Theatrical dreams in the time of Rona

@markharrisnyc for Vulture Magazine – “Privately, I’ve heard those in charge discuss everything from slashing prices dramatically in order to encourage full houses to actively discouraging full houses by selling only one-third of seats; my takeaway is simply that theater people are as baffled as the rest of us by what might come next.”

We Started Quiet and Slow with No Surprise

To be honest with you, my family’s 2020 started off really well. My younger brother and his wife were about to have another child that is due during my birth month of May; my sister is engaged and we were planning her wedding, bridal shower, etc for end of 2020 and wedding in 2021; I had just been accepted into a prestigious theatrical producing program run by the Commercial Theater Institute which was held weekly at The Broadway League. For the three of us, it was a strangely calm time where we weren’t grieving or something traumatic was happening. On March 12th everything changed.

Some roads are easy
Some roads are all uphill

On March 17th I left New York to ride out the quarantine elsewhere. But the whole time I missed my home. The photos of empty streets and theaters, dark marquees and the few people walking around who are doing so with masks has been haunting. At the same time watching Laura Heywood’s Broadway Shutdown Support Group, Seth Rudetsky’s Stars in the House, the National Theater Live and the many other theatrical offerings available for us suffering from withdrawal has been heartwarming and heartening.

During this time I was also still in the CTI theatrical producing program. It seems ironic that the moment I receive an opportunity that is head and shoulders above any I have been given previously, a pandemic should occur. But being in this program has sustained and encouraged me when other people would and have been discouraged. Even if you feel compelled to do something and that something outside of yourself is drawing you toward a goal, there will inevitably be times that you feel unequal to the task and wonder, “Why am I doing this?”.  Yes, I have those moments. I had those moments before the coronavirus pandemic too. They will never be gone and I have made peace with them. I believe that peace is the difference for why I felt even more grateful to be put into this program during a pandemic. I have a front row seat to see how it plays out for the people who are doing the work we will be doing. I was learning in real time but with very low stakes. Our instructors were learning in real time with very high stakes and knowing that gives me a sense of gratitude for their hearts and giving spirits.

Being in this program grew my love for the theater. In a time of great uncertainty, fear, death and anxiety, individuals who are dealing with all of that and have the weight of the world on their shoulders still have found the importance of encouraging, educating and edifying the next generation. These individuals are not teachers by trade but have seen such value in us that they have willingly and warmly given of the little time they had to water us, give us sunlight where we need it and shade where we don’t so that we may grow into the individuals who can take up their mantles.

Some rides are breezy

Some roads are full of jiggles and bumps

When I first drafted this post, I had been in quarantine for nearly six weeks and with two weeks of the program left. While reflecting on my future in that moment, everything was different and live theater as we knew it is was and remains mostly on hold. But what this pause has done for me is it has given me time to think about my place in all of it. It has shown me why God has asked me to wait for so long. I look back on my past with less confusion and frustration and see that in some ways I have been spared. I also see that I have learned a lot in that time about waiting patiently, working towards your dreams in less than ideal circumstances and that has given me a perspective and level of perseverance that I would not have acquired if I had received what I wanted when I wanted it. I am grateful to know that I will be a member of the theatrical producing community who has a vision of hope and possibility even when it looks like all is lost.

Playwright and Actress Kate Hamill, in an article she scribed for the American Theater Magazine wrote, “Theatre has survived plagues and wars and the death of entire civilizations before. Its end is always being forecast, and the tough, flashy old broad always persists. ….One of the things I love about theatre is that it makes life endurable by giving it shape. We can foster strength and healing. We can try to make sense of the senseless….Frankly, it is our job, as people who imagine for a living, to think outside of old boundaries. We can’t afford cynicism or backbiting or a pivot to broken structures. A return to “normalcy” is not possible; every foundation of our lives is now shaken. But we may use this painful moment of rebuilding to create positive structural change—we have to try.  The old world is gone, and bad old habits will not bring it back. If we have to build a new world, why not try to make it better?”

Ms. Hamill is correct. We have essentially been put in a quiet time. We have been given the space to reflect, contemplate and quit barreling through life without reflection or wonder of what rubble we have left in our wake. We have been given an incredible gift to reset and chart a new course.  And as someone who means to not only produce for theater but also for television and film, the potential for what we could be after quarantine is exhilarating. But of course, that only happens if we take this time to analyze inwardly and quit using the excuse of time as the enemy of our hasty and destructive behaviors.

Tend Your Dream. Dreams Take Time.

In a world where we are forced to reckon with the uncertainty of the future, how do you dream? How do you look forward with hope in your heart and trust that those dreams will come to fruition? I believe a change of perspective has to happen. I see that although 2020 has not been the year we expected, 2020 did its job. 2020 gave us clear vision. Racial injustice, inequities in our country, people we thought we knew, institutions we thought we had dismantled have all shown the truth about what they are made of. The blindfold and bandaids needed to come off! And as crazy as you may think I am for saying this, I’m excited! Why am I excited? I am excited because if we take the opportunity we’ve been given to make changes in ourselves and in the world, we can rebuild, reimagine and reinvent. The institutions that perpetuated systems and structures that needed to crumble and be removed can not stand and we all have a chance to be a part of the new day that is dawning. So, my question to you is, will you look to the future with an open mind and an open heart?

Onward!

Ebony

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