By Chelsea Adams
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Why The Arts Are Not a Glorified Hobby!
To say that performance, in general, has changed is the understatement of the year. Let alone all the other challenges artists face on a daily basis without a pandemic; the current set of circumstances simply leave the original difficulties to be desired. After the influx of challenge and modification created by a global pandemic it's safe to say the arts community got the short straw, and all the while many of those with newspaper qualified 'essential occupations' continue to share the view that we shouldn't have chosen a non-viable career path.
Correction: You can't call the arts a non-viable career path and then spend all of your free time consuming Art.
Simply put the arts are not a glorified hobby!
With all that being said, this week I interviewed two of my fellow university graduates Sarah Frencham and Sol Summers, who currently run a Monthly Musical Show called Mixed Bag at Club Voltaire. A performing venue for emerging talent run by Lindsay Saddington founder and acting teacher, this intimate bar and 50 seat theatre located in Raglan St laneway of the arts precinct has been providing alternative, eccentric and unique live performances since 2003. Allowing independent theatre companies on the verge of professionalism to develop, host workshops and execute their craft in front of live audiences in a supportive environment. The venue has fostered community arts engagement that only continues to grow and strengthen. Featuring comedy, cabaret, drag and all-round vaudevillian variety, the performances are truly a diverse collection of the bustling artistic life and the city of Melbourne.
The monthly show, Mixed Bag, has been a wonderful first performance opportunity for Sarah and Sol to share the stage with others like themselves and provide opportunities to those who wish to perform also. Completing university together is one thing but running an artistic endeavour like this is exciting however is also another kettle of fish entirely, especially when you throw in a global pandemic. In their interview, we discussed working and writing to a deadline, their newly found processes and how the lockdown has changed their current circumstances as artists. There is also the ever-growing conversation about inspiration and how throughout this time renewed and funny content can wane simply for the fact that everyone has more time to view it and is living in a similar scenario. Finding a point of difference seems to be the new challenge during these "unprecedented times".
Music can be a driving force, and for both Sarah and Sol specifically musical theatre and storytelling through song is a passion that they share. They describe their style as one that is fresh. Being new to the industry they are still trying to find their feet but also not trying to be too fancy while having a laugh along the way. For them, music, underscoring and writing lyrics are most enjoyable when they begin in a more abstract way; taking the most familiar things and expanding them into fantastical, frenetic and fun songs that take the audience on a journey that is relatable but may not have been expressed in such a way before. This provides a new point of view for the content often leading to witty jokes about collective experiences that are usually ridiculous when you think about them in a vacuum or stand-alone context. For it is the music that truly communicates the mood and theme of the story they wish to share. Sharing is the main opportunity that they both saw at the beginning when Club Voltaire presented itself as a way for them to perform and host new artists. When a monthly show line up had been established they both realised the effects of a deadline. Artistic deadlines can be stressful however they also reminded themselves that they now had an audience to write for which was thrilling. They now have a platform to engage with the city's artist, with their mission being opportunity and creation.
With their current experience being in live performance they further explained the unpredictable changes that took place as the pandemic hit. As their writing and performance mediums were flipped upside down they navigated new ownership of meeting deadlines and holding themselves accountable, as audiences were no longer able to enter theatres to watch in person. Live performance is one of those mediums of storytelling where there is an immediate transaction between an audience and a performer. That immediacy gives a lot in the way of feedback that artists take, use and study to further improve their craft. Sarah explained that having that connection disappear was nerve-wracking, to quote her use of the word 'vacuum' she realised that now anything they release as content would exist on its own, in the land of the internet and social media. However, they have realised the positives that have come from the scenario creating music videos for their songs. Sol then expressed that the more testing part has been working to self-imposed deadlines, recognising that it took them a while to produce their first song in lockdown, but now have a schedule underway. I can also say that their song "WMA" was an absolute cracker (pun intended)! If you haven't yet watched it, you're missing out. Visit their Instagram @mixedbagvoltaire to watch a performance filled with harmonies, hilarity and a Linn Manuel-Miranda style rap to boot! Sure, the pandemic is limiting everyone's experience of funny stuff, but they're sure doing a great job of reinventing the trending topics, pulling from the same source material and crafting it into comedic content. They mentioned that it's still all about practice. That simple fact never ends, even after university. They feel that the more they have practised the better they have become. They are both just glad that they are housemates so the whole collaboration process has been much easier than it may have been if completed via a screen.
Spontaneity can help grasp ideas while creating as the fly by. It can help make a concept seem concrete and viable. They both agree that while this time has held opportunity for spontaneity, they have mostly been working towards deadlines consistently while being at home as they are both currently working non-artistic jobs to maintain living in the great city of Melbourne. Although their writing time is often limited to weekends, they say it's a great time to share their mid-week inspirations and create a general vibe for what the song may become. Most of the time their process is a mix of as Sol says, 'Leaving it for a bit, then coming back to fineness and pull together a final piece.' With their inspirations currently being the likes of Bo Burham and James Acaster as well as Phoebe Waller-Bridge they recognise they are artists drawn to other artists that love their words.
Sol and Sarah are excited to announce that they are taking part in Club Voltaire's show called Online Variety Nights on Saturday the 12th of September, hosted by Lucy Best, live on Zoom from 7.30 pm. You can find the links to purchase a ticket on their social media Instagram @mixedbagvoltaire. This is also the place to catch up on their new songs, go ahead and give it a follow! You can also hire out performance and rehearsal space at Club Voltaire, for more information on this and their dedicated staff head to their website at www.clubvoltaire.com.au.
Artists, I believe are one of the few who have the amount of grit it takes to work endlessly hard to achieve their own motivational joy. It is this joy that creative people, myself included, seem to become addicted to. Work is work, and that's great. It pays our way. We live in a place where we can have occupations that allow us to work safely and freely. But part of that freedom is also the ability to create art and to share that with a wider community. These two individual artists have combined to create a special opportunity for themselves and others that are part of this community, which speaks to the essence of art itself, to reflect what is around us.