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'I'm a lucky one unlike many others in the performing arts'

West-End based artistic director Brendon McIlroy says the pandemic forced him to find new ways to engage with audiences.

For someone working in the arts, it’s certainly been a challenging and capricious nine months to say the least, writes Brendon McIlroy.

As a self-employed person I soon found out that the government support that was to ‘leave no one behind’ was not available to me.

Being of a mostly positive and enthusiastic disposition, I decided quickly that it wasn’t worth worrying myself over things I had no control over. It could only lead to frustration and potentially compromising my mental health. 

Brendon McIlroy
Brendon McIlroy

No amount of worrying, complaining or knocking my head against the wall was going to stop this pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. This was something that was here to stay for the foreseeable future and it was in my best interests to look at what could be achieved instead of what couldn’t - to focus on the positives instead of drowning in the negatives.

I was very much on the lookout for the silver lining to the many clouds that had formed over my head. 

I soon learned the term ‘digitally led’, a phrase I’d never had occasion to use before but would soon become part of my work vocabulary for the remainder of the year.

I dread to think what lockdown would have been like 20+ years ago when there was no internet and when the world was not as small it is now. What would we have done without Zoom, without email, without video streaming, mobile devices, file sharing and the rest? 

The digital world became my lifeline in 2020, rescuing me from unemployment and disconnection from the outside world. 

'Colourful'

Halo Arts’ youth theatre programme and a variety of other arts based projects would move online in the form of our successful Re:connect project, funded by Glasgow City Council. Using Zoom we would work with our regular participants and open up to young people across the city looking to alleviate boredom and learn some new skills in the absence of school. 

A festival I was set to work on in East Dunbartonshire couldn’t go ahead, but again with my ‘let’s look at what can be done’ hat on we decided to provide some colourful digital content with the wonderful performers from Think Circus. 

Lastly, Halo Art’s annual Christmas Panto was looming. The team were hoping to do all we could to provide a physical ‘socially conscious’ performance at our new venue The Pearce Institute in South Glasgow. 

The pantomime cast of a Lad in Govan pictured last year.
The pantomime cast of a Lad in Govan pictured last year.

With restrictions growing tighter as we hit November, I decided that we needed to be realistic with what could be achieved and be honest with our audience.

A digitally led panto made sense where the audience could enjoy a stream of the show safely in the comfort of their homes. Not a perfect solution but ensures that ‘A 

Lad in Govan’ (our unique ‘Glesga’ take on Aladdin) goes ahead and that schools, groups and the wider community have access to a Panto this year. This might seem like a frivolity, but never before has there been such a need for good quality family entertainment and a proper belly laugh. 

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