Christmas is usually one of the busiest times of the year for musicians and actors, but 2020 is very different due to Covid. Linda Stewart talks with four entertainers from Northern Ireland who have had to find new work.
Actress Allison Harding (56) performed in the movies Mamma Mia and Beauty and the Beast as well as touring for many years with the stage shows of Sister Act and Return to the Forbidden Planet. Last Christmas she played Captain Jess Hook in Peter Pan at the Lyric Theatre and was due to appear in Pinocchio there this Christmas until it was cancelled. She lives in Newtownabbey with her partner, choreographer Jennifer Rooney, and has been cooking at a children's home.
"I'm probably the only person in the history of Sister Act who has done more than 1,000 performances, but I've hung up my habit now!" she says.
"I was about to go into a lot of auditions for TV - about 10 or 15 roles - but as soon as coronavirus happened it all disappeared overnight. I estimate that between us we've lost £25,000 to £40,000 this year.
"It's a big shock to the system and I went into a very dark place. I don't suffer from depression but there have been some very dark days where I thought there is no way we'll ever work on a stage again.
"I've been doing this job for more than 36 years and have never been in this predicament.
"Acting has been my life and it's treated me well - I've no complaints at all. I've been lucky enough that it has supported me and paid my mortgage for over 36 years - it's been a brilliant, brilliant life."
During the Eighties, Allison had taken two years out to train as a chef and has been able to put this training to use.
"Earlier this year I signed up with a temping agency and now I'm working for an NHS trust, covering people who are shielding and cooking in a children's home at Flaxfield, as well as Glenmore Cottage and Lindsay House," she says.
"I start at 10am and finish at 5.30pm. I spray everything down, start lunch and then once lunch is done I prep for their tea.
"I enjoy working with the children - we asked if we could get a budget for teaching singing and speaking to improve their confidence."
Allison built an audio booth at home during lockdown and has been recording voiceovers and audiobooks.
"I was also lucky enough to do a day's filming last month on CBBC for a show called Nova Jones, playing an alien English drama teacher," she says.
"Actors are adaptable. We grasp things with both hands and get on and do it - it's no good waiting for the phone to ring.
"It's good to keep going. There are days you can't see through the darkness but you just have to keep fighting.
"I would like to thank the Arts Council NI for the resilience grant that has allowed me to carry on my practice without having to leave the profession. I feel very lucky."
Allison played Captain Jess Hook in Peter Pan and the Queen of Hearts in Alice: The Musical. Visit lyrictheatre.co.uk/christmas-at-the-lyric-2020 for a home viewing of both these and Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf.
The cruise ship singer
Maria Watton Graham (42), originally from Coleraine, lives in Skipton, Yorkshire, with her partner Robert and has spent many years singing on cruise ships including the QE2 before returning to land in 2016.
"For 10 years I was on cruise lines, big luxury ships, singing as the principal singer," she says. "It meant I wasn't land-based for a very long time and at one point I didn't get home for five years."
Since coming back to land, Maria has been doing corporate events at venues like Tatton Park, Cheshire, and Aintree as well as touring in Ireland with Peter Corry on shows such as The Showman Is Coming.
"I loved being back in Belfast - I was going back and forth every week and I had the best time ever," she says.
"I was booked in with Peter to do some corporate work in Belfast and more work was coming in but as soon as March came and this all happened, it just all stopped for everybody.
"Work on the agency side disappeared and everything was wiped out. I was used to having a lot of eggs in baskets - my work was very flexible and really suited me.
"When it set in and I realised it was going to be a long-term thing, I had to get creative.
"I encouraged a friend to open a takeaway and I marketed it on social media. I was helping run it, serving the food, answering the phone and doing the marketing - it was about being productive and busy. I didn't want to be sitting dwelling in the situation and you had to do something to get through the first lockdown and keep your sanity."
When things opened up again, Maria continued to waitress at the restaurant and also performed as a children entertainer at the Gisburne Park Pop Up festival, the UK's first socially distanced festival, as well as working at a children's museum in Halifax.
"Today I'm actually doing some roleplay work over Zoom as a simulated patient - it is basically exams for student doctors online," she reveals. "Yesterday I was in a studio filming Christmas songs for a local restaurant.
"Alongside that, I also managed to keep afloat on eBay and Depop by selling my unwanted clothes and accessories from my cruise ship travels. As a performer you learn to adapt to situations - we are very flexible and once you put your ego to one side you can get on with what needs to be done to survive... and if that means running about as Tinkerbell in a muddy festival field, serving someone their meal or singing Baby Shark 50 times a day in a witch's costume at the age of 42, then that is what you do!
"The wonderful thing is that you learn so much about yourself during these times and when you embrace change and adapt, in the long run you become a better person and performer."
Actor, performer and drag queen Drew Donnell (29), from Portrush, lives in Morden, south London, and has begun teaching drama at a high school during the pandemic. Two years ago he spent Christmas performing as an ugly sister at the Alexandra Theatre in Bognellor Regis and returned last year to play the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz.
He was also due to return to the town hall in Portrush with his sellout drag show centred on the character of Drew Diva, but it was cancelled due to the pandemic, along with his Edinburgh Fringe shows as Cinderella and as Drew Diva.
Drew was also due to do presenting work at a series of dance competitions in Ireland when lockdown happened and everything was cancelled.
"I very much lost everything and had to think about what I was going to do next," he says.
"I was supposed to be in another pantomime in Scotland this year as the Wicked Witch of the West and that was cancelled as well. The saving grace was that I worked for an events company so I was furloughed, but it didn't happen until May so for two months I was looking and looking. I didn't even get an interview at Sainsbury's or Tesco.
"Luckily in July I got a job teaching drama at a high school near where I live in London. It was a 15-minute walk away so the stars were aligned.
"I've taught kids before, but kids who have chosen to do the subject. Luckily we've got good kids in our school, and I actually love teaching, so this is a path I definitely want to go down.
"I've always wanted to teach older kids in college but I really enjoyed teaching key stage 3 kids which is a blessing. So hopefully it's something I can continue doing - I definitely want to get the qualification. I suppose I stay positive for our industry and I hope that theatre will be back and when we do come back audiences will support us and the measures are put in place."
The country singer
Country musician Bill Lane (63), from Belfast, played drums with American Express in the Eighties and went solo as a singer in recent years, releasing his own CD. This year he has been driving a school bus in the Bangor area. He lives with his partner, Jackie Lee Rogers (42).
"I've been a musician for the last 40-odd years and I was touring with a band in the Eighties and Nineties called American Express.
"I'd also done a lot of work with certain bands down south and in London," he says.
"I used to throw the drumsticks up in the air and I came to be known as the juggling drummer.
"Within the last five years I went solo and I decided to go and make a CD - the production of it was absolutely super."
In recent years Bill had been doing work in clubs and gigs and this time last year he was playing with the James Lynes Country Band in Scotland for New Year.
"At the start of 2020 I did a couple of wee things around the old people's homes, singing for the old folk," he says.
He had begun driving school buses and driving tour buses in Belfast over the last few years to fill in the time when he was home from touring - and this has become useful again in pandemic times.
"I've missed my music over recent months," he says. "But even when this is all over I don't know if it will come back.
"Within the last six or seven weeks I got the chance of coming back in and working with the school board doing the buses again - I absolutely love it.
"There are a lot of drivers out sick at the moment and they brought me in as a temporary driver, but temporary full-time.
"I'd like to set up a wee musical thing up at the school to keep them going."
Bill Lane's CD, called Classic Country: a selection of timeless classics, is available to buy at £7 by phoning 07821112270