The creative arts industry has been among the hardest hit financially by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Our industry has been very badly affected by the closure of our venues," Merrigong Theatre Company's artistic director/CEO Simon Hinton said.
"While we are very grateful that the federal government's JobKeeper program has allowed Merrigong to keep all of our permanent staff - albeit reduced to 80 per cent of their normal hours - and many of our casual operational staff employed, most artists in our industry do not qualify for this assistance due to the project nature of their employment.
"That has made it a priority for us as a company to rethink our current programs to ensure that artists are still working to make exciting new theatre, and connecting with community and audiences in our region and beyond."
Therefore, the Wollongong-based theatre company has announced a reboot of its MerrigongX Artists' Program for 2020, with an injection of more than $40,000 into new projects from independent artists.
The MerrigongX program supports new and developing works.
This reboot comes in response to the COVID-19 crisis and its effect on employment opportunities for performing artists.
Merrigong's artistic development manager Leland Kean said this is a "fantastic initiative for local artists".
"While continuing to support artists already programmed in the MerrigongX 2020 season, it opens the door for new artists affected by the current crisis."
The reboot allows for a re-purposing of funds, to be allocated across three areas as outlined below.
New commissioned theatre works
Performer and theatre-maker Drew Fairley, a Wollongong favourite with long-term connections to the region's performance community, has accepted a commission from Merrigong to undertake the first stage of writing a new work inspired by his experience of being stranded as a performer on a cruise ship during the crisis.
For more than ten weeks, the Sydney actor has been stuck on-board the Pacific Explorer, now off the Philippines coast.
While on-board, he began a daily one-man, cabin-based chat show called Actual Cabin Actual Fever, via his Instagram account.
Merrigong will also be developing a second new commission in 2020, to be announced.
Callout for new independent artists' projects
Also, $24,000 is being made available for new projects from independent artists residing in Wollongong, or with strong links to the Illawarra region.
Up to 12 new performance project grants of $2000 to $4000 are available.
For more information and an expression of interest form, visit merrigong.com.au/merrigongx.
Merrigong will be working with MerrigongX 2020 artists to produce and release a series of digital tasters of new works in development, allowing audiences to experience a glimpse of the works.