Like at least most of you, I'm trying to cope with the impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus on my daily life. Being "of an age," I'm supposed to be especially careful about "social distancing." As I see it, that, basically, translates into "stay at home," "don't go out unless absolutely necessary," and "stay away from other people" as much as possible. That's not too hard to do, although it's rather unexciting. I'm reading a lot; watching more "news" than is good for me on TV; and, occasionally, just taking a nap. Since I live with my wife, Bonnie, it's hard not to spend time with her. So, we are not practicing "safe distancing" as neither of us is able to stay completely isolated from the other for a significant period of time. Still, she has discouraged me from going to the grocery store with her, as I often did; the Y is closed, so we can't go to our Aquacise classes. Bars, restaurants, and all of the museums, etc., in town are closed; as is the public library. Most stores (other than groceries and pharmacies) are also closed; so, life isn't terribly active at the moment. And, since one doesn't need an up-to-date, fashionable wardrobe to sit inside your own house, or even on your porch, there's little need to get upset that one can't go shopping in the closed stores and malls.
Anyway, the other night, as I was going to sleep, I got to thinking about my recent blog post on "Surviving My "Divorce" (#170, dated 3/13). That got me to thinking about why I wasn't as upset about the whole COVID-19 thing as some of the people on the news seemed to think I was supposed to be. Now, I DO make an effort to try to be fairly well informed and I am concerned about national and international problems. But, if all of these other people are running around in circles about this COVID thing (at least those who aren't convinced that it's a Chinese Democrat plot to overthrow our PRESIDENT) why am I not more upset about this than I seem to be? I decided that it must have something to do with what Bonnie insists was my "first wife."
That led to a whole new category of thoughts: "Things the Theatre Taught Me." By that I mean that spending my life in the Theatre taught me a great deal more than just how to built a flat; or design and construct a variety of fake fireplaces: or light an actor, even a number of actors, with some degree of effectiveness; or consider the emotional impact of the color of that light used to do that, or a wall paint color; or provide some familiarity with how we think the theatre came into being and how it got to where it is today; or how to arrive at some sort of judgement as to how a good play might be constructed (and how to figure out if this example fits those criteria). It also taught me some things about working with other people; planning and executing a sales campaign; planning a season of productions; trying to figure out how to do a lot with very little; and a whole bunch of other stuff, some of which apply to things other than theatre.
One of those "other things" is the principle that:
Stress can be avoided by accepting that there are things which can NOT be
controlled, at least by you. So, it makes little sense to waste your time and
energy trying to control them. Only worry about things you can actually do
I'll be the first to admit that this can take some effort, as it's very easy to worry about everything. But that is a fairly sure way to accomplish nothing. One can certainly make suggestions, but if it's not your job, just stay out of the way of those whose responsibility it is so that they can handle it. Of course, that implies that the tools to deal with the problem are available.
Anyone who has done anything in the theatre, especially in tech theatre, knows that it's a business where one often has to get a number of things accomplished within a specific timeframe. This leads me back to COVID-19. After all, it's a complex problem which seems to need to be dealt with as promptly as possible.
An important notion which I have heard many times when working in the theatre is: Time! Money! People! If you have any two of these, you can accomplish quite a lot (some would say almost anything). I think this is often considered to be a fundamental law, at least in Theatre. Of course, it would be nice to have all three, but that is often not the case.
This suggests that for COVID-19 to be a "simple" fix, we really need: 1) a LOT of time; 2) a LOT of money to provide the resources to deal with this situation; and, 3) a LOT of people with experience in dealing with these sorts of situations. We don't appear to have that.
Time appears to be in short supply for a couple of reasons. Since this disease has already killed several thousand people and may well kill a considerably greater number before it is no longer of real concern, TIME is, by most people's standards, in short supply, if we wish to reduce the number of deaths from this outbreak.
The fact that a good deal of time was lost to Americans because the government neither seemed to wish to deal with this "foreign" problem, nor listened to the informed people who were suggesting as early as late last December that this was likely to become a problem fairly quickly, did nothing except to increase the problem. Nor was time saved by the general the lack of any sense of emergency preparedness for the possibility of a pandemic which, in retrospect, seems at least foolish, and, in the worst case, criminal. After all, pandemics are as old as society. To assume that another one would never come along makes no sense.
Money, of course, is, apparently, not a problem. I find this surprising having grown up in a society where the constant mantra of one of many political "leaders" was than the most critical concern of the country was the National Debt and the tremendous damage that was being done to our security by increasing it and the need to "shut the government down" rather than even considering raising the debt ceiling. I guess declaring bankruptcy and/or just defaulting was considered preferable to paying the bills our politicians (including some of those "anti-debt" folks) have run up or figuring out how to pay for what we need.
I confess that I don't know, but I wonder if just "throwing money" at THIS problem is really likely to resolve it? It doesn't seem likely to me. Especially since there is a currency other than dollars which all too many of our "leaders" have been happy to spend on shoring up a foreign and economic policy built around the idea that permanent war is good for the economy because the American people will never run out of patience for the wars they keep getting us involved in, and for which they have no idea of what a settlement, let alone a "win," might look like. BUT, they say, "We kept our commitment to 'Truth, Justice and the American Way'." In case no one noticed, that's an old comic book slogan!
So, we are, finally, spending a lot of money, but a good deal of it is being spent to try to 1.) maintain industry and commerce (which doesn't resolve the medical problem), and 2.) create the ability to produce some of the products we need (hospitals, beds, medical supplies, PPE, etc.) which we don't have, and apparently don't have the capacity to produce in quantities sufficient to meet the demand. My understanding is that the contract for the "six hundred million masks" that the government has "purchased" and is currently bragging about being "on the way," will to be delivered over the next YEAR AND A HALF! Somehow, I don't think that that's going to solve the problem of their being needed to keep people alive in the next few weeks.
So, what we are really saying is that spending money really only helps when it can be spent in a timely manner. Theatre people know this! Having NO money for the first 5 weeks of a production cycle is NOT resolved by having a LOT of money during the last week. YOU CAN'T HIRE A CAST, REHEARSE IT, DESIGN AND BUILD A SET AND COSTUMES, AND RENT A THEATRE DURING DRESS REHEARSALS! A lot of money can speed things up only so much. Edison spent about three years and tried thousands of different materials before he got anything like a truly practical electric lamp. I don't think that just spending money is any guarantee of success in beating this virus.
This leaves people. We do seem to have a reasonable supply of properly trained people around, but THEY DO NOT SEEM TO BE BEING ALLOWED TO MAKE APPROPRIATE DECISIONS! When the political figures who have squandered the time because they don't like the "spin" and apparently, think that all they are responsible for is giving away taxpayer's money to "support the economy" won't allow the people who know something about this problem the authority to make intelligent, fact-based decisions, based on the science because it might not be "popular with the voters," are allowed to remain in charge, we are in trouble (with a CAPITAL "T").
Ask a Stage Manager if she/he has time to be polite or worry excessively about the "spin" when it's reported that the theatre is on fire during a tense moment of the second act. I've been in a couple of potentially serious situations during productions, I think I know something about this topic. Seconds count. Stage Managers may have to make quick decisions based on the best information available and people who wish to survive better get out of their way. There's a reason that a Stage Manager during production is compared to the "Master of a Ship at Sea" in Theatrical Law. The description, as it was explained to me is "Sole Master Under God." In the Theatre, there's no question, the SM is in charge! Wouldn't it be nice if our political leaders showed a bit of the same sense of responsibility? I was not raised in the Roman Catholic faith, but I still thank St. Genesius every so often for helping me get through a couple of tough spots when it was MY job to make the tough decisions.
This does NOT seem to be a time for us to rely on "politics as usual." I think it's time for the politicians to get out of the way and let the people who MAY be able to deal with this situation, do so.
I still have hopes that I will LLAP. But watching our "leaders" stumble around and worry about how their actions might affect their "numbers" doesn't give me much confidence that that's going to happen. Perhaps we should elect some theatre people and get some of the lawyers and "business" people out of office. Theatre people seem to be able to examine situations, arrive at conclusions, make decisions and accept responsibility for them. I'm not sure our "leaders" are. Do they just think this is some sort of "reality TV?"
P.S. I may revisit the idea of "Things the Theatre Taught Me" sometime, if I survive.... I think there are other things it's taught me which are worth thinking about.