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Opinion/Theatre

Do I have a purpose anymore?

13 May 2020

Six weeks into isolation, independent actor, director and producer Libby Klysz describes her existential crisis, in this next instalment in the “Day in the life” series.

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Libby Klysz juggles performing, directing, producing, teaching and heading up contemporary theatre group Variegated Productions in her busy theatre career. She has worked for almost every theatre company in Perth and her credits include the award-winning 2019 productions BANG! BANG! (producer) and Feminah (director). The change of pace during COVID-19 has been a complete contrast, revealed in this ‘then and now’ snapshot.

Wake up, scroll through Instagram whilst making first cup of tea. Admire many photos of sourdough, fire off some encouraging messages, make a little plan of attack for the day. I’ve got a Zoom meeting!

Today’s gonna be a day of productivity, I know it. Yesterday started strong but then my morning tea break became three hours somehow. What did I do? No one knows. It just happened.

Have another look at emails. Unsubscribe from approximately 700 retailers; I’m not eligible for JobKeeper, sorry pals.

Read a couple of work based ones. One is a job offer to film some video content! ACCEPT. That will be my rent and groceries for a week. When can I film? WHENEVER, BAYBEEE.

Daily life for Libby Klysz has changed dramatically. Photo: Skye Sobejko

Three months ago:

Wake up, check emails whilst making first cup of tea, fire off some encouraging messages, make a little plan of attack for the day. Meetings at either Blue Room, PICA, The Alex Hotel, Mary St, or all of the above. Grabbing a tea at Eillo to kick off.

Popping into at least one, if not two rehearsals. To check on a show I’m producing, or a rehearsal of my own. Maybe a development. Taking a phone call in a ten minute break and firing off some social media posts. Grabbing supplies for a show, tucking the receipt into the glove box of my car. Ducking my head into at least one Cultural Centre office.

Boomeranging emails, flicking replies. Nudging a cross post online. Playing an endless game of schedule bingo for the next meeting. Thursday arvo after work, two weeks’ time. Who’s got a spare rehearsal room? I’ll see what I can hustle.

Return to the inbox, have mild anxiety over a couple of other emails as I am now second guessing pretty much every aspect of my ability, skill set and identity. Do I have a purpose anymore? Who am I if I am not amongst live audiences, or helping others to do so? Do I even have a personality outside my job anymore? This triggers two hours of accidental reflection as I remember the many, many hours I did last year in order to set myself and the shows I worked on up for this year. Shit. Shit. Have a small weep, feeling sorry for myself and the entire industry. Is this what they mean when they say to use this time to improve myself? What if I do yoga at the same time?  

Sneaking away to present a lecture at uni. Extolling the virtues of the shows I’ve seen, the ones I’m working on.

Come on, Klysz, pull yourself together. You’re renowned throughout the lands for juggling multiple jobs at the same time. You used to be able to focus for more than four hours a day. Sometimes even consecutively!

I take the dog for a long walk. Then I have an hour long lunch break, in which I inspect the veggies I’m growing. I make another pot of tea.

OK, let’s restart this work day. I pay some superannuation owed to artists from a gig we got funding for earlier this year. This feels good. Productive. Helpful. Will we ever be in a place we can rehearse in close proximity, tour the country and apply for more than a handful of dollars again? Not helpful thinking right now, onto the next thing. Come on Klysz! Smash the four hour barrier!

Libby Klysz and Chris Isaacs in Variegated Theatre’s 2018 production ‘Frankie’s’. Photo: Daniel Grant

It’s an online Zoom catch up with other WA artists and producers. Everyone knows the etiquette about Zoom now. Mics on mute, no one is mucking around with fake backgrounds anymore. Helpful links to support what we are talking about posted in the chat window. We talk about needing time to grieve the projects lost. Someone says we need to focus on making the art we need to make, and they’re right. I’ve been having this conversation a lot, but for some reason today it’s landing with optimism rather than self-pity. There will be no snap back to how things were for the arts. We’re going to be reeling from this for a long time, in combination with the systematic and wilful destruction of funding across the nation. But do I want to go back to how it was? It wasn’t working. Funding keeps getting cut, audiences and artists were not diversifying very much. We were exhausted by the fight. I was exhausted. Is this the razing to the ground we needed? Can we make a new way that is actually sustainable? The Zoom meeting is finishing, everyone’s waving. I’m waving.

I’m six weeks into isolation, and this is the first time I’m beginning to feel like there is a way forward. This is a lot. I make another cup of tea.

Northbridge dinner before a drink in the foyer and seeing a show.

The PAWA Awards are on tonight, online for the first time. I’m one of the hosts. This seems weird, like watching an archival film about the olden days. What will I wear? I’ve been in elastic waisted pants for two months. As I pop some cheese on a dinner plate and put some makeup on, I reflect on my choice to open the awards with a sketch I filmed at home the other week, in which a woman (me) is seduced by her fridge whilst working from home. That was a good day, to feel the adrenaline of a tight deadline again, to remember that I know how to make people laugh. I chuck on an oversized dress. I leave my ugg boots on. Who’s gonna know?

I’ve been going since sun up and I finished long after sun down. At some point I took the dog for a walk around the block.

I’ve been doing this more or less 7 days a week for months. The last day I had off was spent alternating feeling great, and racked by guilt for not getting on top of a budget update. But I’m so lucky to be making a living in the arts.

We pop the sparkling wine and join the Zoom. My co-hosts and I have messages running hot, as we double check name pronunciations. We’re standing by. Someone is drawing dicks on the holding slide. This is manifestly very funny. I’m reminded why I love this town. The decision is made to pull all multimedia during the awards in case they also get defaced. My sketch is pulled too. I’m live in sixty seconds and I’m throwing any ideas about a formal approach out the window. My mic is unmuted, my mouth shifts into gear and away we go. For the duration of the ceremony, I remember who I am, in the moment. Community minded. Collaborator. Fierce champion of my industry. Sailor mouth. Great to see you all!

And then it’s 10pm, which is late for iso. I’m running in the morning – that’s something I do now. Running. Time for bed.

Pictured top: Libby Klysz in Variegated Theatre’s 2018 production “Frankie’s“. Photo by Daniel Grant.

Libby Klysz is running a six week online sketch comedy writing course, via Zoom, Thursdays 7-9pm, 28 May – 2 July 2020. Head to course’s Facebook event page for details.

Read another instalment from our “Day in the life” series, from West Australian Ballet dancer Claire Voss

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