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

Irish Examiner - - Front Page -

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.

DOMINIC MOORE

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

EIMEAR O’HERLIHY

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

KIM SHEEHAN

“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

Pic­ture: En­rique Car­nicero

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.

Pic­ture: Dar­ragh Kane

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.

Pic­ture: Joleen Cronin

KIM SHEEHAN: I still feel ex­cited by the unique po­si­tion I find my­self in.’

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