Back in 2009, the stretch of abandoned railroad tracks stretching down Manhattan’s 11th avenue, from 34th Street all the way down to Gansevoort, was converted into the Highline Park. Where once stood rusting girders and weed-strewn debris, there is now a bustling thoroughfare where hundreds come to stroll, socialize, and enjoy extraordinary views of the city. Of course, those views were once the exclusive province of the folks who lived in the meatpacking district; now, instead of a quiet urban landscape (at least as quiet a landscape as New York ever affords), they had hundreds of curious, jabbering passersby standing literally outside their window.
This being New York, more than a few of the Highline’s neighbors turned out to be actors. And finding themselves thrust into this strange new situation, they figured out how to make it into an opportunity. The Renegade Cabaret, now a legitimate producing organization, was born out of a longtime resident going out on her fire escape each night to perform an impromptu show tune or monologue for the assorted parkgoers. Rather than shut her blinds and curse the noise and distraction, she figured out how to create opportunity where once there had been nothing but a fire escape. It’s the kind of resourcefulness you have to have as a performing artist.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as countless more traditional performance spaces are being faced with the threat of coronavirus.
I realize this is pretty far down the list of things to worry about concerning this latest crisis, but dangerous and fast-moving epidemics have a habit of closing down public places like theaters. Combine that with the need for people to stay home as much as possible, or even self-quarantine (everybody’s doing it!), and we’re looking at a dire stretch of time for the performing arts. Already, in hard-hit Italy, such beloved cultural institutions as La Strada Opera House have shuttered, whole sections of their seasons cancelled.
But, again, the resourceful actor will find a way to perform, regardless of adversity. This is, admittedly, more of a prediction on my part than anything else, but already my friends are joking about livestreaming their quarantines, about belting out songs with specially themed lyrics to help keep themselves sane.
This is how movements begin. Mark my words, in a few short weeks, quarantine cabaret will be the next big thing. And if humanity is still around in a few years, its preeminent minstrels and troubadors will be the ones we livestreamed as we huddled with hand sanitizer in our studio apartments.
Looks like I need to get my home video station set up…