“Our activity is canceled. It is unthinkable to schedule concerts at this time. There must be a greater awareness of the government and the Ministry of Culture so that, if it happens again, we are not unprotected ”.
The words are from Alexandra Campos Vidal, founder and manager of Damas (Bar da Graça, in Lisbon, which also functions as a restaurant and concert hall) and illustrate the way she looks at what is happening in the middle of the Covidean pandemic. 19, now that it is already possible to resume a little of what social life was two months ago. It is already possible to go to the beach, be in a garden, organize dinners, make restaurant reservations. But what about the night? The one that was made up of meetings, exchanging affections and glasses or standing ovations that asked a band for encore? The same one that called thousands of tourists, crossed nationalities and high blood alcohol levels. The night slowly begins to become suspicious as of June, but with many doubts, uncertainties and fear of receiving an audience that is no longer the same. And if this is not just a transition phase, the consequences could be very serious. The night knows that. But there is hope: if the sector survived the 2008 crisis, it will also do so in 2020, believe the agents that give it life.
All of these issues were discussed this Wednesday in a panel promoted by the Lisbon International Music Network (MIL), who reflected aloud on the live music sector, to which seven more cultural promoters / programmers were invited in addition to Alexandra Campos Vidal: Daniel Pires (manager and artistic programmer at Maus Hábitos – Espaço de Intervenção Cultural do Porto), Gustavo Rodrigues (co-founder of Village Underground Lisboa), Márcio Laranjeira (Lovers & Lollypops), Paulo Brandão (artistic director of Theatro Circo de Braga), Pedro Azevedo (artistic programmer at Musicbox Lisboa), Pedro Fradique (artistic programmer at Lux Frágil ) and Sérgio Hydalgo (artistic programmer at Galeria Zé dos Bois, also in Lisbon).
It is true that, if it is true that you will be able to enter, from June, a theater, a cinema or even a show room, with restrictive rules, it is also true that these same cultural spaces will not be able to function at 100% of their capacity. The keyword is to reinvent. If they open doors, many are looking to use the rooms for other activities, related to restoration, for example, or even to accommodate artists and their projects in creative work, as a way to monetize spaces and energize the community itself. Among the promoters heard, there are those who have decided that they will resume the activity now and there are those who guarantee that it is not yet time to have live shows again.
We have no date to reopen because we have no seating. Damas is not a very big space and there are always a lot of people. On the other hand, our restaurant is already open, and it is the cornerstone of our programming. Now, opening our concert hall is going to be complicated. Our idea is to transform this room into a community studio, which receives emerging artists and, from June, will also host a community music school ”, says Alexandra Campos Vidal.
To the north, there is a slightly more positive outlook, and in recent weeks the programming has been maintained through social networks. The concert hall of Maus Hábitos, in Porto, which received concerts, will now also be used as a restaurant, which has been “the lifeline” of this site for the past five years, providing work for 32 full-time employees, but months, he had to make use of the layoff regime. The intention will also be to have concerts with seating (maximum 44 people), as well as cinema and poetry sessions during the week. “We are going to open now on the 2nd of June with the restaurant, keeping the same number of tables, but expanding the possibility for people. Regarding the concerts, there will have to be a financial effort on our part to make up for what the ticket office gave us, despite the gigantic gap we took: in two months we burned 113 thousand euros and we still have some to burn ”, said Daniel Pires.
A little further up, in Braga, Theatro Circo “has been ready since it closed”, as Paulo Brandão told us. “We are going to do it from the 15th of June, and we didn't do it earlier because the rules were late in coming. We will reopen with cinema and, until the end of July, we will do something every Thursday. We don't want to have more than three people on stage, for example. I was more comfortable having to fill a third of the room than having to fill it now with 400. But I don't see this as a return, it's a start from scratch ”, revealed the artistic director.
It is precisely in this idea that this recovery is not a return that Musicbox Lisboa prefers to go in search of occupying public space, instead of working inside doors. In fact, for Pedro Azevedo, this recovery is neither a return, nor is it viable from the business point of view. “We never stopped, developed content and kept items alive. Now it is difficult to know when we are going to resume, if it was already tomorrow I would have enough content to present. Only this is not a form of business, ”he says. In the same sense, Sérgio Hydalgo confesses that, with the rules now presented, “it is unsustainable to open the ZDB concert hall”. First, because it is small, and then because it may not be safe. “The bookshop and the exhibition hall are open, but we are trying to find an alternative in the public space that will allow us to work. Maybe we have a space, but it is impossible to predict whether we will be able to do it ”, he comments.
Who also believes that the idea that these measures can be maintained in the long term is impracticable is Márcio Laranjeira, since 80% of Lovers & Lollypops' revenue, between editorial and agency functions, comes from live music, whether from what is produced by the company, or the one that is sold.
We already had a program designed for June, with or without an audience. On the 5th we will have live and online concerts. It is more a desire to do than a good deal. The idea of having a schedule has to be normalized, because we can't take a year of doing things slowly ”.
And maybe even less time if the airports remain closed, reducing the number of tourists that also circulate in these spaces. This is at least one of the concerns of Gustavo Rodrigues, who, while not common to all participants, is, on the other hand, a symptom of “an empty Lisbon”. As soon as airports bring tourists back, this sector “will be essential”. For now, Village Underground Lisboa opened the restaurant and the terrace a week ago, apart from the streaming sessions in the previous weeks. But the concert hall, this one, is now a television and streaming studio. “People have come to record. Our outside, we are using it as a terrace, but with these rules, to score points on the ground, it is a bit complicated. I don't command people or decide where they stand. We are trying to feel the market, there are very few people in the city ”, he says, believing that it will be possible to survive the pandemic.
Even a positive spirit cannot be maintained for Santa Apolónia. Despite the lack of definition, Lux Frágil is still looking to understand how to reinvent itself.
In the last twelve weeks we have presented a different schedule, especially for those who were at home. Now is a time for doubts and reinventions. We are rethinking space. I can reimagine Lux, but it may not be the Lux that people miss, ”says Pedro Fradique,
who feels a certain “blaming of leisure” on the part of some people. To understand: publications on social networks pointing the finger of those who chose to go to the beach this weekend, for example. And publications that will be repeated as soon as you can dance again at Lux. Or, at least, go to one of its floors for whatever purpose.
There is also another aspect that seems to be common to all these promoters / developers: streaming did not come to save the sector and, despite having had access during the quarantine, it will not replace the live experience – on the part of some spaces, nor is there a large willingness to program using this format. They bring new audiences, yes, but for now, for free. Because this is also a time to support local bands, peek at the community – and their portfolios – and try to bring the Portuguese public closer to their own culture. “People are thirsty to exorcise what we have been through, but trust will be decisive, because it is necessary to work with local audiences”, says Pedro Azevedo.
Even so, it will still be necessary to count on the fear factor, both of the spectator and of the artist. Because with the reduction of wages and some change in people's habits, there may be those who prefer now to spend their days and nights together …