The news about the new coronavirus or COVID-19 constantly surrounds us, permeates our thoughts and constantly and insidiously encourages us to fear. Fear human contact, fear human interaction, fear our normal lives.
Because I photograph the arts – theatre, dance and music, my entire world along with those who I know and cherish has been disrupted like no other time in my memory. The 1963 Kennedy assassination, the AIDS discovery in 1983, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake or September 11 2001 attack.
Businesses were disrupted during those times and rightfully so. But what makes the current climate so different is the fear proliferating in society. Social media as we know it today did not exist in those times. Hoarding of toilet paper or other non-essential items illustrates to me an aspect of humanity for which I’m ashamed. Certainly with any new and unknown virus governments are wise to use an abundance of caution to ensure society is safe. But not to instill fear. Human nature fears all that is unknown.
When society allows fear to supersede all other factors, events like what happened to my own parents and relatives occurs. Place all Japanese American citizens into prison camps (what they termed ‘internment camps’ a bullshit whitewashed name) because of the fear we were all spies and plotting against the United States. FEAR
Today it’s about people avoiding and in some instances being outright hostile to Asians simply because the epidemic began in Wuhan China. FEAR, FEAR and more FEAR can make a nation not only fearful and in the case of COVID-19 isolated. Unlike the prior crises where humans could gather to support, or entertain and soften the blow of a tragedy, the coronavirus and resulting laws prevent those important healing events to occur. Today the answer to ‘stay safe’ is doing all things electronically, something I believe we did too much of even before coronavirus with our “I love me” cell phones.
I believe that precautions should be taken – hand washing (good grief your mother should have taught you that anyway!), sanitation of public places observed, as well as not going to work if you’re ill or suspect you are. But unlike the AIDS epidemic in 1983 which almost certainly meant an ugly and painful death, COVID-19 does not mean the same. Not even close as outlined by a 42 year old woman who got and recovered from the coronavirus.
So as all theatres were ordered to close their doors due to government regulations – Dan, my local client and close friend who is the Artistic Director for the theatre in my hometown let me know that his current show, “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” was closing before opening night, the night we had planned on attending the show. As he spoke his voice began to crack and his sadness was palpable through the phone.
After ending the call my partner Tracy said “I’d like to do something for Dan. I can’t donate money to the theatre (we are out of work as a result of all theatres closing), but we can do something else. Let’s film the performance. That way the cast can have all they’ve worked for on film.” So we got in contact with Dan and presented the idea. At first he was unsure of attempting to put on the performance since he had just notified the cast and crew that Opening Night was cancelled as well as the entire run of the show.
After contacting everyone he let us know that it was a go for Opening Night filming. Tracy then mentioned that we would need an audience to have authenticity in the film with laughter and applause. So Dan then contacted friends and family being careful to keep within the limits of what the government set about limiting public gatherings to 100 or less. As people gathered into the theatre and the cast and crew began their performance I had an epiphany. I have and still work with many levels of theatres. Some are professional pre-Broadway shops and some community theatres. As tends to be human nature some pre-Broadway company staff members tend to be a bit snooty when referring to other theatres as ‘a community theatre’ the insinuation being a lower level of performance and professionalism. Lower budgets, less skilled talent, blah blah blah. Lower budgets yes, less skilled is like saying all Japanese fellas are quiet and docile….then you have not met me in person!
My epiphany was realizing that my hometown community theatre put aside fear and allowed us to interact as humans, as common souls. Unlike 9/11, the 89 Quake, the recent Camp Fires where humans support one another by gathering, sharing feelings with eye to eye contact and yes EVEN HUGS, the fear of coronavirus has prevented it. NO ONE at the theatre showed any reticence in exchanging hugs with one another. As a matter of fact, even though theatre folks hug all the time, the ones I gave and received last night were more tight and embraces seemed longer than usual as if we all know that we must band together to endure this crisis. I was never more proud of my community theatre and what it represents in my own life as well as the lives of so many others.
I’m NOT naïve enough to think that a small gathering is going to solve everything. Almost everyone in the theatre last night is out of work. Meaning OUT OF WORK, no paid time off, no paid by employer health benefits, etc. That includes me and my partner. The coronavirus crisis has affected everyone, domestically and internationally. But what I learned last night and will forever cherish is this: Human contact, human face to face interaction conquers fear, the true virus of humanity.