Songs for the Struggling Artist


“You Can’t Live in Fear.”
February 16, 2021, 12:35 am
Filed under: pandemic | Tags: , , , , ,

I overheard this old school New York guy talking with an old school Eastern European lady at my local bagel shop. He said to her, “You can’t live in fear,” after she expressed her concern about the virus. He was telling her how he went inside for a dinner party and she expressed her disapproval. She doesn’t see her friends. She doesn’t go out. What is he doing? He tells her she can’t live in fear.

Oh no? She can’t live in fear? Yes, she can. So can I.

I lived in fear for the last five years, actually. And I was nowhere near as at risk as many people. How about all those who had to go into sanctuary because of predatory ICE raids? How about those who had to worry about every knock on the door? Or those who could be shot at the whim of a police officer who would never be held accountable for your murder? You think those folks weren’t/aren’t living in fear? Believe me, you CAN live in fear. It sucks but you can do it. Fear can keep you alive in dangerous conditions. That is its prime benefit. You ignore it at your peril.

We are all perfectly capable of living in fear. And honestly, our feelings don’t matter. Whether or not we’re afraid, we should still stay home. Not because of fear but because it’s the way to beat the virus, or at least be one less possible factor in spreading it. It’s such an odd disconnect, this notion that somehow taking care of our fellow humans is living in fear.

A moment after this man told this woman that she couldn’t live in fear, he was telling her to never touch anything to do with electricity. I laughed to myself “Why shouldn’t she try and fix her electrics if she wants to?” I thought, ”She can’t live in fear!”

This guy wouldn’t see why I find his concern for her and electricity a little funny given his lack of concern for the virus. For him, electricity is real, it’s tangible, she could shock herself. But somehow, the virus is not real to him, even though it’s just as dangerous as playing with electricity.

To me, this guy going INDOORS to his friend’s apartment and having dinner parties, where they’re clearly unmasked, is just as risky as having a fraying wire in your electrics. It might not shock you. You might be fine. But it is risky. And not just to you.

Also – staying safe and protecting others is not, actually, living in fear. It’s living in kindness. It’s sacrificing one’s own desire for sociability and normalcy for the greater good. You think the rest of us don’t want to have dinner with our friends? That we’re just hunkering down at home because we’re fraidy cats? No, dude. No.

Personally, I want nothing more than to cozy up with some friends in some tiny apartment where we just eat and drink and sing and hug each other. I don’t really have a fear about doing that but I recognize that anyone involved in that dream dinner party is putting others at risk. To put it in terms you can understand, fella at the bagel shop, we’d be playing with electricity. When you play with electricity, you might get burned. Or you could set your place on fire and the fire spreads. So depending on the circumstances, your whole block could go up in flames.

Living in fear isn’t fun. No one wants to do it. But saying “You can’t live in fear” doesn’t justify taking risks with the lives of the people around you. This guy, who congratulated himself for not living in fear and going to parties, is now having a bagel, face to face, unmasked with a woman who has been taking every precaution. It’s her life he’s risked, really.

Somehow this phrase has become a kind of chant that charms the hearers into silence. All across the country people are congratulating themselves for not living in fear while their neighbors get rushed to the hospital and put on ventilators. You can live in fear. And for those who haven’t yet been afraid, you probably should for a little while. Or at least as long as it takes to actually start wearing masks and keeping your distance.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Theatre Is Dead. Long Live the Theatre.

For the last few months, I have been trying to grapple with the loss of my primary art form. When theatres shut down back in March, it was painful but we all hoped it was temporary – just a little disruption in our theatre lives. As time has worn on, and the virus has gotten worse here in the US than it was when they shut the theatres down (Florida reported 12,000 cases this week, which is twice what New York had back in April at the height of things.) it has become increasingly clear that theatre won’t be back any time soon. The art and business that we knew and loved is dead. There’s a small chance of zombification but theatre as we knew it is probably over.

The actually real theatre folks over at Beef and Boards may be giving their dystopic socially distanced dinner theatre a shot there in Indiana, but not many are clamoring to follow their very disturbing example. Institutions are crumbling (maybe this is good?) smaller venues are closing and many a former New York theatre maker has moved back to the place they came from. As unemployment benefits expire, the small inner tube that was keeping many a theatre person afloat is floating away with their future, hopes and dreams. Without some support, the American Theatre, which was already struggling, will start to lose its limbs and then fall apart entirely.

Maybe it will reassemble into something more equitable and beautiful but it is falling apart, no question. And despite much more substantive support, I wondered, too, if the UK theatre was also in decline. I wondered if theatre was dying all over the world.

And then, I tuned in to the live-streamed production of The Persians at the Epidaurus Theatre in Greece. I assumed we’d be watching performers in an empty theatre, doing their work for the cameras – but when I opened the link, half an hour before the show, the camera revealed an audience settling in, making their way to their seats, the way an audience does. I found myself weeping at the sight. An audience! There’s an audience! I had convinced myself we’d never see their like again and there was a giant crowd assembling to watch a play. There went the President of Greece and her entourage to go and sit in the front rows! They’ve brought the country together for this!

And here was the world, on the internet, gathering to watch an ancient play in an ancient theatre – and there, in the seats, were the people who lived there. (I’m assuming the majority of the people in the audience were Greek, since no one’s really traveling these days.) It was all very moving, even before the play began.

It was the sight of Theatre, alive and well and vibrant in a place where it has thrived for over two thousand years. Theatre may be dead here in the United States (along with over 140,000 people who might still be with us if we’d handled this crisis with anything like the skill of the people of Greece – or New Zealand where they are currently resuming live performances again) but in other parts of the world, theatre is bringing people together and demonstrating its extraordinary power.

Theatre may be dead for us here but it lives elsewhere and I have to hope it will live for us again one day. It won’t be any time soon, except for at, the actually real and not a satire, Beef and Boards, but one day we might all sit in a room together and cheer at an expression of our national pride the way the Greeks did during The Persians. I don’t know what will make us feel proud in that far away future – but I have to hope we will be proud of something, If only our survival of this moment, this administration, this mess. We will have theatre in the future and we might feel pride again, too.

Not now. We’ve let our theatres die alongside so many humans – but theatre will rise, I hope. It lives and thrives elsewhere. We can look to those places for inspiration. Long live the Theatre.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Now Would Be a Hard Time to Start a Creative Practice

For well over a decade, I have had a daily writing practice. I’ve developed various pieces of it over the years but it has included, consistently, at least an hour of concentrated writing. I have written about it before – here, here and here if you want to know more.

The thing about a practice, the practice of anything, I suspect, is that it is not always easy but the fact of it makes some other things easier. Let’s say I had a daily swim practice (which, lord knows, if I had access to a pool I would have). It might be hard to get in the pool somedays but surely I’d get better at swimming over time and perhaps even challenge myself to learn new strokes as time went by. Days wherein I didn’t swim might feel strange somehow and a little off. This is true for a writing practice, as well.

But the real gift of a practice is when the times are tough. Take now. This coronavirus situation has made it incredibly hard to put pen to paper. (Side note: I wrote this two months ago. Just publishing now. Now there’s even more going on that might make writing challenging.) Every time I sit down to write, it is a fight. But. I keep going because it is my practice to write even when it’s hard and usually after a few pages, I’m back in business. If I did not have the benefit of a previous practice, of mountains of evidence that wading through the hard parts was worth it, I’m fairly certain I’d have quit in the first 10 – 15 minutes. As it stands, I suffered through about three pages of agonizing slow word by word garbage before I started writing this piece, which, has flowed rather easily after all the halting resistance at the top. That’s the practice buoying me up, keeping me flowing when I feel like I’m going to sink.

If you don’t have a practice yet, I’m not sure now is the time to start one. I mean, give it a shot, if you want to – but it feels to me like it would be very hard to begin something new in this time – or even to learn something new. I know everyone’s yammering on about how now is the perfect time to learn that language you’ve always wanted to study – but I’m skeptical. Human brains learn best when they are safe and secure. When there’s a lot of excitation and fear around, learning doesn’t tend to stick. At least that’s the theory we work with in Feldenkrais. From what I understand, we are most receptive to learning when we are comfortable and when our safety is not at stake. For many people that is not right now.

I feel like establishing a practice is similar. You create one in good times and it will sustain you in bad times. I’m so grateful for mine right now but I would not want to start it at a time like this. It feels like it might be doomed to fail. I can feel all the moments I’d be tempted to give up and toss away my pen. I write through those moments because of practice. That’s what practice is for, I think. Not so much to create genius writing but to be a support for us when the sky is falling. Dancers with a dance practice keep dancing, even if they have to adapt to their small spaces and such. Singers keep on singing – even if it disturbs their neighbors in confinement. We just keep afloat doing the practice we’ve always done and it will keep us going when all else falters.

Y’all know this is not my writing set up. First, there are lines on this notebook. Second, uh, water?! Just water? I’m going to need some coffee.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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A View from a Small Apartment in NYC

It was when I noticed I was pushing our building door open with my hip that I started dedicating clothes for inside or outside. With the pandemic raging outside, no extra precaution seemed too crazy at a certain point. So I take my clothes off at the door and go wash my hands before putting on the inside clothes. When Scott started wearing outside pants, I thought it was overkill but then I noticed all the times I made contact with the world when I went out in it – like that door and my hip.

I’ve started to realize that things are a little different for folks in other parts of the country and world, and so, in the interest of preventing other places becoming an epicenter like this, it seemed like maybe a little recounting of what has become normal for us might be useful.

It’s different in NYC, in part, because we are all so pressed together here. If you go out into the world at all, there is no escaping other humans. Take a walk around the block, you will likely pass at least twenty people. New York grocery stores are tiny and the shelves are pressed together to save space. One other person in an aisle is a crowd. You cannot pass someone without getting very close to them. Other humans pass through our apartment buildings every day – even if it’s only for each family to get a daily walk in. And we need to get a daily walk in because many of our apartments are small. The longest walk I can take indoors is seventeen paces and that’s if I walk from the bathroom, through the kitchen, living room and into the bedroom. Getting 10,000 steps by just walking around one’s home is not going to happen for many of us.

Outside, I walk more or less the same route now. It’s the one that seems least populated. It does have its pitfalls. The souvlaki truck on the corner is always surrounded by guys who seem to have very little concern for masks or social distance. They will happily eat the souvlaki right next to one another. Same with the bagel shop. There’s a fruit and veggie stand that juts into the sidewalk and is always surrounded. But about halfway through this route, there is a bleeding heart bush in front of someone’s house. I have developed a relationship with this bush. I visit it. Say hello. I notice when its blossoms fade and when it puts out new ones. Towards the end of this walk, if I need to, I go to the grocery store. It is not the best grocery store in our area but it is the least crowded and unlike all the other ones, there is never a line to get in. The produce section is a little too tightly packed, though, so I have often waited a lonnnng time to be able to dart in to collect some spinach or berries.

Before this hit, NYC implemented a plastic bag ban but nearly everywhere has given up on it and will give you plastic, just automatically. I mean, those reusable bags are a little dangerous now suddenly – especially if you reuse them. I have two and as soon as I’ve used them, they go in the laundry.

Once a week, we do our laundry at the laundromat down the street. They were closed for a month or two and we had to go to the smaller and more treacherous one around the corner. We try and only touch surfaces there with rags but it’s not easy. I use a new rag every day to go in and out of our building. Watching our neighbors open the doors with their bare hands reminds me to toss the rags in the laundry as soon as I’ve used them.

There were weeks wherein every trip outside felt like stepping out into speeding traffic without a crosswalk. We did our best to be careful but were highly aware that we could be hit at any moment. We developed some dark jokes about being careful not to step in any coronavirus out there – as if it were just sitting in easy-to-avoid puddles instead of lying in wait for us on any possible surface or in the air.

Our friends from afar want to know if we know anyone who has it or if we’ve lost people. I have a fair number of acquaintances who probably had it but cannot be sure – but, as far as I know, no close friends have been struck too low.

But we are all deeply impacted – if only by the refrigerated trucks that are parked outside our local hospital to store the dead. If only by the sheer risk in taking a trip outside. If only by being confined to our neighborhoods because of the treacherous quality of public transportation right now. And for most of us, public transportation is really our only transportation, so here we are. But where would we go? It’s actually hard to imagine going anywhere right now. Especially somewhere far from here. I feel like a walking virus. I would not want to bring what’s here anywhere else.

I see photos of friends and family sitting on their porches, out in their gardens or on walks through the woods that they were able to go to via their perfectly safe cars and I realize how wildly different our experiences of this are. I can see how abstract this virus might seem to someone who lives in a house that is not pressed up against another house and can get in their private automobile and go many places where there aren’t many other people. I can imagine that it’s harder to understand why you can’t get your haircut or go out to dinner when so much else is the same as it’s ever been. I don’t think it’s an accident that these bizarre protests of the lockdowns are coming from folks who live in less densely populated areas. They’re not used to worrying about what the people around them are doing. If you drive from your bubble of a house in your bubble of a car, it probably seems like everywhere you might go is still in your safe bubble. Why would you wear a mask if you cannot conceive of the danger?

But here, we are (most of us) acutely aware of what the people around us are doing. I give the souvlaki guys a wide berth and cross the street to avoid the overly busy fruit stand. But I still go out every day because I need to get more than seventeen paces of walking in. I’m sure there are people who are truly quarantining that look at my daily walks as a luxury or a crazy risk, in much the same way that I look at someone going to (even a socially distanced) party right now in North Carolina. I keep thinking about this piece that Dahlia Lithwick wrote about how the country’s responded to NYC now and how it responded after 9-11. The difference in response is extreme. I was here for both and this time we’re on our own.

And I’m not at all interested in sympathy for our situation. We are the lucky ones here and we know it. We live here because, usually, when we’re not in a pandemic, this city has an abundance of things to offer that we cannot get anywhere else. It may be tight quarters but it’s not as tight as a refrigerated truck and I know how lucky I am not to be in one.

Did you see that post that went around Facebook by Carlos Avila, when folks first started to protest lockdowns? Well, it is a work of sweary glory about what it’s like for us here and what opening things up prematurely seems like to New Yorkers. All we want here is for other places to take this seriously as we know it is. Just because most other places are naturally more socially distant than us here in NYC doesn’t mean you won’t get clobbered. Just because it’s easier for people in other places to hang out in your gardens, doesn’t mean you should leave them. Probably, nowhere is likely to get hit with the relentlessness our city got hit with just because of our density of population – but that doesn’t mean other places won’t get hit. I keep thinking of that choir in Washington State that had one fateful practice and lost at least two of its members to the virus, with 45 members contracting it. Please please don’t get complacent. And don’t let itchy thoughtless governments pull you out of safety if it’s not time. This virus has had plenty of time to spread out and make itself comfortable in communities far beyond New York. If the scientists want you to stay home for a while longer and you can, please do.

Drive your car bubble out to the woods and shout at the trees about how much you hate wearing a mask (I hate it, too) but then put it back on around other humans. For now. We all want this nightmare to end. And the longer we resist the things that will help, the longer it will be. Check your state’s numbers on the Johns Hopkins coronavirus map and if your little tracking chart isn’t going down, maybe stick around your house for a while if you can.

For us sheltering here in NYC in our tiny apartments with little respite or escape, all those protests seem especially absurd. Oh, are you tired of roaming around your yard? That must be tough. Are you tired of driving out to look at the lake already? Yes, of course, send hairdressers back to work then! Makes perfect sense. Welp – there are plenty of refrigerator trucks here. We’ll send them to you when we’re done with them. And no, we’re not done with them yet.

 

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help my apartment seem bigger?

Become my patron on Patreon.

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If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat.

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Tips on Masks from a Mask Theatre Person
April 13, 2020, 1:25 am
Filed under: advice, clown, masks, theatre | Tags: , , , , , ,

The masks we’re all wearing these days are not the sort that would play onstage. You’d have to use them if you were playing a naturalistic surgical scene – but otherwise, these protective masks are awfully hard to express one’s self in. They may be very important for not spreading the virus but they are lousy theatre masks. Even so, I’ve been trying to figure out how to apply what I’ve learned from years of mask work to these terrible untheatrical (but incredibly important) medical ones.

First is – once it’s on, don’t mess with it.

On stage, it ruins the illusion if you touch your mask. Actors will go through all kinds of machinations to avoid being seen adjusting a mask in front of the public. Many will just ride out an uncomfortable mask and deal with the elastic injuries later.

Out in coronavirus world, if you adjust your mask, you bring whatever you had on your fingers up to your face, putting you at more risk. Touching your mask once it’s on moves possible infection around. This is why it’s best to try and work out the fit with clean hands before you got out in the world.

Second – no one can see what you’re doing with your face under your mask. If you’re smiling, we don’t know. If you’re gritting your teeth with murderous rage, we don’t know. That’s why, onstage, mask performers learn how to express stuff with the body. Sad? We’ll see it in the tilt of the head. Mad? we’ll see it in your balled up fists. If you’re finding yourself alienated in your inexpressive face covering, try communicating more with your body. Give a thumbs up. Do a happy shoulder shimmy. If you go too big with all this stuff, people might think you’re a strange clown but at least you’ll have an actual human to human exchange with that person six feet away from you, who definitely can’t see the crinkle in your eyes to indicate your smile. Trust me on that point. No one knows you’re smiling at them.

Third – Don’t be a maskhole.
There’s an effect that can happen with some people where putting on a mask makes them feel invulnerable and anonymous and it turns them into maskholes. When I worked Front of House on Punchdrunk’s Masque of the Red Death, wherein everyone in the audience wore a mask, we saw extraordinarily bad behavior from many masked audience members. There were people who seemed perfectly nice and reasonable before and after the show but as soon as the mask went on, they became holy terrors. They’d steal things from the rooms. They’d get belligerent with actors and staff. They got in the way a lot.

You might have noticed this effect at Halloween.

Similarly, in those early days of Coronavirus – there were a handful of people in masks and lots of people not in them. Almost inevitably, the people who one had to be the most careful of were those IN masks. They’d get very close – pass right next to you – barrel forward in the grocery store. And so the term maskhole was coined.

Now we’re all meant to wear masks outside our homes and I’m worried about the increase in potential maskholes.

One article I read said that part of the reasoning to insist on masks was to help encourage people to be more careful but I cannot imagine, given how many people in masks behave, that it will do that. It’s likely that it will encourage the opposite. A mask provides such a strong illusion of safety – I fear we’re bound to see people in them getting closer to each other than they’ve been before. Why not? They have masks! They feel safe now!

So – you know – try not to be a maskhole.

Fourth – It takes time to get to know what you can do in a mask. It will be alienating for a while. At the moment, everyone looks sort of automaton-y and apocalyptic. But I think there’s hope for a more expressive way of wearing our protective gear. Maybe we can develop a smile substitute that we can do from six feet away? I was going to suggest using the ASL sign for smile but it appears to involve touching one’s face – so we’re going to need a hands away from the face gesture that suggests that you’re smiling at someone behind the mask. Maybe, like, one jazz hand? I don’t know. We need something, for sure. I really miss being able to exchange smiles with the few people I get to see out in the world.

Fifth – no one can hear you through a mask. Onstage, you’d probably just have a character in masks like these be silent. Out in the real world, you will have to speak, probably. You’ll have to speak more loudly than you’re used to, to get through those layers of fabric and it’s going to feel weird, because it is. Nobody sounds good or clear from behind a mask. That’s why gestures work so much better than actual talking. Maybe it’s time we really all learned sign language.

I’m hoping some of my fellow mask theatre folk will be finding theatrical ways to deal with these unwieldy, unaesthetic masks. I’ve seen some who’ve designed dog snout masks, another who’s made a changeable smiling mask. I think, if this goes on for a while and it does seem likely to go on for a while, we will eventually see some exciting developments for this type of mask. Meanwhile, stay safe everyone! And don’t be a maskhole!

UPDATE! I have written some more tips all these months later. Here are: More Tips on Masks from a Mask Theatre Person

This person is doing an amazing job of smiling with her mask on. BUT, really, you shouldn’t be close enough to see those smiling eyes.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

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You Don’t Have to Write Your Lear. Or Your Venus and Adonis Even.

As soon as the theatres shut down, the King Lear memes started. Over and over, people urged us not to bemoan our sudden retreat to our houses because Shakespeare wrote King Lear during the plague. This was meant to encourage us to believe that it might be highly productive to be sent home. Instead, it gave a lot of people anxiety about having to produce a masterpiece while navigating the challenges of social distancing.

I suspect some historical context might be useful and since most Shakespeare scholars are busy trying to figure out how to adapt their courses for Zoom, I thought I might offer some interim thoughts on this topic.

First, Shakespeare only PROBABLY wrote King Lear during the plague of 1606. The only evidence we have is that it was produced at the end of that year. It’s entirely possible he wrote it before the plague broke out – along with the other plays that came next, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra. So, it’s not, like, hard fact that he wrote those plays while people were sequestered and/or dying nearby.

Second, the Lear/Macbeth/Cleopatra plague was not Shakespeare’s first plague. During the 1592 outbreak, Shakespeare wrote poems. He wrote Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece then. In her book, Shakespeare’s Wife, Germaine Greer theorized that he wrote these erotic poems out of dire financial need. She compares the poems to porn of the time. That is, without the theatre to sustain him, Shakespeare didn’t write his masterpieces, he wrote what he hoped would sell or get him a patron. He hustled to keep his family going.

I think this is important. For a lot of us, this is our first plague. This is the plague where we worry about paying the rent (good god, Cuomo, please hurry up and #cancelrent) and resorting to whatever schemes we can come up with. This is our Venus and Adonis plague, not our Lear/Macbeth/Cleopatra plague. If we have another one (lord, please let’s NOT have another one) and we’re a little more financially secure, maybe we can write our masterpiece. Meanwhile, I think the key for this one is survival.

I mean, if you have a King Lear in you to write, by all means, write it. But most writers I know are paralyzed with fear or worry or anxiety and none of that is conducive to productive writing. Frankly, I’d be pretty grateful to write a Venus and Adonis in this moment. Or even just one freakin’ sonnet. Lear can come when I’m less worried about my neighbors dying and my friends getting evicted, you know?

And maybe you’re laughing at me writing this because you know I’m already knee deep in a creative project that I started as soon as we started social distancing. “Ha ha!” you might laugh. “You say not to worry about being productive when you’re over there producing a podcast!” Which is true. I am. But I wrote it last year. The conceiving, the writing, the editing, the dreaming all happened in a non plague time and now is the time I got practical. “Ah,” I said to myself, “if I produce it now when theatre journalists have literally nothing to talk about, it might stand a chance to get a little press.” So… it’s actually a crass practical choice, not a burst of inspiration type choice. It’s Venus and Adonis, not King Lear. Also, starting and making things is apparently what I do in crisis. My theatre company was born on 9-11. When a boat starts sinking, I grab onto creativity for a raft. That’s just my way, I’ve come to realize.


An artist’s life is almost always a mix of the fanciful and naked practicality. I think it’s important to remember that even Shakespeare didn’t write King Lear in his first plague and he may not have even written it in his second.

Macbeth, though, that’s definitely a plague play.

Just kidding – we don’t know for sure about that one either.

And listen, I don’t want to be discouraging, but Shakespeare wrote an awful lot of really terrific plays before he wrote the plague ones. He already had Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Richard III under his belt by the time he had to flee the plague. So, if you haven’t written your Hamlet yet, maybe don’t worry about your Lear. Get started on everyone’s favorite, Henry the Sixth.

Side note: He also likely didn’t have to look after his children or meet with his colleagues over Zoom for his day job.

Write if it helps you. Don’t if it doesn’t. It might not meme quite as well as Lear in a plague but it might get you through and that is the important thing.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Performing Arts Going Dark

Have you all read Station Eleven? I mean, don’t, if you haven’t. Even the author recommends waiting a few months to read it. It’s a little too relevant right now. It hits a little too close to home. It begins with a pandemic that leads to the radical upending of civilization. You can see why you might want to wait a minute to get into it. But I’ve been thinking about it a lot this week – not just because of the pandemic – but because of what happens after the pandemic. The heart of the story is a traveling Shakespeare company that tours the devastated country. When nothing is left, we have the arts.

At the moment, with all the performing arts cancelled, it can feel like our work is unimportant or inessential. Suddenly, it is, technically, palpably dangerous to do what we do. Suddenly, it has become reckless to gather people in a room and share things with them. Suddenly, the very thing that makes the performing arts so magical is the thing that makes them dangerous. Almost everyone I know in New York works in the performing arts in some capacity and almost everyone I know is in a state of absolute disarray. As show people, we are built with an intense drive for the show going on. We are used to pushing through any numbers of difficulties in order to make it to the stage. To have the stage pulled out from under us is counter to everything we feel in the very fiber of our beings. The show must go on! It can’t be cancelled! It goes on! Isn’t it better to do a show? Isn’t it always better to do a show than not do a show? Won’t the arts save us all? Not in this case, no. Not in the way we’re used to.

What’s happening for us is not just a crisis of economics (though it is that and quite a serious one at that) but also a crisis of faith. If the shows don’t go on, who are we? What is all this for? How can it not be good to gather a group of people together and share art with them? To laugh? To cry? To tap our toes to the beat together? To have our heartbeats sync up as we watch? How? How? How?

But, of course, in a pandemic, it is very bad for us all to be in a room together. I am interested in the connections we share with other things that have had to shut down recently. Sports and religious gatherings are experiencing the same unilateral canceling. We are all shut down together – all the things that bring people together, that unite us, are dangerous.

But this does not mean they are inessential. Things that bring people together, like the performing arts, like sports, like religion, are key to our survival, to our thriving as a species. It feels to me that in losing that ability of being all together in a unified state, I’ve come to appreciate it anew.

Sometimes, you may have noticed, I get a little cranky about theatre. I see shows and they make me angry and sometimes I tell you about it. I get mad – partly because I want shows to be better and partly because my ability to make shows has been hampered over the years so I get mad about shows that have a lot of resources and squander them.

But here we are in the middle of a pandemic and almost all theatres have been shut down. And it becomes instantly clear that I would rather watch the worst show there is (It’s Bike. You know it’s Bike.) over and over and over again than have no theatre at all.

For all my ranting, I do love the stuff and I’m sad for even the worst show that has closed. It suddenly feels very important to me to know that shows are running, even ones I’ll never see, even ones I hate.

I hope that when this is all over, there will be a renewed appreciation for the performing arts and their important place in our culture. We were all shaken by how quickly the entire theatre business was shut down here in New York. It was as if someone flicked a switch and thousands of people lost their jobs and thousands more lost their dreams. Like that. In an instant. But this doesn’t mean the arts are a frill that get dropped in a time of crisis. It’s just that being with people is what the performing arts are all about and suddenly being with people is dangerous and so the performing arts become the most dangerous. And not because theatre people are some of the most touchy feely people out here, either. It’s because a bunch of people breathing the same air is the heart and soul of the work – and right now that air is treacherous. So we have to stop.

But maybe, once this has passed, we can come to appreciate what we lost when the theatres went dark.

Maybe it doesn’t need to be as extreme as Station Eleven – where survivors form a community building Shakespeare company. Maybe we don’t have to wait for the destruction of civilization as we know it to support the performing arts. Maybe we can support them right now so that theatre spaces will be able to open again, that shows can continue their runs, that freelancers can survive this terrifying downturn. As this article in Vulture says, “As concert halls, theaters, and museums around the world go dark, we all need to move quickly to ensure that when it’s finally safe to emerge from our lairs, we still have a cultural life left to go back to.”

Personally, I’ve come up with a project to keep some theatre folk creatively engaged with a project that we can do from our homes. I was working on it prior to this disaster in another form and it just happens to be possible this way. So I’m just rolling forward on that and it’s already delighting me.

The skills that help us bring people together in real life are stepping up to help keep us together while we are separated. Here are two that I know about – The Social Distancing Festival and Musicals from Home. Many many theatre folk are going to find this social distance thing very very difficult (as I’m sure most people will – but I think it hits our community driven community especially hard.) I feel quite certain this will drive a lot of them to become very inventive to create distance community and whatever those inventions are will benefit us all in the long run.

There will be theatre when this is all over. And concerts. And dances. And hopefully we will all appreciate them and being with each other all the more.

Look at all these theatre kids touching each other. We can’t do this right now. And it sort of made me tear up just looking at them. Photo by Mauricio Kell via Pixabay

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Want to help me get through this no theatre time?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis




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