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Theatre in the time of plague … and flood

Update: Almost two years to the day from when I wrote the article below we are still in a time of plague. In those two years, as successive waves of Covid-19 swept across the world, theatres closed, opened up, closed again, seasons and productions were cancelled or postponed, artists and creatives lost opportunities to practise their art forms. It’s been pretty horrible, really. And yet, there’s hope. The coming of live-streaming—no, not the same I grant you—was better than nothing and digital technology made live performance more accessible for many more.

I didn’t write about theatre as I had intended so cheerfully back in 2020. I was about to lose a production myself to the plague shut-downs, and I suppose was sufficiently dispirited to turn my energies elsewhere. I remember making sough dough and brewing kombucha occupied a lot of my time.

So the floods came this month to Brisbane and broke more hearts. QT in Montague Road copped it again. They are in the process of cleaning up after storm-water wrecked the premises. Not the river this time as in 2011 but stinking water with all the after-problems of mould and warped woodwork to deal with. Companies are going to need determination and grit and money to get back up again.

For the past couple of years I’ve hung onto a quote, “the virus is our teacher,” from director Peter Sellars, and looked for as much of the silver lining as possible. When it comes to the teaching part, I can only suppose Mother Nature is close to giving up trying to persuade humans to take better care of the planet. Still, despite flood, fire, war, and plague theatre has been lurching onwards for a couple of millennia. It’s because every generation needs to tell their stories well, out loud for all to hear, to rehearse what might be with hope.

So, heigh-ho. On we go, with feeling.

The joke – not sure that’s quite the right word – doing the rounds right now is a reminder that Shakespeare wrote KING LEAR during a plague year; that would be 1605-1606. These horrible outbreaks occurred in England roughly every 20 years across three centuries from the outbreak of the Black Death in the mid-14th century. They devastated the population of England when they struck. The worst plague year was in 1563 – the year before Shakespeare was born. It killed almost a quarter of the population of London. And the point of the ‘joke’ is that we too can create during the worst of times, maybe even turn out a great and enduring work of art. Make no mistake, this is one of those worst of times and yes, art – maybe even great art – will be produced.

We’re grieving so many losses right now and that, for now, is the new normal. So it will be the art of loss and grieving but also of hope and resilience and, eventually, of celebration that will be made. But … where to begin when you’re a maker of that most social of art forms, theatre? Well, right now, stay home, and don’t even think about a social gathering.

This cheery opening is by way of saying Greenroom is back in the business of talking about theatre from time to time and maybe even facilitating and encouraging the hell out of the making of that art. We’ve been dark since September 2014, but I’d like to think we could put the ghost light back in the cupboard, the pages dusted, and we’re ready for drop-ins. I’ll try to add content over the weeks, months … for as long as it’s possible. What exactly that content will be I’m not sure yet, but we’ll find something. We’re creative and there are lots of us and we are connected, right? Guest contributors are going to be welcome.

You could start by checking back on commentary and reviews from 10 years ago. Greenroom started up in 2009 and, at that stage, blogger-reviewers were pretty new to the scene. I still felt a bit of a fake accepting comps for shows, but I was and still am grateful to the companies that generously supported Greenroom during its years of operation. Scattered here and there in some posts there are actual references to local print media and their reviewers. Since then the scene has changed forever. More people (unpaid) are writing and talking online about theatre and its production; the legacy media has gone forever, and we’re now more connected than ever before. Oh, the stinking irony!

I’m going to finish with a shout out to everyone whose names appear in blog posts from 2009 onwards in Greenroom’s pages. So many of you are still here, still working, still creating! That’s worth celebrating and so, on that note, let’s get going …