The Theatre and the COVID-19 Pandemic

The year is 1592. In London, England theatregoers are preparing to attend the run of Shakespeare’s Henry VI history plays, at the Rose Theatre. Oops, forgot to mention that the Crown has ordered complete closure of all theatres in London due to the Black Plague. I guess no one gets to see what happens to Henry VI next. Maybe after the plague settles down.

The year is 2020. COVID-19 is the cause of many closures, including the theatre. Is COVID-19 (also known as the Coronavirus) the Black Plague? No, and I’m not saying that it is, so please don’t take my words out of context. What I’m doing is pointing out the ramifications of a pandemic on the theater community: theatre goers and theatre makers. Recent headlines from websites like broadwayworld.com and playbill.com include:
“Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre Closed Over Coronavirus Outbreak” (broadwayworld.com)
“Broadway Will Go Dark Amid Coronavirus Concerns” (playbill.com)
“The show must not go on. Why the theaters contemplating coronavirus should close, now.” (latimes.com)
“Broadway Usher Tests Positive for Coronavirus” (nytimes.com)

I want to touch on three areas with this post: how to protect yourself and other theatre goers during the epidemic, what do to if you are a theatre goer with tickets to a cancelled show, and what to do if you are a theatre maker with a cancelled show (or closed theatre).

How to Protect Yourself and Other Theatre Goers During the Epidemic

  1. Wash your hands. Just…wash your hands. It shouldn’t have to be requested so frequently, you should just do it. And do it correctly. The CDC has stated that the “correct” way to wash your hands is to scrub for 20 seconds before rinsing. Now, you can be boring and count to 20, or set a time for 20 seconds, OR you can make it fun and sing. Playbill.com compiled a list of Broadway show tunes that can be sung during hand washing (with 20 second portions picked out). You can find that list HERE.
  2. Practice social distancing. If you are going to a reserved seat show, consider buying a seat that is not directly next to someone else. I understand this is not always possible or reasonable, but it will help create a healthier environment. If you are going to an open seating show, try to leave some space between you and the person next to you. This isn’t the exact definition of social distancing, but any little bit helps.
  3. Stay home if you feel sick. This one is kind of a bummer, but if you are feeling sick there is no reason to risk getting anyone else sick. Even if you think you just have a cold, you should stay home but people usually go out anyway. Because the spread of Coronavirus has been quick it is even more important. Be aware of how you are feeling before you go out. The CDC lists symptoms of the virus as fever, dry cough, and (in severe cases) shortness of breath. Just be aware of yourself before going out.

What to Do if You Are a Theatre Goer With Tickets to a Cancelled Show

  1. Do not post or comment on how sad your are about missing the opportunity to see the show. Think about the director, actors, stage manger, designers, dramaturg, technicians, playwright, etc who no longer are able to share their hard work with their loved ones and local audiences. Closures and cancellations like this drastically hurt theatre makers financially and emotionally. Be soft with their emotions and show love.
  2. Consider donating your unused ticket to the theatre. Maybe try not to ask about getting a refund. Theatres, especially regional and community theatres, depend on every cent made from their shows to stay afloat. If you have the resources to, make donations to those local theatres. Many are always accepting donations anyway and if you’ve ever thought about it, now is the time to act. Every dollar matters.
  3. Support theatre any way you can! There are so many performances that are on streaming services. There’s even a streaming service just for theatre (BroadwayHD)! If you want to do more than just watch a play online, read a script. There are so many beautiful scripts out there (and I’m sure you haven’t heard of half of them, I know I haven’t). Just because you can’t attend theatre in person doesn’t mean that you can’t still support the arts. We always need and love your support.

What to Do if You Are a Theatre Maker With a Cancelled Show (or Closed Theatre)

  1. Above all, stay calm. We’re all going to be hurting (emotionally and financially), we need to support each other now more than ever. Don’t panic, don’t fear monger, but do stay alert and aware. While it hard for theatre makers when shows get cancelled and theatres get closed, it is important to remember that it is for the best, for the health and safety of our audiences. Respect each other and remember to show love.
  2. Continue to work on your craft. This could look like updating your website and resume, learning new skills that you would like to add to your resume, reading literature about your area (directing, dramaturgy, design, etc), or taking an online course that could make you more marketable. It is important in times like this to continue to build our skills and not just let them wane. Disney taught us that, “the flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.”
  3. Take a breath and then use the resources that people have been compiling for the last couple days for freelancers worried about income. There are so many opportunities out there that I had no idea about. As a member of a few theatre Facebook groups, I have seen this website (click HERE) circulating all morning. People care about you as an artist, I promise! There are so many people looking for ways to support you financially. Find them. Use them.

I know that this is a bit of a scary time for everyone, but just keep the faith. Let’s look out for each other, support each other, and love each other. We will be okay.

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