To Absent Friends
I hope you are well. I hope you are finding little rituals of joy through these days of isolation. Has anyone out there written “King Lear 2” yet??
I certainly miss going to the theatre.
We have been living this ‘new reality’ for more than two months now, and it’s still very hard to see the end of it. Yes, the world is slowly “re-opening,” and people are going back to work and the streets seem to be bursting with more life as the weather improves, and the lushness of summer continues to grow…
And yet, there are still questions about when it will be safe to reopen our theatres. We will, without a doubt, be the last ones to re-open. Our sector is going through severe turbulence right now, and the ride will remain bumpy for a while. The impact of this crisis on commercial ventures, like Broadway and Toronto’s Mirvish Theatres, is devastating. Now, more than ever, we must make the case for more public funding for the Arts – not as “bail out” packages, but as an investment.
The question we must keep asking ourselves is: what do we want the world to look like once we are through to the other side?
We now actually get to dream up a new world; how utterly exciting!
I have been thinking a lot about the word “friend.” A mentor of mine once said that we don’t have “donors” in the Theatre. We have ‘friends.’ It’s completely true. When I have conversations with patrons who support Shakespeare in the Ruins, we never talk about money. We talk about the Art. We talk about Shakespeare, the magic of being together at a theatre, the Winnipeg community…we talk about the things that make our souls sing – as friends do.
This time of isolation has been an opportunity to connect with old friends; people I had not talked to in years. I cannot believe that it took a pandemic to make me feel compelled to pick up the phone and call people up. The phone is definitely “back!”
Also, love it or hate it, Zoom has been a complete revolution. Two weeks ago, I had a Zoom call with 12 friends from grad school who are spread all over the globe – from LA to NYC to Australia, suddenly they were here, on my screen, together, after years of not seeing each other’s faces in motion. I was deeply moved by simply looking at them. We exchanged memories and told stories and laughed and cried together…
No, none of it is ideal. Zoom and phone calls do not replace the need we have to congregate, to be physically together. But what these acts of reaching for each other via digital ways do is highlight how incredibly hopeful we are as a species.
As Jeff Goldblum says in ‘Jurassic Park’: life finds a way.
We have also developed a new relationship with Time during this moment of isolation. I find myself doing things I wouldn’t have done before, at least not with the same enthusiasm that I have now. The other day, I picked up a sledgehammer and did some demo work in our front yard. I would never have done that sort of thing in the ‘Before World’ and yet, there I was, breaking a sweat and all.
It has also been deeply moving to watch my 4-year-old son grow so much in the last few weeks. We spend every day together, all day, and sometimes it feels like he takes giant leaps in development within hours, as he uses fancy new words and astonishes me daily with his new-found abilities to articulate his little heart.
I have also used this time to do certain things I was putting off for years because I was “too busy.”
Last Fall, when I was unpacking after the move from Ontario, I found a letter from a kind man named Brian, who generously donated to my little independent theatre company – Bravura Theatre – back in 2015, after seeing me play Hamlet.
I choked up re-reading his sweet words. “Memories of your performance are still stirring in me,” he wrote.
So I decided to write back to him, now, after nearly five years.
I did much Googling beforehand, trying to confirm that his address hadn’t changed, but couldn’t get any confirmation. So I used the address I had from his letter from 2015, and hoped…just blindly hoped that my words would get to him.
Four days later, I received a letter back. My message did miraculously get to him, even though he moved into a senior facility last year.
Brian’s gorgeous response was three pages long, front-and-back, handwritten.
He was so appreciative, and so glad that I had written to him after all these years. I felt so stupid; I should have done that years ago. How simple it would have been to just sit down, and have taken the time to write to Brian…why was I “so busy” and unable to do that until now?
Brian ended his letter with “please let’s keep in touch.”
Yes, let’s Brian. We are friends after all. And that is what friends do.
Stay well, everyone.
The picture above is called “Shakespeare & His Friends”, a painting from 1859 by John Faed.