Performing Arts Post COVID: “Now I Send You the Rays of the Sun…”
Our entire society is in the midst of the biggest challenge we hope we will ever have to face. Businesses that bring people together – from retail to restaurants, or theme parks to sports arenas – are working feverishly to figure out how to get back to at least a version of normal. They are working to survive the financial tsunami that the shutdown has brought. The same is most definitely true for the performing arts.
Everyone at TheatreDNA is having multiple calls daily with clients and industry leaders to discuss their concerns, their plans, what actions people and companies are taking to address the logistics of reopening, and the potential impact this will have both in the short and long term.
What changes can we make to get audiences into a theatre safely?
What physical components of the performance space must change – not just for the immediate future, but in the long term?
As we begin to strategize how to get through the coming months, likely until a vaccine allows us to be together again in full force, we are reminded of an experience in TheatreDNA founder Benton Delinger’s childhood, which encourages us to bravely face today but not get too far ahead of the art when it comes to tomorrow.
When Benton was young, his parents used to read the story Frederick by Leo Lionni to him and his older sister. It was his sister’s favorite book. It tells the story of a mouse who, instead of gathering food for winter, gathers memories of the seasons to distribute to the other mice in the dead of winter.
“Frederick, why don’t you work?” they asked. “I do work,” said Frederick. “I gather sun rays for the cold, dark winter days.”
Artists think up the words… they write the music… they create the colors… they choreograph the movement… all of which tell the stories of our lives and record not just the history but the underlying emotions of the day. What are the memories of this global experience that the artists of today will present to us tomorrow? What colors, words, movement, and music will come out of this to help us make sense of it all?
But the longer we all spend in “lockdown,” the more we debate the future of the performing arts. Do we change how we perform? Do we change where we perform? Do we go digital in new or different ways? All these questions are being discussed…so, what should we do?
Perhaps it is best to let the artists determine the path, in their natural time. Let them gather what the world is throwing at them and express it in their unique way, using existing or new tools that they will invent.
“…and now, Frederick?” “I gather colors,” answered Frederick simply, “for winter is grey.”
Clearly, to survive the short-term financial crisis this has posed to all of us, we are required to solve the short-term health logistic issues of gathering people into compact spaces – and we will do that. But to answer the next question – “what should we be changing for future performing arts venues?” – perhaps we should step back and see where the art takes us…
The arts have always reflected society.
Art exists to allow us to escape into another time or place, debate where we are or should be, or expose us to old and new ideas alike. Artists will define this pandemic in the future by telling stories about it. To respond to this unprecedented time, people will paint, sculpt, write plays or books, compose, and choreograph. And they will perform. They will do some things as they did before, and other things differently.
“Are you dreaming, Frederick?” they asked reproachfully. “Oh no, I am gathering words, for the winter days are long and many, and we’ll run out of things to say.”
TheatreDNA is in the business of planning and designing homes for performing and creative artists, and we love what we do. But we also know that, if we are honest and humble about the work, we are creating instruments or creative factories for the artists who use them; it is the artist that “plays” the space, not the designer. How they choose to use it is up to them. Whether music, dance, drama, or spectacle, we are only required to design spaces that support their creative process; it is the artist who makes the space come to life.
And although we always strive to inspire artists and dream of what might be, we will let them be the guide to the future and respond to what they need…not what we imagine they need.
“Close your eyes,” said Frederick… “Now I send you the rays of the sun. Do you feel how their golden glow…” And as Frederick spoke of the sun, the four little mice began to feel warmer.
Was it Frederick’s voice?
Was it Magic?
We hope that you are encouraged, even amidst the turmoil, of what things may come of our circumstances. While some journeys will be more painful than others, we truly believe that the performing arts will come out of this stronger and more poignant than ever. And even though difficult, we will continue. We will adapt. We will evolve. And the art will be the enduring force that will bring us together again.
Published in collaboration with TheatreDNA