With performance spaces being among the last to open up, several artists were forced to look for alternative careers.

Theatre artists performing a play with propsClip from a play/Rajashekar Kavali
Features Coronavirus Tuesday, March 09, 2021 - 12:44

Life is a struggle for an artist, pandemic or not. From painters to performance artists, it is a tightrope walk to earn a livelihood and sustain it. So, imagine what the pandemic must have been like for performers across the world. From stand-up comedians to theatre artists and musicians, not only have these artists been hit financially, they also sorely miss the responses they used to receive from a live audience. While some of these events went online, many performers were forced to take up alternative careers.

Rajasehekar from Hyderabad-based Samhaara theatre artists group says that many theatre artists were employed in schools and NGOs before the pandemic hit. When the crisis arrived, they were the first ones to be taken out from their jobs. “Pursuing arts is considered to be a leisure activity. So, when the pandemic happened, we came last under emergency services. Many artists who were working in schools as teachers for acting skills have lost their jobs,” Rajashekar says.

Vikas Chaitanya, another theatre artist from Hyderabad, was mentoring participants on a television show called Drama Juniors and also taking acting classes for students. However, Vikas was forced to take up the job of an Uber bike rider during the lockdown.

Speaking to TNM, Vikas says, “We are there only to entertain people when they are bored. Our profession has no relevance beyond that. A government job holder was at least getting half their salary, private employees were working from somewhere or the other. But we had nothing to offer to our families."

"I envied those who were in professions that were helpful to the people during the lockdown. Be it a vegetable vendor, a GHMC worker or a health worker. They could continue with their work without any interruption. I was also envious of those who could restart their work as soon as possible,” he adds.

Vikas struggled to make ends meet at first, and was surviving on food from the GHMC Annapurna canteens that cost Rs 5 per meal. He had to find a way to make things better. “I eventually became a bike driver with Uber. Initially, I used to earn about Rs 400 a day, but it reduced to Rs 200 due to various reasons.”

Vikas quit the job after three months. With lockdown restrictions lifted for the most part, he has now become active in his theatre group and is preparing for plays. He's also part of a show on Zee Telugu.

For K Dilliraj, a musician who has been running a troupe called Sangamam Orchestra Chennai, for the past eight years, it did not take long to think of a way to support not just himself but also other musicians who depend on him. Dilliraj, with 25 years of experience in the music field, supplied vegetables, groceries and essentials to affluent people in his network when the pandemic was at its peak.

“I did door-to-door delivery of vegetables, fruits, and groceries to people I know, including businessmen and people who booked our orchestra for programmes. We were able to deliver the goods to about 600 to 800 people during the lockdown,” Dilliraj says.

Dilliraj’s initiative inspired singer Sreenivas to organise a fundraising concert, to help such musicians. Dilliraj’s efforts were also recognised by the World Records Biennial Foundation and Natanalaya Groups who honoured him with certificates for his service during the lockdown. “Through the programme, Srinivas sir was able to distribute Rs 5,000 each to all musicians and this was most helpful to many,” Dilliraj tells TNM. While about 15 singers, bass guitarists, drummers, and keyboardists, continue to be part of Dilliraj’s initiative even now, the cloud seems to have lifted and many of them have become busy with music concerts.

Did he feel dejected about the situation? “Definitely not, I was very happy that I could be of some use!” he immediately answers. “I have overcome such hardships in life earlier. In my family, there are no musicians. I come from a difficult background.”

“If there’s one good thing that came out of the lockdown,” Dilliraj says, “it is that it has raised awareness in the minds of musicians. It was a wake-up call. It encouraged artists to pick up another job in addition to being musicians. All they knew was music, now they have confidence that they can do anything to survive. The musicians I know now are working in the morning and doing concerts in the evenings. A drummer is now working in a cable company, many of them are working for Swiggy and Ola.”

And the 42-year-old has also found another way to stay afloat. “I have started an event management company. My musicians supervise such events. We are confident of surviving come what may,” he says.

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