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Play on, play on

W ith the recent easing of lockdown measures, across a number of sectors, including theatres, music and performance spaces. As one of the first sectors to close in March, and the last to be able to open, what does this mean for the city’s numerous cultural venues…

Beloved Southsea landmark The Wedgewood Rooms is one such venue, its doors remaining closed since late March.

‘Our business revolves around the most dangerous things anyone can do in this pandemic,’ says Geoff Priestley, general manager. ‘Unlike pubs we can’t open on small numbers. We need to be 50-66% full just to break even.’

Scott Ramsay

Even as lockdown lifts, Scott Ramsay, director of Creative Harbour, notes that the public might not be ready to return. 

‘Only a third of the British public are happy to attend events; another third might be persuaded depending on a range of factors, but the rest won’t engage until a vaccine is found.’

It could be some time before the thriving entertainment scene returns, but that doesn’t mean an end to our local events industry – far from it. The lockdown has shown that if there’s one word to describe Southsea creatives, it’s ‘resilient’.

Tash Hills

Earlier this year, Jazz songstress Tash Hills was in studios recording new original music, but lockdown forced a change in her plans.

‘It was a choice,’ says Tash, ‘Either sit there and do nothing, or grab the opportunity to make the best of it.’

So, with the help of her partner Ashley, Tash recorded and produced her new single Stepping On Out – entirely remotely. The process took three months, but her hard 

work paid off: Tash’s single was recently featured on BBC Introducing. Now, Tash embraces remote working: ‘There’s always more to learn’.

Production company Trash Arts have also been embracing the “new normal”, finding innovative ways to make films and host events.

Sam Mason Bell

‘We had to adapt,’ says Trash Arts filmmaker Sam Mason Bell, ‘Now we have one actor and a skeleton crew, and we film outside to maintain social distance.’ 

Their creativity is working, as Sam and his team just wrapped on the upcoming horror film Senseless.

Omar Mahmood Lagares

Trash Arts have also moved their open mic night, Open Ya Mouth, from Albert Road to Facebook live. Its host, Omar Mahmood Lagares, is finding a way to recreate the supportive, encouraging energy of Open Ya Mouth remotely. 

‘We take video submissions, and we host a Facebook livestream for everyone to share their wonderful works’, says Omar.  

Trash Arts may be adapting, but Sam admits the pandemic has had a significant effect on his work. ‘With minimal actors and crew you lose the normality of closeness,’ says Sam, ‘We’ve lost that communal vibe.’   

Geoff Priestley shares a similar sentiment on the Wedge: ‘I miss the buzz. That moment when the crowd roars when a band finishes their first song. The emotion is so strong you can almost touch it.’

For Tash, losing her live performances was particularly difficult. ‘It’s like going to church; it’s like therapy. When I perform, my pent-up frustrations just disappear. I miss being able to sing away the blues.’

At the time of writing, the government has announced a £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund to save as many of the UKs cultural and heritage assets as possible, some of which is targeted towards performance venues…

‘Given the return on investment and number of jobs involved, the government won’t be able to save everything,’ says Scott Ramsay, ‘Monthly losses will outstrip the recovery fund when the furlough scheme ends.’

‘Live events will continue,’ says Scott, ‘But now our challenge will be to make sure cultural experiences can include everyone – so that no one is left behind.’

It is more important now than ever to support local venues and artists. 

See Tash Hills on Facebook. Buy merchandise from The Wedge on their website, or donate via their crowdfunding page.

See Trash Arts’ website and Open Ya Mouth on Facebook

Photos by Paul Windsor, who specialises in music/band photography. Paul has been working on a new collection of photos, see Facebook Portsmouth Artists in Lockdown

By Rosie Wiggins

Posted in: Art & Culture, Articles