I donned my mask and went to a show last Saturday: I was in Sydney for the premiere of the super Bob Dylan don’t-call-it-a-jukebox-musical Girl From the North Country (it’s going to Melbourne this year).
It was a great night: I took my dad, we shared opinions on the reworking of Dylan’s music, we agreed Lisa McCune was best on stage, we had a beer or two in the foyer.
And two days later I got the dreaded ping from the Service NSW app: “you may have been in contact with a person infectious with COVID-19”.
I monitored for symptoms. I’m fine. And on Tuesday night I donned my mask and went to St Kilda for another show: a hilarious low-fi Theatre Works production that reimagined James Cameron’s Aliens as if written by Shakespeare.
And I’m going to keep doing this, Omicrisis notwithstanding. Not just because it’s my job, but because I’m damned if I’m going to spend one unnecessary minute as a COVID hermit. To paraphrase Aliens, we can either support the arts or nuke it from orbit, and there’s only one way to be sure.
At this point I’ll immediately jump off my high horse and say, of course, your mileage may vary, and I’m in a privileged position. If I had been going to visit an immune-compromised member of my extended family in the next week who needed a virtual “airlock”, well there are much worse things than staying home, even if it means missing out on the insight that xenomorphs, too, “have their exits and their entrances”.
I don’t live with a frontline worker, I can work from home in a job with sick leave. And if I had personal health reasons to stay put, I’m no fool.
But I’m vaxxed, I’m boosted, I’m in perfectly fair health, and I’m going to use it.
Maybe this is just irrational lockdown fatigue. And I’m as wary as the next person of the deployment of “personal responsibility” as a cover for government failure. But I love seeing shows, and now more than ever they need to be seen, because we’ve never been more at risk of losing them for good.
Actors are retraining as real estate agents. Lighting crew are turning to electricians, set builders to home carpenters. Musicians are thinking “well, maybe now’s the time to do that education degree”. Invisibly, a generation of talent is being decimated and we’ll never really see its absence, we’ll only be left to wonder how much better the 2025 theatre season or the 2030 pop music top 10 or the 2040 opera calendar could have been.
There are shows that went through the cancel-reschedule churn one too many times and will vanish before their time.
And there are things that can and should be done about this by people other than us but there’s also something that can be done by me: which is to turn up and laugh and applaud and tell everyone how fantastic it is.
We really do live in an amazing country for music, theatre, dance, opera, visual arts, arts-that-you-can’t-quite-categorise-but-are-great.
I always knock on the nearest piece of wood when I’m told no theatre has been a super-spreader site but it is true. You sit down, you face front, you wear a mask, there’s little mixing. It’s as safe as, probably safer than the shops (many of which also pinged me when I was in Sydney, including one I was in for a single minute).
At some point this virus will catch up with me. It seems inevitable, though I’m not looking forward to it: I’ve heard first-hand stories of long COVID and the lingering fatigue that some suffer. But with COVID everywhere and with three children about to return to childcare/school, it’s just a matter of time before I too get the spicy cough.
So what to do meanwhile (and indeed after)? Yes, I’m responsible not only for myself but for fellow members of society. But I believe there’s a middle ground, a fair balance that allows for life outside a hermetic cupboard: that if I wear a mask, that if I genuinely follow social distancing rules, that if I keep my social life on a moderate simmer rather than full burn, then it’s not irresponsible to get out to a theatre or three.
I understand the reluctance. I feel it too. We’ve been coached into familiarity with isolation and for good reason.
It’s not true that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. There are alternatives: buy a subscription, book a ticket for a future show. But I’m lucky enough to be able to get out the door, and that’s what I plan to do.
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- Touching The Void runs until February 19