No laughing matter as performer fears for future of the arts
Like most businesses, Con Horgan has witnessed the rapid impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. From Tralee in Co Kerry, the circus performer runs a small outfit - Fanzini Productions - that relies on festivals all over Ireland and across Europe for his living.
He also performs solo as Professor Plunger and has been taking part in festivals since 1997. He additionally organises the National Circus Festival of Ireland in Tralee.
He was due to take part in the St Patrick's Day Festival at Merrion Square in Dublin last week and has seen a number of events that were lined up for coming weeks cancelled.
"Artists are some of the most vulnerable in society," he said. "I often say we walk a tightrope in the circus and we also walk a tightrope in life. The margins are very fine and the protection isn't there for us.
"It underlines the precarious nature of the arts in society."
Horgan said performers such as him rely on mass gatherings and in a normal year would have an average of eight events pencilled in every month during the busiest part of the year.
He typically performs in front of crowds of between 500 and 1,000, but has regaled gatherings with as many as 15,000 people.
"We rely entirely on festivals and work that relies on people coming together," he said. "March, April and May are completely gone.
"June - there are some festivals still considering it. July looks OK at the moment, but that could all change. We just don't know."
In most cases, if a festival gets cancelled, performers signed up to take part in it simply don't get paid.
"It's an immediate loss. There's very little support," he added. "It's an extremely tough time for us."
Horgan also fears that the current crisis will force many performers out of the arts forever.
"You can't live on fresh air," he said. "There will be a lot of people who will be forced out of the arts because of this.
"On the positive side, there's potential here for a lot of creativity to come out of this.
"You can see on social media how people are responding to it."
Horgan said that bookings in Europe for this summer were being cancelled ahead of events in Ireland.
"We've had festivals cancelling now for June in Germany and in England," he said. "There's a certain percentage of festivals that are cancelling and a certain percentage that are rescheduling."
A European tour was set to start in July, but looks like it's in trouble now too, he added, although many of the events scheduled for it have not yet been cancelled.
That tour is due to visit venues in Germany, Austria, Poland, Switzerland and Spain. It would have taken him up to the first week of September.
"It's a very much wait-and-see attitude," said Horgan. "It's understandable, but it does put artists in an extremely precarious place.
"In the short term, it's an issue because the income has completely stopped."
His group, with a web presence at fanzini.ie, was relying on funding from Culture Ireland for the tour, but he's now unsure where that stands.
Horgan praised the weekly support from the Government - which was increased yesterday - for those who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. But he's concerned for the longer-term future of performers such as him and the arts in general.
We'll all eventually have to foot the bill - or at least a big chunk of it - for the economic and social supports that have been rapidly enacted during the crisis.
"The longer-term problem that I see is that all these supports have to be paid for," said Horgan.
"Generally, in the past, when money is required, it's taken from the arts. It's one of the first ones to be hit."
"I would urge people to remember, and particularly their legislators, that it's to festivals that people go and there will be a huge appetite and desire for creativity at the end of this," he said.
"People are forced to stay in their homes and the arts is a really amazing conduit for them when they come out. We come to the arts for the celebration of life."
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