How COVID is affecting our artists: Alexis
Artists are accustomed to long periods of unemployment and uncertainty as they wait for the next big opportunity, but many talented young people who began their careers in Rockhampton were looking forward to a successful and busy 2020.
That is, of course, until the threat of coronavirus forced the closure of public venues from the smallest of chic bars to the largest of our nation’s theatre houses.
Like so many other Australians, our young artists have also lost part-time work in retail and hospitality as well as the opportunity to continue their usual craft.
The prospect of border closures makes it especially difficult for people with family in Rockhampton who can usually hop on a quick flight to visit each other.
The Morning Bulletin has reached out to some of our region’s brightest stars to see how they’re coping during the pandemic, and how they think they can rebuild once the lockdowns are over.
Alexis O’Donnell has been in Sydney since 2013 where she studied for both a Bachelor degree and diploma in musical theatre, then moved on to work within the industry.
Rockhampton audiences will remember her turn as the young Mary O’Brien in Dusty whereas young Sydneysiders probably recognise her as Fiona from Shrek the Musical.
Ms O’Donnell said her early influences, in Rockhampton, included “the wonderful Vicki Davis”, with whom she studied dance since she was three, and her sister Sharnee who runs a local studio.
Alexia had finished a “beautifully wholesome” production of Meet Me in St Louis with Starkeeper Productions, followed by the role of Vicky Nichols in the Theatre and Companies’ production of the bawdier Full Monty.
She had a day job as a manager of a retail store as well as part-time work teaching singing and subbing for dance teachers around several Sydney studios.
“This was going to be a big year of audition and performance opportunities,” Ms O’Donnell said.
“Then, about two weeks ago, I left a singing lesson I spent prepping for auditions and callbacks I had lined up for the next month and a half.
“These auditions were for contracts which would have provided me and fellow artists with work from August through November.
“But within days, even hours, as gatherings of more than 100 people in an enclosed space were banned, almost everything got cancelled.
“Overnight, the upcoming prospects for my career had quickly vanished.”
She said while performers came to grips it might be “nine or 10 months” before the work came back in, they were stepping up to support each other.
All around the country, artists are turning to online seminars and teaching, and creating online content to while away the hours and hopefully bring in some money.
“The support many performers have shown each other is astonishing,” she said.
“We’re constantly driving each other to create work, even in those most trying times when so many friends who were reaching the peak of their careers had them taken away.
“It’s difficult to see people who have worked so hard for these opportunities move back home to the country.”
But having lost her retail job as well, Ms O’Donnell is left in limbo whether to stay in Sydney or not.
“Family is the most important thing to me and I thought it might be best for me to be back at home with them for a while,” she said.
“But we don’t know how long all this is going to last so planning around it is near impossible.”
Although the foreseeable future for artists seems so grim, Ms O’Donnell said they had always relied more heavily on support networks than in other careers.
“We have always had a strong focus on mental health and people to talk to during tough times.”
And while she awaits her fate, our talented Alexis is determined this momentary halt will make her more appreciative of an artist’s “crazy life”.
“This has definitely taught me to live more in the moment instead of continually to be on the go, go, go,” she said.
“I’m living day by day and constantly communicating with friends and family.”