Theatre and arts prepare to return in a post-COVID world

No industry escaped unscathed when the coronavirus pandemic struck, but the arts was among the worst hit.

When shows came to a halt, Queensland Theatre Company’s (QTC) team lived the impacts of that first-hand, but things are looking up for the Brisbane-based showhouse, which is preparing for its first show post-COVID.

“The Holidays” by David Megarrity, which re-opens at the Billie Brown Theatre in November, is a “family portrait of memory and connection”.

Artistic Director Lee Lewis said pre-show preparations are looking different this year.

“It’s been quite a transformation,” she said.

“We’ve had to come up with new ways of moving people in and out of the theatre safely, managing our artists backstage so that we reduce chances of transmission and we’ve all learned a lot about health procedures.”

Five actors on stage during rehearsals for their play
Lee Lewis, Bryan Probets, David Megarrity, Bridget Boyle and Louise Brehmer are thrilled to return to the theatre. (ABC News Jessica Rendall)

QTC has been given the greenlight to operate at 50 per cent capacity, forcing the theatre to block off seats and only allowing audiences to book in groups of two.

Director Bridget Boyle said the play, which won the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award in the 2018-19 season, originally incorporated audience participation, which had to be rethought in the age of coronavirus.

“We’re having to rethink [audience participation] but it’s just made us more creative.

“We’re creative people and we’ve had to come up with creative solutions and honestly I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of doing that.”

Actor Bryan Probets has also had to adapt, moving much of his work online during the shutdown.

“You have to be very flexible to keep the work flowing,” Mr Probets said.

“Doing lots of play readings via Zoom basically is how I’ve been trying to make ends meet.”

Mr Probets said he was excited to get back into performing in person, and said there was only so much you could do through a computer screen.

“The thing that you really miss is that contact with audiences,” he said.

“Zoom meetings, however great it may be at bringing actors together, it can’t replicate the fact that you’re going to be in the live space with people.

“That’s what a lot of artists have really missed, that live contact.”

Mr Probets said smaller audience sizes will make shows more intimate.

“You’ve always got this little antenna on the top of your head that says ‘okay, how do we gauge this particular audience?’ and having a smaller size audience means you won’t have to overreach as much.”

No more mosh pits

Singer songwriter Oh Bailey hopes her fans will still have fun, even if they can’t dance.(ABC News: Jessica Rendall)

On a smaller stage in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, up-and-coming singer-songwriter ‘Oh Bailey’ was preparing for her first concert since the pandemic began.

The 22-year-old was launching her new single to a socially distanced, seated crowd of 54 people at popular music venue Black Bear Lodge.

“The music that I’m playing is very synth-pop disco, so I think there’ll be a lot of wanting to stand up,” she said.

“Hopefully, everyone will have just as much fun sitting down as they would standing up.”

Black Bear Lodge owner Aidan Beiers says he still isn’t used to seated concerts.

“Black Bear is known as such a vibrant intimate live music space, for people not to be interacting and dancing and [instead] forcing themselves to be planted, really has kind of changed the dynamic of the venue,” Mr Beiers said.

Man standing in bar with stag's head on wall behind him
Aidan Beiers wants to see more restrictions eased for music venues.(Jessica Rendall)

He hopes to see restrictions on music venues eased further, and wants health officials to ditch the ‘one size fits all’ approach on different facilities.

“I look at what’s happening in gyms where people are allowed to sweat all over each other, but we’re not allowed to stand up out of our seats,” he said.

“I really hope that smaller music venues like ours are taken into consideration, where it doesn’t really make a difference if you’re sitting or standing whilst social distancing.”