Shakespeare in isolation

This Moment in Time

Dear friend,

We hope you’re well. We hope you’re safe and healthy, and that you’re surrounded by love and hope.

This is a delicate moment.

It is less than two weeks since this side of the world finally woke up to the dangers of the current Coronavirus pandemic, and already our daily lives have been dramatically changed.

The effects of this crisis on our sector have been devastating, with virtually every single theatre in the world shutting down and going dark. The show, for once, isn’t going on; and it will take many months for all of us to recover – financially and emotionally.

But we have also seen the best of humanity in these last few days. The world, for once, doesn’t seem as polarized as it’s been in the last four or five years. We have a common goal, and political lines have been temporarily erased as everyone, everywhere, tries to find a solution and strives to keep communities safe. We truly, truly are in this together. We have to.

Of course, ‘togetherness’ is the very stuff of Theatre. This is what we do: we come together in order to celebrate community – that is the very act of Theatre. A play only happens in the presence of an audience; an actor only acts when she is witnessed by the public – one cannot be a theatre maker in isolation, hidden away in a basement; we only truly exist in the context of social presence. Indeed, this new era of social distancing and self-isolation is antithetical to the very nature of Theatre; and yet, it is vital at this moment – and this moment is crucial. This moment is about us helping each other heal; and for us to achieve that effectively, we must come together in isolation. We must avoid society in order to put the brakes on this virus; we must stay home so that soon we may again run toward each other’s embrace.

This is a heart-breaking moment, and as social creatures, we Theatre folk will be pushed to the very edge of reason as we cocoon at home. But as Geoffrey Tennant says in Slings & Arrows: “my reason may very well be hanging by a thread. Well, my friends, it is my belief that the best things happen just before the thread snaps.”

Nobody is worried about theatre dying. Theatre has been dying for four thousand years. It’s a relentless art form. We ain’t going anywhere. But we are worried about keeping people employed and about being able to deliver you the experience we promised you.

Nonprofits and charitable organizations – and SIR is both – exist in a permanent state of precarity at the best of times. We are nimble folk, and we adapt quickly and are very good at diversifying our funding base. But this is an unprecedented crisis.

We will need help.

As Antoni Cimolino, Artistic Director of the Stratford Festival, wrote when his theatre shut down operations last week, “we often look to Shakespeare for wisdom in difficult times and marvel at the timelessness of his plays. Never did we dream that in the 21st century we would face the same circumstances that closed theatres in the early 1600s. In looking back, we see our situation reflected: the closure of theatres during the bubonic plague in 1608 was catastrophic for actors, who, terrified of both catching and spreading the disease, found themselves unemployed; there was no money coming in to allow theatre companies to operate; and it was uncertain when it would be safe for theatres to open again.”

And so, as we’ve learned from Peter Pan, “all of this has happened before…”

We take comfort in that, and in the fact that the playhouses DID re-open and Shakespeare did write and produced many more brilliant plays well into the 1600s.

This is a delicate moment, but I have no doubt that soon we will come together again, and soon we will celebrate this gorgeous act of community that is the Theatre. Soon. Together. Very, very soon.

Stay safe, and please reach out. We are still here, listening…