23 March 2022

Lockdown two years on: Artists reflect on time lost and the state of the creative industry now

Two years on from the first lockdown, actors, directors and writers look back...

Actor and photographer Jessica Hardwick found herself at a loss during the UK’s first Covid-19 lockdown. Like many others in the creative industries, she was facing a long period of inertia; her industry was shut down, she wasn’t able to work, and a deadly virus was circulating. “Up until the pandemic hit, I’d worked pretty consistently since leaving drama school. That year shook me as a performer,” she tells me. During this time, though, Hadwick discovered a love of photography that has stayed with her in the midst of several more lockdowns, and out the other side of the pandemic.

During the initial lockdown that began two years ago today, on March 23, 2020, the Scottish native started a project called Re Emerging Artists where she photographed people who work in the arts, including several of her friends. “I wanted to show these talented and vital people in their surroundings as we re-emerged into this unknown territory,” she explains. “This has been a particularly difficult time for the arts sector and I wanted this series of images to make us all feel a little closer and remind us we’re not alone.” 

Here, Hardwick and her subjects revisit that time, two years on, and reflect on the state of the creative industries and their career. 

Jessica Hardwick photographed by Harry Livingstone

Jessica Hardwick — Artist and Photographer

How is it reflecting on these images now that lockdown is over? 

I took these shots when we were first really allowed back outside to see pals. Everything felt so unknown then. No vaccines, no acting work, no real indoor mingling. The world as we knew it had changed and we were all just trying to find our feet again. Looking back at these shots makes me reflect on how resilient we are as creatives and how now that lockdown is over we are embracing this newfound freedom again even though it can sometimes feel overwhelming.

How was that time for you, looking back at it now? 

Scary, lonely and endless. But there was also a simplicity to it that I miss and I think it’s made me learn how to slow down a bit and enjoy the small things I perhaps once took for granted.

How did the pandemic impact your career in the arts? 

Massively — I had worked predominantly in theatre since leaving drama school and all live performances completely shut down during lockdown. It meant I had to find a creative outlet elsewhere which is why I got really into photography and wanted to take these photos of creatives that I love and respect, to reconnect with them over that time.

How is your career going now? 

Good! I’ve been doing more filming work over the last year which I’ve really enjoyed and am very thankful for. 

Did you learn any lessons from the lockdown?

That the arts are essential for everyone! Where would we have been over lockdown without being able to watch television & films, read books or listen to music and podcasts? That it’s okay to not always be okay. To talk to your friends and loved ones whenever you can and that banana bread is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Robert Jack

Robert (Robbie) Jack — Actor

How is it reflecting on these images now that lockdown is over?

It makes me a little sentimental for a period when life was whatever you wanted it to be. Even if that is not strictly true.

How was that time for you, looking back at it now?

I feel that it was a point when life stopped. Where I could truly assess where I was and what I wanted. A time I had no idea I needed. 

How did the pandemic impact your career in the arts?

Pretty thoroughly. Haven’t been on stage since. 

How is your career going now?

Slowly returning. But the uncertainty is still there both for actors and audiences. 

Did you learn any lessons from the lockdown?

Friends matter, a lot. Fresh air and a walk is good for the soul and decorating takes longer than you think. 

Hannah Jarrett-Scott

Hannah Jarrett-Scott — Actor

How is it reflecting on these images now that lockdown is over? 

Lockdown is over but the effects of this pandemic on the arts are far from. Our show Pride and Prejudice (Sort of) has recently been nominated for an Olivier for Best Comedy Play. Yet it is shut. [It was] closed due to losses occurring across the winter Omicron wave. Once restrictions were lifted our houses were packed full. But it was too late. I received the news of the Olivier nomination on my third shift back at the shop. It’s very clear the unpredictability of this pandemic and its knock-on effects on our profession is something I’m going to have to continue to navigate.

How was that time for you, looking back at it now?

Looking back, honestly, I don’t know what I would have done without that shop. It gave me structure, a newfound love for fruit and veg. I learnt about seasons and where food is from. It kept my mind healthy and stimulated due to the conversations I would share with the locals and it kept a small weekly wage coming in.

How did the pandemic impact your career in the arts? 

I worked almost every week of the pandemic as a greengrocer. You could say many of us lost a year of acting but I don’t like to see it like that. The shop just became the thing I did. It was my identity for a year. I had a pinny and everything. I got lucky with two weeks of filming and some audio work from home occasionally but nothing live which I craved, and when I did my first singing gig after a year plus of trimming leeks, I was shaking with nerves and adrenaline. But I was fairly content. I’m quite a patient person and I knew that in order to get on stage again I just had to be so. Being out of work is part of this job, if you’re too proud to work behind a counter then you’re missing out. Some of the funniest moments of my life have been standing behind a bar coping with some nonsense situation. It was a bit mad though going from greengrocer during a Panny D to West End debut. Not really how I imagined these moments to play out.

How is your career going now? 

Things are good. We were sad to hear of the early closure of the show but the success of it is still coming in and I’m excited for what the future holds for all involved. I’m enjoying watching friends on stage again and my agent has been incredibly supportive throughout which I am very thankful for because I know a lot of agencies folded.

Did you learn any lessons from the lockdown? 

Patience. Store aubergines upright standing tall. Talk to strangers and find knowledge in unexpected circumstances. 

Vicki Manderson and Finn Den Hertog

Vicki Manderson, Movement Director & Finn Den Hertog, Actor and Director

How was that time for you, looking back at it now?

Vicki: For me, I’ll remember lockdown as the time that we became parents and got to know our wee boy. All our work got cancelled and we found ourselves able to be parents full time. We had more space in our lives and we could concentrate on Rémy with no disturbances. This was of course hard at times and there were financial and career worries as we saw the theatre industry struggling. I tried to focus inwards on what we did have and to enjoy the time with Finn and Rémy as much as possible. 

How is your career going now? 

Vicki: I’ve been extremely fortunate that work has come my way since the theatre industry has been able to open up again. I think my approach to work has changed since 2019, this is because of becoming a parent and the pandemic. I’m trying to leave the work in the room but as any artist will tell you this is a very hard thing to do! I’m currently working on a musical with The National Theatre of Scotland called ‘Orphans’. It’s a real joy to be back making work, long may it continue. 

Did you learn any lessons from the lockdown? 

Vicki: I did learn lessons but what I’m finding hard now is to put them into practice. I learned that as a freelancer I don’t need to check my emails all the time, that everything doesn’t need to be done immediately, that my family and friends are brilliant and that I want to spend as much time with them as possible. I think the biggest lesson was about discovering nature in a new way and realising how important it is to all of us and how fiercely we need to protect it.

Dawn Sievewright

Dawn Sievewright — Actress and Writer

How is it reflecting on these images now that lockdown is over? 

I’m struck by how beautiful my building is… and how excited I was to be creative with Jess, during a time of nothingness. They fill me with joy.

How was that time for you, looking back at it now? 

It was a complete whirlwind. Sadness, loss, willingness, but totally beautiful and almost nurturing. 

Did you learn any lessons from the lockdown?

I learned that I am able to hunker down and get through a lot more than originally thought. We, as a bunch of creative people, are tough.

Johnny McKnight

Johnny McKnight, Director, Writer and Actor & Darren Brownlie, Actor

How is it reflecting on these images now that lockdown is over? 

Johnny: Feels weird looking back because not long after that we made the decision as friends to pool our money together and get a place to live where we could actually have a drink without four tower blocks having to watch two mad drunks sipping wine at the garage entrance.

Darren: This picture seems like it’s a lifetime ago, our lives have had to adapt and change so much since the summer of 2020. It feels like the last 2 years are lost. Like they were years that we, as a community, learned to survive. And that’s what we are: survivors. Yes, some have left the theatre community, but that’s what they had to do. We adapt, we change. No decision for happiness is the wrong one.

How was that time for you, looking back at it now?

Johnny: I think we’ll all be unpicking how the pandemic affected us for a long while. It’s definitely a mixture of anxiety mixed with ‘fuck it’ life is too short, let’s swing and make some big life choices.

Darren: Looking back now, I realise that the time we had brought perspective, a chance to think about what we want and how to get it. An opportunity to expand our existence, to explore who we really were and not the version that we present to the world, and to be given the chance to evolve and appreciate.

How did the pandemic impact your career in the arts? 

Johnny: I think it’s devastated the entire community. So much talent was lost. So much talent felt disillusioned by its sector. And so much talent has fought to survive and stay in the industry despite being overlooked. 

Darren:  I ended up working for a charity during the pandemic, working within the 3rd sector which completely changed me. People are amazing, they constantly find ways of inspiring you, ( if you let them) which gave me the courage to push through and to stay focused.

How is your career going now? 

Darren: I’ve now moved into television, something that I had been trying to do. Theatre will always have my heart and gave me the confidence and experience to pursue another path.

Did you learn any lessons from the lockdown?

Johnny: Lessons learnt. Having a puppy is not easy. However, dislocating your elbow whilst walking said puppy is very easy. A homemade uber strength Long Island tea, disco light, and Kylie album is a poor substitute for going out, but it’ll do. Friends and family matter. Trying to keep space for them is difficult when the world starts turning again. Watching 24 news cycles do not help. Beware anyone who tells you they’ve done a ‘deep dive’ on the Internet, they usually mean they’ve read something on Twitter.

Darren: From lockdown, I learned to wait… I thought I was good at it anyway, turns out there was still a lot to learn about waiting, if things are meant to be they will happen. I learned to have more faith in friends and family, I learned to ask for help, I learned to trust more, I learned that I could say no, I learned that I could share more. It was so funny that In a world where we couldn’t have the social and physical contact of a normal world, I learned to communicate more, differently, but more.

Erdem Avşar and Ümit Ünal

Erdem Avşar, Writer, PhD researcher & Ümit Ünal, Film Director, Screenwriter

How is it reflecting on these images now that lockdown is over? 

This might sound a little strange, but we do not associate it with feelings of disillusionment or uncertainty anymore. Instead, we both feel like it has come to become a really lovely sign of change and a reminder that the world is a malleable place. And it is a nice feeling – yes, some things leave an indelible, horrible mark, but it is also full of potential. We change, science changes, places change, so the world can change as well.

How was that time for you, looking back at it now? 

The first lockdown coincided with the time when we both had quite a few things to look forward to – a new flat in Glasgow, settling into a new city, and all the things that we always wanted to write, direct, create, and do. We remember feeling like an empty shell, extremely anxious, and worrying whether the pandemic would mean going back to Istanbul. Looking back at it though, we hardly remember those feelings, but we do remember each and every walk in the park, every single creative thing that we did despite that, and how that uncertainty made us eventually more flexible. Not being able to predict the next day helped us to do things in the present time rather than getting fixated on a future ideal that might or might not come. It is not a cliché carpe diem mode of being though – it has been more about staring at a catastrophe and doing whatever you can within that.

How did the pandemic impact your career in the arts? 

It actually made both of us think beyond the readily available categories of success, failure, and career milestones. While it disrupted so many things, not being able to leave our neighbourhood (and our tiny flat) also made us zoom in on everything that we would otherwise gloss over. A new screenplay, poems, short plays, and hundreds of photos came out from our long walks, lovely chit-chats with familiar faces at our local supermarket, and from zooming in on every little thing: abandoned trolleys, gravestones in Necropolis, day-to-day changes to the River Kelvin.

How is your career going now? 

We have been incredibly lucky as our recent work has found the right people, the right places, and the essential support. Without that support, everything would feel more like horrible aftermath this year rather than a time of possibilities. Though we are still cautious of getting overexcited about things since the pandemic, we are really looking forward to further developing a new feature film that takes place in Glasgow and to seeing an autofiction piece of queer work published soon.

Did you learn any lessons from the lockdown?

Perhaps not lessons, but we have come up with a work-in-progress list of rules: 1. look at things more closely, over and over again, 2. remember that one is never an empty shell as long as there are people who root for them, 3. a sense of home comes from those people, 4. a ‘career’ in the arts is challenging and prone to catastrophising, but it does get better without words such as plans, precarity, ‘unprecedented’, success, and failure.

Jo Bowman

Jo Bowman — Director

How did the pandemic impact your career in the arts? 

Two years ago, I spoke about the importance of theatre as an act of assembly, and what the loss of those communal spaces – gig venues, art galleries, theatre auditoria, clubs – means for our collective sense of citizenship. Returning to these places after our shared absence confirmed to me that the act of making theatre can be a radical one, but only if we think carefully and actively about who we are making work for and with. Since lockdown, I have made theatre and opera with a group of teenagers, for rural audiences in North-North Scotland, with professional actors, and with primary school pupils. My time away from making art allowed me the space to think about how we exchange and share values, aesthetics and skills, and it is this that I hope will continue to guide and shape my work.

  • Writer Nessa Humayun
  • Images Courtest of Jessica Hardwick

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