Art in Pandemic Life
To save art is to preserve humanity. At its best, art is helpful. One of the largest contributors to the formation of art as we know it today is facing an indefinite struggle at the hands of this pandemic: theater is nearing dilapidation.
Theater has continuously been influential in all aspects of life since its conception. It is not only a tool for teaching one how to express themselves effectively, but also an instrument to empower the marginalized and make people forgo their previous reservations. Theater contributes to education and literature, engages economic revival, and influences the narrative a culture holds about themselves and others. But above all, theater triggers the human instinct of bringing people together to perform and pass down stories from their own making or some time forever ago.
Before the pandemic, there was already a barrier of entry for many people. Though theater is about community building, it’s clear that a lack of accessibility discourages from the very sentiments it holds. This is an issue that needs to be addressed. Theater is about storytelling. A story becomes an experience that warps how you see the world around you. There are so many lives not being influenced by the function of theater, and that needs to change.
There’s reason to feel despondent. Over 3 million people are out of work in the theatrical industry. They are lost; wondering if and when the stage is going to come back. However, in this time we can reframe and reimagine who the theater is for, how we get it to people, and how to change the dynamics that make theater difficult to get to. As it stands, theater has been inaccessible for people of low economic backgrounds whose lack of financial resources means they aren’t welcome in these spaces. Now we are challenged to think of people who were stuck at home before the pandemic because of disability, the responsibilities of raising a family, etc. This moment of uncertainty with theater can be used to connect with them in a different way.
Playwright Jeremy O. Harris, who received a record 12 Tony nominations for his broadway production, “Slave Play,” has produced two plays during quarantine (Will Arbery's “Heroes of the Fourth Turning” and “Circle Jerk” by FakeFriends) where they were able to get over 10,000 people all across the world online to see independent experimental plays in ways they couldn’t see or support before. Broadening the community that theater serves is an exciting opportunity as all theaters are currently closed.
In a recent interview with The Daily Show host Trevor Noah, O. Harris said, “If we want as many possible people to see this we have to think about the fact that in America, theater is on its last legs--all of the arts are on their last legs,” He then promotes the #BeAnArtsHero campaign and encourages viewers to research the Federal Theater Project and the Federal Arts Project, which were plans instituted as a part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in order to put money in the hands of artists everywhere--not discriminating geographically--to revive and stimulate the economy. Theater laid the foundational principles of the media we consume today. It is crucial for the next generation of artists to be allowed to make those types of projects while not starving to do it. They need to be bailed out, not wall street or the art sector. Artists feed our soul and help us reshape what we think about America in significant ways. Isn’t that worth something?
The Federal Theatre project can be credited with creating the first black theater arts movement, in addition to putting theaters in every major region in the country, as well as putting artists to work right after the great depression. This is what we need in the coming years, post-corona. It’s a light at the end of the tunnel for a lot of people; knowing that there will be a time where they can regain participation in community-based catharsis. It is through this time of uncertainty where we can work to lobby and change the state of theatre so as stories can continue to be told and listened to.
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