Seesaw’s Q&A series is heading on the road, to find out how artists around WA have been managing COVID-19 challenges. This week Wheatbelt-based singer-songwriter, actor and comedian Alli Butler shares her experiences of lockdown and the start of recovery.
Two years ago singer-songwriter, actor and comedian Alli Butler moved from Sydney back to her hometown of Bruce Rock, in WA’s Wheatbelt. Her eclectic career has seen her appear in television shows such as All Saints, Crownies and Bite Club, and as a musician she’s supported the likes of Sarah McLeod and Bertie Blackman, as well as appearing in various bands, cabarets and musicals.
Alli’s stand-up comedy has taken her from one side of Australia to the other, performing in venues such as The Butterfly Club (Melbourne) and The Comedy Store (Sydney). Her one-woman show 40 Year Old Popstar played this year’s Fringe World and Busselton Fringe.
Nina Levy: Tell us about your artistic practice.
Alli Butler: My artistic practice revolves around creating songs, videos or stand-up comedy. Each day if I see something I think is funny I might note it down, or if a melody, or lyric idea pops into my head, I record it on my iPhone. To clear my head I occasionally run around the hockey field.
NL: What does a “normal” day look like for you?
AB: A normal day involves getting my seven year old ready for school and dropping her off in the morning and making sure my husband has his celery juice. Then depending on what project I’m working on, I decide what to get stuck into for the day. If there are deadlines for gigs, or video posts, I prioritise accordingly.
Earlier this year I produced and performed a one-woman show called 40 Year Old Popstar that I took to Fringe World in Perth and Busselton Fringe. During the earlier stages I’d spend a lot more time writing and creating—and then as opening night loomed I finessed the presentation or finished the half-written song, or went to the hockey field to release tension. I also had to put the producer hat on to work on the admin side, which requires constant attention.
Once school is out I pick up my daughter, which is an important thing to remember. I also teach guitar, piano and singing lessons to students after school.
NL: And what does your average day look like now?
AB: With the lockdowns that were in place I was able to spend a lot more time creating online projects. With restrictions easing I will soon be looking at where I can take my show again as I was in the process of creating a micro-tour of the Wheatbelt and beyond. I also sing at functions and literally just had an email come through to see if I could sing at a Christmas in July event. So I will throw some music practise into my day if I have gigs coming up.
NL: What were your plans for 2020 before the COVID-19 shutdowns?
AB: I was planning to take 40 Year Old Popstar to as many venues as I could. After Busselton Fringe I had just taken the show to the Cummins Theatre in Merredin and was liaising with other country venues to bring the show to their towns. Obviously that was all put on hold, but if restrictions continue lifting I will be able to resume touring the show.
NL: How have you adapted your practice to accommodate physical distancing/shutdowns?
AB: Obviously my work was directly impacted by the shutdowns as there was no longer a live audience to entertain. So I threw my energy into creating online content. This also coincided with Regional Arts WA showcasing me as their “Artist of the Month” during May so I was able to share my content with their online audience as well.
Two years ago I moved from Sydney back to a country town in the Wheatbelt called Bruce Rock, which is where I grew up. Since the move I’ve been shooting videos of my country experiences, knowing I will use them in single or multiple video projects, and lockdown suddenly gave me the time to use the footage and produce a few videos. Some of them are humorous and document my move from the city and the observations I have made in the process. For instance, in one video it shows where there’s about two kilometres of farming fence upon which thousands of pairs of shoes are hung. It’s the country version of art installation. In Sydney you have to go to the Museum of Contemporary Art, or Vivid, for such inspirational stimulation.
I also held a Facebook Live concert and made a song about our wins in isolation.
NL: What are the biggest challenges that physical distancing brings to your practice?
AB: Not being able to perform to a live audience has been the biggest challenge. And even with the restrictions being lifted and venues opening, we are not yet able to pack an audience into a room – that impacts the energy of the room.
NL: And what are the silver linings?
AB: I think there have been so many silver linings. As I said, it has given me time to work on online projects. For instance, I would normally never have done a Facebook Live concert but as that suddenly became the norm it pushed me to try it. And it was so much fun! I’m really grateful to have had the time to spend on creating my videos and to connect to people in a different way.
Follow Alli Butler on her Facebook page.
Pictured top is Alli Butler. Photo: Strange Images Photography