• michaelabennison

Thoughts from Lockdown

I've been thinking a lot about the role art plays in society.

Like everyone else who is currently self-isolating at home, I have spent a lot of my time consuming TV shows, books, music and media to while away the long hours. And I've turned to participating in artistic pursuits during this time - initially as a therapeutic outlet to cope in those first uncertain weeks, but increasingly as additional options to help fill my days.

As I've emerged out of survival mood into a place where executive function is possible, I've been able to move past using art purely to distract or foster a sense of presence. Four weeks after the closure of my workplace, I'm able to consider not only how I can maintain my acting career whilst in quarantine, but how the entertainment industry will weather this crisis and its aftermath.

It's been heartening to see the theatre industry come together to support each other:

  • The Facebook groups created to share advice and information.

  • The established members of our community reaching out to help graduates robed of their showcases and final shows.

  • The prop and costume departments producing equipment for key workers in the NHS.

  • The companies making their work available online to entertain us at this time.

But solidarity can't keep companies out of the red. And with so many in our industry left to slip through the cracks in the government's financial initiatives, we can't prop up our own financially.

I've also heard speculation that casting post Covid-19 will favour the well established - those with a following, a fanbase, a name that will sell tickets - leaving jobbing actors in the dust.

And then, what if the audiences are reluctant to return? Reports from China indicated that, immediately after the lockdown was lifted, people were afraid to return to bars and restaurants. Will audiences be in a rush to fill our theatres?

I write this not to be the voice of doom, but to acknowledge what we will potentially face over the next six to twelve months.

Personally, I feel optimistic about the future. I believe audiences will want escapism and spaces to gather once the pandemic is over. And I think theatre will play a crucial role in that.

But I do worry about the people and businesses that may not financially survive this, not just in our industry but beyond it. When we surface from this bizarre and terrifying moment in history, we mustn't allow the solidarity we have found in the last month to be forgotten. We must continue to support each other. To share each others' work, to show up and, when we are able, give our cash to the institutions we want to thrive and the companies who are starting afresh.

Throughout history, across eras and cultures, there has been theatre in one form or another. Theatre has survived censors.

It has survived wars.

It has survived plagues.

Theatre can do it again.

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