We held a gathering last week for all of the artists associated with this past season’s productions – it ended up being about a twenty-person Zoom-gathering with friends from our casts, creative and production departments. And we just checked in one by one. Some of us knew each other, some people were meeting for the first time. The intimacy of this kind of ‘coffee’ could never have happened in real life before, because we’re able to acknowledge now that “how are you?” is a big question for everyone, in this new era of honesty.
I initiated the gathering because I’m worried about artists – terrified that our most invaluable cultural resource will find the prospects of cancelled bookings and indefinite uncertainty too much to bear. I need to make sure these folks are ok not only because they are people I care about, but because these are the people who will help us rise from this moment, to rebuild, lead thought, process this time for us, and right now they are off on their own. Some artists are embracing a shift to digital, or a break from years of burnout, and some are absolutely despairing that their work has become obsolete – that they have lost the best years of their creative lives.
When it was my turn to check in, I shared with the Zoom that earlier in the week I had been consoling a dear to me playwright who is feeling the great weight of this existential crisis. And that during my talk with her I was reminded of seeing her play on the eve (three days overdue) of my child’s birth many years ago. In the theatre I sat wrapt, knowing this would be the last time I’d experience a show before entering my soon to be new life. Knowing that it would be hugely challenging for me to get out for a long, long time with a newborn, and that I had to savour every moment of theatre’s liveness, of being with hundreds of other people before the deep solitude of a babymoon. I shared that it pained me that we weren’t able to prepare for our last night out before our current isolation – as I had that night – to truly savour it, look around, appreciate it all before we went into isolation.
Months later – over a year later – I went to my first show. My baby nursed constantly and wouldn’t take a bottle, so in that first year I could only be apart from him for 40 minutes – so it took me a year to really have a night off. I was the best audience member you could ask for. I sat on the edge of my chair, my heart was open, I laughed loudly, swooned, felt everything the performer was giving me and was so grateful to be surrounded by other people experiencing the work with me. This is what I imagine our return will be to the theatre when we feel safe enough to congregate again.
None of us knows exactly how or when theatre will return. And, as an Artistic Director who was on the precipice of sharing a season we were so excited for, we’ve had lots of conversations about how we might acknowledge that. Do we share the season that would have been? Can we still capture part of it? If we have to shift this year’s planning to next season and create responsive programming for this season what does that look like? Will our programming be what the world needs when we can produce shows again? When season planning usually starts years in advance, what does it mean to program something for 2, 4, 6 months away? How can we support our artists, our audiences, our subscribers who would normally be planning their year with us already? Right now we are full of questions and not tons of answers. We’re in a moment of calculated waiting.
We can’t know. No one knows. Ultimately, what feels most important right now is reaching out and addressing the loneliness, acknowledging the fear and uncertainty, and affirming – without an immediate solution – that theatre will persevere. That’s its beauty and communion is vital to the human experience. And that when we can come back, we’ll be desperate for it.
Please let us know how you’re doing and what we can do to make life a little brighter. What do you need? Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. In this era of honesty, we really want to know.
Sending love from all of us at Nightwood.