James Zala

As we continue our series investigating how artists and the arts industry is coping throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, I travel (virtually of course) to the UK and speak with Flying Director James Zala from Flying by Foy.

Hi James, you work for Flying by Foy, a company that provides safe flying techniques for performers in some of the largest productions including Harry Potter and Lion King, how has COVID -19 affected your work?
Like most in the entertainment industry, we can’t really do what we do from home so like everyone, we’re doing our bit by staying home and trying to give our amazing front line workers a fighting chance. I haven’t resorted to flying action figures around fishing line for Tiktok… yet.

You’re based in the UK, how do you think England has reacted to the self-distancing measures?
The general public have responded extraordinarily well, all thing considered. There’s always tiny exceptions but the vast majority of people have shown extraordinary grit and determination to do the right thing and simply stay home to protect the vulnerable and our incredible NHS. I’m lucky that I live in the countryside but for my London friends, it’s a lot tougher. It’s just such a dense population and there’s only so much room to go for a walk or a run and maintain social distancing.

How do you feel the arts industry as a whole is coping at the moment?
On an individual level, again, I think a lot of people are getting very creative and trying to produce content from their homes, from family musical renditions to Shakespearean verses recited across the street. At an industry level, there’s no question we’re in trouble. Cameron Macintosh was interviewed on the weekend and speculated that it won’t be until next year that we see the West End and Broadway start to return to normal. That’s pretty telling. Major institutions like The National Theatre talk about “haemorrhaging money” so while streaming recorded live shows on YouTube is proving hugely popular, the donations are critical to its survival. It’s the same for all companies, venues and producers.

Do you believe the industry will “bounce back” with a renewed energy and the public more excited to see live theatre at the end of the crisis?
I hope so! It’s hard to know. Unfortunately I think we will be on the last sectors to bounce back as quite simply, theatre requires a critical mass to survive. Selling every 3rd of 4th seat simply isn’t a sustainable model for most venues to operate under. Even when the restrictions are eased, people are going to be rightly nervous about sitting in such close quarters to larger gatherings of people. There’s also the question of household expenditure in a time of economic downturn. That said, with airline being limited and or undesirable for a significant period of time, we know from the Global Financial Crisis that domestic spending on things like theatre, cinema and restaurant goes up. Let’s hope that’s the case.

Have you seen any positives come out of the pandemic?
Definitely! I think this time has shown that we a have a remarkable capacity for adaptation and creativity. From television and radio being broadcast from to home, to manufactures of beer and luxury jackets suddenly making hand sanitizer hospital scrubs. We’re connecting with each other more than ever via the internet and realising that some work can be done from home, thus allowing more flexibility in our working lives. Even though this is the most extreme circumstance to practice, we have also shown that it is possible to give the earth just a moment to breathe. Maybe some meetings can be done on Zoom rather than everyone flying all around the country or the world.

How are you keeping positive during this isolation?
I’m just treating it like an enforced holiday and so I’m doing things that I might not necessarily have the time or energy to do, like drawing and painting, playing music and reading. We all have up days and down days but I’m finding it really heartening how much we’re checking in on each other.

What are you looking forward to most once the lockdown restrictions are eased?
Probably going to the pub with my mates. Maybe going for a drive in my ute somewhere further than just the supermarket. I'm also looking forward to getting back into the workshop and getting my hands dirty and enjoying the workshop banter. I wouldn't mind a hug either!

For more information about Flying by Foy, head to: http://flybyfoy.com/


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