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The new podcast about todays big issues through the artistic lens: Josephine Burton talks about the Dash Arts series

[Photo: Josephine Burton, Artistic Director, Dash Arts]

Dash Arts is an international arts organisation that, like many companies right now, are facing a new life and working environment in lockdown. Despite this, their monthly events have transformed into fortnightly podcasts, they're taking conversations online, and they’re adjusting their lens to look at a short-term future under the weight of a pandemic.

Artistic Director Josephine Burton talks to Natalie Beech, reflecting on the impact of COVID-19 on the arts industry, lamenting the loss of the physical space, and finding the silver lining.

Natalie: What does Dash Arts do?

We create new work with international artists. We delve in deeply to a particular theme or part of the world for a period of time, researching, running workshops and live events, travelling and seeing work and creating new productions with festivals and venues.

Over the years, we’ve made award-winning productions and projects with artists from the Arabic World, India, former Soviet Union. We’re currently making work with artists from across Europe as part of our programme, EUTOPIA, exploring what it means to be European and what we mean by Europe.

Natalie: How has this changed since COVID-19?

In some ways it’s changed everything!

Our live events are postponed. Travel and international workshops also put off until we can move across borders. Partners have suspended plans. Funding has disappeared.

Everything has moved online - our team meetings happen virtually, our cafes are now podcasts, our rehearsal rooms now on zoom. We are travelling from our bedrooms and our kitchen tables. Research is through books, Youtube and Spotify rather than face-to-face coffees, theatre or music studios.

Natalie: How has your creative process been impacted?

A lack of face-to-face meetings, workshops and travel has altered the normal rhythm. I’m definitely feeling a lack of stimuli. I was meant to be in Belgium and Holland last month for a series of meetings on one of our growing productions, Out of Tune, and running a workshop for another production, Scenes from Middlemarch in June in Coventry. Both on hold.

And I’m at home, trying to carve time to work and think, whilst sharing the home-schooling of my 3 kids and increased cooking and cleaning as we’re around all the time.

However, I haven’t stopped the work. The rhythm has changed. Now, I'm trying to squeeze work, research and thinking time into each day. I’m hosting regular Zoom sessions with my creative teams for both productions that I’m working on rather than developing them in the planned intensive workshops. Our cafes have turned into podcasts so that instead of hosting conversations and drawing out ideas live, I’m recording interviews with guests and then editing my thoughts into an audio thread. This has definitely impacted on the way that I normally work.

But thankfully and fundamentally, the conversations with artists and collaborators across the world continue.

Natalie: What have been the biggest challenges?

The biggest challenge is the huge long-term question mark over when and how the arts will recover. I’m enjoying the adapted process of quietly and slowly developing work in my room with screens, but I find the lack of certainty about whether there will be audiences, funds and physical spaces to present the work petrifying.

If I get too bogged down in worrying about how our immersive Dash Residence projects can work in a covid or post-covid world with social distancing and a lack of the much needed audience participation that our Residences require, or whether we should be considering reconfiguring a live production into something digital, the ideas freeze up.

Natalie: Have there been any benefits?

Aside from enjoying the time to reflect, (some of) the time at home with my kids and the little time spent everyday in research, I’m learning a new skill - podcasting.

Podcasts are a completely different challenge than the cafe which requires me to balance the dynamics of the group, listen and improvise in the moment and react. The podcast needs me to spend more time reflecting on the content and conversations, forming an argument and threading it together. It’s a slower, less intense process, one which is more suited to the Covid-pace of life. I know that I would not have found the time or space to develop this had the virus not hit.

Natalie: Have you learned anything during this time that will impact how you work once COVID is over?

This time has reinforced how much I treasure live interaction and a communal experience, in performance and in life generally. I miss it. I’ve been thinking a great deal about how to make work that embraces rather than reacts to the pandemic and its after-effects. 

I’m not so excited by the prospect of radically adapting our work so that it allows for social distancing and risk averse audiences, partners and funders. I’m more interested in making projects and productions that retain the internationalism, community and curiosity at the heart of Dash which aren’t so much reactive to the crisis, but proactive.
It’s all still quite early days, but certainly the podcasts will continue as part of the mix. We’ve been thrilled by the feedback and engagement we’ve already received for them, in a few short weeks.

Natalie: What other companies and artists are making work you’ve enjoyed under lockdown?

I loved engaging with Richard DeDominici’s Coronavision Song Contest - a project that really worked well for the lockdown. I’ve booked into Swamp Motel’s Plymouth Point - an interactive online detective project - part-immersive theatre and part-escape room, which I’m looking forward to.

I’ve admired and loved the way that festivals like Brighton Festival and Performing Arts Festival Berlin have adapted their plans and created new programmes in response to the lockdown.

Natalie: Do you have plans for how to return after COVID has passed?

Josephine: Everything is sadly quite unpredictable - when will our partner venues open their doors, will audiences come, how will we be able to rehearse and present our work and will there be funds available to support the work?

But I do know that whenever and however it will be, Dash will return to live events with an entrepreneurial vengeance and some great ideas that will have been fermenting in the kitchen during the lockdown, along with the carrots which I can’t convince my kids to eat!

Find out more about Dash Arts on their website here: www.dasharts.org.uk

Subscribe to their podcast here: apple.co/2TnxvyG

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