‘I go out to the beach to dance’: Australian artists contemplate their lives – and careers – post Covid

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Marta Dusseldorp, stage and screen actor

Hobart, Tasmania

I was in Sydney doing [Sydney Theatre Company production] The Deep Blue Sea as news of the pandemic started to build and straight after that I flew to Melbourne to shoot Wentworth for two solid weeks. So as Covid was rolling in, I found myself in this really interior world of a prison. Masks and sanitiser started appearing on the set. I started panicking because Tasmania started talking about closing its borders and I hadn’t seen my family for a really long time. But I was lucky. I was able to shoot what was needed and managed to get to Hobart two hours before they closed the airport at midnight. It was so stressful. It was like being in a film. It was like, is Bruce Willis going to come around the corner?

Like everyone, my vulnerability has been tested over the past few months. I think isolation is very hard for actors. Our job is to be as open and available as possible and after all this ends, I don’t know if I’ll be as open as I used to be. I think it’s to do with performers being cast as “non-essential” workers. I don’t believe for a second that’s true. Art can’t just be written off like that.

Marta Dusseldorp in character as Sheila Bausch in Wentworth.
Marta Dusseldorp in character as Sheila Bausch in Wentworth. Photograph: Sarah Enticknap/Foxtel

Because of that, it’s been important to me to not stop working. I’m in Tasmania so I’ve been able to do meetings and rehearse in a socially distant way. We worked on Angus Cerini’s play The Bleeding Tree on Zoom for four weeks and then we went into a rehearsal room. I’m playing the mother of two daughters and of course, we weren’t able to touch. It actually gave us a really great obstacle to play with. The challenge became a gift. You can’t go to your default position as an actor. We had to find new ways of being in the space and with each other.

I’ve also been doing some reading and recording stories for children because the thing I noticed while we were all homeschooling is that everything seems to be read by Americans. So I offered to read some stories in our accent, in our emotional language.

Australian stories and voices are going to be so important for our children as they come out of this pandemic and yet we’ve stopped committing to kids’ drama on screen. We’re giving them nothing to sustain them and that’s going to have a big impact. It’s become my quest. It’s not just about the future of the arts. It’s about our culture and our identity.

• Watch Wentworth Season 8 on Foxtel

Husky Gawenda and Gideon Preiss, musicians and bandmates in indie-folk group, Husky

Melbourne, Victoria

Gideon: I have my piano and that’s about it. I spend a lot of time writing. In some ways, isolation has been great for me. I’ve been working to a schedule – which sounds boring – but there are hours I have in place. I know when and how to become creative.

Writing music used to always be interrupted by life. Now that life is on hold, I have these vast slabs of time laid out and I can do whatever I want – from lots to absolutely nothing. It’s a very different approach to creativity.

Husky: This is the most isolated I’ve ever been, I think. I spend a hell of a lot of time alone. But the isolation, the simplification of daily life, all the time on my hands and the uncertain future and the preciousness of the moment has helped me go deeper with my writing. I’ve gone places with my latest collection of songs that I would never have gone otherwise.

Stardust Blues album cover.
Stardust Blues album cover. Photograph: Tunni Kraus

Perhaps that’s something I’ll take with me when all this is over. Isolation isn’t the worst thing for a writer. It might even be the best thing.

We finished an album just before everything shut down. We had a release date in early June, we had a tour booked and some overseas travel. All that went out the window going into the pandemic. I felt very unsure about how we would even function as a band, how I was going to live.

Gideon: We haven’t been together as a band in a room for months and I’m quite surprised at the things I’ve missed. There is the thrill of performing and the lifestyle that goes with it but the thing I miss most is rehearsing. The playfulness, the exploring.

Husky: For me, it’s playing live. As a writer, it feels like the songs are not real until we’ve played for an audience. I used to complain about touring. I’m not the best suited to being on the road. Now I miss it like hell.

Gideon: Perhaps this whole thing will be a hard reset. I have musician friends telling me how great it is to go to bed early and get up and do yoga, after years of gigging, drinking and smoking every night.

Whatever happens, I hope we emerge with a renewed sense of how magical the interaction between artist and audience is. People need connection – it’s not to be taken for granted.

Download Husky’s album Stardust Blues

Tara Gower, dancer with Bangarra Dance Theatre

Broome, Western Australia

A woman covered in ochre in a contorted position
Tara in Bangarra’s performance of Ochres. Photograph: Edward Mulvihill/Bangarra

I was very anxious in the beginning. It was the thought of never being able to practise dance in the way I’ve done for the last 14 years, ever again. That’s how dramatic everything was in my head.

And I didn’t want to be stuck in Sydney on my own. I’m a proud Yawuru woman from Broome, I needed to go back on country and be with my family. I made it back to Broome two hours before the border closed.

Bangarra has been working on Zoom for six months but I really miss the physical energy of the other dancers in the studio. Some days we work on screen for six hours. For a while, I had access to a dance studio in Broome and I could move my body to the fullest. Now I’m mostly working in my lounge room. I go out to the beach to dance.

I had a moment where I got really frustrated. We were practising repertoire from Frances Rings’ Terrain, which is based on the idea of the Lake Eyre horizon that makes you feel like it’s endless. Imagine trying to do that kind of repertoire in the lounge. So I thought stuff it, I’m going to Cable Beach to dance in the sunset. It was so rejuvenating. It brought back the buzz I’m so addicted to. When you perform you get that buzz. But I found that buzz on country.

Now I begin every day at the beach. It might be swimming, Pilates, yoga or just performing to myself and my country. I do Bangarra repertoire in the evening when it’s cooler.

Bangarra has really looked after us. While other dance companies were just doing morning classes, we’ve been working creatively as well, keeping our juices flowing.

I’m also using my time in Broome to give back to my community. I’m teaching kids movement and dance at my old school and I’m volunteering as a female community liaison officer to prevent suicide among our women and create safe spaces for them.

Bangarra dancer Tara Gower does yoga on Cable Beach, WA, during the coronavirus pandemic.
Bangarra dancer Tara Gower does yoga on Cable Beach in Broome. Photograph: Supplied

I’m also running weaving workshops for adults and youth. Even though we haven’t been as affected by Covid-19 in the Kimberley, the restrictions are having an impact on mental health that could last a long time.

The driving force that has kept me going for so long in Bangarra is creative energy. Now, it’s about sharing that energy and spreading it to the next generation so they know you can have that balance of work and creativity, and survive doing something that you love. You can rekindle your culture, learn about your body and the importance of health, and learn how to keep your culture alive within you today. Language is very strong here in the Kimberley and I’d like to see the same strength around dance. That’s something I want to implement while I’m here.

Watch Bangarra Dance Theatre’s performances online here

Jacqueline Dark, opera singer and cabaret artist

Sydney, New South Wales

I’m one of those people who sings around the house. I sing all day. It’s not comparable to opera singing on a stage but I think it’s why I’ve always had reasonably good stamina as a singer. The bathroom has the best acoustics in the world. You sound like a god.

And I love singing in the car. I’ve been sprung so many times when I’m stopped at the lights, singing full bore. People three cars away stare at me thinking “what the hell is that?”

A woman sits on the floor of a stage and sings
Jacqueline Dark as Fricka in The Ring Cycle. Photograph: Supplied

I lost pretty much a year’s worth of work to Covid, including Fricka in The Ring Cycle with Opera Australia. I miss singing with other people, making music, making magic together. I’ve done some singing online but I find it reminds me of what I’ve lost. For me, the joy of performing is in moments you make together. Singing online takes away that immediate connection to fellow performer and audience.

I’m lucky because I’ve been doing some cabaret recently and I’m also creating a new show with Kanen [Breen, opera singer and close friend]. Cabaret has given me the opportunity to perform and I love that the shows are very intimate. But the downside is that I haven’t been required to call up that big energy you need to fill a 2,000-seat hall. The idea of being on an opera stage again is exciting but quite daunting.

I live in an apartment so I try not to practise too much at home. I’m very self-conscious. I want to feel free to make my mistakes. Kanen and I have rehearsed in the flat only when we’ve had no choice. Luckily, the people upstairs are very sweet. They’ve been so lovely about the noise but I’m suddenly very aware of the raunchy lyrics I’ve been pumping out across the neighbourhood.

The isolation hasn’t been all bad. I’ve been writing a lot and getting into other creative parts of my brain. I’m brushing up on my French with my son Xander and practising German online. And I taught myself video editing for an online physics project. I made some video science modules for when we were all homeschooling and it’s been great getting in touch with my old self. Before I was a professional singer, I was a high school physics and maths teacher.

The best thing has been seeing the community pull together. We’re all talking, making sure everyone is OK. We all ebb and flow, but you do try to be there for the people who are ebbing.

Find out more about Jacqueline Dark’s cabaret shows here

Demi Lardner and Tom Walker, comedians and partners

Sydney, New South Wales

Comedians and partners Demi Lovato and Tom Walker
Tom Walker (left) and Demi Lovato and their tech stuff.

Tom: We’re trying to keep our skills up. Every day Demi comes up with five heckles for me and I do the same for her. A bit of light sparring to keep us fit.

Demi: We’re the two loudest people on earth, so we’re lucky we live in a very soundproofed apartment. We can scream our jokes as loudly as we like.

Tom: It helps to live under a flight path. We’ve pretty much moved everything online now. We use a livestreaming platform called Twitch that’s mostly used by gamers. But people are doing lots of different stuff on it now. There’s a lovely guy who has a couple of thousand people just tune in to watch him woodworking. You just hang out with him and feel warm.

By contrast, what I do is set up the game American Truck Simulator and ask people to pay $5 so they can take over the driving and crash me into a wall or something. On Twitch, there are people who are great at video games and there are people who aren’t and are just wasting people’s time. I’m very much in the latter category.

Demi: Our pivot has been to making more sketch comedy. Or we do Twitch for hours on end just riffing. We’re trying to transition to digital in a way that actually allows us to stay funny. A friend of mine said me leading a stream is like being in my brain and in a kind of hell she couldn’t have imagined. I guess I like to take people on a ride rather than just talk to them. I like to give an experience rather than explain one. That’s the main difference between what I’d do as a standup and the weird online shit I’m doing now. For example, I’m about to start a stream where I just read the Bible from beginning to end. That should be fun. I’m going to insert some passages of my own.

Tom: There have been a couple of Zoom gigs, but all they do is remind you what you’re missing. Actually, it makes you miss the worst gig you’ve ever done in your life. A friend who was doing a Zoom gig told me the organisers were thinking of asking people to un-mute their mikes when they wanted to laugh and mute them again when they were done.

The worst thing about the isolation is not hanging out with other comedians. That’s why I got into comedy in the first place. They’re smart and funny and I really miss my friends.

Demi: I don’t miss anything about live comedy and I’m excited to never perform live again.

Tom: There are some things I’d like to keep from this time. I want to keep the elbow touch as a greeting because I’ve fucked up every handshake I’ve ever tried to administer. I want an end to hugging, too.

Demi: Yeah, and if any male comedian from now on leans in to kiss me on the cheek, seriously, I’m going to kick them to the moon.

Listen to Demi and Tom’s podcast BigSoftTitty.png or watch them on Twitch. Demi is here and Tom is here

Source: The Guardian
Keyword: ‘I go out to the beach to dance’: Australian artists contemplate their lives – and careers – post Covid

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