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As of Friday March 20, 2020
Following guidelines released last night by Governor Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Public Health in response to the increasing challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19, The Old Globe has announced that it will suspend public performances effective immediately, and, per the guidelines, at least through the end of March.
Two productions now in rehearsal, Little Women and Faceless, will be postponed until further notice. The Old Globe ticket office will be contacting ticket holders regarding all of their options.
Further, all community-based programming run by the Globe’s Department of Arts Engagement in partnership with neighborhood non-profit and other organizations will be temporarily suspended, or, where possible, conducted online. And The Old Globe Classical Directing Fellowship, scheduled for next week, will be rescheduled for later this year.
The Globe’s commitment to the health and safety of our audiences and artists is paramount, and though these steps are difficult and painful, we are glad to take them. We are grateful to Governor Newsom for the clarity of these public health guidelines. The productions whose schedules are affected are extraordinary pieces of theatre, and as this anxious situation unfolds, we will seek ways to be able to share them with our audiences, albeit slightly later than planned. We are grateful to all the artists and craftspeople who are impacted by these upheavals in their professional schedules. They have been flexible and positive, as have our arts engagement community partners, and the directors in our Fellowship. The Old Globe has approached the unfolding coronavirus situation with seriousness and care, and we have not made these decisions lightly. We will continue to monitor the situation, and we wish to assure our supporters and all of San Diego that we will institute every possible measure to ensure the continuing health not only of our many constituencies, but also of this institution.
Barry Edelstein is the Erna Finci Viterbi Artistic Director of The Old Globe
Shakespeare tells us that “All the world’s a stage / And all the men and women merely players,” but he doesn’t say what those players should do when there’s nobody in the theater seats watching them.
Ten days ago, The Old Globe, following the guidelines of the California Department of Public Health, took the unprecedented step of suspending public performances until at least the end of March. That “at least” is the government’s, not ours. We’re in for a long period of darkness.
It’s crucial that we do our part to slow the pandemic spread of the coronavirus. I’m not worried that we won’t reopen. Theater has been around for over two millennia, and it’s endured every conceivable variety of human and natural calamity. The Old Globe’s own run, a robust 85 years, has seen the company through war, fire and other upheavals. We’ll survive this. But for now it’s an anxious time. In addition to the health, logistics, human resources and financial crises I already have on my hands as the head of a nonprofit arts institution with closed doors, I now have one more: an existential crisis. How can I be a theater artist if the theaters are on lockdown?
Four centuries ago, Shakespeare dealt with this question. When the bubonic plague broke out, the authorities, fearing mass contagion, closed the theaters. Shakespeare’s company got entrepreneurial. It left London and went on tour to infection-free English cities or to Europe. It sold stuff: old props and costumes, and unpublished plays. And it appealed to King James and other aristocrats for emergency aid.
To be sure, the Globe will be counting on our philanthropists and other friends to deepen their remarkable generosity, though our props and costumes probably wouldn’t fetch a whole lot. Alas, there’s nowhere to tour when the known universe is practicing voluntary or imposed social distancing.
Our instincts for innovation are kicking in. Some of our colleagues around the world are switching to digital incarnations of theater, streaming productions online to people’s devices at home. Others are holding impromptu readings in their living rooms, making sure to maintain a six-foot buffer between participants. These are great ideas, and the Globe is exploring our own versions of them, and more.
However, none of these solutions address the fundamental problem. The theater is a social place. Gathering people together is its reason for being. This is what the ancient Greeks understood when they invented the form in the first place. To assemble a few thousand spectators to watch some special folks in costume act out stylized examinations of important civic questions is, the Greeks knew, a form of public service. The Globe believes that theater matters and we see ourselves as an institution that provides a public good. How are we to do that, absent the very thing that makes theater theater: an audience? Dark and empty, our theaters seem eerie. Quiet and subdued, they feel unnatural.
So we’ve decided to focus on our inevitable reopening. When Shakespeare’s theater was closed, he sat down to work, writing his next play and hatching plans with other writers to collaborate together on new material. We’re doing that, too, and planning to continue to rehearse the shows that we’ll perform when the crisis subsides. We’re taking care of our people to make sure they can weather this closure in one piece. We’re in regular touch with the other arts organizations in San Diego, looking for ways to work jointly and grow stronger and better in the face of adversity. We’ll do everything we can to mitigate the damage to the arts in our city.
And yet, here’s what I know: life will return to normal, or some new variety of it. When it does, the human impulse to come together and share stories will triumph over uncertainty and fear. We yearn for community as we wrestle with overwhelming events. We need artists to imagine fictional test cases that dramatize our struggles and show us paths forward. We require laughter and joy and the whole range of emotion as we cope with what’s truly difficult.
Theater is a medium of empathy. It reminds us to find the qualities in each other that we share, to seek the best in humanity, to embrace compassion. That’s what’s this crisis can teach us, and that’s how I can combat my own existential despair. Don’t panic. Be kind. Keep working. Get ready to switch the lights back on. Art’s miraculous power to illuminate the darkness will show us the way.
The Shakespeare line I quoted above continues this way: “One man in his time plays many parts.” I can’t play virologist, nor epidemiologist, nor public health official. My role is artist, and my job is to make theater. I intend to do precisely that, now, and in the next new normal.