The Chaos of Cancellations
Whilst France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Austria, areas of Spain and Portugal, all of England and many more face new restrictions in the wake of rising Covid-19 cases, the impact of these is felt particularly strongly in the arts and cultural sectors. We should and must recognise the efforts that have been made across all realms to ensure that theatres, concert halls and the ensembles themselves are 'Covid ready' in order to welcome back audiences and musicians in recent months. Some of these preparations have been so long in the making to ensure that one way systems are adhered to, hand sanitisers installed at every turn, that there's a robust, clear and staggered queuing system both for entering the buildings, waiting for toilets and exiting, etc.
Having spoken to the box offices of several European opera houses, it is clear that the hours spent adjusting the seating plans for each and every performance has been painstaking, and undertaken with the upmost care, effort and attention.
All of the preparations I have outlined above don't even scratch the surface of the countless hours of meetings and discussions that have taken place from artistic administration to stage management, to ensure that above all, their audiences and musicians are safe to return, in order to consume what is so precious to us all - music.
It is important to recognise such Herculean efforts because it shows just how strongly we all are wishing for the arts to return to our lives, so that we are nourished once again by the sounds of live music making. It is therefore heartbreaking to have to suffer the fresh restrictions that have been imposed in recent days.
With all this in mind, I wanted to give just a brief snapshot of what it has been like to try and coordinate a European tour for just one artist at Lewis Holland Artist Management over the last few months. I wish to stress that I am lucky enough to have been supported by many other colleagues at this time, both at the orchestra and at other management companies, in order to try and solve the problems at every turn. However it is, of course, more than a little heartbreaking to have invested most of your time to something that will no longer come to fruition.
The early difficulties began with finalising the travel for both artist and orchestra. The usual 3 or 4 direct flights a day to major European cities were few and far between. We secured whatever we could, and adjusted quickly to airlines changing their departure times - feeling lucky that we could still travel directly and without too many limitations. Unsurprisingly, the steady flow of flight cancellations began to come in. Sometimes they dripped in once a week, but occasionally flooded us a few times a day. Either way, it felt like a constant battle of adjustment and readjustment alongside a healthy dose of prayer, as in each instance, the knock on effects of rehearsal times had to adjust as well. Further difficulties arose when direct flights were no longer available once further cancellations took place. What would typically be a 2 hour flight, became a 7 hour journey with lengthy layovers. Some 1.5 hour flights became 1.5 hour flights to another city, plus trains. However, we kept going, and somehow continued to form plans that held together.
The next challenge came with different testing and quarantine requirements in each country. Whilst one country may require a negative Covid-19 test from each person (which had to be taken less than 48 hours prior to arrival), others required a test to take place at the airport upon arrival, followed by immediate quarantine until a negative test could be proven. Understandably, this meant that arrival dates had to be altered in order to accommodate the lag time in waiting for test results, and flights and accommodation had to change accordingly.
Next came the countries who imposed an early ban on public performances, which began first of all with the Czech Republic. This was the third date to fall from the tour, but regardless we made the necessary compensations and battled on. Then came the ban on intervals, so we discussed and coordinated a second programme which could effectively be used in those cities that had need for it. Then came the new curfew laws in Paris, which meant a change in performance time, and the knock on effect on rehearsal time and load in of the set and props. As ever, this was all discussed and changed as swiftly as possible.
Just as we could all feel as though we were getting close enough to the start of the tour that it might finally become a reality, we were hit by the notifications from France for the need of a full public lockdown, leaving just two remaining dates. In quick succession, both remaining promoters could no longer continue, and what had originally been a beautiful 5 date tour, had finally withered completely.
For the sake of brevity, I have chosen to exclude a significant number of other changes and alternations necessary for this tour, but I simply wished to give a small flavour of what everyone in the arts is contending with at the moment, in one way or another. For this particular tour, we had so many people pulling together as strongly as possible - constantly looking for new and creative solutions to our problems in order to keep the show on the road. Sadly however, matters came out of our hands and we had no other choice other than to admit defeat.
This tale is just one in the hundreds of thousands suffered in recent months, affecting agents, orchestra management, conductors, directors, soloists and orchestral musicians alike. What was, just a few months ago, a promising tour, with income and fulfilment for all, is now hours of empty practice, heartache and out of pocket expenses. I tell the story not for pity, but to try and raise awareness outside of our sector as to the fragility and futility of what we are all facing at the moment.
I wish to personally extend such sincere sympathies to those musicians and artists suffering right now from the cancellations and closures worldwide. We stand with you, and hold out hopes for a brighter future ahead. Happier and easier times will return.