Classified as “non-essential” in terms of priority in COVID-related protocols during this pandemic, those in the creative industry are finding ways to thrive like only artists can.
It’s ironic that we turn to the work of “non-essential” creative people to help keep our sanity intact while in quarantine. We binge-watch our favorite TV shows and movies. We listen to music or watch music videos. We read inspiring books. We dance, regardless of our skill level (hello, TikTok). These are the essential things that we turn to for our own mental health.
Well, creative people are not considered as such for nothing. They’re familiar with stress, anxiety and challenging situations. They thrive inside and outside of the box. So when asked how they do it, the answers were expectedly uncomplicated – just like the way true artists would create magic out of things we mere mortals normally overlook.
“Bakit ganon? Lord, bakit parang malas yata?” That was just one of the many questions Rem Gopez, owner of Big Seed Creative, asked when he first experienced a downturn even before the pandemic struck.
Rem Gopez’s journey in the creative industry started when he worked as art director in an advertising agency before he decided to build his own creative shop about 10 years ago. In 2019, two of Big Seed’s clients decided to go in-house with their requirements. And when the first lockdown was announced in March 2020, projects in the pipeline had to be cancelled.
The domino effect continued for months. Forced to adapt to the work from home set up, Rem decided not to renew the office rental contract. Later, he had to let go of some of his staff because the small monthly projects they were working on could barely sustain profitability and cover salaries and expenses.
The series of setbacks tested his resolve. A man of steadfast faith in God, he buried himself in prayer.
“Personally, there was a time when I got depressed and frustrated. Ako kasi, this is a personal conviction of mine – I have strong faith ever since. That’s the reason I put up my business in the first place. When I put it up, I had no guarantees. There was no sure clients, I had no funders. I had no safety net. I relied on the Lord to help me,” Rem shares.
There was also a time when his wife had to leave a stable job to take a lucrative offer from a big company. “I had nothing. My savings was wiped out. But my wife was getting a lot from her new job, so she was the one providing for the family for a while. Her income compensated for my loss,” Rem reveals.
During those most difficult times, Rem fought back with more fervent prayers. He always knew that his prayers would be answered, and that it was just a matter of time. “It’s not all professional. For me, there’s always faith involved in everything. I have that unwavering faith na kahit gano kasama ang mangyari, eventually it will pass. That your prayers will be answered in whatever way or form. It may not necessarily be what you expect, but it will be in a way that it is the right solution for the right time,” Rem shares.
The answer to his prayers arrived in November 2020 when he won a pitch and secured a new client as a retainer – their sole retainer client until today. Business started to pick up from there.
“Even though sometimes you don’t see where you’re going, or you don’t see the plan or the progress, whether things will turn out for the better, may plano pa din for you. Hindi mo pa lang nakikita. Eventually, that plan will materialize for you,” Rem reflects.
Former ABS-CBN segment producer Jensen Cadacio is now an enthusiastic owner of his own progressive photo/video coverage business called Sunset Flip. He did this in a way that is familiar and common to creatives in the industry.
“Rumaraket-raket muna habang nagta-trabaho sa ABS. Gusto ko na talaga mag-photo/video sa labas so bumili ako ng camera, tapos may isang client na nagtiwala. Ayun, nag-tuloy-tuloy na,” Jensen laughs. That was in 2014.
Jensen was an eager student of the craft. A graduate of Film and Advertising from DLSU, his passion was really on video production. So when he got the chance to work at the broadcast network, he would observe and ask curious questions to the crew in the outside broadcasting (OB) van. It helped that he was working in the integrated sports division that handled live sports coverage of UAAP and Premier Volleyball League (PVL) games.
“Ang laking tulong ng live sports sa akin. Tapos yung audio guys namin, pag tinatanong ko sumasagot naman so ang dami kong natututunan sa kanila,” Jensen fondly recalls.
This experience would later prove to be useful when he went full time with his own business in 2018. His clients are mostly referrals from his former ABS-CBN colleagues and business groups, and some were acquired by word of mouth. He started with simple events coverage like birthday celebrations and similar occasions.
When news about COVID-19 started to float around in 2019, he was already entertaining ideas of doing events via livestreaming. He studied the concept just by researching online, after which he told his contacts that he will start offering livestreaming services.
By first quarter of 2020, he lost his projects because of the lockdown limitations. That was when his newly discovered service came into play. “Sakto nung nag-pandemic, tumaas yung demand sa streaming. Nawala man yung projects ko, hindi ako nag-stop mag-aral ng pwede kong idagdag na services, which is yung livestreaming,” Jensen beams.
Until today, Jensen still has no full-time employees since all his clients are project-based and therefore do not require permanent staffing. Right now, he is setting his eyes on expanding his services even further. His priority is to hire his former colleagues in ABS-CBN, especially those who helped him learn his craft. “Tiniis nila ako e. In return, kahit papaano, uunti-untiin ko. Hopefully in five years, may full-time employees na ko,” he reveals.
Apart from his business, Jensen is also studying the intricacies of investing and financial management. “Kailangan mag-ipon talaga e, kahit nung umpisa pa lang. Natutunan ko rin sa mga financial advisors na kailangan mo nga naman mag-ipon palagi. Kasi ‘yun ‘yung di ko nagawa nung bagu-bago pa ko sa ABS. Medyo waldas. Eventually, sabi ko kailangan mag-diversify ng funds,” he asserts.
Asked what he would advise other creatives who are finding themselves in a rut financially, he has two simple nuggets of wisdom to share. “Learn to read the news kasi dun pa lang mafo-foresee mo na kung anong mangyayari. Makakapag-prepare ka,” Jensen begins. “Mag-ipon. As much as possible lagi kang may savings na ready mong i-pull anytime na ganito uli ang mangyari.”
All performance shows lined up for the first half of 2020 got cancelled. The entire theater industry just shut down. But not Rony Fortich. The show must go on, as they say in the industry. The acclaimed musical director never lost track of this performance arts mantra during the darkest hours of the pandemic.
“I reached into savings because of mortgages and paying bills, things like that. I didn’t worry in a sense that I didn’t think theater would never come back. The anxiety came more from the fear of family members possibly getting sick. But in terms of work, I knew it would come back eventually,” Rony shares.
Philippine performance arts have yet to make their comeback just like Broadway and West End, but the action is not wanting, virtually. “Ang Huling El Bimbo” was shown via YouTube, and “Rak of Aegis” was re-staged on the same platform.
“Everyone has turned to the arts to kind of entertain themselves especially in a time when mental health is super relevant,” says Rony. “But there seems to be a continuous niche for online learning – for voice specifically – because a lot of parents want their kids to be doing something during the lockdown.”
It took Rony quite a while to adapt to the emerging possibilities of doing virtual workshops. He was hesitant at first especially since he anticipated difficulties with varying internet speeds that would cause audio-video lags. After talking to some friends who have tried going online, he decided to give it a try and started his own virtual musical theater workshops beginning May 2020. The slots filled up faster than he imagined.
“Not until I gave it a real chance did I find out it could actually work. And I learned along the way, to be honest. So I’d do online voice lessons as well as theater workshops for the BGC Arts Center,” says Rony. He found a solution to problems with lagging videos by doing three trial classes with students.
“To be honest, a year ago versus today, things are a lot different in terms of learning and what works. Now I can get a little more creative,” Rony says, adding that everything he’s doing right now are via online.
One creative solution he came up with was to offer custom piano backing tracks – more commonly known as “minus one” piano accompaniment. He knew that a lot of his friends who started doing online performances needed music accompaniment, and that lit a light bulb: there’s a market for piano accompaniment online.
“I’m an accompanist, and I love playing live for singers. Not being able to do that was frustrating. So I started recording my accompaniments and offered them to those who need it,” Rony reveals. Later on, even non-performers would ask him to create piano accompaniment just because they love singing at home.
He has gotten the hang of doing online musical classes so much that he relishes on the prospects of working from the comfort of his home with someone from New York, San Francisco, Hong Kong or Singapore. In fact, he is working on a project for Abu Dhabi as of this writing. But being a true artist that he is, he can’t wait to get back out there and play with equally passionate performance artists.
What keeps him going? “I love music. That’s what makes me happy. I’ve seen that makes other people happy as well. These voice lessons, they pay bills, but I also see the joy in people’s faces when they have music. That’s what keeps me going – to have a human connection through music,” Rony says wistfully.
For his fellow performance artists, he has this to say: “We’re all creative, so now would be the best time to think outside of the box and think of ways to reach people with your art, and to be honest, how to pay bills with that. There are venues for performing everywhere. You just have to kind of reach out and find it. And if none of those agree with you, create your own space.”
If you have the gift, share it. That’s how bgirls Bea Lesaca, Krista Roma, Jam Jornacion and their colleagues at Beast House Pole and Aerial Dance Studio and hip-hop dance group Philippine All-Stars are doing for the Filipino athletes of the Special Olympics.
It started in 2019 when dance sport became a demonstration event at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi. Filipino special athletes shone during this exhibition challenge, prompting Philippine Special Olympics organizers to take training more seriously by tapping talented Filipino bgirls for the job.
The idea was such an exciting prospect for the country’s special athletes that Bea and Krista decided to offer their coaching knowledge and skills for free. The dream is for the Philippine delegation to excel once dance sport becomes an official competition category in the near future.
Preparations for coaching began in January 2020. They managed to have three face-to face classes with Bea, Krista and La Salle Streetdance Company. A bootcamp would have been the next step. By February, they started feeling the mounting covid scare. Sadly, they had to stop when the lockdown was enforced. But the fire kept burning in the hearts of the coaches, the athletes and the families.
“When there’s a community na kailangan ng tulong, yung pinaka-drive ko is to share dance and have that effect on people with disabilities kasi kailangan din nila e,” says Krista, proving that dance is essential during these trying times.
Bea’s inspiration comes from the joyful feedback that families of the special athletes give them after every coaching session. “When we give, kasi parang we were so blessed in our careers, so parang grab the opportunity. Kahit nga ganito yung situation, grabe pa din yung ulan ng blessings. So teaching pro bono especially for those with special needs, iba na talaga. It’s not about the money. It’s just really sharing,” Bea affirms. She adds that parents would send them text messages, saying, “Oh my God, after 25 years, naka-squat ang anak ko!”
“Something that we usually take for granted. Sa kanila, parang milestone na. Hearing stories like that, fulfilling sya. Iyon ‘yung nagbibigay ng fire sa amin to keep going,” Bea shares.
Of course, the girls still have to make money to sustain themselves. Beast House broke into the virtual format a month after the first lockdown happened in 2020. They initially gave free virtual classes to get the rhythm going, so to speak. The usual problems came up – internet speed, audio-video lock, dance space, instruction methods. As a choreography teacher, Krista thought of a way for students to mirror her movements by reversing her dance steps.
Eventually, with determination and love for the craft, both teachers and students learned to adjust along the way. “Most students of Beast House are dedicated in terms of really learning, so laban pa rin sila kahit medyo garalgal yung connection,” Krista says with pride. “Beast House is lucky to have loyal and dedicated students who love the craft. Magse-set up talaga sila sa bahay nila, kahit sa garahe, kahit maliit lang yung space nila.” And by setup, she means space, pole and silk.
On their part, they consider the quarantine situation both a challenge and an opportunity. They get stressed like every normal human being, but they leave it behind the scenes. “Syempre nararamdaman din namin yung anxiety, but we can’t show that to our students kasi the reason they’re taking classes is para matanggal yung anxieties. As a professional dance teacher, it’s your responsibility to look after yourself. Kung saan ka pwedeng makahugot ng lakas mo…” Krista ponders.
“My goals remain the same. The pandemic just intensified those goals. May kapalit itong matindi,” Bea shares. “Action begets action. Kung hindi ako gagawa ng action this pandemic, hindi kami magkikita ng pangarap ko. Everyday, I ask myself, what’s that one step I can do to reach the goal in my head?”
As a parting shot, Bea has this to say to her fellow artists: “Babalik pa din don (live performances and classes) one way or another. Hindi pwedeng hindi.”
About the Writer
beingKirei keeps two personal blogsites: beingKirei and Virtual Cubicle. She created these initially for self-expression, but she realized that she can do more with her God-given writing gift. Finding inspiration in Proverbs 31:8 (Speak for those who cannot speak; seek justice for all those on the verge of destruction), she started writing about people she meets and have meaningful conversations with. She found some of their stories need to be told and inspire others. She contributes to NewsFeed 360 on top of working in the editorial department of WSP Inc.. Aside from writing, she tries to learn photography, play the ukulele and guitar, and read until she falls asleep.
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