Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
It is said that ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ and I see truth in this considering the sense of excitement ahead of live arts returning. As the COVID-19 vaccination programme rolls out we simultaneously edge closer to venues opening their doors to adoring audiences. I can safely say that in being absent from theatres for a year now, the anticipation to be amongst others in a bustling auditorium is thrilling (although I won’t be glad to once again spend all interval queuing for the ladies!) Many performance venues, creative organisations and production companies marked the anniversary of 16th March, when theatres were formally asked to close, with evocative and motivational social media content. As an example, Official London Theatre ran a campaign using the hashtags #FirstInLastOut and #BackOnStage to not only raise awareness of the difficulties industry professionals have faced this year but also to spark enthusiasm around the return of live performance within a global artistic community. The reach of these conversations was huge and purposefully highlighted the value that art has in so so many people’s lives. As such, my enthusiasm to not just re-attend but to advocate for the live arts is as strong as ever.
I view visiting the theatre as an event and not just a pastime. As a child any family trips to London’s West End required my best frock, shined shoes and favourite sparkly hairpiece: I had to look the part for such a special occasion. Despite the frequency in which I attend theatre having increased since then, this childhood enchantment has stuck. I still carry an instilled sense of respect for live performance and enjoy the eagerness that precedes an evening at the theatre. Those able to relate may also share my reflection that perhaps I took a privileged position of regularly engaging with the arts for granted. Even missing the rush to catch a train and grabbing a cheap pre-theatre dinner evidences how I have indeed developed a greater sense of appreciation for the broader theatre experience since parted from it!
As we begin to see light at the end of the tunnel, I pose whether it is possible the performing arts community has actually grown in passion? Not a particularly quantifiable question but it is clear the lockdown hasn’t stagnated external interest nor internal ambition. Digital platforms have leaped into new realms this past year as artists have been pushed to create in new ways and it has been hugely valuable to have engaging content at the click of a mouse that is also designed to reach new audiences. Yet there is still something that cannot be captured through a screen and thus the more physical qualities of and reactions to performance can’t help but be muted. I believe this void in which we find ourselves has unintentionally re-energised a societal interest in live performance and I trust that the industry is determined to meet the growing appetite we hold for a deeper sensory experience once emerged from the restrictions. Something that will hopefully come as a welcome feat for struggling venues to re-adjust to!
Of course, even though these experiences cannot come soon enough for many of us familiar with the delights, it is crucial that it does not come too soon! Safety is paramount and, with venues able to prove COVID-19 compliance through the Society of London Theatre’s See it Safely campaign, the public can find reassurance following an overwhelmingly anxious time. After confidence is reinstated in audiences I trust they will flood back to performances where a shared sense of admiration and awe can once again be found. I, for one, find the communal aspect of sharing a unique experience with an auditorium of others quite stirring and already have four live performances in my diary for 2021!
Whilst I have been excitedly booking these reunions with friends I still am aware of the looming fact that Boris’ roadmap out of the pandemic is very much a reactive timetable. Yet with full auditoriums set to return from June 21st, our support for the industry and recollection of adoring memories combine to provide joy in the suspense of its return. I use the word ‘joy’ loosely as of course avoiding the whole pandemic would be infinitely preferable, but considering our position, there is certainly comfort in projecting optimism towards the summer and beyond!