It was Tuesday, and the Naked Angels theatre company was once again set up at Theatre 80 for that week’s Tuesdays at Nine readings. We were coming out of the theatre to claim our spaces at the adjoining bar – pandemic, Putin, and subway shooters be damned, we were going to quench our thirst. As I made my way out, I saw a friend – one of our number who had just returned to the city. She’d been travelling ever since covid-related restrictions had ended; prior to that, her attendance had been exclusively virtual, popping in on our zoom meetings throughout the pandemic. Realizing at last we were together, again, in person, we hugged and cried and laughed and cried again. There was that thunderous revelation that now, at last, this long crisis was over, and there, in that moment, things were back to normal.
Of course, the exact same thing happened the week before, and will happen again this week as well. And we’re still nowhere close to normal.
Our cold reading series, for which I serve as Co-Creative Director, has been back in person since February. After a month-long stint at a different venue, we’ve been back at Theatre 80 – where we were before the pandemic, where we’ve been for as long as I’ve been attending – since the start of March. That’s two and a half months; this week will be our eleventh week back there. And each week, there’s at least one person who I haven’t seen in two long years of pain and pestilence. At least one person with whom I’ll have a tearful reunion. At least one opportunity to feel that yes, we’re finally saved, before being jerked back to our ever-more-unhinged reality. (There’s also at least one person who I’m meeting for the first time in person after a year or two of meeting with them virtually, just to make things even more surreal).
And of course, this all presupposes that we’re acknowledging that the pandemic exists, and that we’ve been affected by it – something people still have a hard time dealing with. Broadway is removing its audience vaccination requirements even as cases are going up. After spending two years evolving a performance vocabulary for remote platforms, we’re giddily anxious to turn our back on the new medium and pretend it never existed even as the need for it remains great. Heck, even speaking for myself – and I try and be a thoughtful, considerate, and protective sort – there’s the absurdity of me diligently wearing my mask during the readings and then taking it off to drink. I’m well within my rights to do so, I’m following protocols – but there I am, in the exact same room with the exact same people, and nothing changed except the glass in my hand.
We’re in an exceptionally strange time. A liminal time. The pandemic both is and is not over; it’s somehow getting better and worse simultaneously. Each week is a new end to the misery which somehow doesn’t have an end; each performance is a new beginning for something that still hasn’t managed to start quite yet.
This is why I drink each Tuesday.