The Last Word: We Need A Level Playing Field

“Candle test / Micro Nikkor 40mm 1:2.8G” by Gabriel GM is licensed under CC BY 2.0

From Episode 19 of Stage Door Live.

It’s a shame we didn’t have a show last week. Theatre news was breaking during our normal show time. It would have been quite an exciting show.

As news broke, “new” news broke with modifications to the original statement. And by Thursday morning, we received further modifications, or “clarifications” that again turned out to be incorrect. It was a virtual tennis match as our heads bounced back and forth, wondering what the actual situation was going to be with the new restrictions.

Dublin Theatre Festival shows, announced just hours before, were now in peril, and still remain in peril as we wait for “clarification from the government.” This week, it was announced that Dublin Fringe Festival’s outdoor shows would be cancelled. The most disappointing part of the whole situation is not that we’re still waiting for reasonable answers and clarification that is based on solid medically based facts, but that in the first announcement THEATRE was not even mentioned.

As of now, outdoor performances of over 15 people cannot go ahead. Just a couple weeks ago, the Kilkenny Arts Festival held safe, socially distanced concerts with 150 in attendance. Safe. Organized. socially distanced. concerts. Yet the government is concerned about what happens when audiences congregate before and after the performances, while at the same time allowing schools to open and have gatherings of thirty children indoors in a closed environment.

As Abbey Theatre Co-Artistic Director Neil Murray said via twitter, “We are in a pandemic and tough measures are necessary and accepted, but let’s at least have a level playing field for the arts.”

NCFA said in its Statement on the 21st of August, “the sector pivoted towards programming outdoor experiences. The Abbey, The Ark, Druid, Galway International Arts Festival, Dublin Fringe Festival, Dublin Theatre Festival and hundreds of arts organizations and groups across Ireland have… created and announced outdoor programmes which will now presumably be cancelled.”

Since March, artists and arts workers have scrambled, in an organized fashion, to entertain the public and to maintain the arts sector which is on the verge of collapse. They have done their best to bring shows from the stage to the screen, a media that is not their own, to create new works that respond to the moment. They have moved productions from the close quarters of theatres to wide-open, socially-distanced spaces. They have, with great financial disincentive, re-opened their theatres in a socially distanced and compliant manner to create safe spaces for artistic experiences to begin again.

The arts have gotten us through this pandemic so far, but the lack of consideration by the government in its briefings is disheartening. Theatre Artists and Arts Workers were the first to stop at the beginning of this pandemic. We are already the last to get going again. If the government thinks that the Pandemic Unemployment Payment is enough to live on, we ask that they reconsider their own wages. The sector wants and needs to get back to work. Our producers, production managers, event controllers, and safety experts have produced safe events forever. Adding COVID considerations to their safety tasks is not insurmountable, it is what they do.

The government’s lack of clarity has only made these tough times tougher.

Theatremakers adapt. We move forward. But we need a level playing field.

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