On Performers, Pandemic, and Privilege

There’s been a lot said already about the current COVID-19 pandemic and how it’s affecting businesses and employees, including theatre professionals and theatre-makers.  But as a theatre outsider, the thing that I appreciate most right now is how much content everyone is still creating, much of it for free.  There are countless numbers of Instagram Live concerts, of re-releases of archival shows, and of artists engaging with their fans to create a broader platform for everyone to share their work.  As much as the internet can be an instigator of misinformation, it can also be a platform of positivity, as demonstrated by the theatre community.  Between Laura Benanti’s #SunshineSongs, footage from Zoom rehearsals, and #HamAtHome, all of us theatre fans are rather blessed to be able to experience and even participate in this outpouring of love and passion.

The thing that amazes me more is how far-reaching all of this can be.  Earlier this week, some friends and I took part in a musical theatre trivia quiz hosted in London where we got our butts kicked by all the West End questions.  #SunshineSongs has been able to give people the opportunity to show off their skills while knowing that people all over the world could be enjoying their performances.  And Stars in the House series offers up-to-date medical advice from Dr. Jon LaPook while also hosting guests from all over, including TV casts in their respective living rooms, Kristin Chenoweth in her bathroom, and even Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber himself.

It’s truly inspiring to see how selfless so many of these artists are with sharing their art.  A major inhibitor of live performance has always been its distribution channel, but now that everyone is confined to their own homes, the performance isn’t about the spectacle or the production value, but the love and passion each person has for their work.  There’s something special about seeing a performer who is still performing for hundreds, if not thousands, in such a candid and off-the-cuff way.  The songs don’t have to be perfect and the sound quality isn’t always the greatest, but for me, it’s just as enjoyable as seeing a show on stage (albeit in a different way) because it’s the chance to see these artists doing what they love to do when everything else is stripped away.

Right now, I find myself one of the lucky ones, as someone who is still employed and able to work from home easily.  It’s difficult for me to write this without fear of coming off as sanctimonious, but it really can feel like I’m living in an ivory tower when seeing the numbers of people filing for unemployment, many of whom work in the arts.  So I feel torn about the best way I can help the people who create the art that I love seeing and the extent to which I can really contribute.

As a recent college grad, I have a pretty limited disposable income, though I’ll admit a lot of it has freed up now that theatres are closed.  While my first instinct was to save it for the backlog of shows I’m sure I’ll want to go see after theatres reopen, another part of me realizes that if everyone does nothing to help, there’s a real possibility that those shows I’ve been wanting and waiting to see may not actually open.  And right now, there’s so much that the theatre community is doing to bring joy to the world while asking almost nothing in return.  For me, it just makes sense to give back to the people that have given me so much to look forward to each day.  There are so many organizations and small theatre companies that are struggling right now, and while I can only contribute a little to each, hopefully, that will be able to help them in getting back on track to continue bringing us the shows we’ll love once we emerge on the other side.

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