The Resilience and Grief of Theatre People

It’s a sad song.
It’s a sad tale.
It’s a tragedy.
It’s a sad song.
But we sing it anyway.

“Road To Hell (Reprise),” Hadestown

Today (May 12, 2020) we received the unsurprising but nonetheless devastating news that Broadway (and presumably much of the theatre world) has extended its closure until at least September 6. I fear we won’t see any live, in person theatre in New York until 2021. I hope I’m wrong.

Theatre folks are some of the toughest people around. We face rejection, job insecurity, creative ennui, and burnout as par for the course. Actors and other creative professionals are told no far more often than we are told yes. The extension of Broadway’s closure is yet another in a long line of rejection. We will go on.

We will go on and yet, we are also tender. Actors and playwrights and directors and other theatre folk have soft hearts. We love to gather. We love collaborating. We love feeling the energy of another person, or three, or three hundred. We miss the swell of a theatre as hundreds of bodies gasp or laugh or well with tears in unison. How sad must those revered buildings be, dark and devoid of the life that once filled them.

The loss theatre lovers and professionals feel goes beyond the loss of money and livelihood. Financial uncertainty is also devastating, of course it is, of course we worry about our rent and our bread and our very ability to remain alive. But in addition to the money that we have lost, we have lost a home. Stuck inside our apartments and connected only by fleeting six-foot-apart glances and tenuous internet connections, theatre folks have lost the spaces that keep our hearts beating. The black boxes, the rehearsal studios, the grand stages, all dark.

All dark, for now. We will rebuild. We are rebuilding. We are using our capacity for imagination to envision a theatre world that takes place online. Institutions like The National Theatre, The Globe London, and The Public Theatre are releasing incredibly produced performances online for free. People are doing readings of plays on Zoom. (Zoom should become a sponsor for small theatres at this point). People are teaching master classes and scene studies and Difficult Women monologue classes online. We go on.

We go on and we still acknowledge what we have lost. We owe it to ourselves to make the space to grieve lost jobs, cancelled tickets, auditions that will never come. We have lost theatre legends like Terrence McNally to this horrible virus. We have begun to lose beloved theatre institutions like Shetler Studios, and I’m sure it will not be the last.

I have to hold back tears so I can see the screen as I write this blog post. I am so sad. I am grateful for the internet and for my incredible creative friends and colleagues. I’m grateful that the bulk of my income comes from remote work. But I am still so sad.

I cannot wait for the day that we can gather again.

In love and power and resilience and theatre,

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