Artist Spotlight with Carolyn Hanna

Home Is Where The Art Is interview series. 

With festival cancellations, venue closures and live gigs on hold for the foreseeable future, the Coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on the performing arts industry. With physical distancing in place, artists are using technology in new and creative ways to connect with audiences from home. We check in with some friends of MLIVE to find out how they are adapting to life in lockdown.

Carolyn Hanna is artistic director and one half of Born in a Taxi. Along with Penny Baron they are deeply committed to experimentation, accessible art for all and connecting with audiences in the spirit of play. Early in 2020 the award winning duo were invited to be the artists in residence at the Centre for Theatre and Performance. Moving quickly as a result of the pandemic, Born in a Taxi facilitated Monash University’s first ever live stream performance, devised remotely and performed entirely using Zoom and Youtube as platforms.

Left Carolyn Hanna and right Penny Baron

During this time of social distancing, how have you been maintaining connection? Have you managed to connect with your audiences in new ways?

We have been maintaining connection with others through our online teaching with Monash Centre for Theatre and Performance and VCA students which has been a life line for us. We also received a small arts grant from Hobsons Bay Council to pilot a community engagement project called Front Yard Frolics, that takes performances to residential streets with a conjunct social media campaign. It’s designed to encourage connection, care and a sense of community between neighbours and local neighbourhoods at a time of great change and uncertainty.  It’s been a blessing to be able to focus so locally on our connection with audiences in the same suburb we live in. 

Front Yard Frolics. Photo: Joe Mastroianni.

Have there been any important creative routines and rituals for you during these times?
Our online teaching sessions have been our most important creative routines where we play, discover new ways to connect, be physical and manifest work with others. As long term collaborative devisers this is de rigueur for us to feel like artists. On a more personal level, walking in nature is the greatest rejuvenator, so daily walks with our dogs is absolutely the best sanity clause around. A group of friends have created a fortnightly Zoom dance party where you submit 2 songs to a playlist and then dance together online for an hour and then go to bed hot and sweaty which is fantastic.

What aspect of this period of isolation have you found the most challenging?

Human contact with people outside our families, balancing work and family life with our kids online schooling and watching them get more and more disengaged with school and take on increasingly bad screen habits. Anxiety about what the future of cultural life in Melbourne and beyond will look like in 2, 4, 6, 10 years time.

‘Learn a new skill that connects the right and left hemisphere of your brain, like juggling and do it for 5-10 mins a day. Watching yourself improve is great and getting the analytic and intuitive sides of your brain talking to each other is an added bonus.’

Have you felt the urge to be more creative? Are you working on anything new?

We are feeling incredibly creative in terms of using our creative skills to adapt to a new reality. We have so many projects in the pipeline we are working on. Currently we are making an interactive online show with Monash University students for kids aged 12 and under about Democracy called GoCrazy DemoCrazy which will be in Melbourne Fringe in November. We have also been successful in receiving an Arts and Culture grant from Stonnington City Council to make the Butterfly House a unique kinetic installation premised on the life-cycle and habitat of threatened native butterflies. We are currently collaborating with RMIT’s aerodynamics department to produce innovative prototype airflow systems that ‘fly’ hundreds of hand-made butterflies within Taxi’s transparent artspace, THE CUBE. The aim being to get audience members to plant butterfly/caterpillar habitat in their backyards to halt the extinction of these important pollinating insects. 

Image thanks to Born in a Taxi

What do you think things might look like for the arts industry once things start to slowly open back up again?

It’s so impossible to say but it’s hard to imagine that restrictions will lift and remain lifted. This yo-yo open and close situation looks like it will be happening for some time. We feel so much grief about the effect COVID has already had on the arts industry and the effect it is yet to have. We encourage everyone to emotionally and financially support their local artists anyway they can along with local business of all kinds. We feel so lucky to have a number of projects that haven’t been cancelled and feel blessed to have trained for decades in improvisation and the art of flexibility. It has been great training for surviving this year.

Image thanks to Born in a Taxi

Any tips for staying grounded in a virtual world?

Keep it physical! We are spending crazy amounts of time on screens and making work online but the key to keeping things fun and alive is to stay physically connected to your own body. We have regular dance breaks in meetings and have been collecting a growing menu of fun physical games to inject into meetings or rehearsals. Learn a new skill that connects the right and left hemisphere of your brain, like juggling and do it for 5-10 mins a day. Watching yourself improve is great and getting the analytic and intuitive sides of your brain talking to each other is an added bonus.

Given we’re all spending a lot more time at home these days, what has that experience been like for you? Can you describe your home studio or work station set up if you have one?

My workstation moves all over the house depending on what else is going on. The kitchen is taken over by my son’s schooling, the family room by my daughters and so I shift between my bedroom or the kids’ bedrooms if my husband needs to be at his computer in our bedroom. It’s madness and requires incredible flexibility. I like being in meetings in my daughters bedroom as she has great posters on the walls of her artwork and wild animals.

What is the first thing you’ll do in a post-COVID world?

Invite people into the backyard on a sunny weekend for cocktails, shared food and close contact sweaty dancing with compulsory hugging.

What song or album is getting you through?

If I need a laugh this music video never fails to supply one, Fat Boy Slim Push The Tempo.

Find out more about Born in a Taxi here.