Performing arts sector fights to stay afloat despite Covid-19 challenges

Edward Mercieca

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It has been just over one year since Malta had its first case of Covid-19 and the world as we knew it ground to a halt in 2020. This situation has had a drastic impact on everyone’s lives, including those working within the performing arts sector. The Malta Independent spoke to Edward Mercieca to understand what the past year has been like.

“The biggest challenge we faced when it comes to running a performing arts school was to keep the company together and remain afloat,” Mercieca said.

Mercieca has contributed to the local theatre scene over the past 30 years and is the Managing Director of FM Theatre Productions as well as the Senior Principle of the performing arts school known as Stagecoach.

Asked about the past year, without hesitation, Mercieca said “It hasn’t been good at all.”

From the 13March 2020 up to October of the same year, everything was closed down, thus there was no stagecoach, no theatre productions taking place and there was no income coming in for the company, he explained.

Mercieca said: “We employ seven full-timers as well as a number of part-time teachers. During this unprecedented situation, we made sure to carry on with our full-time teachers and made no one redundant, but this was all money coming out from the company.”

Once the Covid-19 situation had calmed down, Stagecoach was once again accepting hundreds of students, following all health protocals and guidelines. “This was another situation which proved to be quite challenging for teachers and students, but at least there was the possibility of giving students the chance to interact and have some fun in the safest possible way.”

“We have limited our classes to 12 people and created bubbles. During dance, drama and music, students and teachers are to be masked and everyone should be responsible. The main challenge is to keep the situation under control if someone tests positive for the virus,” Mercieca said.

Apart from the physical activities, Mercieca highlighted that a number of students are following Stagecoach activities through online means as they do not feel as comfortable to attend physically.

Mercieca highlighted that, with regards to the performing arts sector, not much could have been done differently as the theatre is not allowed to open at the moment. However, he slammed the authorities for opening up Malta to quickly and for allowing mass gatherings to take place during a time when the number of infections was relatively low, as this only led to our second wave.

From the theatre side of things, the only people who are doing something right now are the people at the Manoel theatre, who are not even renting the theatre out but are just doing in-house productions, he said.

With regards to future seasonal choices within the theatre scene, Mercieca expressed his belief that the pandemic won’t affect the content of what will be produced, as seasonal choice refers to the seasonality in theatre which is usually simply related to the seasons.

He believes that, once theatre arenas eventually open their doors to the public once again, there will be some protocols that will remain in place, such as the wearing of masks.

Mercieca added that he believes the wearing of masks will remain in force, even for a couple of years. “I don’t think it is a bad thing. The important thing about getting back to normality is that we would not have a 500-seater like the Manoel theatre, which will only seat 80 people because of protocols. This does not make financial sense and any private entrepreneur will certainly not risk doing something like that or something under those conditions.”

The theatre scene not only provides people with entertainment but helps children develop into confident, hardworking and emphathetic individuals when participating, he said.

Mercieca highlighted that the pandemic has led children to become so needy for some type of activity that the amount of absenteeism this year is far less than previous years.

“Having the possibility of attending a school like Stagecoach and being able to dance, sing, act and interact with their peers gives children something better to do other than online learning or restrictive movement,” he said. 

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