It’s a new program called Artists at Work. It is exactly what it says on the box. This is the story of that program:
On Tuesday this week we had a small, socially-distanced group of actors in our building for the first time in seven weeks. Those seven weeks passed too slowly and too fast. A bit like a blow to the head: everything slows down and jumps forward at the same time. For those seven weeks Belvoir has not been Belvoir. We are nothing without artists making theatre. Having those actors back at work was the beginning of setting the company right again.
It has not been easy to get to the point where we could put a small group of actors to work for a day. Not just because of the social distancing measures, but because the company has been sent spinning by the closure of our theatre. We have had to reimagine how to be Belvoir. We have recut the company’s remaining finances to keep us going as long as possible. That struggle is far from over, and our fate is in the hands of the virus, our communities, and the willingness of governments. JobKeeper has definitely helped us out, but we still had to let some excellent people go, and everyone left has taken a big cut to their hours. While Tuesday was our first day with artists back at work, it was also the first day of Belvoir as a part-time company.
But in re-imagining Belvoir we have been able to draw on the company’s brilliant, unlikely history. Belvoir has always danced close to the edge. But it has always found its way because it is a fundamentally hopeful company. Quixotically so. It has helped in these last seven weeks to remember that it was built by artists, saved by audiences, and sustained by a coalition of many people. And so while we have had to reimagine how to be Belvoir, we have been able to do it by staying essentially the same: dogged and idealistic.
Early on in this crisis we made a decision that no matter how tricky things became, our goal wasn’t just to survive this but to keep working. And that meant keeping artists in work. So the actors who came in on Tuesday are the first of three teams of artists we are putting on staff for one day a week to keep doing the thing that matters most at Belvoir: turning the rough stuff of life into theatre. Our particular focus is on new ways to tell new stories - likeCounting and Cracking, Fangirls, The Drover’s Wife, Barbara and the Camp Dogs… Artists at Work is a small start, but a necessary one. We have enough funding to get the project started, but with more support it can go a long way. (Perhaps, in fact, this is how a theatre company would ideally work, with artists on staff…)
We want to come out the other side of this pandemic a better company making better theatre that imagines a better country. Artists at Work is how we are going about that.
Today we are reading a new play (over Zoom). We wish we could tell you who it’s by, because you’d be surprised. But it’s a trade secret for now. And the only way you will find out is when we re-open at the other end of this. Which we must and will do, somehow, no matter what.
Eamon and Sue
P.S. We will have some more announcements in the next week or two. Watch this space…