The Theatre of The Everyday

Originally published on http://www.takeyourseats.ie

While I once again find myself writing a lockdown column, this month there is a glimmer of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel with the most recent government announcement which suggests theatres may reopen in June.  Though they say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, is maith an t-anlann an t-ocras, good things come to those who wait…the waiting is still no fun. After months of darkened stages and empty auditorium seats, I know many of us are waiting with bated breath for the return of live theatre. Even with fantastic streamed plays, Zoom performances and other digital offerings, nothing quite matches the feeling of being present in a room with other people as a story unfurls on stage.  But, as the famous line from As You Like It goes, “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” So this month, I invite you to look to the stage around us and find the theatre in everyday life.

We may not be able to come and meet those dancing feet at 42nd Street, or watch dancers pas de chat across a stage in the Dance of the Cygnets, but just step into your local supermarket and you will see a complicated new choreography that we have all learned over the past year – the Social Distancing Dance. You go to pick up a box of cornflakes, but as you do another shopper reaches for the box next to it; a quick chassé each and you have returned to your safe 2 metre distance, her by the Weetabix, you next to the Rice Krispies. Meanwhile, an unwitting corps de ballet of other shoppers steps cautiously in time with each other in their socially distanced queue at the checkouts.

Or if it’s music you’re missing, step outside your front door and hear the music that is being performed all around you. Following in the tradition of Marcel Duchamp’s ready-mades, and composers like John Cage, let the sounds around you become a performance. Imagine a dialogue between the ice-cream van’s jingle and the rattle of a train passing nearby, or between the car alarm that is wailing in the distance and the beep-beep-beep of the checkouts in a shop. Let the world’s overture entertain you as you wait for the curtain to rise in your favourite venue.

Finally, if you need some drama, look no further than the bird-feeder outside your back door. Watch the dynamic power-struggles unfold between a goldfinch and a starling over some sunflower hearts and peanuts. Act 1 opens as the goldfinch flies down and perches, ready for breakfast, but as the interloping starling swoops in, a drama to rival Ibsen or Sophocles begins. Or if you prefer a mystery like The Mousetrap, check out The Mystery of the Vanishing Parcel. You’ve been at home all day, the doorbell is working, and yet you spy the dreaded note below your letterbox – ‘We are sorry we missed you.’ You don’t know when it appeared, you never heard a thing, you can’t even remember what you ordered. As the curtain falls at the interval, the greatest mystery of our time leaves you wondering, where could the parcel be, and will it ever be seen again?

We have all been in lockdowns for longer than we care to remember; we have ordered all of the things we can order online, we have baked more banana bread than we could ever hope to eat, and we have re-watched our favourite sitcoms far too many times. But it won’t last forever – there is light at the end of the tunnel and that light will illuminate our stages again before too long. In the meantime, find the novelty in the normal, entertainment in the everyday, and let the curtain rise on the theatre of day-to-day life.

A Year of the Ghost Light

Originally published on http://www.takeyourseats.ie

To The Theatre,

It has been a whole year since the safety curtain fell. Four seasons, twelve months, almost fifty-two weeks to the day. When any of us sat down in an auditorium seat last March, did we know that it would be the last time for over a year that we would sit shoulder to shoulder with a stranger, united in the collective experience of a play?

It has been a difficult year of abrupt stops, false starts, and yet more stops. I ache to be back in an auditorium, and auditoriums remain achingly empty. But despite the sometimes seemingly constant barrage of bad news over the past twelve months, that is not what this letter is about. No, I am writing to celebrate the tenacity, solidarity and creativity that the theatre industry has shown since stages went dark last March.

Because, though doors closed, offices were swapped for kitchen tables, lights were switched off in venues, and Zoom with a capital Z was shoehorned into our vernacular, the ghost light never went out. I wrote in this column last March that “companies, venues and individual artists have had steam coming out of their ears with the speed at which they have been thinking up new ways to bring the joy of theatre to everyone in their homes,” and they haven’t stopped. From ballet performed at home in bath-tubs, to live streams of brilliant plays, and outdoor performances on greens and balconies, to new works created for new online platforms, people’s creativity and resilience in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles has been incredible.

Though normal life as we knew it ground to a halt in March 2020, my colleagues in the industry refused to let that put the chocks under their wheels. With supportive hands and generous hearts, the theatre industry has kept creating, kept connecting. And so, this is my standing ovation for you all. No, it’s not the curtain call, but over the past year you have all performed a stand-out, showstopper of a number that deserves a round of applause all of its own.

None of us could have imagined we would still be in the midst of this pandemic a year later, but the show will always go on. I finished my March 2020 column with these words, and they still stand today, “let the glow of the ghost light remind us that when this passes, our auditoriums will be filled with the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd once more.”

Until opening night,

S