If there’s been one recurrent motif in my blog posts over the last few years, Constant Reader, it’s been me taking talk that “the pandemic is over! Theater is back!” with a sizeable grain of salt. We want it to be back, obviously; we’re hyping Broadway productions and resuming EPAS and loudly proclaiming everything is back to normal. But the words “back to normal” ring hollow in the face of the enormity of what we’ve faced these past few years. They do to me, at least, and I’ve assumed that’s been the feeling of everybody still holding rehearsals over zoom and typing up covid compliance procedures. We know the dangers are still out there, we know they’ll interfere with the best-laid plans (which you seldom find in theater). We know in our hearts we’re not getting back to the old version of “normal,” and we’re proceeding accordingly.
At least I used to think that. I’m not so sure anymore.
These musings are occasioned by my putting together a zoom reading with my friends for a new play of mine. It’s called Before Vinson, and I’ll be taking it to the Valdez Theatre Conference this June. That right there is the first sign that things are afoot – I’m going back to Alaska. It’s a monumental journey, and when I undertook it last year, with my play An Arctic Confederate Christmas, I was panicking for months ahead of time. About the need to test for covid ahead of time, about the risk of needing to cancel my plans at the last minute, and about the chances of being exposed to the virus over the course of the long journey, as well as at the conference itself. And I was right to worry – there were cases of covid at the conference. And yet, here I am, a year later, planning to do it all over again and feeling almost blasé about it.
But I do want to hear the script aloud before I go, to catch any obvious mistakes or glitches, so I reached out to my classics reading group to see if they’d be able to help me out. Just with a quick zoom reading next weekend, the sort of thing we’ve been doing constantly through the past few years. The thing that kept us all sane during lockdown, with that as our primary creative outlet. And out of all our vast membership, I only have the bare minimum number of actors available on Sunday that I’d need to read the script. Everybody else? They’ve got gigs. They’ve got plans. A Sunday afternoon zoom meeting isn’t possible, because of the renewed commitments of their normal lives.
So, things are back to normal. And yet they’re not. I know this. In the recent run of my show Basic Cable Method Acting at the Queens Short Play Festival, we needed to secure an understudy for two of the performances because of a covid case. The ongoing pandemic isn’t some hypothetical problem for me to worry about – it’s directly affected me, my friends, and my collaborators. It’s still doing so.
Yet here I am – here we all are – making plans anyway.
Which means I’ll have to cut this blog post off here, as I need to work on a short piece for the after-hours Fringe at Valdez. And the other recurring motif in these blog posts, of course, is the difficulties of writing them while trying to write anything else.