The art and artists who persisted
In part three of our Save the Arts campaign, musicians describe how they innovated in lockdown, venue officials tell of new opportunities, and festival operators describe plans for the next big night out
In part three of our Save the Arts campaign, musicians describe how they innovated in lockdown, venue officials tell of new opportunities, and festival operators describe plans for the next big night out.
“Every gig, workshop, and wedding I’d booked up to September was off the table,” says Limerick singersongwriter Emma Langford.
When it became clear that Covid-19 was an impending tsunami that was going to drench our small People’s Republic of Cork, I began to make tentative little promotional videos for the Butter Museum in Shandon, where I work part time.
Closure for the time being was inevitable but there was still something I could do. I had an iPhone and a few accessories and I learned on the job as quickly as I could. Lenny Abrahamson it wasn’t, but I was emboldened and gained confidence from the positive online reception.
I hadn’t intended this to go any further but soon, my puppet show clients and myself were talking about ways to present it. Simply setting up a camera in front of the puppet booth and recording it wouldn’t do. I had seen recordings of plays, professional productions by professional companies, and wasn’t impressed.
My limited resources would only amplify the awfulness. I wondered would it be possible to make little films based around the performing of a puppet show — having the show as the centrepiece but building little stories around it. I was given the go-ahead, and so it began.
My daily routine became ‘up at 6, down at midnight’, and as my mother would say, “working all the hours God gave me” in between. My brief was: A series of trailers and a few longer films, the average length being 20 minutes long. There were deadlines to be observed and I was working to professional standards.
I began to carefully step my way through the filming and editing but there was always something going seriously wrong. The amount of visual data involved meant that I had placed a totally unrealistic expectation on my lovely little laptop, which soon started informing me about its problems in all kinds of different ways.
Editing software lags and ‘spinning disks’ that lasted forever became my personal ‘new normal’. After a time I began to accept them and would simply get out of my chair, move away from the desk and feign an interest in what was happening outside the window, while I waited for my laptop to either take its feed or throw it back at me.
Across the valley, Shandon steeple stood silently tall, the stopped south clock defiantly and stupidly being right twice a day. I took comfort in its old stone stubbornness, contrasting with the anxiety I felt in the technology overheating on the desk behind me. Over the days, the anxiety took a physical form: Vicious heartburn, some kind of odd vertigo that came and went at will, a perpetual tiredness behind the eyes.
Relief came in daily cycles across the empty city visiting a family member. I saw the meadow in UCC on the Western Rd blossom. Regulars on my cycle route began to first shyly smile and then openly salute as the days passed. A stranger called “Jaysus, you’re fit out” as I cycled up O’Donovan’s Rd. I appreciated the joke.
I continued to work hard, problem-solved with my clients almost every day, and daily schedules were met. Each job was duly done by due date and was well received.
My physical ailments disappeared. I slept well again. All in all, I had a good lockdown. But never again – please? I live in hope.
■ Dominic Moore is an actor and puppeteer from Cork
Like everyone else, I was taken by surprise by the speed and the spread of Covid-19 and the impact that it would have on our personal and professional lives. On a trip to Athens in mid-February I saw a few people wearing masks in the airport and on the metro but I didn’t really think about it.
By the first week of March, I was a little more conscious of it on a night out in Cork City but I was still squashed around a table with a group of friends and happily handing a camera to a total stranger. That was to be the last carefree photo of the way we were as things started to move very quickly.
At a West Cork Music board meeting on Wednesday, March 11, we didn’t shake hands, we all availed of anti-bacterial gel and we discussed the possible but still unimaginable impacts on our summer festivals. The following morning schools and theatres were closed and by Sunday pubs were shuttered. Another week later almost all flights were grounded and the likelihood of a July festival was decreasing by the minute.
On April 2, we began the heartbreaking task of notifying writers that the festival would not go ahead. Everyone was incredibly understanding and kind despite the loss of paid work and the lost opportunity to meet audiences and fellow writers.
We were very lucky that the support of our funders meant that we can pay cancellation fees, often equal or very close to the original event fee, to our writers. But of course we were just one event in an entire season of events that writers rely on for income and related sales.
And the financial impact goes so much wider as cancelled festivals mean lost work for technical crew, designers, publicists, as well as the massive loss to a town like Bantry where hotels, restaurants, cafés, the bookshop, and all businesses rely on the boost that festivals and the tourist season bring to the town. It’s been an incredibly strange and sad time but it has been heartening to see how local businesses are finding imaginative ways to survive and to engage with customers.
We had to re-imagine the literary festival and keep the conversation going with writers and audiences. So many other organisations were moving readings online so we focused on our professional development strand and have had great success with online writing workshops, a group session with a literary agent, and one-toone sessions with an editor.
It’s not the same as gathering in person but it had an positive in that the opportunity to attend from your own home, coupled with half-price tickets thanks to Cork County Council sponsorship, means that the festival became more accessible to people who previously couldn’t attend for financial reasons or the difficulty in spending a full week away from commitments such as family and work.
I have no idea what next summer will look like but we need to be prepared for every eventuality and I am trying to dream up a combination of in-person and online events.
I remain extremely lucky in that my family and friends are safe and well and the small few I know that caught Covid-19 seem to have made a complete recovery and didn’t suffer the worst of the symptoms. This is far from over but we will weather the storm together. We have to!
■ Eimear O’Herlihy is the festival director of West Cork Literary Festival which normally takes place in Bantry every July. Next summer’s dates are July 9-16, 2021. For further information westcorkliteraryfestival.ie
“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so” — Hamlet
“Kimi you’ve got to get your kids out of playgroup now, it’s coming.” Those were the words I heard my sister say on March 10. I had just dropped my kids to playgroup and was at the piano working on ‘Riders to the Sea’ for The Everyman’s production of Sea Trilogy. The next couple of weeks were filled with panic, taking the kids out of playgroup, stockpiling food, and waiting for the inevitable calls to say that all my upcoming work was cancelled.
My life went quickly online and was struck by the collective consciousness of my colleagues all around the world coming to terms with a year of unanswered questions and for some potential financial ruin.
It was like sitting in an airport waiting for a flight and then watching the departure board destinations flip gradually one by one from scheduled to cancelled. A deluge of compassionate artistic online offerings quickly followed and I wanted to be a part of this community.
I instantly began to record the album All That Is Sound
— a project I had been due to perform at the Cork Midsummer Festival in June and so with not-exactly-military precision of tag-team childcare in and out of the garden studio, myself and my husband Tom Hodge began to record vocals, mix, and produce the album. Then Lorraine Maye called to ask if I could put something together for #Midsummermoments as a reaction to lockdown and this suddenly became an amazing opportunity to perform from my own living room.
Another big shift for me was that I fell in love with exercise again when my friend Bex Fredericks set up a Zoom class called The Hardcores for a group of mums. We exercised for an hour everyday, five days a week, anything from HIIT to weight training.
After having kids, I never really got my body and mind back on track to what it had been beforehand. I began to remember that for me, physiology is the key to a strong focussed mind and physical longevity.
For me, lockdown feels truly like a shift in paradigm —- a belief in the fulfilment of my career and a family balance with it, rather than just the mere dream of it.
And while there are still many unanswered and anxiety-fuelled financial questions for the mainstream world of opera and performance and my career with it, I do still feel excited by the unique position I find myself in and how I can take this opportunity to use a positive growth mindset to push my own boundaries of music-making and performance.
■ Kim Sheehan is an opera singer from Crosshaven, Co Cork
ANNA MARIE COUGHLAN
Everyone’s life has changed dramatically since lockdown and all our plans for 2020 certainly did not have a global pandemic in mind.
As partnerships and fundraising manager with the Everyman, my job is to diversify the income streams of the organisation. Now, like many other arts organisations, our main source of income has been lost, and this brings a whole new focus to our fundraising.
Art fundraising is always a challenge and over the last couple of years we have been working to develop a culture of philanthropy for and within the sector. Arts fundraising through a crisis, however, has a different dimension, the thoughts of our sector genuinely not coming through this is a constant concern.
I have worked in the arts through lean times and a recession, but this feels somewhat different. Previously there was always a physical audience and ways to engage and connect in person with those audiences, the placement of the uncertainty feels very different this time. The Covid-19 pandemic has created a very real gap between the arts and its audiences.
Unlike other crises we have faced on a global scale, this virus has the potential to affect everyone. Which means our audiences and supporters are facing the same uncertainty and worry.
The arts as a sector in the past few months has sought out various ways to bridge this gap and have provided a sense of belonging, comfort, distraction, and inspiration to people and now more than ever we need to strive to fulfil our mission as a community resource and to continue to raise funds to ensure our sustainability.
My role is very much relationship based. Up to March this year, working with friends and donors has involved enjoying a chat before or after a show. Meeting with potential business partners, or sponsors over a coffee and building up a relationship with our supporters. Happily a lot of those connections have continued through closure and there is huge love out there for the arts.
We’ve been very moved by the response of our patrons, it has been very encouraging for us as a group of people to receive both the donations and the sincere messages of support and encouragement. It really is helping to sustain us, retain our staff, and ensure the Everyman and its team remains here for the people of Cork.
It is heartwarming for us to hear how much the building and performances have meant to people over the years and how much they miss attending.
Of course we are also really missing the interacunexpected tions with each other, performers, directors, and our audiences. There is a great support network within the arts, we are an industry used to producing amazing pieces from small budgets and to very tight deadlines.
We are agile by nature and
I hope this will help us to weather this storm. On the road to recovery we will perhaps build a deeper connection with audiences and within our sector and the community as a whole.
Reopening on September 15 is a milestone we are all really looking forward to, and I am optimistic about how we as a sector will respond to the challenges ahead. Like all arts organisations, we are facing huge challenges and for us recovery only really begins when we reopen, it will be a long road to full recovery.
The world will be different, the country will be different, and the arts will be different but it will be a journey we take together. Our resilience for this and ability to meet the challenge has and will be greatly
“It’s been an incredibly strange and sad time but it has been heartening to see how local businesses are finding imaginative ways to survive and to engage with customers
AL DALTON: Not only does the majority of my business come from the arts, but I also strongly believe that the arts are an integral ingredient in our daily lives.
EIMEAR O’HERLIHY: I have no idea what next summer will look like but we need to be prepared for every eventuality and I am trying to dream up a combination of in-person and online events.
EMMET CONDON: Our industry, perhaps above all, has suffered a most direct hit.
KIM SHEEHAN: I still feel excited by the unique position I find myself in.’