Talents and performances today are barely staying afloat due to the MCOs
By LYDIA NATHAN / Pic TMR FILE PIX
THE impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the cultural and creative sectors has been devastating, with significant setbacks on jobs, talent and craftspeople as a whole, causing billions in losses nationwide.
Venues like the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (Klpac), the Actors Studio and Performing Arts Centre of Penang are examples of platforms where great talents and performances have been showcased, but today are barely staying afloat.
Group GM Ian Chow said although Klpac had lost nearly RM2 million in 2020, it survived both the first and subsequent Movement Control Orders (MCOs), not by a stroke of luck but from outpouring support by the community.
“Even though we had no means to earn as theatres were shut, we survived last year. It truly took a village, but when we sent out an SOS last year, many within the arts fraternity and public stepped in to donate via #SaveYourSeat,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) in an interview recently.
Chow said despite businesses being severely impacted, sponsors like Yayasan Sime Darby, Creador Foundation, Mercedes-Benz Malaysia Bhd, JT International Bhd and Mr DIY Group (M) Bhd stuck through them.
“In 2020, donations from various campaigns amounted to RM183,730.71. It might be nowhere to fill the loss of nearly RM2 million we faced, but it helped.
“Our own staff members also chipped in by going through a voluntary pay deduction of up to 50%, depending on seniority and cost-cutting exercises, especially when it came to utilities.
“Our staff also multitasked, taking up double roles while initiating different fundraising projects,” he said.
Chow said since the livelihood of practitioners depended on live productions, so much income was lost almost instantly.
“I still remember before the MCO 1.0, we had so many productions planned for six to nine months, which had to be shelved or postponed. Even if we had sponsors for a particular production, we couldn’t access the funds.
“When the country was under the Recovery MCO and we were allowed to stage live performances again from July to mid-October 2020, the local arts community and event organisers rallied their support by booking our venue for recordings, very small-scale events and live productions with limited audiences.
“We also managed to resume some of our Academy performing arts courses. Even though we were only operating at 50% or less capacity due to the safe physical distancing and standard operating procedure (SOP) in place, it did generate some income for us to get us through those difficult months,” Chow said.
Apart from the loss of income, some practitioners may face a loss of spirit or a roadblock career-wise.
Chow added that with all the postponing and revamping of productions, it may be hard to know where or how to begin again.
“I found it hard to find inspiration with creativity. I also have two other productions that I am directing and they have been on halt due to MCO 2.0.
“One of them was in planning and rehearsal since October 2019 and had gone through four concept changes due to the pandemic.
“The will for me to restart this production and only to be hampered by another MCO yet again is quite devastating,” he said.
Regardless, Klpac’s GM (marketing communication) Ang Yue May said productions moved to the digital space very quickly and work has not stopped.
“On the same day the MCO was enforced, we rolled out Storytime with Uncle Joe and Aunty Faridah online to keep children and families engaged and entertained.
“Then in May 2020, we started screening past performances including Kandang, One Thousand Million Smiles, Richard III and Loser town,” Ang said.
Things then moved quickly and in June 2020 the centre premiered its first online show of indicinelive Quaranstream Edition, which garnered 55,000 views and its first-ever documentary series, Talking About, which launched in August 2020 with 14 episodes.
Ang said while the priority has been to restart live shows, the need to diversify offerings online has become a major need within the industry.
“We were prepared to go online with shows this year and we had a full line-up for 2021. However, since recording was not allowed when MCO 2.0 started, it was a double blow for us.
“Even if we can make back some of the losses incurred from cancelled live performances through online shows, it will not be able to cover the losses from venue rental,” she said.
Content aside, she said there are still a lot of barriers to online streaming including choice and stability of platforms, as well as having the right team and equipment to record shows to a certain quality.
“With our financial constraints, it will not be possible to suddenly channel funds to upskill staff and upgrade our infrastructure to be a full-fledged broadcast venue, so the process will take time,” Ang added.
Meanwhile, Chow said a bare minimum of RM1.6 million is needed this year to cover the centre’s basic necessities, excluding production budgets.
“At the moment, with very little income that we can generate, it is looking bleak. If we include all the technical and building maintenance and production budget, we will need at least RM3.3 million. We did benefit from the Wage Subsidy Programme by the government, and grants from CENDANA and MyCreative Ventures,” he said.
He said the amount is not enough, considering the centre’s scale of operations, but it “is definitely better than nothing”.
“However, some of these grants are for projects that we have to run and if we are unable to do so, due to the MCO, then the funds cannot be utilised at the moment,” Chow said.
Additionally, Ang said the industry’s biggest wish is for it to reopen, so venues do not need to rely on handouts, as well as a more comprehensive SOP for those working within.
“Time and again, we have been labelled as non-essential while other sectors including those operating with high traffic flow in a much less controlled environment have reopened with fewer restrictions and requirements.
“When it comes to the rice bowl of the rakyat, everything has now become essential. Access to testing and vaccines including affordability will be crucial to help the industry restart,” Ang said.
Some of the highlights for 2021 will include a Balinese dance production called pragina: EMOSI, a Mandarin adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire directed by Joe Hasham OAM, Opera Fantastique, Dancebox, a Radiohead tribute True Love Waits, sketch comedy indicine- live!, short-play series Don’t Let Hantu Know, SHORT+SWEET Malaysia festival and more.