2020 was shaping up to be one of the busiest and most exciting years yet for Cork theatre maker Angela Newman.
She set up Chattyboo Productions Theatre Company in 2007 and was best known, among other things, for The Adult Panto, which attracted rave reviews every year in An Spailpin Fanach.
“This year looked like it would be our busiest to date with a tour planned and we were in talks with one of the city’s biggest theatres to bring back the hugely successful original show Pubcrawl — The Musical,” Angela said.
“But then Covid hit and everything was stalled, and as guidelines were introduced, they were pushed back, postponed, then sadly cancelled.”
The mum of one had no option but to pivot her business, and fast, but says working in the arts means she’s good at thinking on her feet.
“I’ve never had what you would call a normal job,” she said, listing more than 25 years experience doing everything from teaching drama, dance and art and crafts across three continents, touring with a Shakespearean company as an actor, and being a Bunratty singer.
When the pandemic hit, she had a a house full of pre-ordered summer camp art supplies and a nine-year-old son Cian who was desperately missing his weekly art classes and struggling to deal with the uncertainty of Covid.
It didn’t take long for the pair to have a light-bulb moment and create Chattytwo Productions (a sister company, to Chattyboo and cleverly named by Cian).
This sees Angela send out art kits and host online classes for kids.
“The Chattytwo art kit includes everything a child needs for a 12 week term of classes, from the basics — scissors, glue, tape and markers — to pom poms, pipe cleaners, paper of every colour under the sun, and everything in between, all delivered directly to your door.
“The classes are suitable for ages five to 12 years as the students are shown varying degrees of difficulty for each project, making it the perfect activity for siblings of different age groups to do together.”
Angela has made it really easy for parents and guardians: “You choose the class day and time that suits your child and they attend online, in a safe, password-protected classroom, and as an added bonus, if you miss a class you can watch it back at a time that suits you.”
She feels strongly that creativity plays a vital role in a child’s development.
“Being creative helps children to communicate their feelings differently, which is more important now than ever.
As our children try to deal with the unrecognisable emotions that we are all experiencing during this crisis, we can and should use art in all its forms to help them navigate these emotions in a healthy, positive way.
“Asking a child what they have made or drawn helps to open up communication channels, will often give you a deeper understanding of how your child is feeling, and will help the child to develop communication skills in the long term.”
And Angela says it’s also lots of fun!
“Life can be stressful, 2020 has been enormously so for our children and we need to address that.
“Introducing your child to art is important, because it is about making mistakes, making a mess, expressing yourself and experimenting in a non-judgmental environment, and those that study it at any level as children, inevitably grow into interesting, capable and emotionally intelligent adults.”
While her new business is going really well, Angela can’t say she holds the same optimism for the sector as a whole.
“People who do not work in the arts, don’t realise that the arts was among the first industries to be affected by the Covid crisis and will be among the last to recover, if at all.
“With mass gatherings and the St Patrick’s Day festivities being cancelled before the lockdown, it meant that most performers were out of work before March 16 and therefore were not entitled to the Covid payment. This meant weeks of uncertainty and stress while they struggled on whatever savings they had. They continued to struggle through the summer while awaiting the phase that meant we could return to work, but it never came.
“Unfortunately, when the phase does finally happen and the theatres are allowed to reopen, with the maximum capacity remaining at 50 indoors and only where two metres social distancing is achievable, for the majority of venues it will not be financially viable to do so. Which means, in turn, that some independent arts workers and companies who are dependent on ticket sales will in all likelihood be out of business by Christmas if not before. It has been devastating for the industry and for those of us who work in it.”
Trying to stay positive, Angela says Chattytwo is one extra-curricular activity that is guaranteed to go ahead, regardless of what lies ahead this year.
“Classes can go ahead at a child minder’s or granny’s house with no drop offs and pick ups, making it the ultimate hassle free after- school activity!”
To sign-up or for more information go to www.chattytwo.com
As our children try to deal with the unrecognisable emotions that we are all experiencing during this crisis, we can and should use art in all its forms to help them.