AS I am putting the finishing touches to the advance preparations for our forthcoming centenary celebration concert tour of the iconic Doris Day, I’m having a pinch-me moment of realisation that this is actually happening.
One of our theatre partners in Dublin told us that four days after they launched the show, 50% of the tickets had been sold… This same theatre had sold out the same show two years previously, months before the show date, and it fell victim to lockdown.
It feels totally surreal, as if someone pressed the pause button 24 months ago and has just unpressed it now again.
One would be forgiven for wondering if the last two years actually happened.
Restrictions have all been lifted, and life is returning to some semblance of normality. And, now that we are starting to believe it is here to stay, we can begin to make plans and embrace the joy of our freedom once more.
However, there is no denying we are all fundamentally changed.
If I’m completely honest, I genuinely struggled. How could we go from tight restrictions to none, in a matter of days and weeks? It’s not that I didn’t want this to be so. On the contrary. However, it just seemed such a bizarre and abrupt transition, that it made no sense to the logical side of my brain.
The first few months of lockdown challenged me too. Life felt unhinged, delicately balanced on a precipice of catastrophe. If we did one little thing wrong, it could all fall asunder. And that was so discombobulating.
The cancelling of a year’s worth of concerts was frustrating and so disappointing. I know so many who went to all our concerts in the Everyman, booking ahead to get their preferred seats. And I knew what this loss would mean to them.
I had been running on fumes for months, however, so secretly embraced the initial enforced and sudden halt with relief.
The mask-wearing made me fundamentally sad. That Irishness of connection, through smiles and chat, was stifled. People were understandably scared and stopped making eye contact. Chit chat was challenging through the muffled mask and, at times, it felt like it was not worth the effort.
I retreated to my bubble of normality: my family, chatting on whatsapp video with my friends (which was initially totally mortifying) and long country walks.
The day the lockdown was announced was the last ‘normal’ funeral I had sung at. And it was for my beloved Godmother Antoinette (Toniette) Blackshields. We were all devastated she was gone but we were so grateful that we were able to celebrate her with hugs and an outpouring of love before the notion of touching others was considered toxic!
Music is such a salve, and became even more important in those awful early days for bereaved families who were robbed of the physical and emotional support of extended family and friends. I was determined to keep going, to help in whatever small way I could. For those families, reduced to 25 or worse 10 participants at their loved one’s requiem mass, their grief and trauma was magnified a thousandfold.
The rules of engagement kept shifting and everyone was learning as they went along.
I was so grateful to be able to sing. It helped me too. To embrace some tenuous sort of familiarity fed my soul and kept me grounded.
A chance request opened up the opportunity to write feature articles for this newspaper and I suddenly found joy and comfort in the routine of interviewing and writing.
Keeping our two teenage boys motivated and connected wasn’t hard. They thoroughly loved the first lockdown. With time to explore culinary fare, we ate like kings every evening. We had family games after dinner and enjoyed each other’s company enormously.
As one lockdown followed another, however, the challenges to our patience and sanity become more pronounced.
I found myself thinking about life without masks the other day.
One of the most baffling weekends for me was to experience the freedom of sitting in the Aviva Stadium, alongside 80,000 largely unmasked passionate and vociferous supporters, at the spectacular Ireland v All Blacks game on the Saturday, and, the following day, have to perform our beautiful Vera Lynn show to a half-full theatre of seated and restrained patrons.
The arts seemed to have got an absolute hammering. It was truly hard to understand and accept, on occasions, when other industries appeared to be able to function away to some degree.
But I won’t complain. Over the two years, my fellow performers in the Everyman Sunday Songbook have been lucky enough to have dipped our toes multiple times into the performing pool. We couldn’t tour but, thanks to the joy of digital technology, we got the opportunity to embrace live streaming.
The gang and I adored being back together. We also learned how to present to camera. And, while I loved the idea of learning a new skill like this, there is no doubt that a large part of the enjoyment of a performance is the human connection and interaction. Being able to see the faces of the audiences is an essential element.
No amount of performing to an invisible audience via a camera can make up for the loss of that.
The magic of our relationship with the Everyman audience is indelibly etched on all of us, and made their absence in the cold, empty theatre even more poignant.
This is our 19th year of Songbooks in the Everyman and we have made so many friends and shared so many wonderful memories with them over the years.
Last May, I was so sad to be asked to sing at a funeral mass when I realised that it was for a gentleman who had sat with his wife in the centre of the front row for every single Songbook at the Everyman.
Last summer’s outdoors shows at Elizabeth Fort had people in tears. We had all acclimatised so much to our ‘new normal’ of separation that we had forgotten what it was like to sing, dance, and be able to enjoy beautiful music and art together.
And for our wonderful Songbook family, both on stage and off, the joy of being together and doing what we all so love, was beyond wonderful.
Social interaction is fundamental to our wellbeing and an integral part of the Irish psyche.
Now we are preparing to celebrate the centenary of the birth of the gorgeous Doris Day (April 3, 1922) and I can think of no better antidote to the past two years than her. Her music conveys such positive energy, spring-summer pastel-warmth and beauty, joy and optimism. And, she has a most fantastic life story to boot.
I can’t wait to see the faces of our fabulous audiences, to laugh heartily along with them, and to enjoy the hugs afterwards in the foyer. Doris’s iconic song Que Sera Sera seems to sum up where we are right now. What will be, will we.
The Everyman Sunday Songbook, Secret Love: the Story of Doris Day, stars Linda Kenny, Alf McCarthy, Damian Smith, Alan Carney and our fabulous Songbook Band. Written and Directed by Cathal MacCabe. Stage Manager Yvonne Cronin. Sunday, April 24 at 7.30pm. Tickets €25. 021-4501673, www.everymancork.com