Theatre is a sector full of obsessives. For almost everyone working in this business, it is more than a job – it is a way of life, a crucial part of the way we define ourselves.
This is not entirely normal. Accountants don’t self-identify as ‘money people’ nor do estate agents think of themselves as ‘property people’. The division between work and life in most other jobs is much clearer and starker.
So, when theatres close – as they have now for the foreseeable future – it is not just an existential problem in terms of economics, but also in terms of people’s mental health – just as actors can struggle during long periods of ‘resting’.
How can you maintain your identity as a creative theatremaker (and I use that term in the broadest possible sense) when your usual avenue for expression has been suddenly, forcibly removed and there is no clear end point in sight?
It has been inspiring to see how artists have reacted imaginatively to the current crisis and found new avenues for their work, and we are trying to keep you informed about as many of these productions as possible.
Digital distribution will clearly be a major factor in this. If that’s the route you choose to go down, then you should definitely read the two excellent articles about the subject this week – by Kirsty Sedgman and by Katie Hawthorne. And, as a consumer of theatre, I am delighted that people are choosing to do this: I have a long list of theatre productions that I’ll be streaming in
the coming weeks.
But this approach won’t be right for everyone. And that’s absolutely fine. In fact, I think the most important message in this issue comes from Tiata Fahodzi’s artistic director Natalie Ibu, when she says: “Do whatever you need to do to survive this moment.”
If you want to create and are able to, then that’s great, but, actually, there are other responses that are equally valid.
One such response is that taken by the theatre workers we spoke to, who have decided to roll up their sleeves and take jobs in supermarkets.
Partially, this is about economic survival, but in the current situation it also has huge societal value. These performers’ resolve and ability to retain a sense of humour (“If you’re really lucky, and pick the right moment, you might even catch me doing a sneaky step-ball-change around the corner of aisle four”) is just as inspiring as the stories of artists continuing to create.
So, do whatever you need to do to survive. As our historical Long Read shows, theatre has been through this before and bounced back.
It will still be here, waiting for you, when this is all over.
Alistair Smith is the editor of The Stage. Read his weekly column at thestage.co.uk/author/alistair-smith