'Normal People' by Geinor Styles

This week's guest blogger is Theatr na nÓg's Artistic Director Geinor Styles. Here she reflects on the crisis the Arts industry in Wales has faced during the Coronavirus crisis along with the personal turmoil workers within the sector are experiencing during this time. 

NORMAL PEOPLE by Geinor Styles

In a recent zoom call with friends, the conversation begins with us checking in on each other, especially those who are working on the frontline. Half of us work in the arts and media and half in the NHS.

The doctors and nurses in our group describe situations where they are borrowing safety goggles from chemistry departments of high schools and PPE gowns collected from motorway services on the M4. It is shocking.

"I don't understand, why don't they just walk out, if they have no protective gear," I demand petulantly.

Then one of the doctors points out to me they wouldn't dream of tools down. "It is their chosen profession, and they have a passion for it. For caring, it is in their DNA." The conversation meanders from the day-to-day struggles on to the fear of an inevitable second spike. The conversation almost halts as we all silently digest that inevitability.

Normal people are working in abnormal times.

Us, the artists keep quiet. It doesn't feel appropriate to highlight our woes.

A moment from 'Eye of The Storm' - one of the many touring productions by Theatr na nÓg

Even though, over the last few weeks, we have seen the demise of our industry, our passion. The uncertainty of what will remain of theatre consumes us. Images of auditoria with every third seat taken out, look like a derelict venue on its way to being converted into a Weatherspoons Pub.

During this time, as artistic director of a publically-funded company, Theatr na nÓg, I have focused our current funding on planning for all eventualities. Will we be able to perform any live productions under social distancing rules?

How do we accommodate the 5,000 children booked to see our autumn show in The Dylan Thomas in Swansea safely?

What theatres will be able to take our next tour? When will theatres reopen?

All this while I devise a new artistic plan to adapt productions to go online. However, the thing that sharpens our focus most is the freelance actors, designers, technicians and writers. They now find themselves with no livelihood.

Recent conversations with people who work in the industry are laced with desperation and guilt. Desperate because they feel they won't have a purpose if they can't create. Guilt for being so indulgent, in a time when we are seeing nurses and doctors putting their own lives in danger to keep people alive.

Then those artists catch themselves and say, "Well, I shouldn't grumble, it's not as if we are saving lives."

No, we are not.

Back to the zoom call and someone breaks the mood and pipes up "Have you seen Normal People?" "Yes, loved it!" but warns not to watch it with your kids. "Yes, wasn't the actors amazing, what great performances." The conversation zips along, praising a great HBO drama series about Orthodox Jews in New York or the succession of a corrupt media mogul. Someone mentions the recent online rendition of "Here Comes the Sun", by BBC National Orchestra. How moving it was and how lucky we are to have such great talent on our very doorstep.

Our normal lives suspended as we immerse ourselves in art.

We are not saving lives. No, but making lives worth living.

As a child, I remember being haunted by The Red Shoes. Firstly by the fairy story and then the film. Moira Shearer's character can't stop dancing. As Michel Powell, the co-director of that famous film explained the story is "about dying for art, that art is worth dying for."

It was her calling, and she couldn't help it. It was in her DNA.

But it's in all of us. We can find solace in art, any art and we can all participate in some shape or form.

Whether it's writing a book; playing an instrument; painting a picture; knitting; sewing, baking. All are creative art forms that have the power to keep us alive. It can be the very air that they breathe. It is what makes us human. We can't help it.

It is in our DNA.

Yes, some may work in a call centre, or even become midwives or dental technicians. Still, that creative gene within them will keep them going. But where can we go to practice this art, to share it with others beyond the small screen? Each week we hear the news of the great theatre institutions in England on the brink of closure. Some are already in administration and making their staff redundant.

Like we so often do, Wales will follow.

Or will we?

Ammanford Miner's theatre is one of the many institutes that "grew from an altruistic desire for everyone to have access to art, literature, music."

Here in Wales, there is a distinct difference, many of our "institutions" grew from the community, the Welfare Halls, the Miners Institutes grew from an altruistic desire for everyone to have access to art, literature, music. Contributed by the workers of those villages and small towns dotted all around Wales. The Stiwt, Blackwood Miners, The Welfare Hall Ystradgynlais. The list goes on and on, and when I joined Theatre West Glamorgan in 1990, as a stage manager that was our touring circuit and it still exists to this day.

But for how long?

Will we follow England and see these centres of culture die on the vine or will we plough our own furrow and invest and reevaluate these institutions not only as places of entertainment but centres for the community to congregate once more. To be beacons of joy and havens of solace, as we come to terms with our new "normal".

I see this as an opportunity for change. Not negate the incredible work that so many Welsh arts organisations have achieved for decades on minimal resources, but to build on the commitment and our diverse and distinct culture and history. I believe very strongly that the arts will be the solution by collaborating and co-creating, bringing value to peoples lives.

After all, we are merely normal people with a passion and with livelihoods that secure the necessities of life.


Theatr na nÓg, rooted in the valleys of South Wales, has been a revenue funded client of the arts council for nigh on 40 years. Its remit is to produce professional theatre for audiences in Wales and beyond in both Welsh and English.


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