How can we reimagine the arts post-Covid when we’re all so bone-achingly tired? | Zohar Spatz

I

read my children a book called Have You Filled A Bucket Today? almost every night. Carol McCloud’s book is one of my family’s favourites and teaches us how easy and rewarding it is to fill someone’s “bucket” with kindness, positivity and love.

The Covid-19 crisis has made me deeply conscious that as an arts leader, I need to be a bucket-filler within my workplace, my sector and my community.

People need hope.

I’ve spent the past few months working with my colleagues and peers to dream up a whole new vision of what my theatre company, La Boite, and the broader arts and entertainment industry, could be. I’m planning contingencies to cover every possible situation for my organisation and my industry, all the way from plan A to plan Z. In my head, I’m playing out 10 different scenarios concurrently, without knowing which one I will ultimately run with to keep the company, and the industry, alive.

And you know what? I’m tired. Bone-achingly tired. My own bucket is empty.

The constantly shifting sands that underscored the early stages of this pandemic have stilled. Yet the fear, the adrenaline and the sense of not knowing continue to dominate every aspect of my life, and the lives of everyone who operates in this sector.

We’re all spent and having our own little meltdowns behind closed doors.

We struggle and juggle and try to manage the overwhelming exhaustion and chaos of the unknown that lies before us, and to somehow find some space in it all to be imaginative and revolutionary.

People who work in the arts are deeply empathetic, it’s one of our most powerful tools in this job. Collectively, we need to mobilise that empathy to honour our very real moral duty and care for the artists and the arts community.

But we were dealt a debilitating body-blow at the very beginning of this pandemic; a stinging reminder of how poorly represented the arts is as a sector and how devalued we are as artists, creators and bloody hard workers.

It is demoralising, particularly when the arts community has a long and demonstrated history of springing into action during times of crisis.

Artists are quick to lend support at every opportunity, to advocate, raise awareness and spearhead fundraising endeavours when our audiences are devastated by the likes of natural disasters, tragedy and personal or financial setbacks.

Yet, unlike so many other industries, the current crisis facing our sector doesn’t have an end date or a three-stage action plan. However, if we don’t allow ourselves the time and space away from the chaos, we’ll miss the opportunity to explore and create what the new future should look like.

A scene from La Boite and Dead Puppet Society’s production of Laser Beak Man. Photograph: Dylan Evans Photography/Brisbane festival

The situation for the arts before Covid-19 was hardly stable or ideal. This pandemic has given arts leaders a huge opportunity to reflect and initiate sector-wide change. It has forced us to re-evaluate, reset and recreate an industry, not just so it can survive, but so it can thrive.

The arts sector needs big ideas and out-of-the-box thinking. But we’re not going to find the space for creation, imagination and innovation while we’re exhausted, depleted and operating in survival mode.

We can’t create anything when every ounce of our energy is expended on simple survival and we need the courage to carve out space for that. We need freedom and stillness for imagination to take over.

Transformation, and art itself, requires risk-taking, exploring the unknown and experimentation.

I keep hearing the word “resilience” bandied around. To build a resilient arts sector – and in my specific and immediate circumstances, a resilient theatre company – I need to first rest, recover, find my resolve and reconnect.

It’s OK to stop for a bit. It’s OK to read a children’s book every night. It’s OK to turn your phone off for a week if that’s what you need to do. Sometimes I need to be told that, too. It’s not weak to rest: it’s necessary in order to be strong, and to find space within the heavy load of chaos and exhaustion to be imaginative. 

So I’m going to take a page from my children’s book and keep my own bucket topped up.

Yes, I’m trying to fix a broken system, keep a theatre company afloat, look after my family and lead my community but I will fill my bucket with positivity and hope. I am privileged to work in a sector, for a company and with people I admire and respect deeply. I am grounded by a loving family and network of friends, and I have a rare opportunity to lead audacious change.

If I wasn’t this exhausted, I’d be worried.

• Zohar Spatz is the executive director of Queensland’s La Boite Theatre Company

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