With the easing of COVID-related restrictions, the theater arts industry in Peel Region has slowly started to thrive again after an undeniably difficult time.
The Mandurah Performing Arts Center (MANPAC) team recently celebrated a successful season of Mama Mia! musical comedy where they were able to allow a full-capacity audience for the first time since the restrictions were introduced.
After several months of canceling interstate and international acts, shrinking audience sizes, and watching COVID spread through performers and crew, the crew expressed relief at being able to open the doors.
MANPAC’s Tony Edwards and Alison Pinder told the To post The impact of COVID has been devastating on the arts, but community support and a tight-knit team have seen them through the worst.
“The feeling is quite devastating because obviously we’re putting a lot of effort into supporting artists and through no fault of their own they can’t come,” Ms Pinder said.
“That means they don’t get paid, we don’t get paid, our audience doesn’t see and experience this entertainment – there are no winners.”
In addition to acts needing to be canceled or postponed, the center has seen a lot of pushback with vaccination mandates and capacity limits from the public.
“We weren’t allowing people into the building without showing their vaccination certificates and people were getting very angry.
“There was nothing we could do, it was not our decision and it was for their safety and that of everyone else.”
“It was a bit coming from all angles, people were disappointed that the shows they had been waiting for a long time weren’t suddenly happening, the dates were changing – it was quite difficult,” Mr Edwards added.
As far as the financial hits go, the team was forced to cut to zero to keep things afloat.
We are so happy to be open to the public again. The whole atmosphere has changed, people are so happy to be out.
“We don’t have as many people working here as we used to, that’s for sure,” Ms Pinder said.
“We’re on a very small team now, so in terms of getting COVID, our techs, for example, are still wearing masks and being very protective. If they fall, the shows won’t go on.”
Mr Edwards said it was the MANPAC team and the support they had that kept them positive during difficult times.
“Certainly the impact was exhausting, but the support of the team was crucial to get us through.”
The couple added that the support of the people of Mandurah had also contributed to the strength of the centre, and now that the doors were open they were eager to provide entertainment.
Ms Pinder said the experience had even made the center more sustainable and the team was able to support even more local acts.
But the team isn’t entirely out of the woods, with lingering impacts from COVID such as affected audience members and performers still likely to catch it.
However, the center will continue to adapt, with more performances being moved to its larger spaces and the team taking additional sanitary measures.
“We are so happy to be open to the public again. The whole atmosphere has changed, people are so happy to be out,” Ms Pinder said.
“There are definitely positives even though the last few years have been horrible – people just want to get out and forget about their problems for a while by having a good time and seeing a show,” Mr Edwards said.
Carole Dhu, a leading director in the Mandurah and Murray regions, said she and her cast have also felt the effects of COVID – having to reschedule, pivot and even cancel shows over the past two years.
Leading a youth theater company with 29 children, Ms Dhu could only rehearse with 19 people in her rehearsal room with the 4m distance rule.
“When that happens we can’t rehearse, so I have to find bigger venues to rent or cancel classes, which is a financial blow for a small business that relies on regular fees to fund shows,” said she declared.
Ms Dhu had to shut down her company Primadonna Productions for four months during the first major lockdown in March 2020, leading to financial setbacks and disappointed artists.
On Ms. Dhu’s current youth show, she said that almost every child has had an isolated turn as a close contact.
“It’s so frustrating, but there’s nothing you can do – just persevere and use it as a resilience-building exercise for me and the kids.”
Despite all the chaos, disappointment and uncertainty in recent years, Ms Dhu said the arts were more important than ever.
“Although the importance of the arts seems to be considered by society as a whole much less than sport, it is essential as a community builder for anyone who does not play sport – it is their sport”, a- she declared.
“The creative outlet for those involved is immeasurable – it’s such a ‘sane’ activity, because you’re building something positive, and what it offers to so many in the local community is an affordable experience. and uplifting.
“I don’t think anything can ever totally stifle the creative spirit, humans are storytellers, and it’s wonderful to have something uplifting to focus on when the daily routine is a bit more complex than usual.”