Arts & Entertainment

Keeping The Lights On, Barely

Ange Sullivan - Head of Lighting, Sydney Opera House. Photo: Daniel Boud


The devastating impacts of the coronavirus pandemic have been far-reaching, and the arts sector has ground to a halt in many ways as a result.

From the Opera House and Capitol Theatre right through to the Belvoir and Giant Dwarf theatres there have even a plethora of cancelled shows as a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the future. 

Graeme Kearns​, CEO of Foundation Theatres which includes the Capitol and Sydney Lyric theatres, said their sites had been closed since March 15. 

“This has had a catastrophic impact on all of us who work within the industry,” he said. 

“Five months on, the reopening of theatres is still uncertain although we are quietly confident that our productions of Disney’s Frozen will open in December at the Capitol Theatre and Hamilton at the Sydney Lyric in March.

“It’s imperative that we keep planning to reopen theatres and host great shows, even in the face of crippling uncertainty, providing jobs for our the gifted theatre-makers who deliver magic on our stages and who’ve been out of work since March.” 

Despite the hardships faced by those in the sector, Mr Kearns said they have tried to find other ways to engage theatre-lovers.

But, he added, there is nothing quite like sitting in the audience of a brilliant show. 

Mr Kearns said the theatre industry had suffered a massive blow in 2020, and it’s been tough, but that is no reason to underestimate them. 

“The extraordinary community of people who make theatre happen in this country are resilient, smart and talented,” he said. 

“That’s a potent mix, and we’ll be back. Theatre-goers too are as enthusiastic as ever about returning as soon as they can.  

“So we have all the ingredients for a strong recovery, as soon as the opportunity presents itself.”

A Sydney Opera House spokesperson echoed the sentiments adding that it is currently working through safety, operational and programming considerations that will inform its approach to reopening the building and to enable the presentation of live performance.

“These are unprecedented events which are having far-reaching impacts on our communities,” the spokesperson said.

“During these difficult times, the Opera House will play its part alongside fellow Australian global cultural leaders to support the arts community and to bring hope and inspiration to audiences.

“While our doors to the public remain closed, we are continuing to engage and inspire the community through our digital program – From Our House To Yours – featuring new and never-before-seen content as well as live performances broadcast direct from the Joan Sutherland Theatre stage. 

“The program has been well received locally and across the world, with over four million views and downloads to date.” 

Australian Major Performing Art Group (AMPAG) executive director Bethwyn Serow said it had been an incredibly tough time for the arts sector, but for the performing arts in particular. 

“In the performing arts, we have not got venues open, and that’s a clear hit that the public can see,” she said. 

“There’s a less public side, which is that it’s quite a lengthy way in which you deliver all the work.

“So you do all the work upfront behind the scenes in developing, rehearsing, set design and marketing with no income and then the tickets pay for your investment and work.” 

Ms Serow said because of this method, investments that have been made will not see the money back. 

She added the sector is overwhelmingly made up of short-term contractors and freelancers – even some of the most celebrated and well-known talent – meaning they are missing out their earning period. 

Ms Serow said these difficulties are further compounded by the fact a lot of them were not eligible for JobKeeper. 

“Another factor is how do you plan for next year when you are not sure what that looks like,” she said. 

While Ms Serow said there had been tremendous support from the public, and theatres in Queensland and South Australia have been able to open to an extent – the long road still lies ahead. 

“We won’t be off our knees for some time,” she said. 

“The arts sector adapts so well that there might be an under-recognition of the strain that is underlying.

“But we have seen an outpouring of content and classes online… and the public has been there to support us in so many ways.

“I think some of the early recognition of what we need to do to stay connected to people was valuable for the general public… but no one knows quite where it’s going just yet.” 

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