It does still seem a bit too soon to be saying this after the last eighteen months, but for all the world, it looks a little bit like the light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel might be expanding.
Local venues are making announcements for the end of the year and 2022, while the likes of Cork Midsummer Festival are cautiously venturing into in-person events in public spaces. Pending another large-scale spike in numbers, a very gradual and very hopeful shift into whatever comes next for Cork arts seems to be the order of the day.
It’s in this same spirit that twelve artists and facilitators, doing their Masters in Arts Management and Creative Producing at UCC, have coalesced to create a once-off festival taking in a number of artforms, from music and dance to storytelling and film.
Festival producer Heather McGrath talks about how the event has come together:
“It was a surprise to us, that the (class) was fully female, all 12 women, and it was a really interesting atmosphere. Because we're all extremely creative, and we come from extremely diverse backgrounds - traditional music, opera and classical; fashion; storytelling; youth theatre; dance.
“We also are very international. Katerina (Mullalli, event producer) is from Greece, and we have two American students as well. Using all of those backgrounds to create the festival was really exciting, because it gave us a platform to reach everyone, and (we feel) we have a really broad audience because of that.”
Mullalli concurs, joining the conversation via Zoom: “There was a huge dynamic in this group, and we actually felt that. So we decided to take that as a big advantage for us, and actually use it for showing to the rest of the world what a group like that can do.”
It’s an ambitious bill of fare, ranging from free online events like Stories from Cork, an interactive display of storytelling via email and Whatsapp, and virtual multimedia fashion show Collision; to ticketed music programmes like the Stellar Sessions and A Few Tunes series, encompassing emerging pop, blues, folk and trad, including Cork singer-songwriter Emmo, Wexford duo Basciville, and Mayo outfit Billow Wood.
Mulalli discusses the process of reaching out to artists and creators in the current circumstances, and bandying ideas around for online presentation.
“I think almost all of our artists were positive from the very beginning. People are looking forward to actually expressing themselves through their individual (streaming presentations).
“It was a bit of a stressful procedure for us, until we confirmed all of our artists, and actually made sure that everyone can do this, or the risk of something happening last-minute because of COVID or because of any other issue that might occur.
“So it was great for us, to be able to schedule and do all the programming for most of our ideas, because all of our ideas came from us, and haven't changed a lot (because of external circumstances).”
In any other context, Out of Orbit would be a great addition to a city renowned for its arts scene and live events. As it stands, it’s shaping up to be a huge undertaking to run online, especially with the people involved having never met in real life thanks to the crisis.
That fact alone naturally presents challenges in communication and collaboration for the team, before you get to the process of pre-recording presentations from artists, or staging events safely for live presentation.
“In terms of Covid, we had to think about who we booked, as well,” says McGrath.
“One of the bands is Basciville, a duo from Wexford who are brothers. Because they're in a bubble together, they were able to record, and we were compliant with Covid restrictions. A lot of the disadvantages were to do with compliance and restrictions, and stuff like that.
“People being a part of it as well, it's kind-of been a struggle in order to get things done in a certain timeline.”
“The fact that we communicated together (online) - like we always share our opinions, and have this huge communication - has been a big challenge, because things would move faster if we were all in person,” adds Mullalli.
Because of the times in which this festival is being presented, there’s a lot to be said for reflection on our relationship with the arts, whether it’s been changed by circumstance, or simply subject to a heightened awareness and appreciation for how we interface with music, visuals, and design on a daily basis.
With this in mind, now seems like a good time to present a festival in this way, a seeming round up of artforms to explore in different ways.
“If we’d had the opportunity to produce an actual festival, that would have been absolutely amazing, and it's obviously a dream of ours - that's why we're doing this,” says McGrath.
“But to have the opportunity to do it virtually - it's beneficial because we're going into a time when live streams and digital are going to be bigger than they were before. There's something to be said for producing a festival from home, with your artists from home. There's an intimacy that has emerged - there's just something so incredible in being able to enjoy (events) in the comfort of your own safe space.
“And I think that's something that I will definitely take forward into my career, because I've loved watching... like, I could be watching a concert in Australia, and I'd never have had that opportunity before. So we also have a broader reach, and it's incredible to have that grasp.”
As all eyes begin to train themselves on the light at the end of the aforementioned tunnel, the local arts community has had a lot to think about regarding how we as a city are effectively going to rebuild, not only in a urban space emerging from a pandemic, but also contending with the encroachment of development and resultant changes in the venue landscape.
It’s a lot to take on, especially for the Out of Orbit team, many of whom are entering the events sphere in earnest, for the first time, but a sense of optimism underpins their thoughts on what next for the city.
“I’d like every community in Cork to get involved with the arts,” Mullalli says.
“Because creating something, all together, no matter the age or the differences that we have, is amazing. And we need our thoughts and ideas to bring more hope for the future, and the ability to stay connected, especially after what we have been through, after so many months of restrictions and lockdowns.”
Out of Orbit Festival happens online, from May 13th to 16th. For more information, links and tickets to applicable events, go to www.ucc.ie/outoforbit.
- Stories from Cork - digital storytelling - all weekend
Stories from Cork is a storytelling project that will feature stories about silver linings and humor from the lives of Cork community members - submitted via WhatsApp voice memos and email, and available to view and listen to on the festival’s website.
- The Show Must Go On - musical theatre podcast - Friday 14th to Sunday 16th, 12pm
The Show Must Go On is a once-off podcast series, comprising three episodes, centred around three different musical theatre discussions. This conversation series invites you to hear from some of the most successful, highly-respected and admired industry professionals in the musical theatre world today.
Guests include: Ciaran Bermingham, David Hayes, Deirdre Collins, Eibhlín Gleeson, Killian Donnelly, Linda Fitzgerald, Trevor Ryan.
- Theatre for Early Years - panel discussion - Friday 14th, 11am
A live panel discussion which showcases and explores Theatre for Early Years (TEY) in Ireland. The panel will feature prominent Irish practitioners of TEY, including artists, directors and programmers. The event is open to all, and will provide an opportunity for artists who are interested in the field to learn more about creating work for babies and toddlers.
Panellists include: Aisling O'Gorman, Fiona Kelleher, George Hanover, Lali Morris.
- Anam Soma - music/culture project - Saturday 15th, 6pm
Anam Soma is an arts event inspired by Irish culture’s uniqueness, its deep roots in traditional music, and its influence on the community. This is an invitation to those who wish to explore a contemporary approach to traditional music, and experience the main ethnomusicological elements of trad.
Simone Mongelli leads the Guys and Dolls Quartet in a body-percussion performance.
- A Few Tunes - trad nua - Thursday 13th to Saturday 15th, 7pm
A Few Tunes is a music event, showcasing a trio of unique insights into traditional Irish music and its relationship today with its contemporary cultural counterparts. Over three consecutive nights, Out of Orbit welcomes you to indulge in a mini-series of at-home gigs.
Performing: Dermot Byrne; Tadhg Ó Meachair & Joanna Hyde; Billow Wood.