A BIT OF A BREAK BRINDLEY SHERRATT ON ENFORCED INACTIVITY
They say that you should be careful what you wish for. At some point in some airport in 2019 I was thinking that I could do with a bit of a break. I’d had a busy few years both personally and professionally and had begun to imagine how grand it would be not to be endlessly on the move, having to be presentable, trying to be magnificent, and instead just to ride the Surrey hills on my mountain bike every day of the week and then tinker with said bike in my man shed until gin o’clock. Well, apart from some lifesaving contracts in Switzerland and Spain, some UK livestreams and online teaching, that is a fairly accurate description of my activities over the past 12 months. In my dreams, however, the ‘sabbatical’ was both planned and funded.
In March 2020 I had travelled to Munich for the start of rehearsals for Boris Godunov and my house debut, singing Pimen, at the Bayerische Staatsoper when, just one hour before the first call, the opera management rang to say that the theatre was now closed and the production cancelled: ‘You should go home immediately, Brindley.’ ‘Ah, OK.’ We singers had already started to fret about possible cancellations but I was reasonably confident that the well-funded places where I was about to work would be able to carry on, perhaps with some adjustments—surely they would not just shut the doors. However, the shocking news kept coming as theatre after theatre around the world closed and six months of my work disappeared within a matter of weeks.
Some companies did pay us a small percentage of our fees but the ‘Act of God’ clause meant that most roles went entirely unpaid, meaning a catastrophic loss of income throughout the pandemic for everybody working in this industry. The financial systems during these ‘unprecedented’ times have proved to be unfair to performers and left many in dire situations. It’s important for singers to have ‘rainy day’ funds to cover sickness, cancellations, etc., but none of us was quite prepared for what turned out to be a ‘rainy 18 months’. It is worth saying that our UK opera companies did their absolute best to continue to support their freelance artists, but the monetizing of online broadcasts is still a work in progress and the government’s seemingly wilful disregard for the self-employed freelancer left huge gaps in its support, and led to many evenings shouting at the TV. The entrepreneurs, the creatives and the risk-takers have been left to go to the wall. As we move forward we need more support and as the streaming of recorded concerts continues to be part of our lives it’s only right that performers receive a percentage of the income from monetized streams.
As many have said, the first lockdown had a sense of us all being ‘in this together’, a ‘keep calm and carry on’ spirit, with time to grow our hair (!) and beards, make bloody sourdough (I could live without seeing another social media picture of those efforts) and plan Zoom quizzes. I took to the hills every day on my Trek bike and began to enjoy the time off—after all, we told each other, ‘It’s only for a few months’.
Actually, for me it was just that, as a new Barrie Kosky production of Boris Godunov in Zurich, scheduled for the autumn (which we presumed would go the way of all good
Opera, May 2021