The show must go on

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Adapting . . . Dunedin theatre practitioners and stalwarts of the Globe Theatre and Suitcase Theatre Company Helen Fearnley (left) and Sofie Welvaert, pictured on the set of upcoming Globe play The Raft, say performers are thrilled to have any opportunity to get on stage in 2020. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD

After months of virtually zero activity, arts organisations in Dunedin were just getting rolling again when the return to Covid-19 Alert Level 2 took the wind out of their sails. Brenda Harwood speaks to a cross-section of arts organisations and practitioners about how they are coping and adapting.

Dunedin arts organisations are being stretched to the limit as they scramble to adapt to a fast-changing world.

A long list of cancelled or postponed shows and events under Covid-19 Alert Level 2 has included Dunedin Symphony Orchestra’s “Ode to Joy” concert last month; theatre performances put off for the second time; and the disappearance of touring shows, including the New Zealand Ballet and New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, both due in Dunedin this week.

Dunedin Symphony Orchestra general manager Philippa Harris said players, soloists, City Choir Dunedin singers and a large audience had been excited about the “Ode to Joy” concert and were “gutted” by the cancellation.

Dunedin Symphony Orchestra staff (back, from left) , production manager
Tony Tarasiewicz, marketing manager Pieter Du Plessis, general manager Philippa Harris, (front) accountant Lindsay Browning, and artistic administrator and librarian Feby Idrus display a poster for the recently cancelled Ode to Joy concert, while working towards the orchestra’s “Renewal” show, set for September 19. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

“We have managed so few concerts this year, and there was a real sense of anticipation,” Ms Harris said.

“Everyone was delighted to have the chance to come together and experience live music.”

The DSO was now pinning its hopes on its “Renewal Tchaikovsky & Ritchie” concert, scheduled for September 19, although this depended on the Government’s decision on alert levels, to be announced on Sunday.

“Whatever happens, we just have to adapt and carry on,” she said.

While the DSO had weathered the Covid-19 storm reasonably well so far, with Creative New Zealand funding allowing it to operate and plan concerts, the loss of one-third of its Dunedin City Council funding – from $116,000 down to $80,000 for the year – had been a blow.

“We understand why the funding reduction occurred, but it does create challenges,” Ms Harris said.

“So we have had to readjust and focus on our core business.”

While the work of planning concerts for next year continued, the impact of Covid-19 on international travel meant getting overseas artists here could be difficult.

“However, that could also give opportunities to New Zealand-based artists and soloists. Some have never been busier,” Ms Harris said.

Arcade Theatre Company founder and director Alex Wilson said the Dunedin group had been forced to cancel performances of New Zealand play Day Boy twice -firstly in March and now in September.

Arcade’s planned 2020 season of four main-stage shows had been reduced to “one and a-half”, which had been disheartening for all involved.

“Everyone is struggling with it,” Mr Wilson said.

“To keep on rehearsing in the dark behind closed doors, and then not have the joy of releasing that energy with live performance, can lead to a sense of futility.”

Arcade Theatre Company functioned on the principle of paying its performers, and had been fortunate to be able to tap into the professional theatre fund, Mr Wilson said.

The Government wage subsidy had also helped.

However, the financial and performance future of the company would be hard to predict, because of uncertainty around Covid-19, Mr Wilson said.

The Globe Theatre has also been forced to postpone most of its 2020 season until next year, although re-scheduled performances of Carl Nixon’s The Raft are set to begin on September 17.

Director and designer Sofie Welvaert said the same cast had been able to return for the show and were “excited to be back and loving being involved in something again”.

Globe Theatre committee member Helen Fearnley said the theatre had built up “great momentum” in recent years until halted by Covid-19.

“It is a big concern for us,” Ms Fearnley said.

Ms Welvaert and Ms Fearnley are also trustees of Suitcase Theatre, which will present a socially distanced performance of breast cancer-themed show Dear Boobs on Stage at the Regent Theatre from September 10 to 13.

The project-driven focus of Suitcase Theatre had protected it from the disappointment of having to dismantle a season, but the current situation “still feels like limbo”, Ms Fearnley said.

Otago Art Society president Doug Hart said the organisation was “working hard” to get back on track after the cancellation of a major exhibition and a significant decrease in foot traffic at Dunedin Railway Station.

“We have had to completely rejig our timetable for this year and next, but fortunately the postponed Hope and Sons exhibition is now on track to debut in early October,” Mr Hart said.

The society had found that more local people and New Zealand tourists were visiting, and was keeping its focus on high quality, local art, Mr Hart said.