We all had a great big slew of bad news to finish up the month of June, Constant Reader, so it’s understandable if all of last week’s events wound up feeling like a blur. But amongst the terrifying Supreme Court decisions, presumably fascist billionaire shenanigans, ongoing meteorological calamities, and other harbingers of doom, there was one other important news story, buried way down in most people’s news feeds, which you might have missed.
A performance of Hamlet was cancelled.
Specifically, it was the current production of Hamlet at the Delacorte Theater, the latest in the Public Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park series. And this past Friday, June 30, the performance was preemptively cancelled due to poor air quality. The smoke from the Canadian wildfires had once again wound up in the New York area; while it wasn’t quite as terrifying as the previous incursion of this polluted air earlier in June – the air outside my apartment window didn’t turn orange this time around – it still posed enough of a respiratory hazard that outdoor performance was impossible. (This was true earlier in the month as well, which is why the June 8 and 9 preview performances of this show had also been cancelled – I just had a little too much on my plate to mention it before now. Sorry.)
It’s the right call, of course. If you can’t safely go outside for more than a few minutes at a time because the air quality is so poor, you can’t be expected to sit through a three hour theatrical event in the open air – much less speak iambic pentameter verse, engage in swordfights, and so on. We can definitely forego a theatrical event until things are safer.
But when exactly is that going to be?
During the height of the pandemic – which, remember, is still going on damn it – there was a lot of speculation about how the theatrical calendar might change. If it was too hazardous for people to gather indoors for protracted periods, then shifting theatrical production to more open-air venues would be a logical course of action. (It worked for Shakespeare’s company, after all, traveling out of London and putting on their performances in the courtyards of rural inns during times of plague.) That would result in a change in the usual theatrical calendar – instead of late July and August being the period of general inaction, more events would be scheduled from early spring through late fall, with a months-long Christmas and winter break providing safety for performers and audience alike. But if the summer air is befouled by ash and smoke, outdoor performances at that time aren’t an option either. And since the wildfires causing all of this are a result of ongoing climate catastrophe, which doesn’t appear to be stopping any time soon, this is a long term problem.
We’re running out of safe locations and times for theater to happen.
We’re running out of safe locations and times for a lot of things. This is a theatrical blog, and a holiday weekend, so I’m trying to narrow the focus of this post and not have it be too calamitously depressing. Uh, Happy Fourth everybody!