Can we, please?!
The poll came as a surprise to me: not because I don’t agree, but because you wouldn’t know this was the majority view from either traditional or social media generally, or from arts discourse in particular. Faced with real political and economic threats, theatre and opera comms currently alternate between full-on hype and desperate self defence. Covid has largely disappeared from the conversation. The phrase ‘build back better’ has gone the way of clapping for the NHS, recalled only with weary irony in off-the-record chats. But even that was a matter of what we were going to do after Covid, ‘post-pandemic’, which most people agree isn’t where we are.
In particular, the lives of disabled and chronically sick people remain profoundly affected, as they continue to attempt to shield themselves from infection as much as they can, three years in. The brilliant Jess Thom of Tourettes Hero, in a recent interview, spoke about “acknowledging Covid as a new longterm access barrier” for disabled and chronically sick people. And with the World Health Organisation currently estimating that 1 in 10 Covid infections result in post viral chronic illness, it’s a group that more and more people will find themselves joining. Obviously, there is absolutely no point having conversations about disabled access to the arts that don’t address the ongoing pandemic.
Even if it's not going to be the norm, even if it isn’t going to be an industry standard, I urgently want to find a way of making in person work as Covid safe as possible. I don’t think that after all the chat about kindness that it’s good enough for the ‘new normal’ to be the permanent exclusion of sick people, and the constant exposure of all artists to the risk of acute illness and lifelong disability.
On a personal note, I feel very lucky that Hera has survived this far, and that we’ve made some online work I’m really proud of. I want us to keep doing that. I should never have thought of myself as a legitimate audience member for theatre only on the days I could leave the house. But I’ve had to give up my teaching job, and I feel very isolated. It turns out I really like producing and I have no problem with Zoom meetings. But it’s becoming hard to keep my game face on, when the gap between my life and the art forms I want to be part of seems insurmountable. I’d really like to see a more collective approach. Even if we’ve given up on having one as a country, we can surely still have one as an arts community.
So what can we do?
Testing is important and masks are vital in certain situations - I’m currently going to a few shows in an FFP3 - but I don’t think they can be the whole answer for collaboration and rehearsal. I want to have a plan, and I need to know more about:
Ways of ensuring good ventilation, including CO2 monitors.
HEPA filters, particularly portable ones to be used in hired spaces.
farUVC lighting, again ideally in portable forms. This really seems like it could be the key!
I’m asking for help. Maybe you’ve been running in person rehearsals with clinically vulnerable people, maybe you’ve experience of the tighter protocols used in film/TV work, or maybe you’ve worked at making other shared spaces safer, in education, care work or healthcare?
Who can I talk to about developing a plan that Hera can implement and share with other small companies in opera and beyond?
Maybe I’ve missed somebody already doing this work, and there’s something I should read?
Or maybe you’re one of those other companies, in which case… who wants in?
Thanks and Best Wishes,