Theatre in the Time of Covid
I hate unattended blogs. While searching for work, one of the first things I do is survey a target’s website. If it has a link to a blog, a click on it will help me form a judgement. A blog that is not regularly maintained isn’t exactly the kiss of death for me, but it does somewhat lower my expectations if not my opinion.
And yet, here we are, with a new blog entry that is miles away from its most recent offering. What you, dear reader, must think of me. Guilty as charged! Even under of Covid as an excuse, I am sloth personified.
In my defense I will say that these are not common times. It would seem the decay of the Great American Empire as long warned is finally rotting through some of the outmoded pillars that have upheld our society for at least the hundred years, if not longer. We may (or may not) be painfully wakened to the idea that we must take more responsibility than spending money and going to great lengths to maintaining an illusion of youth. As election day looms, we shall see if The Great American Society will live up to the hype initiated in 1776.
And then there’s Covid. No one knows the long-term affects to those who are lucky enough to survive. As a gay man of a certain age, I view the latest plague with a sense of weariness. I saw this movie up close and personal in 1987. I know what’s required to survive it, and I’m intimately aware of the cost paid by those who are lucky enough to survive, and those even still who are blissfully unaware of the severity of the situation. Make no mistake, Covid will leave its mark on this generation long after medicine has found an effective way to deal with it. Apart from the masks, social distancing, hand washing and temperature taking, each of us is responsible for finding a way to survive.
Many in the theatre have been busily innovating the way theatre is done. Zoom. Facebook. Endless podcasts. If you’re reading this then you’re likely aware that I’ve been doing audio theatre for the past two years and I’m not likely to make any more anytime soon. Now that everyone’s doing it someone’s bound to do it better than I have. If it I’ll return to it at all, it will likely be long after it’s fallen out of fashion. Like blogging.
In fact, I’m finding that a return to basics is what’s sustaining me in this time of isolation. I’ve made periodic visits to my friend William Shakespeare and dallied with some of the usual American greats, as well as my old friend George Bernard Shaw, but my primary focus has been on biographies. They’ve been my favorite reading for almost forever, but I’ve focused this latest infatuation on the great figures of mid-century theatre titans. Sparked by the remounts and remake of West Side Story, I a couple of detailed biographies of Leonard Bernstein. From there I moved on to Arthur Laurents – reading not only every biography available, but also breaking my own personal policy his autobiographies. Then moved onto what I’m sure is a very rose-colored documentation of Jerry Robbins’ life.
Yes, I’m aware of how canonical my focus is. And although not ever enunciated in any of my reading thus far, I’m also aware that these three men in particular benefitted greatly from privilege that is rightly in low regard just now. Still, great art is great art no matter the current political climate and one must start somewhere.
Which brings me to my current obsession: Lillian Hellman. I’m not going to offer up a book report here. But I will say that even as someone who is not a betting man it’s likely Hellman is woefully neglected in your reading and education. Long before it became part of the common discourse, Hellman would tell you that her place in the American canon was sacrificed on the altar of misogyny. In my view, her work is only second to Williams, and even I can concede that without Hellman and The Children’s Hour there could be no Tennessee Williams and A Streetcar Named Desire.
My point is that I recognize and am ever grateful for my privilege and blessings during this time of Covid. I have a home, food, and access to healthcare. I’m in a position to make financial contributions to organizations that are fighting the good social fight, as well as direct donations to families that have been impacted by the violent racism that undergirds our society. But I’ve also taken this time as an opportunity to return to the basics of the world that I love: Chicago theatre. I’m still creating and even managing to share some of the fruits of my labor. I’m grateful for this time and opportunity, and I hope that you find yourself in the situation where you can be too. And if not, that you soon are able to get a place of safety and reasonable comfort so that you can focus on your passion.