Ryan MacKenzie

As one of the most challenging years we’ve ever known draws to a close, we wanted to reflect on how the pandemic has affected the business. It’s not all doom and gloom though. Dare we say it, but there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. Our blog series has been a great way of connecting with you all, and we hope you’ve enjoyed hearing from all our special guests. However, we couldn’t let the year end without talking to the man at the top, so we asked our PR manager, Deborah Welsh to turn the spotlight on Forte Productions’ Artistic Director, Ryan MacKenzie. This week, Ryan shares his hopes for a more creative and settled year ahead for the arts industry.

 

It’s been a tough year for the arts. How have Covid restrictions impacted you and your business?

Pretty much everything in my diary was wiped out. Some of the most significant projects of my career so far were out the window, but I hope that they’ll be rescheduled. That was tough to process as so much work had already gone into them. Forte had some pretty exciting plans for this year which were put on hold. Although we’re all confident that those at least will happen once we’re able to.

On the flip side, this time has been so valuable to work on the business and my own skills. Pressing the pause button gave me a chance to work on my own music, and I feel like I’ve developed more as a musician in the last few months than I have in years. My goals have changed, I better understand what my voice is and what interests me, and my mind has opened to what’s possible.

Although all of Forte’s projects have been postponed, being able to use this platform for the weekly guest blogs has hopefully made a positive contribution to our community. The whole point in doing them was to keep the motivation up. As the pandemic took a grip, and things became more challenging, the blogs kept the spark alive for me, my peers and my colleagues. We’ve had contributions from such a diverse range of backgrounds, and they’ve been read and shared by people across the globe, so I hope they’ve been a source of comfort and inspiration to the amazing arts community that are going through such a tough time right now. I know I personally have learnt so much from reading everyone’s stories.

 

Many of us have been working from home and having to find new ways of doing things. Talk us through how your work has changed.

There are things I had to learn how to do very quickly to keep busy from home – things like being able to record myself, produce my own projects to a high standard etc. We didn’t have the option of going into a studio to work during the first lockdown; everything was being done remotely. Being able to get around technology is becoming more and more essential for musicians, so having these skills will come in handy for the rest of our careers. In a way, the pandemic situation forced me to get on top of this faster, which is one huge bonus.

 

Has virtual working brought any benefits to you, or have you created something amazing whilst working from home in your pyjamas?

One project that we did have a lot of fun with was Pixie Lott’s ’shower series’ on social media. She started out doing it with just a piano or guitar, and then before long we were adding strings and doing new arrangements. They must have gone down really well with her audience, as just last month The Body Shop commissioned us to do a music video, which was part of their fundraising line-up for the Big Sleep Out. That was a heart-warming project to keep us busy during the second lockdown.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrJVo9lIxnc

 

The consensus on social media is that there hasn’t been much financial support from the Government for the arts industry. Do you agree?

100%. I understand that we’re a much more complicated industry to help, and it’s a relief to see venues finally getting financial support. However, many individuals are still out in the cold, getting very little or no help at all. It’s not just in the arts. There are problems across the board.

 

If you could sit down and talk to those in power, what would you say to them?

That no one should still be fighting for equal treatment nine months down the line. They seem to think we’re causing a fuss, but people’s mental health is suffering because they’ve been ignored. The financial stress is unbearable, and some people can’t even afford to put food on the table anymore. The Government keep insisting that everyone can benefit from the support schemes, but that just isn’t the case (I say that because I’m one of the people who can’t access any government support at all). Of course, we’re all grateful for what they have done to help people get through this, but if people are taking their lives because they’ve got nothing left, then that needs to be the wake-up call that perhaps there are problems with the schemes. Support is urgently needed for the people who haven’t been eligible for anything so far.

 

Some venues have re-opened with strict social distancing measures in place. Surely that’s not financially viable?

For most, unfortunately not. Many companies have openly shared that they’re running at a loss. I feel for the smaller companies, especially, who this will have affected the most. Many we’ve already heard won’t be coming back, and that’s going to have a massive impact on the local communities. It’s the smaller companies that often do the most creative and inspiring work, and have the outreach programmes that bring young people up as part of the industry. Without them, there’s no West End, no national orchestras, nothing.

 

Do you think there will be the same appetite for live music and theatre when we get back to normality?

I do. I have so much respect for all the people and companies finding ways of working online, whether that’s live-streaming or however they’re doing it. But watching it on a computer screen just doesn’t come close to the experience of a live performance, and that seems to be a feeling shared by many people.

 

Forte Productions do a lot of work back in your hometown. Do you hope to continue this as we recover from the pandemic?

The whole team here are very passionate about making sure that Moray has as much access to the arts as other places in Scotland. I didn’t realise until I left for university how much music there is out there, so a lot of the work we do is aimed at bringing a range of projects to Moray to sort of diversify and build on the amazing work that already happens. The arts are so important in our lives, now more than ever, and one thing Moray is amazing at is bringing young musicians up with the knowledge that what they do as artists is valued, regardless of whether it becomes their full time career or not. So I guess what the Forte team are trying to do, alongside others who are doing amazing work for the area, is use our contacts and experience to make sure that Moray has access to the bigger picture across Scotland and the UK, so that our community have people to look up to and can see where they fit in. We really want to continue doing that.

The more serious note here is that as much as we love what we do, it’s an expensive endeavour and if it’s to continue, we need the support of our community and audiences. I say this not just for Forte, but hopefully on behalf of all the companies and creative people in Moray and further afield – please, if you can, support the local projects. Especially now, as we try our best to build back from this tough year we’ve had. They’re so important for the community. And without support, they won’t be able to come back.

 

What are you working on right now?

There are a few projects lined up for 2021 which I’ve started working on, but most of them are just slowly ticking away until we know if we’re going to see some semblance of normality or not. For now, much of my time is going into Let it Snow, which I’m delighted we could make happen, albeit in a reduced form. I’m lucky to have been kept busy over the last few months though, so I’m looking forward to switching off over Christmas and hopefully taking advantage of what is sure to be a quieter year than usual!

 

Any grand plans for 2021?

Hopefully, all the projects that had to be put on hold! A lot of those have been pencilled in for next year and fingers crossed we’ll find a way of getting everything going again.

 

Forte Productions’ annual Let it Snow is running on Friday 18th and Saturday 19th December, at Moray Sports Centre. The event is scaled back from previous years to align with current government guidelines, and audience numbers are limited to allow for social distancing. For tickets, email kyra@forteproductions.co.uk or for more information, click here.


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