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Next year’s Ten Days on the Island event is set to be both a post COVID-19 expression of our shared humanity and a celebration of Tasmanian artists, writes Lindy Hume:
IT seems like a very long time ago — mid-March — that I returned, nauseous with foreboding, to Burnie after a day in transit in Melbourne commiserating with colleagues while Australia’s arts industry cancelled, buckled and collapsed in real time.
By then there were just a few of us still rattling around Ten Days on the Island’s office in an empty building — everyone else was already working from home. It was surreal — just days before I had been revelling in the buzz of the final few glorious hours of the New Zealand and Adelaide festivals, flying out from Wellington with only moments to spare before the Kiwis closed their borders.
By the end of that week, unthinkably, so too would Tasmania. I wondered if I should get tested. Still no cases in the North-West back then, as far as we knew. Like everyone else in the world that week, sometimes we just sat there for a bit, bewildered, wondering what the hell to do.
And then we got back to work.
We had exactly one year to go before our festival in March 2021, and a full year’s worth of planning in place. It was clear that we needed to go back to the drawing board and reimagine a statewide biennial international arts festival as a purposeful and meaningful response to the apocalyptic events unfolding around us.
Our decision to reshape the forthcoming festival as a celebration of Tasmanian artists was a swift one — and that’s what we’ve been doing in the weeks and months since. From our home offices around the island we’ve been unpicking the previous plans — creating a new team with people who have only met onscreen — making this new festival happen and building a beautiful program.
All on Zoom.
Well, that’s the simple version. In reality, there’s a lot more to the business of creating any arts festival than meets the eye, and that’s as it should be. The public don’t need to know about contracts and budgets and schedules and logistics — they just want it to happen, to be a unifying experience, to hit the mark, to capture the zeitgeist, to be an adventure.
Occasionally, through smoke and mirrors and often on the smell of an oily rag, our job here at Ten Days on the Island is to create a banquet of transformational arts experiences for communities across Tasmania. We’ve been doing it for 20 years, thanks to the vision and brilliance of the artists we work with.
It’s just a lot more complicated this time. We can model all kinds of scenarios, but we cannot really know how our artists and audiences will respond in March next year. We don’t know if they’ll be allowed to sit next to each other in theatres, if dancers’ sweaty bodies can touch in rehearsal, if musicians can play to full rooms, if actors can share dressing rooms, if choirs can sing together, if strangers will want to mingle in foyers.
What we do know is that there is no shortage of creativity in this lockdown period. Strange as it is, given the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the arts industry, there’s no question that a lot of amazing art will be made in 2020. Under the dull surface of lockdown stasis, the creative lives of artists are humming hives of activity, and thousands of extraordinary little microcosms are incredibly focused and productive right now.
The ideas that are emerging are not, I notice, just business as usual. Many indicate a shift in mindset; a more generous consideration of what people might need right now, greater concern for the audience experience. Artists’ proposals have invited the community to share their feelings with us.
Others incorporate flexibility in the spatial relationship between the performers and audiences, or creative seating options so that audiences can be physically distant from each other if they need to be.
We’re exploring fun ways of doing socially-distant outdoor performances, and developing programs for multiple shorter performances in smaller venues where capacity is limited, so people can experience shows in shifts.
In a refreshing departure from the solipsistic selfie culture, digital narcissism and bizarre toilet-roll hoarding that peaked as COVID-19 hit, Tasmanian artists are animating the principle that this moment is not about us as individuals — it’s about us as a community. Perhaps this period of enforced reflection, of unexpectedly encountering each other’s kids and pets and homes onscreen in Zoom meetings, seeing each other in our comfort clothes and kitchens, reading more or walking for hours or just standing still, taking in the vista and breathing for a minute has made us a little less crazy.
Like many artists, I’ve learnt in lockdown that the world goes on if you can’t catch a plane to your next gig.
Over the past few weeks I’ve witnessed examples of generosity of spirit and lateral thinking, creative resourcefulness, agility and ingenuity. I’ve been delighted and surprised by the imaginative leaps that are possible when the rules of society are suddenly rearranged. I had forgotten how walking sparks creative thought. Now I walk for hours, discovering Tasmania via pathways around the coast and through the bush that I never knew were there.
I’ve happened on grand panoramas and tiny microcosms of immense beauty. I’ve had rich conversations with wonderful people, friends and colleagues, riffing on the meaning of life as we walk. I’ve listened to the birds. I’ve felt my thinking become clearer and my mind get thirstier for meaningful exchange, for genuine expressions of our shared humanity, for moments of intimacy with an artist’s ideas.
As lockdown lifts, these are the arts experiences I want to share in Ten Days on the Island 2021. It won’t be business as usual.
Lindy Hume is artistic director of Ten Days on the Island
Published in The Mercury on Wednesday 10 June 2020