One of these days I’ll learn my lesson. It’s 2020, the year of riots, pandemics, and murder hornets. To complain about any aspect of it is to tempt fate; point to any particular thing and say “this is bad,” and about 2020 seconds will go by before something comes to light that is exponentially worse.
So I should have seen it coming when I posted last week about the upcoming production of Godspell, being mounted in August by the Berkshire Theater Group in Massachusetts. Risking the health of the actors, the audience, and the community at large for the sake of – well, Godspell – struck me as the height of folly. I could not imagine a more foolhardy theatrical adventure to undertake at this perilous time.
I had not yet reckoned with the Beef and Board Theater in Indianapolis.
Beef and Board Theater recently reopened with a production of Beehive, the jukebox musical showcasing songs associated with female artists of the early to mid 60s. They aren’t preparing to perform; they’re open for business. If you’re able to travel, you can go to Indianapolis to see this production. And based on the coverage on social media, here is what you’ll be seeing:
- The performers are wearing clear plastic face shields, as part of their costume, while singing and dancing, to avoid breathing on one another
- The theater is a dinner theater, so even operating at less than full capacity it’s combining two of the most high-risk activities – restaurant dining and attending a large performance venue – into one event
- The theater has ended its agreement with Actors Equity Association, specifically so it can put up this particular show.
So, yeah, that’s what’s going on in Indianapolis. People are being asked to jeopardize their careers and risk their lives for the sake of a nostalgia piece about a presumably (but not really) more innocent time – which, admittedly, is a pretty darn effective metaphor for our current moment.
I mention all this here, Constant Reader, even though I’m not planning on performing in Indianapolis any time soon. I mention this because we need to remember why this is happening. It’s hard to blame performers who are desperate for work even when global pandemic hasn’t shut down most of the theaters. You can’t even really blame the theater, making desperation moves in an effort to stay alive. And it may seem churlish to blame the audience members, shut up these past few months and looking to have just one night of relative normalcy.
But I do.
Ultimately, this is on all of us; as with society at large, we get the theater we deserve. If we insist on endless nostalgia trips, that’s what we’ll get. If we’re so cavalier about our own health, to say nothing of the safety of the performers offering up those nostalgia trips, then this is what we’ll get. If we want bloodsport – if we’re comfortable with the idea of people dying for our own amusement – then that’s clearly what we’ll get.
It’s nothing to be comfortable with. Don’t be.