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Video: Actress launches 'performers in quarantine' project to ease lockdown fatigue

Actress Debra Hill. Picture by Ori Jones Photography

A west Belfast actress has come up with an innovative idea to keep the acting community's spirits up in lockdown.

Debra Hill (26), from Andersonstown, asked performers to send her videos of themselves speaking the last line they said on stage before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Ms Hill said she expected "five or six" responses after she put out an appeal on her Facebook page.

Instead she was stunned to see "50 or 60" come in from performers including Peter Corry, Fiona Carty, Michael Patrick and Marty Maguire.

Around 70 performers contributed to the final video.

Ms Hill, who is also teaching students online with Belfast School of Performing Arts during lockdown, said she got the idea after noticing that the pandemic was badly affecting people in the acting community, most of whom have had little or no income for several months.

"I was speaking to my artist friends and they said they were finding it hard to stay creative," she said.

"Auditions were coming in online but they felt that they weren't in the right headspace."

Ms Hill said she thought of the 'last line' concept after she sent out her CV and noticed that the last play she starred in was in the middle of January.

"Panto would have been the last thing that was on," she said.

"It was insane to see the different variety of work that was coming in. I thought it was great to see new actors and people like Marty Maguire. My mum said she remembered him playing Danny Zuko in Grease at De La Salle (college) when she was younger. I told him when he sent his video in it gave her a real boost."

Ms Hill said actors from across the north, including some who now live in Dublin or England, contributed to the project.

And she has been pleased by the positive response to her video.

"For me it was just nice to read some positive comments," she said.

"The arts community is not being funded really at the moment. People were saying it really made their day."

She said although most actors are accustomed to taping their own auditions, the lockdown has forced theatre companies to find new ways of reaching audiences.

Ms Hill was among dozens of performers who created a short online piece for Belfast-based Tinderbox Theatre Company.

"Tinderbox here in Belfast were offering £100 for new commissions," she said.

"I created a little piece called Boxed about a female fighter battling through the physicality of the sport while also dealing with domestic violence - which is such a big issue now."

Actress Debra Hill in Headrush Ireland's 'Assembly Required' at The Lyric Theatre in Belfast

Ms Hill, who trained at the Acting Studio in New York, said actors are now preparing for a return to stage and television, although many are concerned by reports that theatres could collapse within months without financial support.

"I know there was a bit of online excitment when the different phases (of the Executive's plans to ease lockdown) were announced and phase four was a return to rehearsal rooms," she said.

"I think it's a thing abut Northern Ireland that we have banded together and have let people know we will be back when it's a safe time to do so."

Debra's short film Boxed can be seen on her Instagram @debrellen and at www.facebook.com/tinderboxtheatre

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