Are there words not yet exhausted? Unique unprecedented world-changing life-changing unheared-of unseen disturbing distressing unknowable scary weird tragic …
Cataclysmic events spark stories – wars, riots, earthquakes, tsunami, erupting volcanoes, plane crashes, train crashes, road pile-ups, revolutions, assassinations, terrorist attacks, fires, floods – and now Pestilence. The biggest Corona Story may well be a tale of Changed Perceptions, of how our lives can and should work – politically, economically, socially, morally.
Within weeks of a resounding election victory a British Conservative Government commits itself to spending far, far more public money than its derided socialist election opponents had ever proposed. A country supposedly a haven of decency and fair play witnesses ten per cent of its population ruthlessly grabbing and hoarding twenty per cent of available domestic commodities, while the needy are left staring at empty shelves.
Soon after gently and mercilessly shedding light on Morality as perceived by a so-called Senior Royal, Emily Maitlis has in a Newnight introduction asked of our post-Virus state “what level of social settlement will need to be put in place to stop inequality becoming even more stark?”
Woah there Jones! Is not this blog a light-hearted discourse on the Life Theatrical? For Matters Social Political or Moral we can turn to Peston, O’Brien and Buerk, not to mention Ms Maitlis herself! Quite so. I confess, the names of those 3 distinguished male commentators when put together suggest a 1930s tap-dance act…
So: for me all this really kicked in at the Young Vic Theatre on Tuesday March 10. I was with my NYU Tisch students, to see NORA: A DOLL’S HOUSE – Steff Smith’s refreshing, perceptive new take on Ibsen’s 1879 feminist masterpiece, given a striking production by Elizabeth Freestone, in a collaboration between the Young Vic and the Glasgow Citizens theatres.
The production has a strong, emotional climax, and as the auditiorum lights came up at the end I wasn’t entirely surprised to see my group staying in their seats, looking quite distressed. Then I noticed several were staring at their mobile phones, in tears…During the evening they had all received an urgent email message from New York University that all European study centres were closing immediately, and they should seek ways of returning to the States as quickly as possible. Given that they were only half way through their time in London, only half way through a range of creative projects including for most of them an opportunity to act in Shakespeare at RADA, this was traumatic.
I was upset too – they’re a lovely lot, I didn’t want to lose them half way through my course, which I assumed would now be cancelled. HOWEVER, this is the Age of ZOOM!! Two weeks later, there I am waving at my computer and there on the screen are 15 of my 18 students waving back! Ok as a group they’ve shrunk a bit – they’re only thumb-nail size, but as soon as one of them speaks she or he becomes the main picture. Just in time for Easter – a Miracle! I was only vaguely aware of Zoom – a sort of rather more advanced version of Skype – but after a few training sessions I’ve worked out how to use it – well, some of it – and it’s a joy to chat with these cheery souls, now scattered between New York, Chicago, Texas and California.
The substance of the course – visits to live theatre performances in London – has had, inevitably, to be adapted. But each day more recorded London theatre shows become available on the Web so we can retain links with London’s theatre world, albeit digitally – and the new technology often provides a pretty darned near facsmile of a “live” experience. A good example has been the Royal Court’s “streamed” production of David Ireland’s CYPRUS AVENUE. Terrific, sharp writing and remarkable acting, especially from Stephen Rea – taking us into the surreal world of violence born from conviction, I guess the greatest curse of mankind. Because I believe what I believe I am right, and to kill for my belief is the greatest virtue. Be prepared to laugh in the early scenes – but don’t watch the closing scenes late at night. You have been warned. Link below.
In a time when free-lancers are desperate for work, I feel a hint of guilt that – for now at least – a few of us can still earn a crust teaching online. Interestingly, training enquiries via this TYA website have steadily increased as the Virus takes hold. The UK drama schools have gone over to auditioning by Skype or Zoom, so forgive me if I briefly salute the TYA coaching team, and point out that we’re here constantly on-line, offering no-nonsense top quality actor and communications training – now more than ever with a view to how you look when you act for a camera. End of commercial break.
One of the many Big Questions posed at present for theatre folk is, after the Virus fades, how long will it take audiences to re-discover the theatre-going habit? Will Netflix and Digital Theatre and NT at Home have eroded any desire to get up and go out, to take the risk of sitting next to total strangers in a crowded room? And will anyone be able to afford tickets anyway? Today on the radio they’re talking of the worst economic slump since the 1920s… The economic crises of the 20s and 30s generated glamorous escapist movies in the cinema, and lavish escapist musicals onstage – somehow I suspect the modern response will be the Golden Age of Netflix – or has that already dawned?
But for now, there’s a wealth of recent and fairly recent theatre successes to be enjoyed digitally, either for free or for a modest payment, from Phoebe’s “Fleabag” to Michelle’s “Hamlet” at the Globe, from Howard Brenton on Indian politics at Hampstead to the heady mix of Ayckbourn/Lloyd Webber/Wodehouse in “By Jeeves!” – a truly rare event whose announcement I am poised to engrave in the diary. I missed this high-pedigree stage musical in its short West End life – it struggled at the box-office, yet Andrew LW claims it as one of his favourite-ever shows. Link below.
The New York students who were deprived of their Shakespeare opportunities in Gower St will nonetheless be given a chance to rehearse and perform a Shakespeare play online – RADA is to attempt one of the Roman plays on Zoom. I’ve come across lots of Zoom choral and orchestral events, and a few groups of actors are experimenting with small-cast short scripts, but as yet I know of no other Shakespeare play launching into Cyberspace, with remotely isolated actors, starting from scratch. Do you? I’m sure plans are afoot for many online wonders – especially as the Edinburgh Festival 2020 has already been cancelled. Let us know about new initiatives – use the Comments tag on this blog, and we’ll spread the news.
And in the midst of all the worries, spring sunshine abounds in the UK. On my one permitted exercise walk per day I just can’t stop clicking…
FLEABAG (In Support of Covid19 charities, including Acting for Others) http://ondemand.sohotheatre.com/
SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE STREAMING https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/watch/
HAMPSTEAD THEATRE STREAMING
ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER STREAMING https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLeErO8nXsc