September 13, 2020

Sunday, sweet Sunday with too much to do. I don’t think that’s quite what Oscar Hammerstein II wrote but it does make a certain amount of sense. I haven’t quite figured out how my ‘To Do’ list gets longer and longer when I’m spending most of my time out of work by myself but that seems to be the way of the world these days. Probably has something to do with the fact that there are just a lot of days when I don’t feel like accomplishing much so things of low priority simply get carried over week to week to be joined by an ever growing list of somewhat higher priority items. And, as we’ve all gotten more facile with Zoom meetings and the like, things that were more or less in abeyance for some months are steadily creeping back into my life. Like 7 am QA committee meetings…


So where are we today with the Accidental Plague Diaries? We’re just about to hit 200,000 deaths in the USA (that’s 50,000 Benghazis or 67 9/11s for those who are keeping track) and there’s not a lot of evidence that we’re going to be turning a corner anytime soon. Locally, the college spike in Tuscaloosa seems to have been stemmed somewhat by the city having closed the local bars and their numbers are trending down. The numbers here at UAB have remained relatively low due to a great deal of vigilance on behalf of the administration. Out of curiosity, I looked up the current demographics for my patient population. The mortality rate for those in nursing homes is 25%. Long term morbidity is unknown. The mortality rate for those of an age and illness burden which could place them in nursing homes but who live in the community is somewhat lower but there is disagreement among authorities as to what it is. Those living in the community are far less susceptible than those in group living, probably due to the success of isolation measures leading to far less exposure. My take home from all of this is that the simple tried and true measures for pandemic control are working when they are being allowed to work. The fact that a significant part of the population is being talked into ignoring these basic public health measures for political reasons means that our lives of discomfort are going to continue far longer than we want. It’s one of those the building is only as strong as its weakest stone sort of situations.


One thing that’s bringing me hope is the stirrings of life in the local performing arts community. There have been some safely produced out of doors entertainments, some work towards small scale indoor socially distanced pieces, and a lot of work at figuring out how to adapt Zoom and other videoconferencing platforms to the requirements of theatrical and musical performance. Large scale musical endeavors don’t work due to the lags in sound inherent in the software but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other things that can be done and, as brighter minds than mine enter the fray, I think there will be more and more technical improvements with time. I’m currently working on an ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ with a group mainly based in South Carolina and that’ s something positive the pandemic is wrought. When working on line, you can pull your cast, and your audience, from anywhere. And I think I’ve figured out how to pass hand props across state lines. I don’t believe it’s a violation of the Mann Act.

Santa Fe Opera


The hardest part of getting live performances back on track is not going to be able to figure out how to keep cast/crew/musicians safe, it’s going to be how to keep audience safe from each other and how to make audience comfortable attending live performance in enclosed space. Our theaters, concert halls, recital rooms, and all the rest, are not designed for social distancing, actually the opposite and that is the Gordian knot of a problem that must be solved before live entertainment returns in full. Do we retrofit existing venues? How? Do we build new ones that will allow for appropriate social distancing? Do we take a page from the Santa Fe Opera and make performance spaces indoor/outdoor?


I think we’re going to see a democratization of theater in this country over the next decade. Theatrical success will not be limited to a few dozen early 20th century theaters within walking distance of Times Square. As bright minds solve more and more technical problems allowing anyone to access theater performance from anywhere and allowing a theater company anywhere in the country access to a potential international audience, things are going to change. Research has shown that release of a filmed or taped theatrical performance does not diminish audience demand for the live product, it increases it. As more people have a chance to see what it is, more and more people want the chance to experience it live. Innovative companies, authors, performers, who use this pandemic enforced hiatus to create content suitable to the needs and interests of today, cultivate audiences, and move towards something new and different are likely to be well positioned with a huge demand when things open up again. And successful theater will be able to be accessed by those whose household budgets do not allow for the average $150/seat price tag for Broadway.

As usual, everything comes down to Sondheim… You keep moving on…

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