5 performing artists in action on stage

Performing Artists: Careers in Covid’s Wake

Covid-19 has hit the performing arts with disastrous effect as social distancing has brought magic and variety shows, plays, film productions, concerts, operas and comedy nights to a grinding halt. This week Delfont Mackintosh Theatres which house shows like Hamilton and Les Misérables in the West End announced they would remain closed until 2021. So for this post I decided to look outside of magic to see how other breeds of performing artists have been affected by Covid too.

Not able to share their work in the same room as their audiences, the already unstable livelihoods of performers have become harder still. Experiments in live streaming and Zoom shows do their best to adapt to the ‘new normal’ but I think most of us secretly have our sights set on the days when we can give hugs and sit next to each other again. Even hearing the person behind you in the theatre with a noisy throat lozenge wrapper ruin the best moment in the play will fill you with joy. But until then, what can we learn from each other through all this? If even one tip that worked for someone else works for you, we’re going in the right direction. Let me know in the comments below. That said, it’s time to meet my special guests…

Performing artist Katharine Arnold talks about the impact of Covid-19.

Katharine Arnold, Aerialist

Katharine’s credits count shows like La Soiree (London and Sydney), theatres like Berlin’s Friedrichstadtpalast, and film work on Disney’s Dumbo.

Christopher: How has Covid affected your work?

Katharine: I was living in Paris performing at Le Lido when everything happened. My show got closed down, I moved everything back to London, and every single piece of work for the foreseeable future was cancelled.

Christopher: What are you looking forward to again most?

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Katharine: Being busy. I always knew but never quite appreciated how much I thrive off having a gazillion things to do. I can’t wait to be running around and working my socks off and feeling genuinely tired at the end of the day. And OBVIOUSLY, drinking too much tequila with friends in some sort of disreputable establishment!

Christopher: Obviously! Have you found any good things in the down time?

Katharine: One major thing has been reconnecting with people I haven’t seen for years – my old university gang, the cast from the first big show I did in Berlin in 2005, and many more. I also started to paint again. I went to art school over 20 years ago before I became a circus artist, and haven’t picked up a paintbrush often since then. But I’ll definitely continue afterwards. I’ve also managed to tick off the majority of my “to do” list which has been mouldering away for literally YEARS. Satisfying!

Christopher: Are there any particular challenges you have faced?

Katharine: As an aerialist, trying to maintain strength and conditioning when I don’t have anywhere to rig at home has been difficult. I felt slightly panicked at the thought of not being able to be in the air for such a long time, but then a few weeks ago I found a tree in a park near me that I can rig from, and I can honestly say it has brightened up my lockdown considerably.

Christopher: What things have helped keep you sane?

Katharine: For me, the most vital thing has been to stay feeling fit and active. I wrote myself a couple of HIIT programs at the beginning of lockdown, and have been making sure that I work out weekday mornings. If I start my day energetically it gives me positive energy to carry on doing things. So even when I don’t feel like it, I blast some music out and force myself to get up and train and I think it has saved my sanity massively. From speaking to other people though, my main discovery is that everyone needs to do whatever feels best for THEM. No pressure, no rules, just be nice to yourself and take it day by day. And – I knew this already – chocolate is good for the soul.

PHOTO: Credit: Alistair Veryard. Shot from an act Katharine created for Black Cat Cabaret.

Katharine Arnold Instagram

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Actor Richard Hope talks about coronavirus impact on his career.

Richard Hope, Actor

Richard is a multi-talented actor who has been a fixture on television since the 1970s. On the West End he was most recently seen in The Woman in Black.

Christopher: How has COVID-19 affected the year’s plans?

Richard: I was about to start rehearsals at the RSC for Blindness and Seeing in Stratford. All about a virus! The workshops had gone so well last year. It is now postponed. Hopefully to open before 2022 in some venue in the UK. Covid-19 has ended any possibility of live stage work as an ensemble. I enjoy the group creativity and miss that.

Christopher: Has it changed your outlook in any way?

Richard: This strange enforced experience has given time to not feel guilty about not doing anything. It is similar to a near death experience and anyone who has had that knows that you tend to live your life grateful for each day. The death of George Floyd has had more of an effect as to how I work with anyone around the world. I already knew there was little we can do until a vaccine arrives. I hope to carry on working… in more horror films and plays by Helen Edmundson. Maybe I should write.

Christopher: What are you looking forward to again most?

Richard: Sitting by the sea listening to the waves.

Christopher: Have you had any surprises with all this?

Richard: Surprises that my kids chat more to me and share their lives. I feel proud of them.

Christopher: Have you found any positives?

Richard: I have never done so much decorating and cleaning. I also want to continue to have more FaceTime chats with colleagues.

Christopher: What habits and things have worked best for your well being?

Richard: Take a day at a time. Take the virus seriously. Enjoy a cup of tea without worrying how quickly you have to drink it. Actually being able to watch friends in film and TV I missed first time round. The positive love from friends.

PHOTO: Credit: Tristram Kenton. Richard Hope playing Arthur Kipps in Woman in Black by Susan Hill adapted for the stage by Stephen Mallatratt. Directed by Robin Herford at Fortune Theatre, London.


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Dance artist Gareth Mole talks about the impact of Covid-19 on his career.

Gareth Mole, Dance Artist

Gareth has danced for some of the world’s leading choreographers and companies including the Royal Opera House, Renaud Wiser Company and Dante Or Die Theatre.

Christopher: How has coronavirus affected your plans?

Gareth: Covid has cancelled all contracts in 2020, spanning over four different shows. As disappointing this is, it has allowed ideas to expand and new plans to be created. My pathway hasn’t dried up, merely diverted. I respect all the (dance) work being created as a reaction to COVID-19 but I haven’t chosen to react artistically to it, rather to move forward with other plans. 

Christopher: Has it changed your outlook in any way?

Gareth: If anything, it has made me realise I don’t need to buy lunch pre-made everyday.

Christopher: What are you looking forward to again most?

Gareth: I am most looking forward to collaborating in a physical sense. I miss learning from others’ physical presence in a space and expanding my knowledge from what can be absorbed through a physical education. I can’t wait to get back into a rehearsal room so that I can continue to grow from the exposure of my surroundings. 

Christopher: Are there any particular challenges you have faced?

Gareth: Mentally how to deal with time.

Christopher: Has anything come from this so far that has surprised you?

Gareth: It has given me the space to understand and know that I am on the correct path in my career.

Christopher: Have you found any other silver linings in the down time?

Gareth: I’ve had the time to achieve in other areas creatively. I have always been interested in textiles and have always taken interest in the costume side of theatre. Pre-lockdown I had begun lessons in pattern cutting and making garments. Lockdown gave me the perfect reason to spend more time on this and as a result I have created a small brand where I am currently selling face masks and soon to advertise the garments I have also made. You can find this on Instagram at @made.by.mole

Christopher: Do you have any advice for others about how to cope with all this?

Gareth: Change is the key word. Whether that be subtle changes to the way we provide a service or large changes to our actual careers. We shouldn’t be afraid of it as it is one thing that is inevitable in our lives.

PHOTO: Credit: Eric Hong. Gareth dancing in ‘Lullaby’ by Panta Rei Danse Theatre.

Gareth Mole Instagram

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Impro performer Monica Gaga talks about Covid-19 and her career.

Monica Gaga, Improviser

Monica’s work has been seen, heard and staged on BBC Three, London Live, The Comedy Store, BBC Radio London, BBC History, Boulevard Theatre and more.

Christopher: How has coronavirus altered things for you?

Monica: At first I saw it as putting everything on pause, but I have come to see for me nothing has paused, life has continued but in a different way. So I have had to continue in a different way too. Improv in action.

Christopher: Has it changed what you’d like to focus on after the storm passes?

Monica: I have taken self care for granted over the years. My time at home has also refreshed my outlook on how I look after myself and what I need. Running a variety of online improv opportunities for others has reaffirmed my love for the power of how improv can be used as a vehicle for change.

Christopher: What are you looking forward to again most?

Monica: Being in the room with a live audience and connecting with those who do not thrive online.

Christopher: Have you had any surprises in all this?

Monica: This time has inspired me to connect with improvisers across the world and to see the community globally.

Christopher: Have you discovered things you want to carry on afterwards?

Monica: I want to continue to use online as a resource for growth.

Christopher: Any words of advice for other performing artists?

Monica: Take a break if you need it. Sleep. Be kind to yourself because it is a marathon not a sprint. Keep hydrated (leave water bottles around your home). Get up, wash and get ready for you. Try some new. Move, if I don’t move enough it affects my mood. Remember your offline life. Note what you are grateful for. Be silly and embrace joy.

PHOTO: Credit: Hoopla Impro. Monica on stage at Impro Hoopla.


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Opera singer Mattia Olivieri talks about the impact coronavirus has had on his career.

Mattia olivieri, Opera singer

Mattia is a baritone who has sung roles in theatres including the Royal Opera House and La Scala in Milan.

Christopher: In what ways has the Covid situation affected your work?

Mattia: I was working at La Scala in the production of Il Turco in Italia by Rossini when the pandemic exploded. The theatre suspended the shows the day after the first performance. Without a doubt from that moment on a strange period marked by the uncertainty of the future began.

Christopher: Has your perspective changed in any way?

Mattia: Despite the difficult times, I stay optimistic and trust that my future plans can happen. I’m increasingly convinced that the current situation with social distancing will push us to reinvent ourselves with new ideas and solutions.

Christopher: What do you miss most?

Mattia: I miss living in the theatre, from the director rehearsals to the music rehearsals and the unique atmosphere that is created during the creation of a show. All those things that until recently were my daily life.

Christopher: Have there been any positive surprises?

Mattia: The most wonderful surprise was that I found out the production of Don Giovanni at the Macerata Opera Festival (in July 2020), where I will interpret the lead role, (despite the pandemic measures) has been confirmed. I’m thrilled to be able to face this new challenge. Maybe there is some light at the end of the tunnel, I hope.

Christopher: I see online that this outdoor festival production will be carefully and flexibly staged working around the challenges currently presented by the pandemic. From where we are right now with Covid in the U.K., that is incredible news. Apart from that good news for you, have there been any particular challenges you’ve grappled with?

Mattia: A very difficult challenge has been the loss of Luca Targetti. He has been my manager since the beginning of my career and unfortunately died from coronavirus. He was a very important person in my life, to whom I owe so much. Luca helped me with his precious advice to become the man and the artist I am today.

Christopher: As a performer in these times, can you tell us about anything in particular that has worked to help keep your mental well-being?

Mattia: Planning my daily studies has been the best thing for my mental well-being. Resuming my studies every day helped me to maintain the balance between body and mind, and has made the long process of lockdown less heavy. And not being able to feed ourselves exclusively on art, I’ve also been improvising as ‘chef’ preparing different meals every day.

Photo: Credit: La Scala. Mattia plays Prosdocimo in Il Turco in Italia at La Scala.

Opera Base Profile: Mattia Olivieri

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Say hello and drop me a note in the comments below. Thanks for coming along with me and I hope to see you again after a few more turns in the trail.

© Christopher Howell 2020.

4 thoughts on “Performing Artists: Careers in Covid’s Wake”

  1. great idea inviting different performers. and most welcome to have asked also a young but already marvelous singer from Italy. Hope that everybody could be soon together again and not only online….

    1. It was interesting to hear everyone’s stories – all so different and full of character. And yes we all look forward to the day when we will be back in the same room… that’s not a Zoom room!

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