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How Australian Artists Are Finding New Ways To Entertain Us

The show MUST go on
Photography by Liz Ham and Justin Ridler

With theatres and galleries closed, TV production shut down, and comedy shows and music gigs postponed, artists are finding new and innovative ways to entertain. Join us in rallying behind the creative community doing it tough.

australian ballet

Amy Harris & Jarryd Madden, Australian Ballet Dancers

“It’s a real thrill; a magical moment of pure escapism,” says Amy Harris, describing the rush of pirouetting across the stage in front of a live audience as a principal ballerina in The Australian Ballet. The last time Harris felt that buzz was in March, when she performed the company’s new contemporary piece, Volt, at the State Theatre in Melbourne. It was her first show back after giving birth to son Phoenix last June, and she got to perform it a grand total of three times before the lockdown restrictions closed stages across the country. “I felt like I’d just got my wheels turning again, only to have the brakes slammed on,” she says.

With the rest of the year’s shows postponed indefinitely – including Anna Karenina, Harlequinade and The Happy Prince – Harris and her husband, fellow dancer Jarryd Madden, are trying to find normalcy in the crushing tsunami of uncertainty. Their new routine starts with breakfast at home, followed by a morning of online schooling for daughter Willow, five, an online ballet class in the lounge room at 11am coinciding with a nap for Phoenix and an afternoon of optional Pilates and gym classes. The ballet has also organised online Friday night cooking classes, a book club and quiz speed rounds. “The company has gone above and beyond to focus on connection and mental health during isolation,” says Madden, praising The Australian Ballet’s quick pivot to online connection in lieu of group hugs. The company has also introduced a digital season for fans to watch online, and an option for patrons to donate their ticket to support the company. “It’s very special to know they’re missing us as much as we’re missing them,” says

Harris, who is looking forward to the day she can once again return to her beloved stage. “The hardest part for us has been not having an official date. We have nothing to strive for and no end goal in sight. I feel lucky we’re both dancers, we’ve been able to lift each other up on the low days.” Until then, Harris and Madden will be dancing in the kitchen.

Jaguar Jonzes

Jaguar Jonze, Musician 

Jaguar Jonze is an eternal optimist. The artist, whose real name is Deena Lynch, was diagnosed with coronavirus in March after returning to Sydney from the US, where she had to cancel the majority of her gigs – including a set at SXSW festival. Even while fighting a deadly virus and mourning the loss of a much-anticipated international tour, Jonze has found silver linings in the cloud that is COVID-19. She released her debut EP Diamonds & Liquid Gold on April 17 in the back of an ambulance on her way to hospital.

“The paramedics blasted Jaguar Jonze through the speakers and had a little dance with me. They helped me bring the EP into the world in a very unique fashion,” says Jonze, who spent more than five weeks in isolation, bedridden with fluctuating fevers, fatigue, diarrhoea, coughing, muscle aches and excruciating chest pains, before finally testing negative after 40 days. “To be honest, even though I had COVID-19, it’s been the most fruitful time for me. It’s opened up a lot of opportunities and brought people together. Sometimes tragedy brings beauty – that’s the mantra I’m going by, anyway.”

As well as releasing her debut EP, Jonze has created a Diamonds & Liquid Gold colouring book series, performed a live set at the online Isol-Aid Festival, collaborated on music with a US songwriter via Skype and set up a Patreon fundraising page. The best bit? She’s been doing all of the above wearing pyjama bottoms and Ugg boots. Silver linings, they’re everywhere.


Lauren Bonner, Comedian

Lauren Bonner is talking to a cat. It’s not her usual audience, but she’s rolling with it. The up-and-coming comedian is filming a set for Stan’s Lockdown Comedy Festival in her garden and thought talking to a cat would feel less awkward than talking to herself in her empty apartment in Sydney’s Inner West. “I guess it’s still crazy talking to a cat. Especially because I don’t own a cat, so I had to borrow one. Her name is Fatsy and she was a star, even though she didn’t laugh on cue,” says

Bonner, who had to cancel her debut shows at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in March after working on the material for three years. “I was lucky enough to perform my set at the Brisbane Comedy festival before everything got shut down, but missing out on the Melbourne International Comedy Festival was a bummer.” Instead of performing to a crowded theatre in front of comedy regulars, Bonner has channelled her energy into the Lockdown Comedy Festival, which also features legends Dave Hughes, Cal Wilson, Nazeem Hussain and Wil Anderson, in their natural habitats wearing activewear.

Bonner hopes digital festivals will be able to fill the void until venues can reopen and we can all laugh together again. “Not being able to perform live has meant more time for writing, tweeting and making sourdough bread,” says Bonner, who had to sign up for the JobSeeker allowance when she lost her main source of income.

Bonner’s advice for keeping the comedy industry alive is to LOLL (laugh out loud locally). “Watch Australian shows and acts to show your support,” she says, taking a bow alongside Fatsy after filming her Stan special – streaming now. Hint, hint.

Miranda Tapsell

Miranda Tapsell, Actor and Author

The red dirt, tropical storms and relentless humidity of Darwin runs through Miranda Tapsell’s veins.

Having grown up in the thick heat of the Northern Territory, she feels the Melbourne chill deep in her bones. “It’s freezing down here,” says the actor, wearing trackies, socks and her husband James Colley’s hoodie after our shoot. “The hardest part of the past few months has been not being able to go up to the Territory. Whenever I feel discombobulated, it’s where I go to reset.”

Discombobulated is exactly how the COVID-19 crisis has left many of us feeling. This year, Tapsell was meant to be auditioning for American roles, releasing her memoir Top End Girl at a fabulous book launch with fancy canapés and free-flowing champagne, and speaking at prestigious literary festivals around the country. Instead, she released Top End Girl from her lounge room, with some help from Colley. “Since we couldn’t launch the book at the festivals as planned, we celebrated on social media instead. James quizzed me on my knowledge of rom-coms on Instagram. I wanted the book to be an intimate conversation, and a joyous and heartwarming story,” says Tapsell, who has been checking in on her friends in the arts who’ve also had projects cancelled. “More than anything, we need to be kind to one another at this time.”

Step one of spreading the love, according to Tapsell, is supporting the Actors Benevolent Fund. Step two is getting a copy of her book. “I know I’ve been turning to books to lift my spirits, so I really hope Top End Girl can do the same for others,” she says.

Sydney Orchestra

Kees Boersma & Kirsty McCahon, Double Bassists

It’s a brutal paradox that we’re turning to the arts for solace and light, as the industry struggles through its darkest hour. The irony isn’t lost on couple Kirsty McCahon and Kees Boersma, the revered double bassists who saw their livelihoods stripped overnight when COVID-19 postponed music festivals and orchestra performances until at least September. With gigs cancelled, so too are paycheques. “Previous to this economic situation, the Australian arts sector was worth [more than] $100 billion to our economy, employing 600,000 people. The arts made up 6.4 per cent of our gross domestic product, just less than mining at 8.4 per cent and more than triple sport, which is two per cent,” explains McCahon, who freelances for the acclaimed Australian World Orchestra. “We haven’t seen an industry-specific support package from the government that recognises our contribution to the economy and the country.”

The numbers don’t add up. The Federal Government’s $250 million relief package, feels cheap and “too little, too late,” when you consider that Germany is investing $84 billion months ago to support artists and cultural businesses. “This is a time of existential threat for many of the arts companies that enrich our society, so community and government support is vital. The challenge is for these organisations to re-emerge both viable and thriving from such extraordinary times,” says Boersma, who is doing his part by paying to attend the Melbourne Digital Concert Hall series, and giving an online performance to the council members of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, where he is principal double bass.

“I think we take the arts for granted. When we come out the other side of this, it’s artists who will be telling the story. Art is what makes us human,” says McCahon, who hopes this crisis will unleash a new appreciation for local artists. “We need to celebrate and enable our artists more than ever before – because without culture, what’s the point?”

Sam Frost

Sam Frost, Actor

When the COVID-19 crisis shut down TV production in March, a collective panic hit Australian households at 7pm on the dot: what if they run out of Home and Away episodes! “No-one needs to worry,” assures Sam Frost, who plays Jasmine Delaney on the hit Aussie show.

“We’ve got plenty of episodes up our sleeves and when we go back to work on May 25, we’ll be filming six days a week in two studios. It’s going to be absolute chaos, but I work well in the madness.” Frost is preparing for the mayhem by making the most out of her rare downtime. “On Monday, I literally lay in bed all day, ordered takeaway and ate chocolate. And I didn’t feel guilty about it! As soon as we go back to work, life will be so busy and full on, and we’ll dream of the time we could’ve laid in bed all day,” she says from the inner-city apartment she shares with her flatmate Sandy, who also works on Home and Away as a second assistant director.

The cast and crew have been staying in touch with a WhatsApp group and regular FaceTime wine appointments. “We really are like a big family and I’ve missed working with the cast, crew and production team,” she says. “This break has been a nice reminder of how much everyone loves the show. A lot of households rely on their 7pm daily fix – I certainly did when I was growing up. Mum always used to shush us saying, ‘Everyone be quiet, Home and Away’s on.’ I’m excited to keep telling stories that resonate with people.”

Asher Keddie

Asher Keddie & Vincent Fantauzzo, Actor and Artist

Australia’s golden creative couple – Asher Keddie and Vincent Fantauzzo – are relishing the opportunity to slow down, smell the (metaphorical) roses and rake up the (literal) autumnal leaves in their backyard. At home with their two boys Luca, 10, and Valentino, five, the family has been relishing their quality time together – and the creativity that has spawned from that. Fantauzzo has been working on a commission for the National Portrait Gallery, in between making spinning tops for a school assignment and photographing his wife for marie claire. “There’s been a lot of silly dancing going on in the background of Zoom classes,” says Fantauzzo, pulling out an “embarrassing Dad” mask he prepared earlier. With her acting projects postponed indefinitely, Keddie is focusing on her series The Sisters Antipodes, co-produced with Imogen Banks. “I don’t panic about work – I think that sense of anxiety crushes your creativity,” she says. “During this time, we’re really trying to let go of holding on so tight to the future and enjoying the moment instead. When things start to move forward again, it will be really exciting.”

This article originally appeared in the July 2020 issue of marie claire.

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