When arts power couple Marta Dusseldorp and Ben Winspear started Archipelago Productions last year, a global pandemic was not among the potential hurdles they considered.
The curtain was scheduled to go up on their first production The Bleeding Tree in the newly-built Hedberg Studio Theatre in Hobart when COVID-19 hit, and it had to be suspended.
“It was a year to organise and make sure we had some kind of funding sponsorship. That all went,” Dusseldorp said.
“We decided we’d continue with some Zoom rehearsals, which went remarkably well actually.”
The production has now moved to socially-distanced, in-person rehearsals this week, but there’s still no firm date on when the cast will be able to raise the curtain.
“We’re just slowly coming back,” she said.
It’s among the big-ticket productions that have been on hold in Hobart during the crisis.
The team behind the Rocky Horror Show have announced the $1 million production has been rescheduled from spring this year, to October 2021.
Producer and Tasmanian theatre stalwart John X said the size and nature of the show left them with no other choice.
“Ticket sales went berserk just before COVID-19 hit,” he said.
“With social distancing, we just can’t meet the demand for ticket sales. We need social distancing to be completely lifted.”
He said a $1 million production of Rocky Horror would not have been worth staging with social-distancing measures in force.
“That kills any kind of atmosphere, and you need that in Rocky Horror,” John X said.
“In other states a show like this would be done in an 1800 to 2000-seat theatre.
“We’ve got 700 seats only [at the Theatre Royal] and we really need to fill [all of them] to meet the budget.
“Getting as far away from this pandemic as we can when we put this show on is good.”
Those with tickets will be able to use them for the same date in 2021.
“Everyone will be personally contacted and everyone can do what they want,” he said.
“They can have a refund, they can keep their tickets, they can change their tickets, or they can have more tickets.
“We’ve been able to actually have extra shows as well, so there’s a lot more scope.”
Theatre Royal marketing and business development producer Tom Schoon said they’d been preparing to reopen since May.
“At the moment, because of social restrictions and social distancing, we can’t really be open. It’s not a financially viable option,” he said.
“Health and safety is the No.1 priority, making sure the audience is safe but also the artists themselves as well, and obviously the staff.
“We’ve had to reschedule a lot of shows, but not many shows have had to cancel, which is such good news.”
Government urged to understand the impact of culture
At Archipelago Productions, like so many creative companies, flexibility has been critical during the pandemic.
“We applied to adapt the play into a digital version, we don’t want to give it away, so then we decided to make it into more of a promo clip,” Dusseldorp said.
The production company is also adapting a book by Tasmanian author Favel Parrett into a film.
“It wasn’t enough money to make proper film, so in a sense we’re making it more experimental and artistic,” Dusseldorp said.
“We’ve been really pushed into areas we’re not that comfortable sitting, so I think there’s a real opportunity here for artists.
“We’ve always wanted to be quite lithe, so this has added a nice string to our bow so we will see how that goes.”
But she said if small production companies like theirs are to get back on stage they will need more government assistance.
That begins with being treated the same as other industries.
“A community without theatre and art and culture is lessened,” she said.
“I would love to say we could put on the play, and let the amount of people who are allowed in to come in, but then we can’t afford it.
“Government really needs to understand how important stories are for people, for their identity, for their mental health and especially for recovery.
“We really need much more stimulus and much more understanding of the impact that culture has on business, education and see it as essential part of being alive.”