#OnlyIntermission: Performers Take a Precautionary Pause

by Rebecca Rudnyk

The days weigh heavy. Compounding. Each, somehow, heavier than the last. Saturated in monotony. Accompanied by a novel loneliness that can only come from seclusion at an epic level. Days, weeks, months without social gathering. An oddly unsettling guilt for having taken weekly family brunches, happy hours with friends, and live communal entertainment for granted for so long. This is the new normal in the time of COVID-19. This is our new normal.

It’s now month three. No idea what day of the week it is. I worked from home all day, so it must be between Monday and Friday. Time is relative. But I’m confident in the fact that I have been at home, all day every day, since mid-March and that it is now mid-May.

And during this time, I have felt tremendous pressure to fill my mandated down time with creative development and production. And in that realm, candidly, I am failing miserably. The pressure to write, create, and learn new skills are immeasurably daunting. So, for the most part, I’ve opted out and gone silent. And I’d venture to guess that there are many others who feel the same. Just know that you’re not alone and it’s okay if you aren’t feeling super motivated right now. Normally, I write as an outlet and do so without even thinking about it. But normality is a luxury currently, and I can barely formulate a sentence.

At the start of the quarantine, I found tremendous solace in the ingenuity of the theatre community. Zoom cabaret shows and interviews, Twitter posts of powerful individual performances, verbal readings. In addition to all of the streaming of filmed productions. I felt almost whole. But now, while I appreciate how our community has adapted, I am starting to grow weary and ever-more concerned.

I miss theatre. The new normal is like Thai curry without coconut milk. I still enjoy it, but the ingredient that makes it the most special, my favorite element, is glaringly absent. Watching theatre by myself, through a screen, is delicious but devoid of the ingredient that makes it the most special. Experiencing it with others. The uncontrollable cheering and ovations. The energy that resonates from the performers onstage and surges palpably through the audience. I miss it.

Broadway remains dark. Our local valley theaters remain closed indefinitely. And CBS has elected to air a Grease song-along in place of the cancelled Tony Awards. The night most reverential to the best of the best in the medium, reduced to a must-miss event nobody asked for.

This pandemic will have ripple effects for months and years to come. And as our state and much of the country begins to reopen, we have a choice to make. A choice that will have a lasting impact on how long this #OnlyIntermission disruption will continue. A choice that seems intuitive, but is apparently not. Because once again people are dining in restaurants, going to beauty salons, and buying tickets to NFL games. People are packing the streets and retail stores, sans masks. And I fear that our arts community will be the most negatively impacted by the long term consequences of those decisions..

I have confidence that this community will choose to do what is best for the greater good. Because our community is built on empathy, truth, and the human experience. So theatre will be one of the last communities to force us into unsafe situations. Because, although it operates with awareness of profit margins, it is not a traditional business. It is a group of people who invest all of their time, energy, and creativity into building a forum that connects us. And no one in this community wants to put on a performance that ultimately leads to illness or death amongst their patrons.

But that means that this community is in a high risk zone. Because doing what is right and safe and responsible also means a total and abrupt halt on revenue. In any non-profit, the total loss of dependable cash flow is devastating. And the longer the pause, the lower the likelihood of a recovery.

We are at a crossroad. And the power to shift the trajectory resides in each of us. If we, the arts-loving community, make a conscious decision to continue the sacrifices we have maintained since March, and to encourage our friends, families, and coworkers to do the same, we can shift the momentum.

Science dictates that if we stop social distancing, wearing masks, and avoiding dense gatherings too soon, the virus will peak again. Infecting more people, and taking more lives. So, for the sake of our community, please continue to stay at home as much as possible. Avoid confined indoor spaces with groups of people. If you must go into a public space, wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth. And encourage the people in your lives to do the same.

Because as difficult as it is to continue isolating, the short term sacrifices will yield long term results. It could mean the difference between our community beginning to thrive again in a matter of months, or an unimaginable amount of time experiencing the arts with our favorite ingredient missing. We can make a difference through our words and actions.

Take care of yourselves and each other. And in time, the show will go on.