Performers struggle without an audience

Performers struggle without an audienceBy BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

“When all this is over, remember that when people were quarantined in their homes and could no longer turn to each other – they turned to artists.” This message circulating on social media reminds people, amid canceled gatherings and ramped up social distancing measures, not to take artists for granted. But while limited access to the outside world has increased media consumption at home – many performers are finding themselves in professional limbo.

As canceled shows, concerts and creative endeavors put artists and their livelihoods at risk, we spoke to some of our home-grown performers who shared their experiences.

“My calendar went from being full from March until May, and now there’s nothing. It’s all been canceled or postponed,” said Kori Gillis. Gillis may be remembered by some for his performances in CLOTA’s “Dames at Sea” and “City of Angels” in the mid-2000s. He has since toured Europe and Africa with the Navy Band and currently sings with Republic of Music in San Diego as well as being a solo performer.

“Gig workers are becoming eligible for unemployment with the new relief package,” said Gillis.

While Gillis has his master’s degree in Educational Counseling, he transitioned to doing music full time last September. He said he may have to return to his “Monday job,” though with college campuses closed across the state – that prospect presents its own difficulties.

Also in the San Diego area is Ala Tiatia, a Burroughs graduate and musical theater performer in Southern California. In addition to being a substitute performer at Disneyland, he has two musicals on the horizon – one of which has been pushed back, with both potentially at risk for cancellation.

“At Disneyland I got paid for my scheduled hours before the park closed, but as a substitute that means no weekly hours – so I’m no longer being paid,” said Tiatia. As choreographer for Moonlight Theater’s of “Moana Jr.,” he has moved his pre-audition dance classes to an online format and remains optimistic that “Hair” at the Old Globe Theater will still move forward in July-August.

Tiatia’s brother, Andrew Konopak, performs classical music in the San Diego area. Their parents have a home in Carlsbad – something they are both thankful for since they can get through this season without worrying about rent.

“We’re going to be OK, but it’s very frustrating,” said Konopak. His anticipated performance of “Barber of Seville” with the San Diego Opera has been cancelled. He is also a rehearsal assistant for the Mira Costa College Choir, distance learning has impaired his work there as well.

“We had on online Zoom meeting on their first day ‘back’ from Spring Break, but I’m not entirely sure what this class is going to look like,” he said. “I mean – it’s a choir. So much of music is collaboration. Even if it’s just two people – a vocalist and a pianist – collaboration is still a huge part of it.”

Things are no different for aspiring recording artists like local singer-songwriters Alas Tarin (known by her stage name “Alas de Liona”) and Albert Bermudez (“Al David”) – whose future prospects have been left somewhat in limbo.

On the heals of releasing his debut country single and music video “Bad,” David was geared up to move to Nashville, but has since had to change his plans.

“This virus has put quite a hold on my life,” said David, who is also in the works of putting another single into production. “But as soon as it’s all over with, I plan on following through.”

De Liona is currently studying abroad at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland where she is working toward making a name for herself in the Scottish music scene. “But right now, no gigs are happening and I have no idea how this will affect building a new career in music,” she said.

“I’m still a student – I still have that part of my life,” said de Liona. “But people who are career musicians are having a very hard time making ends meet. We’re all feeling the effects I think.”

“But it has opened up in other avenues,” she added. “There’s a growing appreciation for artists and there’s an appetite and a market for home viewing.”

“I’ve had performer friends compare it to the depression of the ‘20s,” said Tiatia. “We’re seeing some of the same need for art to help uphold peoples’ mental and emotional states.”

“I think this is bringing attention to how important music and art and entertainment can be,” said Gillis. “So when we go back out and are able to do live shows and congregate, let’s use this as an impetus to continue supporting local artists and performers.”

Many performers have turned to live streaming their performances on platforms like Facebook and YouTube in the absence of a physical audience. Performers have the capability to link “virtual tip jars” using sites like Venmo and PayPal so they can have some revenue during an uncertain period.

“I’ve been following a lot of local artists and following live streams of folk sessions,” said de Liona. She encouraged patrons to continue streaming independent artists’ work on platforms like Spotify, YouTube and Apple Music, and to share the online sessions with friends and family.

“A lot of times, people just don’t know what’s out there,” she said. “Everybody’s got a lot of time at home now to hear more of these local artists.”

Konopak added that some producers are asking patrons to forgo refunds on cancelled shows in order to keep performing groups afloat.

“There are groups I’ve worked with that might not survive this,” he said. “They’ve invested so much in shows that ended up being canceled.”

On a more positive note – more time at home means more time to practice and to appreciate what other artists are doing in the online realm.

“Because I consider myself an artist, in some ways I think I have a duty to reflect my experience and others’ experiences through my art,” said Tiatia. “But our venues are seriously limited right now, so it’s a bit of a catch-22. So I am using this time to hone my craft – I’m practicing my singing, my dancing, my monologues, everything. I’m making sure my craft is sharpened and ready to go when these opportunities come back.”

“I just took a class from a popular local dance teacher,” said Gillis. “His studio is shut down so I try to support his classes.

“Right now, I’m remaining optimistic and hopefully things will get back to normal, because there’s also an emotional, therapeutic aspect to music that I miss. Music is my therapy and I miss my ‘band family.’ But I’m practicing and working on accompanying myself on the piano and just trying to stay positive.”

“I’m writing a lot of new material,” said de Liona. “I’m developing a demo and hope to release another album within the year.”

Konopak said he hopes when social distancing directives are lifted, that the public will “gear up for future performances.”

“Keep your eye on the horizon,” he said. “I’ve been asked by Bodhi Tree Concerts to do Gilbert & Sullivan’s ‘HMS Pinafore’ in September, so at least I have that to look forward to.”

While sheltering in place, residents can see what these performers are offering online through Facebook and other platforms and learn more how to support artists: Al David (@aldavidmusic), Kori Gillis (@kogee23), Andrew Konokpak (@andrewkonopak_baritone), Alas de Liona (@alasdelionamusic), and Ala Tiatia (@alatiatia).

Story First Published: 2020-04-03