Everyman Artistic Director: We can't wait to open our doors again

As the Everyman prepares to put on its first production in over 18 months this Thursday, Artistic Director SOPHIE MOTLEY reflects on the difficult time suffered by the entertainment industry and her hopes for the future
Everyman Artistic Director: We can't wait to open our doors again

Sophie Motley, the artistic director at The Everyman, Cork. Picture: Denis Minihane.

WE’RE all waiting. Waiting with anticipation. To open our doors, to dust off the seats, to welcome audiences back, finally, into our houses for the first time in 18 months. And finally, we’ve been allowed to do it. In a way that makes people feel safe.

Every decision made by those who do not really understand what the arts industry has been through deeply affects many lives, as all decisions based on public health have over the past 18 months.

Allowing us to open the doors without financial risk is a cataclysmic change for the arts industry. But if you think we can immediately bounce back to full houses, large numbers of performers on stage, and financial survival, then you are wrong.

Let me tell you what this specifically means for our artists, our technicians, those who work in our buildings, and most importantly, our audiences.

The Everyman was, pre-covid, reliant on 94% of its income from the box office. The other 6% was from The Arts Council, who are our main funders, alongside Cork City Council who provide nearly 1% of funding. All this income goes to core support, paying artists, contractors, staff, volunteers, technicians, and enabling a 125 year old building to properly serve the communities that it lives within in Cork City.

Except now that 125 year old building has been closed. For 547 days in fact (when I wrote this). We now operate on very little ticket income. In fact, all our ticket income this year has gone straight into paying artists for two days to make our digital programme of work. Our wages have been covered by the EWSS, we’ve been given a chunk of cash support to employ artists, and we’re had to be nimble, whilst the building has been closed.

This means that we’ve lost some of our best artists, and we will never get them back. 

Artists train for an average of four years before they step into the professional world. A world where you can be excellent at your job, highly skilled, yet may not get a job because it’s not the right time, not the right zeitgeist, not the right… you get it. Its often down to someone else’s choice. Add a global pandemic, where your alternative sources of income are immediately decimated (bar work, teaching, playing music in hotel lobbies) and you understandably have artists who are terrified to come off the PUP for a two day gig, as it may be their only work this year.

We’ve also not been able to connect with our communities. Up until recently we could only run a workshop with a maximum of six people in a room, including the facilitator. Many young people are missing out on experiences which will shape who they are, how they make decisions, and how they interact with others.

The terrible shame of this is that amateur activities have rebounded first.

 The Arts is being claimed a luxury. I say to you – isn’t having a pint in a pub a luxury? Isn’t watching your team play a luxury? For every child that plays hurling, there is a child who wants to write a book or a play, who wants to play music, to dance and sing.

We have a building on MacCurtain Street in Cork which is not only desperate to open its doors, but it is ready. We have staff who have been planning for months, and we have detailed documentation and plans for how we are going to open the building. We are one of the lucky ones, because when we open at a larger capacity, we can seat 450 people with a seat between each pod, so that nobody is sitting next to a stranger, so that everybody feels safe.

Until recently, we could have an audience of 50 people in our 650 seat auditorium. This means that we will make €1250 per performance. This is not enough to pay our staff who are present in the building on the evening of the performance to keep the audience late, nor can we afford to pay the artists who are performing.

It is completely financially unviable, until we are able to have an audience of more then 200 people. And now, finally, we have a date and a time when this could be.

But we still have to build up slowly. The Everyman has 80 wonderful volunteers who haven’t worked a shift in 18 months. Staff need to be trained, vaccine certs need to be checked. Queuing systems need to be put into practices, rigorously checked before people come in the door. It usually takes a year to plan a play. 18 – 20 months really. We’re looking at planning and delivering a form of a Christmas show or panto, if we are able to, within three months. This is going to put immense pressure on an industry which is already on its knees, with those who are working overstretched and unable to deliver within the boundaries of safe mental health.

I know artists who have left. Who are now working in completely different industries. And they are the lucky ones, there are others who will fall apart when the government stop supporting them.

And now, slowly, slowly, we can start to bring joy to people’s lives again. To make people smile, laugh, cry, feel the power of live performance. To employ artists for more than two days, and enable them to look an audience in the eye.

We’ll do it safely. We’ll get to our knees, then in a year or so, we’ll be able to stand up again. Keep minding us. Keep supporting us.

For more see everymancork.com

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