2020 may well go down in history as the year with the most thinkpieces written in its honour. The year of ‘un’ – unprecedented, uncertain, unbelievable. With states in lockdown, borders closed and day-to-day activities paused indefinitely, until very recently it’s been almost impossible to see the forest for trees; and for artists, to see a home for their work.
In response to the challenges facing Australia’s arts industry, the Sydney Opera House has recently announced New Work Now, a new initiative established during the coronavirus pandemic to provide meaningful support to local artists, arts workers and creatives at this critical time. The quickening pace of many theatres, concert halls and other public venues reopening in recent weeks has underlined the importance of providing opportunity, backing and space for creators.
Diverse and exciting local artists have been chosen for the initial line up of New Work Now commissions. Sydney Chamber Opera, the Indigenous World Art Orchestra, Frieda Lee and Branch Nebula are the first four, with more to come. Each have their own unique voice and vision – grappling with the year of ‘un’ in their practice and continuing to create despite it.
During this period, the realities of physical restrictions on performances, audience attendance, staff movements and theatre closures have posed significant challenges to artists staging a work in any classical sense. Choral concerts, large-scale blockbusters and full operatic productions were some of the earliest shut down by the pandemic, and may well be among the last to return to the stage. However, there are glimmers of hope, and indeed works that are uniquely suited to this new environment.