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The show must go on – how lockdown has impacted on the arts


By Charlotte Coulson

A year ago, life as we knew it changed dramatically. With the UK’s population being told to stay indoors our once vibrant arts and culture scene was immediately put on hold, with those working in the industry suffering acutely. We asked those from varying areas of show business how they’ve coped during this challenging time, as well as their hopes for the future. 

Susan Bullock CBE, one of the world’s most sought-after dramatic sopranos:

"When the lights literally went out in the opera world on 16th March 2020, I was in the middle of a dress rehearsal with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. By the time we finished the rehearsal virtually every theatre had closed its doors, wiping out projects, plans and not to mention income for months ahead. Now a year later there is hope on the horizon, but nothing is certain and cancellations are still happening well into 2022. 

“Once the initial shock had worn off, I had to find something to do! I continued to prepare roles for upcoming projects in the hope that things would turn around, which filled my time until the inevitable cancellations came in. I have since worked online giving one to one coaching sessions and Masterclasses for the UK conservatoires, all of whom have had to work remotely, with on some occasions participants joining from Australia, New Zealand and the USA. Motivating young singers has in turn been my motivation to keep going, stay positive and keep working. But I will be glad if I never have to do another zoom Masterclass again as nothing can beat being in a room with people!

“Looking to the future, projects that were cancelled for summer 2020 have been reinstated for this summer and opera houses are tentatively planning their seasons again, so there are some offers of work thankfully coming in. However, the sense of loss has been enormous. Singing is what I do and who I am. I have never been in the same place for this long in 37 years in the profession and to have everything wiped out as if by a flick of a switch has been devastating."

Matthew Pateman, singer and Bad Boys Inc frontman:

“Beginning of 2020 work was looking great – 20 years together as a band and our diary was busier than ever. But as we hit February things started to change. Among a plethora of weddings and events, we had 6 corporate gigs planned for April in Rome. The events company started trying to change dates and then the location, and we were all a bit unsure as to how things were going to pan out. Our last event was in London on 29th February. We had a few gigs coming up in March that slowly fell by the wayside and our diary was decimated as the weeks unfolded. Many people tried moving gigs to a later date in 2020 but obviously these never happened. 

“As a band we are so lucky to be a limited company and therefore eligible for furlough, and whilst a much-diminished wage it was at least still possible for us all to pay the bills. Other people in our line of work were not so fortunate and we have friends and colleagues who have had to sell homes, downsize…move back in with parents…even close businesses.

“We didn’t envisage it being a whole year with no work. We managed to put together a live performance video which we could sell to events planners in the latter months of 2020 and ‘virtual performances’, which not only provided much-needed income but was a great way to be creative with the events teams that we respect and trust in such a challenging time.

“The diary is filling up again and a lot of postponed weddings and events are already on the cards. We feel grateful that we have survived such a difficult time and can’t wait to get back out there performing again. Fingers crossed that with the vaccinations and lockdown easing, things really should start picking up in the Summer.”

Siân Jones, Associate Director at SEC Newgate and lay clerk at Bath Abbey

“I’m conscious I’ve been more fortunate than a number of my singer friends during the pandemic in that I have been able to do some singing, albeit only a limited amount. Because our singing counts as ‘work’, we haven’t faced as many draconian restrictions as those who sing in amateur choirs. That said, we have only been able to sing in very small groups because of social distancing rules, so that means the number of ‘calls’ (rehearsals and performances) for each of us has been significantly reduced. 

“In Bath Abbey we have boys and girls singing the top line (soprano part) of the choir, but they haven’t been allowed to sing at all for the past few months. That means we’ve had to perform some quite arcane repertoire written for altos, tenors and basses only. A perhaps unexpected bonus has been the fact that, because we have to sing with a two-metre gap between us, we have to ‘sing out’ more, and our technique has improved as a result. We’ve also had the chance to record some solo items for important festivals such as Lent and Easter, so it’s been nice to have that extra challenge. But nothing beats singing all together, and I can’t wait for the restrictions to be lifted so we can get back to normal. We have a special evening performance of Rachmaninov’s Vespers pencilled in for the autumn, which I’m really looking forward to.”