Picture: Seattle Artist’s Magic, artwork by Taylor Hammes
Cardiff’s theatres have been closed since March 2020, leaving the arts sector as a whole tremendously impacted by COVID restrictions.
The sense of community within this sector is unlike any other, with many driven by passion for work that they genuinely love. Therefore, not only has this predominantly freelance workforce faced financial difficulty, but it has been battling to preserve an entire lifestyle and support group. We checked in with members of the community to find out what they’re up to and how the pandemic has affected their lives.
Kate works part time as an Arts Officer for Caerphilly County Borough Council, but the rest of her usual income as a Freelance Artist has decreased due to postponed and cancelled projects.
On theatre closures, Kate commented that there have been “quite a few discrepancies and imbalances” in Westminster government treatment of the sector.
“Why should people be allowed to sit in ‘bubbles’ inside a pub and order drinks and food to their tables, but they couldn’t sit in bubbles at cabaret style tables, distanced, within an auditorium?” On the future of the arts, Kate commented that “the current Westminster government doesn’t see the value of the arts and theatre, and so these are the areas first cut back on when money is tight”.
For more information, visit https://blackwoodminersinstitute.com/arts-development
For his own business, Real Audio Visual Entertainment, Jon works as a Sound Engineer/Technical Production Manager for theatrical productions, festivals and corporate events.
Although some projects have gone ahead, Jon commented that “most of [his] work is impossible to do from home, as it is event based”.
Having signed a pledge to work in the local area and boost communities post-COVID, Jon received a freelancer grant from the Welsh Government.
Jon anticipates that the decrease in opportunities will remain, but has used this time to take part in technical training courses, hoping to “branch out and develop broader skills” as the industry adapts toward more live streamed events, podcasts and sound design opportunities.
Francesca is a Freelance Director, Facilitator and Arts Project Manager. Taking on a wide range of roles, she has worked predominantly in youth arts for twenty years.
As part of the steering group for Youth Arts Network Cyrmu, Fran has been “really pleased” to see young people adapt to online working. However, when unessential shops amongst other businesses opened, Francesca commented that it “felt like the arts were being marginalised”, knowing plenty of theatre makers willing to take steps to share live work in a safe way.
“We need to recognise the fundamental right of all young people to have fair access to arts and cultural experiences and we need to value the impact of the arts in everyone’s lives, especially our most vulnerable and those for whom other opportunities for expression and interaction may be limited”.
For more information, visit https://yanc.co.uk/
Zak is an aspiring actor, gaining experience in the industry whilst working another job for income. With production company Snoozedays, made up of university friends, Zak was cast in the original play Cicero before the pandemic.
The group continued throughout 2020 by “grabbing [their] moment” whenever possible to rehearse with masks in an empty storage unit, before releasing the play for a month online. Zak commented optimistically, “for me this was pretty cool as I’ve always wanted to do more work with cameras!”
“I cannot tell you how good it felt when we finally wrapped! Not because ‘thank god this is over’ more for the fact of ‘we actually did it!’”
For more information, visit https://www.snoozedays.com/
Jaydan graduated with a Fine Art degree in 2020, and aspires to transition intotheatre research and development to make educational plays for schools on LGBTQ+ topics.
He advocates that more correct representation of transgender identities intheatre would be a “game changer” as it “makes you feel seen”.
Current plans however, are “up in the air”, with previous opportunities to develop his skills having fallen through amidst a “definite drop” in new opportunities.
Whilst working in retail for income, Jaydan has now gained some experience as a set designer for a sitcom pilot.
Follow Jaydan on Instagram @jaydanalexanderart
Bryn has been acting for fifteen years in pantomimes, plays and musicals, and is a supporting artist for TV.
Bryn has experienced a shortage of work, but has found ways to continue with some of his projects. Last December, he couldn’t do his usual in-person Father Christmas work, but made some video greetings instead! He is a regular performer at Tonyrefail’s Savoy Theatre, where performers have continued to rehearse via video call.
Bryn commented that “theatres have been treated abominably” during the pandemic, having to remain closed whilst flights go ahead and pubs remain open. However, he highlighted how many took the theatre for granted pre-pandemic, and asserted that shows will be “sold out in hours” upon their return.
To support the industry, Bryn suggested our readers visit theatres as soon as possible, and purchase ‘The Show Must Go On’ T shirts, the proceeds of which support the theatre community.
For more information, visit savoytheatre.net
For T-shirts, visit theatresupportfund.co.uk
Tegan works with Caerphilly Youth Theatre, a brilliant drama group for teenagers.
The group has resorted to meeting online, and in some ways, this has had its benefits. Tegan highlighted that it has pushed members to expand their skills into filming and editing their own video content, and even some animation!
“It’s made our members realise that they are capable of more things!”
However, Tegan commented that the new online platform has made it more challenging to engage with members as they find it difficult to express themselves over Zoom, and some do not have the facilities to access the calls each week. Funding has remained limited.
“Funding is always going to be an issue! I feel like the arts in recent years has decreased in funding and/or support from higher up.”
For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/CaerphillyYouthTheatrePage
Ieuan is studying for a drama degree, alongside auditioning for drama schools and professional work. He has found that working online just isn’t the same.
“That energy you get from the studio space is not possible when having to deal with the natural disconnected feeling of having to stare at a laggy screen.”
He does however, anticipate some positive repercussions, as the current shift to self-tapes instead of in-person auditions may remain and make the audition process more financially accessible, cutting travel costs.
Additionally, although worried that studios may lean toward casting big names to guarantee a profit in coming years, he anticipated a possibility that in some cases, budget constraints may require “cheaper, newer actors”, which would be beneficial for up-and-comers such as himself.
On supporting the industry, Ieuan commented that “any and all donations you are capable of making towards venues are greatly appreciated”.
Libby is an actor getting into TV and film, and is studying a foundation course at Oxford School of Drama alongside projects.
As opposed to resorting to online teaching as many educational institutions have, her course was delayed.
“They are trying really hard to keep face to face teaching, which is great!”
Libby has found the current unstable nature of acting work unsettling, as it so often gets cancelled or postponed.
On the treatment of the industry during the pandemic, Libby commented that it “wasn’t a surprise that the arts were ignored, as they have always been ignored in schools and never really got funding”.
“I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen… I am worried for my future and others like me”. To support the community, Libby added that “checking up on actor mates is a must”.
You can follow Libby on her Instagram account, @libby.w8