One year of Corona – freelance artists in Covid times: planning, rescheduling, rescheduling

“Streaming against loneliness”: On March 16, 2020, the first day of that unexpected lockdown that largely brought public life to a standstill, the action theater sent out its first online program. Streaming is now part of everyday Corona, but a year ago the action theater was one of the first stages to establish a virtual repertoire. More than 62,000 visitors logged in worldwide, in productions such as “Pension Europe” and “Not a piece about Syria”. “We were flabbergasted,” says Aktionstheater director Martin Gruber in an interview with the “Wiener Zeitung”: “For a free group, that’s unbelievable audience numbers. That was good for us, especially in the first period of the lockdown, when we usually don’t could do. “

2020 was the year of rescheduling for Aktionstheater, one of the most innovative domestic theater formations: “We have tried to postpone what we can.” But not everything can be made up for. The prestigious invitation to the Acco theater festival in Israel was almost irretrievably lost. Still bitter for Gruber.

The actress and toxic dreams performer Anna Mendelssohn has also had a year full of planning uncertainty and cancellations: “In 2020, I was on stage a lot less than usual.” When the stages resumed operations at short notice in autumn 2020, the dates of the performances sometimes overlapped, so that Mendelssohn even had to cancel some things. “That was absurd.” Professionally, 2020 marked a turning point for the actress that, for once, had nothing to do with Corona: The 44-year-old opened a practice as a psychotherapist under supervision in autumn. “For me, 2020 wasn’t an exclusive year of horror. Yes, there were uncertainties and frustrating moments, but I also experienced a lot of solidarity and solidarity.”

“A crazy year”

“This year was crazy, in a double sense: It was crazy, and a lot has literally gone crazy, professionally as well as privately,” says Maria Spanring again. The actress is a founding member of the theater groups TWOF2 and Aliasrosalie, which have been primarily active in the children’s and youth theater sector since 2008. “In March 2020 we had to postpone a premiere in Bern to 2021,” says Spanring: “We still don’t know whether the project will take place.”

At least financially, Gruber, Mendelssohn and Spanring managed to make ends meet. The action theater receives an annual subsidy; project-related fees were paid. “We have submitted all the applications, we are waiting for things,” says Action Theater boss Gruber. “I gratefully took advantage of the support of the artists’ social insurance”, confesses Mendelssohn: “So 2020 was not a threat to my existence.” Maria Spanring doesn’t want to complain either: “Compared to other countries where artists are happy about three-digit subsidies, I got through the year surprisingly well, although my tax advisor asked more than once: ‘How do you get there with so little money out???”

However, the measures taken by cultural policy should not hide the fact that the Corona crisis revealed grievances that had been virulent long before: the precarious work and life situation of many artists in the independent scene, the lack of security and pension provision. “The independent scene has never been a field of work in which one could lead a secure existence,” says Mendelssohn: “With good reason, the scene has long been fighting for fair pay, for a minimum wage.”

Martin Gruber thinks that the time is finally ripe for a fundamental rethink in the direction of an unconditional basic income. Gruber has been running his action theater for over 30 years, Corona is not the first crisis he has survived with his troupe. “We can’t complain: the audience has remained loyal to us.”

In contrast, fears of the future sometimes make the young theater maker Maria Spanring sleep poorly: “How profound is the damage caused by Corona? Will we be able to pick up where we were before? Do we have to rethink everything? Will cultural institutions with which we work together have to survive the crisis? ” The future? More than uncertain. The outlook? “In every economic crisis, savings are first made in culture and education.”

Concern for her industry has awakened the commitment of the baroque oboist Ana Inés Feola: In 2020 she was largely condemned to idleness, she co-founded the IG Freie Musikschaffende (ISHR) in June. Among other things, the association has drawn up minimum fee recommendations and is committed to ensuring that compliance with these guide values ​​becomes a prerequisite for public subsidies. Of course, another topic is currently on the agenda, namely corona aid. Feola praises the well-established safety net for starving artists, but also locates gaps. “There are still many musicians who fall through this network, especially students and young graduates.”

She herself receives the grants that insured artists have been able to apply for since July via the SVS (social insurance for the self-employed) and does not want to complain about her financial situation. But the time is mentally difficult. “You have enough money to survive, but you sit at home for around a year. Sometimes you think about whether you should look for something else.”

Feola, who works for the Vienna Academy, the Bach Consort and German ensembles, among others, actually got very little to playing: between the lockdown in spring and that in autumn, the oboist only worked on a handful of projects. “I kept getting inquiries, but then again rejections or postponements – which I find even worse.” Why this? “If you cancel, you at least know where you are. Now I have a number of appointments in the calendar for 2022… Well, we’ll see.”

Doris Nicoletti was lucky: When the corona virus forced the concert halls to take a general break in March 2020, the flautist was at home with her baby. “That saved me a lot of stress, also because I got parental leave.” Anyone who thinks that the woodwind player has since left her instrument is wrong. From the summer onwards the order situation improved significantly, although Nicoletti works in the niche of contemporary music. As a permanent member of the ensembles Phace and Studio Dan, she “played a lot between August and November, I think we owe that not least to the initiative of our leaders.” Even with the fall lockdown beginning, Nicoletti was not doomed to mop up. The festival dates at Wien Modern took place via streaming, and when Studio Dan lost an appointment in the Elbphilharmonie, the concert hall gave the independent group the production of a short film as compensation. “I drove comparatively well,” sums up Nicoletti. The crisis is more likely to hit those free artists “who have to organize everything themselves” than the members of “ensembles who, thanks to annual funding, have a fixed budget and committed directors”.

Jazz pianist Julia Siedl.  - © Julia Siedl
Jazz pianist Julia Siedl. – © Julia Siedl

The beginning of the Corona crisis did not hit Julia Siedl with full force either: The jazz pianist was also on maternity leave. “I extended my maternity leave, was able to stay at home with my child and continued my master’s degree – I made the most of the time.” The support through the SVS is “well organized”, and Siedl has also received a composition commission from the municipality of Vienna. And: She used the time for self-reflection. “Before that I played around 150 concerts a year. Now I have had the opportunity to rearrange the priority of my various projects.”

After twelve months – with only a handful of streaming appointments in the calendar – the longing for the stage flares up in Siedl as well: “I notice how much I miss the live audience, how much the exchange with colleagues is missing and the inspiration that connects with it. Music is communication. ” So Siedl is hoping for the stages to be released soon. But she suspects that the restart is likely to be slow, especially for freelancers: “If you play often, more appointments are constantly added – it is an organic flow that the Corona crisis has stalled. It will probably only gradually come back after the restart Pick up speed. “

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