Artistic Director of the Backstage Theatre, Mona Considine
The arts sector has certainly faced its fair share of challenges since the Covid-19 lockdown came into effect in March of this year. But Backstage Theatre is doing everything in its power to ensure that the local arts scene doesn’t falter under the weight of the pandemic.
Funding is significantly lower for the arts sector in Ireland, at 0.2% compared to the EU average of 0.6%, and like many arts organisations the midlands venue often struggles anyway. But Backstage, like many of its fellow venues across the country, delivers a lot for what little it gets.
“The arts sector was the first sector to close and it will probably be one of the last to open and even then, will face the significant challenges of social distancing,” said Artistic Directosr of the Backstage Theatre, Mona Considine.
If restrictions go down to one metre social distancing, that will certainly help, she added. Two metres would make it virtually impossible to bring an audience into the theatre.
“We have fixed seating at Backstage, so the logistics of finding a way to make social distancing work are even more demanding,” said Mona.
The Backstage Theatre is one of 32 theatres and arts centres around the country to support the National Campaign for the Arts (NCFA) 13-step National Arts Recovery Plan, which aims to address the severe challenges facing the sector as a result of COVID and the #savethearts campaign which calls for the public’s support. Now it’s important to support the arts scene as the country slowly starts to reopen for business.
The plan suggests putting in place a number of measures to ensure the reopening of our theatres and arts centres as safe workplaces for staff teams, artists and arts workers and, ultimately, as safe places for audiences to visit.
It aims to develop and deliver alternative programmes to continue engagement with artists, arts workers and audiences, while introducing opportunities to work with artists in new ways, making the space available for creativity and development.
“The announcement of a €25m Stabilisation Fund for the Arts & Culture was really good news last week,” Mona explained.
“It will allow arts centres ensure our artists can continue to make work.
“The Covid crisis has brought particular challenges for artists, many of whom struggled to secure benefits during Covid-19 as the precarious nature of their work meant they may not have been registered as employed when the crisis hit.
“The government wage subsidy scheme has been a great help to the Backstage Theatre in ensuring we can continue to provide a service, albeit in a new and unusual way,” Mona explained.
“Although we are closed for so long and so restricted in what we can do, we’ve been trying to keep that connection with our audience and provide some form of entertainment for our audience online,” she added.
“We also have plans for the remainder of the year which will include more interactive projects for the community.”
The Young Curator Festival, which has been running for the month of June, is a fantastic example of how the theatre has been adapting to its pandemic restrictions. The programme featured a number of workshops, spoken word, interviews and online performances, all provided by a team of young people who were selected last year to run the festival.
“The young curators had been engaged to present two festivals of live performance directed at a young audience this summer but because of Covid-19, that wasn’t possible. It was great to work with the curators to restructure their plans to present a programme online,” said Mona.
But there’s been plenty more happening at the theatre to appeal to other audiences.
“We’ve engaged theatre- makers to work with patients in three nursing homes to create three pieces of theatre inspired by that person and their life,” Mona explained.
“Although this was Covid-inspired, it has the potential to go beyond Covid and is really about valuing our older citizens and the stories that they have to tell.”
The staff at Backstage Theatre are currently working to make the building a safe place for people to work and visit.
The Youth Theatre are currently working on a two strand project which includes a radio play and a promenade piece of theatre where our young people will be presenting a monologue in different areas of the building, so audiences will move through the theatre,” said Mona.
“I suppose this has forced us to think in a different and more innovative way!”
Covid-19 has brought up a large number of challenges for artists and the arts, forcing theatres like the Backstage Theatre to change how they present art.
“There are a lot of additional costs associated with making the building safe and we are looking at a significant loss in box office revenue, so there are financial challenges to be faced, but we’re hoping we’ll be able to find our way through them and towards safer, healthier times. We are conscious that we’re not alone in this. Other sectors are struggling too and all have to make the best of our situation.
“As long as it doesn’t stop us from bringing entertainment to the community and as long as we can continue to provide work for artists, we’ll keep going,” said Mona.
“During Covid-19, people will have really seen the value of the arts. Whether through reading a book, watching a film or listening to music, the Artist has been at the centre of how we have come through this crisis. The very people that are helping us through this are the people who are often not getting the support they need and who are struggling the most, and that’s difficult to see,” she concluded.