Galway artists and life under Lockdown

How are Galway's artists, creative, and performers dealing with the Covid-19 restrictions? KERNAN ANDREWS hears their stories.

'I try to accept the darkness and remind myself a new day is around the corner'

BY TRACY BRUEN, SINGER-SONGWRITER

Tracy Bruen by Julia Monard II

Photo:- Julia Monard

I could write a blindingly different article on my response to this pandemic and how it has affected me, depending on the day I put pen to paper.

When I bump into friends (not literally! ) on our 2km radius exercise route, our answers are invariably the same. Up and down. The Irish have honorary doctorates in the usage of innocuous phrases to make (non )sense of situations out of our control - "This is it"; "Lookit..."; "Sure you'll have that"; "What can you do?"; "It is what it is"; "Ah well"; "Sure how bad..."; "Please God"; "Ah sure what harm"; "It could be worse".

I'm flat out using them on a daily basis at the moment, to cover the gaps in conversations where there is literally no news. Some days I relish my new, dramatically slowed, pace of life. Other days I feel a darkness and a panic in the pit of my stomach, an overwhelming sense of dread that nothing will ever be the same.

I fear the plans I had for my music will never see the light of day because the industry will be so changed after we emerge from this. On those days, I try to accept the darkness and remind myself that a new day is around the corner. And so it goes.

I'm one of the lucky ones, in that my teaching job is secure and I am working remotely to support my pupils through email, video messages, activity ideas, songs, and stories. The shutdown has provided me with the impetus and the time to increase my skill base in the technical field. I'm coming to grips with audio and video editing software in a way I never had time to before and putting it to use both for educational and creative purposes.

In terms of my art, gigs have obviously ground to a halt. I am struggling with the implications of that as I had an amazing summer tour lined up with dates locked in for venues I've been waiting for years to book. My follow up single to 'Dream Away', and accompanying video are stalled. It is hard not to feel like I have lost the momentum I had gained with the moderate success of 'Dream Away'.

All of my cover gigs are obviously cancelled for the foreseeable future also. I had big plans for the next 18 months and it is hard to know how any of that will progress. My initial response to the shutdown, and to when I lost all of my gigs, was to hit the ground running to see what I could salvage.

'How will I emerge from this? I do not know - hopefully with a calmer sense of myself'

The one thing that stood out was the Open Mic Night at the Róisín Dubh. It has been a lifeline for me every Sunday night to check in with, and find a community, with my circle of open mic friends, and I know there are many audience members tuning in every week for the same reason.

Having that initial goal of keeping the open mic running was a great motivator to learn to work in a new way with my sound equipment. I've had fun doing a few live streams of my own through my music Facebook and Instagram pages. Nothing beats playing with my band to an audience though! How will I emerge from this? I do not know - hopefully with a calmer sense of myself and less of a pathological need to be busy at all times of the day. I hope I don't lose the space I have found during this lockdown to just be, as opposed to "be doing".

'My studio was filled with a year’s worth of work that suddenly wasn’t going anywhere'

BY CECILIA DANELL, VISUAL ARTIST, SINGER-SONGWRITER

Cecilia Danell in studio

During the first days of social distancing I was floored by the unreality of the situation and could not focus on anything other than reading the news.

I had just returned from a two month residency at the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris on March 1. In Paris, there was some talk about the virus and a few people wore face masks on public transport, but I could never have guessed the situation would escalate so quickly worldwide.

Once back in Galway, my plan was to finish work for a solo exhibition at Kevin Kavanagh Gallery in Dublin opening in early April, which would then tour to a different venue in May. I went to an art opening in Dublin in early March where greetings consisted of elbow bumps rather than handshakes, and got a feeling things might not pan out as planned after all.

Once places started to shut down I couldn’t get my head around how to keep making art in a situation where everything had been postponed indefinitely. My art studio was filled with a year’s worth of work that suddenly wasn’t going anywhere soon. Then the lockdown happened and I lost access to my studio and all my materials. I’ve seen some artists with home studios being able to continue to make work, while others, like myself, have had to make do in different ways depending on circumstances.

'This time in lockdown has acted as a bit of a breather from an otherwise busy schedule, while not forgetting the stressful nature of the situation'

Thankfully creativity won through after a couple of weeks and I started to draw regularly using colouring pencils, crayons and watercolours. Not the materials I’d usually work with but it has helped me to have something to focus on. If visual art has been hard to sustain for logistical reasons, music has been easier and I’ve put the finishing touches to some tracks for my sophomore album as A Lilac Decline, which will be out on Rusted Rail later this year.

Me and my boyfriend Keith have also started making a radio show for Flirt FM called Radioactivity, broadcast every Tuesday at 11pm. In hindsight, this time in lockdown has acted as a bit of a breather from an otherwise busy schedule, while not forgetting the stressful nature of the situation, but I really miss my studio, and just doing everyday things. Hopefully my two postponed exhibitions can go ahead in the autumn.

'I think the pandemic has brought out my inner farmer'

BY STEVE BENNETT, COMEDIAN

Photo:- Kernan Andrews

I’m a stand-up comedian. This is all pretty scary for me. All my work has completely evaporated. I miss friends and family, I miss earning my own money. I’m terrified of the scope and likely timescale of the pandemic, and the fallout.

My skill set is being in a room with people and making them laugh. I love stand-up because there’s such a direct feedback system of laughter, I miss that a lot.

For the lockdown, I’ve been staying with my girlfriend. She has a lovely farmhouse with some old land we’ve been converting into a garden. It has been really calming to watch stuff grow, and great exercise, digging and lifting dirt, rocks, and wood. I think the pandemic has brought out my inner farmer.

'Chin up, keep moving. This will either all be OK, or it will kill me'

I’ve been playing my live role playing game, Dungeons & Naggins over Zoom. It works very well as players need to take turns and let each other speak and Zoom forces that etiquette. That said, it is very tough to make money playing games online, so if you enjoy it, please pop a tip in the jar! I’m also working on a card game version folks can play at home, so watch out for that, too!

I have been learning how to write scripts. I have written a pilot for a sitcom about a charity shop, very proud of that and looking forward to doing more.

I’m nervous about when things start to 'go back to normal' (I’m very skeptical of that phrase ). I’m worried that pubs and festivals will not have the stage time or the money for comedians like they used to, and it was already tough. Anyway, chin up, keep moving. This will either all be OK, or it will kill me. Either way, I’ll be swinging.

'I’m worried for the wonderful entertainment venues that make Galway what it is'

BY KIKI ST CLAIR, DRAG QUEEN

Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

I try to look for a silver lining in all situations and one positive element of this surreal situation is getting to spend time with my family in Offaly.

A quick family visit turned into a five week catch up, a positive consequence of this almost dystopian world we now live in. My creativity has been somewhat stunted on a visual level, as I left my drag materials in Galway. Trying to focus on the production element of drag has also proven difficult as most of my time is spent trying to focus on study for final year exams.

In terms of emerging from this lockdown I have resigned myself to the fact it is going to be a long, long, time before performers get to share the stage with a room full of people again. This passes through my mind each day and casts a shadow of melancholy over the upbeat outlook I’m trying to maintain.

'I find myself both inspired and entertained by the multitude of online drag that appears in my news feed'

I’m also worried for all the wonderful entertainment venues that make Galway what it is and how they are going to survive this extremely uncertain economy. Many entertainers have adapted and began to share their creativity online and attempted to turn this into a business model in order to maintain income - a testament to the creativity and resilience of the entertainment community worldwide.

I find myself both inspired and entertained by the multitude of online drag that appears in my news feed. The many beautiful looks, hilarious lip-syncs, and upbeat positive attitudes of many queens will help any person through a hard day. I never forget how lucky I am to have all my loved ones safe and well, others are not as lucky. Cherish every day, cherish your loved ones – pandemic or not.

'Everyone needs to work together and support each other locally'

BY RACHEAL PALMER (AKA CHROME DOLL ), POLE ARTIST, DANCE INSTRUCTOR, IRISH POLE CHAMPION

Racheal Palmer 2020

As an artist living through the current pandemic, I can say it is not easy, but there is light, it is good and bad I suppose.

My studio is temporarily closed which is having a major impact on finances as a small business owner. When gyms were notified to close, I became very overwhelmed, which triggered my anxiety disorder. For the first two weeks I was frozen with fear and I shut down.

I took a step back to get myself together, practiced lots of self-care, and planned to get my classes online. I have been getting lots of one-on-one lesson appointments which is great, but I have found it hard to fill classes. Normally this is the other way around when working directly at the studio.

'How do I see us emerging from all this? This time will either make or break smaller business and local artists'

It is nice to work one-on-one with people, I really enjoy it and am happy people are seeing the value in the quality time. As for classes there is a wide range of competition globally, so it is hard for the smaller studios to fill classes.

How do I see us emerging from all this? I am not sure to be honest. This time will either make or break smaller business and local artists. I believe everyone needs to work together and support each other locally. One thing I have gained from the pandemic are the skills to teach online classes, this has been daunting to put into practice, but is something I will be offering in the future, and which will be another source of income.

Indeed, the online community has been highly creative, there are so many challenges to take part in. I always work better when alone, I have lots of time and space to create at home. I am feeling more creative for sure. I love teaching and sharing my art!

 

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