On VE Day, we went to a gig. Don’t worry, no lockdown rules were broken, no social distancing guidelines breached. We just walked out of our front door, watched all our neighbours do the same, then the people opposite us turned on their fairy lights and started singing. Even though we couldn’t stand close to one another, the whole street bonded after weeks apart.
My neighbour Lockie Chapman and his housemates reminded me that our work isn’t just putting on a show, rather it’s pulling disparate people together into one group then taking them out of the real world for a bit – reacting together to a unique performance happening right in front of them, live. Streaming is a great distraction, but it can’t manage that.
Which is why, have no fear, theatre will be back. Even if it’s a little hard right now to see exactly how, or when. Boris Johnson’s shift from the completely clear message “stay at home” to the dangerously meaningless “stay alert” isn’t helping. Neither is his statement that “those who can’t work from home should be encouraged to go to work”.
Here’s the new danger: the government is itching to declare that this is over
There’s something of the language we’re familiar with from health-and-safety here: instead of well-thought-out, clearly stated rules, a pass-the-buck requirement to decide for yourself. A number of recent tragedies suggest this approach doesn’t work so well; this is a bad idea in what is still – though it’s becoming worryingly easy to forget this – a dangerous pandemic.
That graph we’ve seen most, the steep upwards slope then the gently descending curve? That’s not tracking total cases, but rather new cases each day. Even when that line is falling the total number of cases – of sick people – is still rising.
And that’s while most of us have been at home. Watch what happens when we’re “encouraged” to go out. It is like the common cold (but scarier).
We can’t hide forever, of course. But we need careful measures in place to manage this – and those will be tough to achieve in our line of work. Really, only the Phantom can pull off wearing a face mask during the show. And without performances, nothing else in the supply chain can get going.
But here’s the new danger: the government is itching to declare that this is over. As soon as it does the financial support so many (though sadly not all) have received will end, but we will still have no work to go back to.
That perhaps lets us stay out of the way while the hospitals deal with the next wave that many who work in them predict is coming. But we should all put that time to good use, making sure our MPs clearly understand that we can only do what we do if we survive this intact – and we can only do that if their support stays in place on an industry-by-industry basis until each in turn can safely get going again.