown course of the next few months was slowly unfolding before me.

I hoped we’d be working by May, as I was involved in a project with Damon Albarn and booked for a seven-week tour across Europe. It was promising to be a milestone and incredibly rewarding year artistically.

I didn’t mind when we stopped. The work above didn’t matter. We were all in it together. I felt there was a collective realisation, within my family and friends, that we had been focusing on and championing the wrong things. 

It was certainly the zeitgeist within printed and social media for a number of months.

This realisation may have transcended into many people’s personal lives. It certainly did for me, and I’m grateful for this long period of reflection. 

We’ll never get this much time again. The stillness forced me to think, and for all of us, shone a light on the nothingness of it all, without a handful of very important rudimentary human things. Care, food, and communication. 

A classic narrative - when everything is taken, what’s of actual importance. It’s been said countless times but it’s worth reiterating as we get back to it.

Given the extra budget given to the Arts Council, PUP, and campaign from the NCFA, I felt during those months that the worker within the arts sector was being revealed and our contribution was becoming tangible and obvious. I am very grateful for that acknowledgement. 

I feel fortunate to live in a country where we have support systems in place for each other. I can’t say the same about my colleagues in other parts of the world. I have made myself busy recording and releasing music while the support is there.

However, I fear now that we are about to be left behind to take the heaviest weight, while bigger lobby groups are catered for. I feel there are more meaningful solutions and sustainable parameters to perform within — as demonstrated by our peers in Germany and the Netherlands — than what is currently proposed.

It would be illusionary and dishonest to think social distancing, as it is, can work on a plane or in a restaurant, for instance, while not allowing sustainable work to proceed in venues for much longer.

I hope we keep the collective solidarity and our realisations of a few months back that caring, communication, and experiential human endeavours are as important as our economy and we’re treated like the rest of our peers in other industries.

Caimin Gilmore is a freelance double bassist and arranger with the RTÉ Concert and Symphony Orchestras, Ulster Orchestra, Crash Ensemble, and Stargaze. He worked as bassist and vocalist with Lisa Hannigan, for her At Swim album tour, and was scheduled to tour a new project with Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz) in May. He recorded on Leonard Cohen’s posthumous album, Thanks for the Dance, and has performed with Aaron Dessner (The National), Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Dionne Warwick, and The Staves. He is the songwriter of folk pop outfit Sun Collective.

ALLIN GRAY

I suppose that being based in Cork while working for a national organisation with international connections had me quite well prepared for the changes to work practices that have been necessary as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Allin Gray
Allin Gray

I am very used to my laptop being my office, whether that’s on the frequent train rides to Dublin or wherever I happen to be working both physically and virtually. 

I’m one of those people that already had a Zoom account pre-March 12, not to mention WhatsApp, Skype, Messenger, Slack, and the other communications tools that now confuse me because I haven’t learned which beep is which.

There are three of us in the IAYO office and we moved very quickly to a routine of a 2pm get-together every day on Zoom with an online shared agenda where we put all our questions and requests to save us jamming up each other’s inboxes.

My initial back pain from making an office in my bedroom was solved by rescuing an external keyboard from the office (before full lockdown) and a stack of books to bring the screen to eye-level.

After the first few meetings, my house was re-arranged to create a suitable backdrop for meetings and a shirt and suit jacket hung over my work seat for a quick change before meetings. 

Fluffy socks were very much the order of the day in March and I’ve always insisted on trousers of some sort when I’m in meetings.

The Arts Council moved very swiftly to assure organisations like IAYO that we would be funded as had been offered regardless of our ability to produce in 2020.

While the potential loss of income from activities was hardly ideal, it did allow us to plan through to the end of the year.

IAYO is already like a virtual production hub so we had lots of meetings with our producing partners about what we could do. We took our time in announcing that our summer programmes would not go ahead but we didn’t use the word “cancel” once.

Most of those programmes are now having online editions. We have been supported to pay all our artistic staff and have, in return, asked them to deliver online with full permission to fail: if they try things that just don’t work, then we will have learned valuable lessons.

In reality, as of writing, the third of our planned summer courses is beginning and they are going to be transformational for the way we deliver our programmes — to member organisations, to those that take part in our training programmes, and to the young people that participate directly in the ensembles that we co-produce.

We have had an online-delivery agenda in IAYO for years and suddenly everyone else in our area has caught up.

I’ve also taken the opportunity along with others to start a series of virtual film screenings, panel discussions and workshops with the Cork Environmental Forum and SHEP Earth Aware for local and international audiences.

While lockdown and the pandemic have proven really awful for lots of people and will likely continue to do so, the cause of community and non-formal education may well take a leap forward.

Allin Gray is executive director at the Irish Association of Youth Orchestras, a board member of the European Orchestra Federation, and has recently stood down from a board position with the International Music Council.

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