Is All the World a Stage When the Stages are Dark?

It’s old news by now isn’t it? This lockdowns, quarantines, social distancing, mask-wearing, hunting-for-disinfecting-wipes world we live in. We’ve all gotten to be experts at Zoom (something I didn’t know existed a year ago), we have preferred types of masks and we keep hand sanitizer in every room.

We log into work, we learn how to bake bread, we invest in home improvements and try to stay out of arguments on social media. We recreate our worlds in the best way we can in order to endure this global pause we find ourselves in.

For those os us in the arts, this pause seems like the world’s longest intermission. (Twenty20 @lindafurtado)

For those in the arts this is so hard

But for those of us who work in the arts, or who have children studying theater, music, or dance in college, this pause feels like the world’s longest intermission. Our stages are dark, our rehearsal rooms echo with emptiness, our studios are locked, our box offices dusty, and our voices stilled. Frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if even the ghost lights, the lights that never go out in theaters, have been unplugged and stored away.

So, we wait.

We wait while colleges release plans that all seem to center (wisely) around remote learning, on-line or hybrid classes. In-person classes are the exception. We read the guides and attend the webinars and sign the forms and make decisions we never thought we’d have to make about the now-conjoined subjects of our children’s health and their education.

The parents of freshmen have their normal college send-off worries ratcheted up to 11, the parents of seniors mourn the prospect of a year devoid of exciting senior traditions, the parents of sophomores and juniors hope it will all be over by next year, and the parents of athletes pack away the swag that won’t be used to cheer their son or daughter on this year, even as colleges promise no interruption in training regime for student athletes.

The parents of performers ask “what about our kids?”

The performing arts are in a very bad spot

The performing arts have never been in a more precarious position. The entire industry–from Broadway to community theaters, the Bolshoi to local ballet schools, the Metropolitan opera to church choirs – is grappling with how, when, and if it will be safe to perform together, to sing together, and to do so for audiences.

And caught squarely in the middle of it all is an entire generation of college students as serious about their study of theater, music or dance as their peers are about science, business, or history.

The truth is that right now there is no safe way to gather in rehearsal rooms, stages, concert halls, or choir rooms, let alone dressing rooms and crowded backstage spaces. And this simple truth has put all our students on hold. Oh, sure they are resourceful and creative (because they’ve always had to be), and they will make do as best they can with ‘virtual’ classes, rehearsals and performances of a sort that may take place on computer screens or, for the very lucky, in a parking lot.

As parents we try to support and encourage them

Remote learning for artists, musicians, dancers and singers is possible of course, but without their “homes,” whether a state-of-the-art performance hall or rundown black box studio, they feel rudderless. As their parents, we will be encouraging and supportive, (after all, that’s what we do), but it will feel empty and hollow, and our usual “everything will be fine” won’t work here.

We know that nothing replaces that essential coming together that is critical to their studies and their work. That feeling that comes from being in a room with their classmates for the exhilarating, frustrating, nerve-wracking process of creating art together; of pushing themselves to new artistic breakthroughs; of close physical work in scenes, fight choreography, dance, and more; of long in-person conversations after rehearsals, classes and performances dissecting the process, building each other up, and supporting each other on the journey. All of that has been taken from them.

Having a college student devoted to a life in the performing arts — whether as performer, designer, teacher, or administrator — means we’ve heard it all, from “I would never pay for that,” to “how are they going to make a living?” to “but what are they really going to do?”

We know that many of them will end up following different paths that don’t end with curtain calls and applause, and that’s OK, because we know our kids. They will always find a way to create no matter what job pays the bills. This world will always need those not only make art but who recognize the essential role that art plays in our lives, especially now when we seem to turn collectively to art for comfort and inspiration.

I wish there was a happy ending here

It would be easy to end this essay with the promise that when the marquees light up again, when the dusty rehearsal rooms are opened and aired out, and when the conductor lifts his baton, our kids will be waiting – and ready. That would be hopeful and uplifting wouldn’t it? I tried to write that ending, but when I showed this piece to my daughter, (as I always do when writing about her), she replied with a shrug, “it doesn’t come close to capturing the level of loss we are feeling.”

And I realized that this kind of “oh they’ll be fine” ending can’t work here. This important time in their studies won’t come again, those lost opportunities may not reappear, and their work from here on out will look and feel drastically different than it did for generations of singers, actors, dancers and musicians who came before them.

So, we let them grieve for jobs, classes, opportunities, community, and identities lost. And we sit with them and hope that born from this difficult time may someday come the kind of art inspired by struggle and loss that tells not only their stories, but all of ours, the story of this time.

More to Read:

The Storm We Face Is Scary, But Together We Will Weather It – To read more of Katie Collins’ beautiful writing, take a look at this piece she wrote at the beginning of the spring.

Is My Family’s Travel Destination or Teen’s College Town Safe: New Tool Shows How to Tell – If your family has a plan to travel this summer, for college drop off or a family trip, this site will give you the insight you need before you leave home.

About Katie Collins

Katie Collins is a native Mainer who has called New Hampshire home for the past 30 years. A nonprofit development professional by trade, Katie also has over 25 years of experience in community and professional theater and in 2013 was awarded NH Theater Award for Lead Actress in a Drama or Comedy. She resides in quiet domesticity with her adorable wife, with occasional visits from her talented daughter, a college senior.

Read more posts by Katie

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