It’s officially festival season; under different circumstances, I’d probably already be in Edinburgh. Indulging in Greggs sausage rolls and Pieman. Halloumi fries at Summerhall. Pints at Pleasance Courtyard. Oh, and the shows, too. Obviously. I had every intention to break last year’s record of 42 shows in 8 days.
But the good news, reader, is that festival season isn’t a total bust. There’s still plenty happening under the Edinburgh Fringe umbrella (like Shedinburgh, the punny brainchild of Fleabag producer Francesca Moody), and before we know it, Dublin Fringe and Dublin Theatre Festivals will be upon us. The Bram Stoker Festival. Galway International Arts Festival. And as of yesterday, two more festivals confirmed that they’ll be going ahead!
For the youngest among us (and the youngest at heart), the 24th Baboró International Arts Festival for Children will go ahead over several weeks in October and promises live performances, creative artistic experiences, visual art installations and interactive digital experiences in theatres, classrooms and homes.
At its heart the festival will be a recognition of how much has been sacrificed by children and families in recent months and the promotion of kindness to self and to others. This year’s festival will be an opportunity for families to come together, to find creative expression for the upheaval of the past few months, and most importantly, to have fun.
But wait! There’s more!
Northern Ireland’s largest contemporary arts festival is joining the ranks of events reimagining themselves to suit this new digital lockdown era. From Monday October 12th to Sunday November 1st, this year’s mostly online programme promises talks, theatre, dance, music, and more.
“In a tumultuous world, art matters. Why – because it can make a positive difference to our lives by allowing us to examine what it means to be human, to voice and express, and to bring people and ideas together. That is what we try to do each year with the programme for Belfast International Arts Festival. For 2020, it will obviously have a different feel with so much of it being presented digitally and online but audiences can rest assured that the content will be as entertaining and as enlightening as always.”
– Festival Director, Richard Wakely
How the Shaw Festival kept 500 people employed during COVID — by taking out pandemic insurance three years ago
Speaking of festivals, the executive director and CEO of the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Tim Jennings, has managed to do the extraordinary: keep all of his employees on full time payroll. While artists and arts workers all over the world are hanging on by a thread, Jennings’ 500+ employees are protected. Because three years ago, the company took out an insurance policy against the threat of a pandemic.
“People keep telling me it was genius,” Jennings says, reflecting on this extraordinary stroke of luck. “It wasn’t actually genius. It wasn’t about this pandemic at all — it was about communicable disease.” In his time working in theatre Jennings has seen a minor stomach bug waylay productions on countless occasions. Shaw employs a rotating repertory ensemble; if one of his actors got the flu, ten of them could, and that might stall a show. “We took it out for the whole season, thinking that if six actors got ill and we had to shut down for two weeks, we might lose two million bucks,” he explains. “But the policy also very clearly covered a pandemic. That was really a useful piece of good fortune.”
Smart! Now, I don’t know much (or anything, really) about insurance in Ireland but this article did make me wonder if there are any organisations here who have similar policies. Are they even available? Would it make any difference for a festival like the Fringe which doesn’t have a rotating repertory ensemble but a lineup of freelancers? Anyway, it’s nice to see that somewhere in the world, artists are safe and not being told to just reinvent themselves overnight in order to survive.
Now. Moving on, in no particular order, here are some other stories I paid attention to this week.
Nice! This new fund has been supported by the likes of Daniel Radcliffe, Gillian Anderson, Emma Thompson, Andrew Scott, and a bunch of other high profile folks. Check out the Theatre Community Fund at https://www.theatrecommunityfund.com
Photos: Faye Thomas/Cameron Slater
“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.”
This is Part One of a three-part feature in the Irish Examiner. You’ll recognise a Stage Door Live alumnus here, Peter Power, alongside many other brilliant people sharing their stories. Be sure to check out Part Two and Part Three as well.
As a producer myself and a lover of musical theatre, I’m surprised and dismayed that I’d never heard of Ptaszynski until now. He was prolific and wonderful and had the kind of career that one can only dream of; he’s left behind a magnificent legacy that’s well worth reading more about.
Two Cool Opportunities
I also found two interesting opportunities this week that were cut for time from our live show. Broadway on Demand is accepting pitch ideas for their new Broadway Back To Work initiative. It’s unclear whether or not there are any specific eligibility criteria, but it certainly seems interesting. And Graeae Theatre Company are welcoming expressions of interest for their BEYOND programme which is designed to support Deaf and Disabled artists who could most benefit from alliances with regional theatres in the North, North East, North West of England and the East Midlands.
I know that many people are beginning phased re-openings and presenting hybrid versions of programmes. We salute all the brilliant work that you are doing and we acknowledge the overwhelmingly dignified sense of grace and generosity that is apparent in the community.
In closing, a very nice blog entry from Director of the Arts Council, Maureen Kennelly. This entry has a very handy list of upcoming funding schemes but more importantly it is a reminder that the results of a study done in June to assess audience behaviour and attitudes has now been published. There is a presentation on the research and findings happening tomorrow at 10:00 AM — you can register to attend here and you can also find the publication here under the title Arts During Lockdown June 2020 National Survey. If you can’t attend the Q&A session tomorrow, it will be recorded and uploaded to the Arts Council’s Vimeo.
That’s all from me today, reader. Who is reading this, by the way? Introduce yourselves in the comments, I’m sure there are more of you reading this than just my mom. (Hi, Mom.) See you next week!
https://theatrehelpline.org/ – In line with last week’s Accomplice Appendix, minding yourself is one of the most important things you can do to be a good ally and advocate. It’s okay to need to talk. Theatre Helpline is free, independent, and open to anyone working in the industry.