I’ve been having bizarre dreams over the last week or so. Reaction I’m sure to our swiftly shifting sands. Here’s one…
I was in the audience of a one person play being performed by the very brilliant, Joe Spano. So far so good. He was seated at a dining room table across from an empty chair. No idea what the play was about. Irrelevant.
From my purview I could see that a man in white, complete with a white beret, was approaching the apron with the clear intent of joining Joe on stage. I could see this was about to happen yet felt powerless to do anything about it. Said man in white did indeed climb up onto the stage. Joe, sussing up the situation to be dangerous decided to placate the man and give over to the intruder’s plan to speak. The man in white explained to Joe that he’d wanted to see what it was like to be a star on stage in front of a large audience. Weird, naughty, innocuous enough but there was an unconscious menace lurking in the man. Somehow Joe understood this and rather than put himself in harm’s way attempting to shut him up alone, Joe decided to let white beret man have his wish. Whilst the unexpected guest was talking…going on about having had a toxic childhood, escalating in emotional timbre spewing forth emotional vomit…Joe was writing something on a piece of paper. Then slowly, so as not to disturb the man who was now fully engulfed in his own rage, Joe held the paper up to the audience for us to read. “Are you really just going to sit there and do nothing?? Is this really ok with you, this…what’s going on?”
What did it mean? Not a clue but it was disturbing even if it was nice to see Joe on stage.
The next day as I walked blissfully to the off broadway theatre I was working in, a text message pinged. It was one sent to all our cast instructing us please to come to the building and collect our belongings as the run of our show had been cancelled. Not just for the night…for the rest of the run. That night all of Broadway was shut down for the foreseeable future. The next day all city performances in venues 500 and up were to be closed. Within 48 hours all venues of more that 50…plus restaurants and …well, you’re living it too. I don’t have to tell you. The only thing far as I can tell that is thriving atleast in my neighborhood, are the grocery stores whose lines look like disco club cues from the 70’s.
Looking forward, I fear for the live arts. Knowing this kind of scenario can pop up now, who will buy a museum membership or live performance subscription? Who will invest in a play without a fiscal contingency plan? What on earth could that contingency plan look like? At the very least the quantifying of actual need us mortals have for the live arts will be mightily put to the test. I mean, do we really need them? Will we or won’t we insist on our live entertainment once we’re past this round one of extreme peril? Will the heart and collective psyche again find a way to bring them about in a sustained continuum?
The weather happened to have been stunning yesterday and what with distancing out of doors being an acceptable form of isolation, I took a long walk. Normally on such a saunter I’d have passed hundreds of people. Instead, I’d be hard pressed to say I passed 60, if you don’t count the homeless. They were were out enjoying the sunshine in number. My path took me through Central Park. There, patterns were the same but greatly diminished which gave the illusion that things were going on as normal but in fact they were not. The weekend playing fields were empty of kids and cheering parents. The number of joggers, bikers, lovers…decimated and then some.
I think things die in stages. Posters for performances are still up, there’s still an Arts and Leisure section in the Times but soon there will be no new shows to promote. Does this mean we have atleast for the moment entered anew into the Dark Ages? If so we’ll have to dig deep to rediscover why we as artists do what we do and figure out a way to do it anyway. We’ll have to keep the flame alive and find a way to continue to hold the mirror up to our flawed selves. Find ways to tell jokes, be the bellwether, companion our common tragedies, rejoice in victories of the human heart, process for the collective the times we’re living in and ignite imaginings of a better future. These and more are the artist’s duties.
Theatre as we know it came about at the birth of democracy. It companioned democracy’s gestation posing possible scenarios that helped form it’s founding principles. If we are moving into a new reality then isn’t theatre just as crucial now as it was in Greece 2500 years ago? We will have to decide.
In Japan the color white is symbolically reserved for death. I think the man in white was foretelling a death of what all I cannot know….but something and it’s too soon to tell. We’ll get through this to some kind of new normal, just as we did after 9/11. What it will look like in the long term is anyone’s guess. What institutions, thought patterns, social patterns, greeds and generosities will evolve in the new, only time will reveal. Artists have a particular brand of stubborn resiliency. If the live arts are to survive I think it will be up to it’s own community. Maybe tonight’s dreams will reveal something. I’ll let you know.
In the meanwhile, bravo Joe.