It is safe to assume that 2020 hasn’t been anyone’s ideal year, particularly for those working in the arts sector. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic has decimated the industry; with forced shutdowns and a lack of government support. While there has been some media attention on the issue of arts funding, it has mainly focused on established artists, the cancellation of productions and the resulting loss of employment.
But what about emerging artists who may not have directly lost gigs due to the closure of venues, but lost the ability to gain traction in the notoriously tough arts sector?
The opportunities both lost and gained from this challenging time is evident by looking into four recent graduates from South East Queensland’s most renowned performing arts schools – Queensland University of Technology (QUT), University of Southern Queensland (USQ), the Griffith Conservatorium.
By delving into the events following their graduation, we can see just how much the pandemic has changed the career of an emerging artist. We can also identify just how much an artist has also needed to adapt.
(Bachelor of Musical Theatre, Griffith Conservatorium – Class of 2019)
Ashlea Sloman is the first to admit that 2020 has not gone to plan. “I thought I would be getting auditions every week. I would be able to fly to Sydney and/or Melbourne for those auditions.” But instead, Sloman has auditioned once “every three months or so”.
She does admit, however, that she is amazed at how quickly the industry responded to going digital but confesses online classes just don’t work for her. “I kind of avoided all that technology stuff,” Sloman admits, adding, “I’m not an online person. I need that face-to-face body energy to work off.”
If there is one positive Sloman can see that came out of the pandemic, it is the growth of the Brisbane arts industry. “Due to the COVID situation, all of the film productions are moving to Brisbane anyway so there are larger opportunities there in the film.” She also believes staying in Brisbane during the pandemic has allowed her to save money and have more access to family and friends. “Rent is expensive in Sydney and Melbourne and it is also emotionally draining if you don’t have a support network.”
Overall, however, Sloman found the COVID situation to be a “very depressing time” and her being forced to put everything on hold led to a “big black hole of depression”. She is now glad to see the other side of that with things returning back to normal.
(Bachelor of Acting, Griffith Conservatorium – Class of 2020)
At the start of 2020, Declan Coyle was heading into the final year of his acting degree at the Griffith Conservatorium, where he was set to play Puck in Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ – but then the world changed. Suddenly his final year looked very different.
Following two months of Zoom classes, Coyle admits that he found online learning for his field of study a challenge, saying that while he understands why it was necessary, it wasn’t the same as being in the room. “Especially rehearsing was so difficult. There is a delay between you and the other person’s response.”
Coyle also admits he found adjusting to the new reality difficult. “It’s been very hard. Being as this is meant to be our public year [for our studies]. The year where everyone from the industry is meant to see us and get an idea of who we are as performers.” Coyle did get to play Puck but instead of performing to a full house of paying customers, he was performing to a closed viewing for family and friends.
While Coyle has overall found COVID to be a “big hindrance”, he does admit there have been some benefits due to the fact that he is in Brisbane during this time. He admits he was lucky to have already had an agent before starting his studies, which has allowed him to complete a large number of auditions for film extras work. “A lot of film work is coming to Brisbane and just in the past few weeks I’ve done quite a few auditions and a lot of extra work.”
Coyle doesn’t know what his future might look like but he admits that things would probably have been the same even if COVID didn’t happen, as the path into the industry is always tough and different for everyone.
(Bachelor of Fine Arts Acting, Queensland University of Technology – Class of 2019)
Since graduating at the end of last year, Hoskins, like most people, has seen the world massively change around her. However, she managed to take comfort in the fact that she was not alone. “The whole industry is feeling the effects of this. As an emerging artist, I am not the only person who is not benefiting at this time.”
Hoskins likes to think she is one of the “lucky ones” as she does have an agent and has been able to get some work during this time, including a Zoom Play reading for Queensland Theatre. “I didn’t think this was going to be my Queensland Theatre debut but… doing the Zoom Play was awesome because it reminded me I love to have fun doing theatre even though it was online.”
Hoskins likes to think she was just ahead of the curve and that perhaps “some form of online theatre might be more of a thing in the future” as it makes theatre more accessible for more audiences. “We are going to find a way to keep making theatre. It brings people together. It brings audiences together. It evokes empathy. The world could end in a horrible apocalypse and I would still be here saying ‘let’s do a Zoom play’.”
Hoskins is planning to move to Sydney as soon as the borders open as she wants the challenge of the big city. “It will obviously be harder, but that is kind of why I’m going just to see what it is like down there”. She reassures that she can always come back to Brisbane.
(Bachelor of Theatre Acting, University of Southern Queensland – Class of 2018)
Even before COVID hit, Salman had found the transition into the industry from University to be the biggest learning curve of his life.
“Suddenly I’m in the big bad world all by myself, I’m not living at home anymore. So I had to struggle a lot”. Salman believes it is through that struggle he found his ability to survive, even during a pandemic. “I just knew it was going to work out in the end. No one wants to be stagnant. Who wants to stay in one place? You can feel that in Brisbane.”
Salman thinks it is the connection of the arts community in Brisbane that has allowed him and other emerging artists to get through this challenging time. “Here in Queensland as a theatre-goer you are able to talk to artistic directors and have those conversations with people who work in this industry; whereas in Sydney and Melbourne there seems to be a disconnect.”
Salman believes that at the end of the day. “Theatre is about bringing people together” and this is what made the pandemic so difficult. The fact that we couldn’t gather together. Regardless, Salman has faith it will all get better soon.
If there is one thing that all four of these emerging artists have managed to convey, is that strength of character and commitment to hard work will hold someone in good stead in a world beyond 2020. We can all adapt and work through any pandemic.