When covid hit and we were faced with the bizarre reality of being confined to our homes none of us could have guessed quite how long those “strange times” would last. When the theatres went dark in March 2020 it’s hard to recall now that there was a belief that they’d be closed for a couple weeks, whereas of course in reality those weeks quickly turned to months. I remember the excitement of taking my children to watch a drive-in Dinosaur show after months of nothing. As my children looked on in amazement and wonderment I distinctly remember sitting in the driving seat shedding a ‘happy tear’ just to watch a company of actors being able to work again.
Even though this is very much our recent history it already feels like a lifetime ago that I was in my kitchen doing the homeschooling with my eldest prior to rushing online to check in with the college. I remember telling one of my students who was struggling with the lockdown that once it was all over, it would be like returning home from touring – it would be like we’d never been away. Normal life would just trundle on as it always does we’d just be a bit more knowledgeable about ourselves, as anything away from the ordinary is bound to influence our future self.
As I’ve said before I’m writing a book about The MTA at the moment, and it’s fascinating sketching out the pandemic chapter – how quickly we all adapted and changed in a bid to ensure that no time was lost.
Of course, the reality is that covid is still very present, whether it’s a random positive test, a reminder to wear your mask in certain settings, or for so many people the debilitating legacy of long covid symptoms lingering on like a bad memory unable to be ‘filed’ away as finished. Recently I was chatting to someone that was telling me quite how many friends they’ve lost recently, friends that prior to covid were young and healthy. For many the explosion of sudden deaths fits nicely into the anti-vax rhetoric, it feeds the paranoia that the pandemic left the world with. Of course in reality (and according to multiple peer-reviewed papers now), the reasons for the excess deaths are somewhat complex. A mixture of a global population that was exposed to a deadly virus (it was never a bad cold), leaving more people than we realise with ticking time bombs as the virus goes for one more mutation, plus a global population that stopped routine appointments, meaning that early warning symptoms have been missed.
2 years on our industry is struggling to find its way forward as I wrote about a few months back. Pre-covid the thought of a show being cancelled was just unthinkable. The adage “the show must go on” was our lived reality, post covid though there are no such guarantees. Even at the college level of producing shows it was terrifying how quickly things could change. All of The MTA’s shows since March 2020 were hit in one way or another by a covid outbreak and each time it gave me sleepless nights trying to work out the logistics. . . and that’s without the pressure of needing to break even, so hats off to all producers muddling through this strange time.
As the UK lurks from one crisis to another though there’s one thing that’s struck me recently – how so many people and indeed so many organisations didn’t actually “evolve” during the past 2 years, and how right up to the government there appears to have been a naive belief that we would all simply recalibrate back to a pre-pandemic time. I’m bemused how so many people have missed the evolution and therefore have failed to plan for it.
Take our industry – the constant cancelling of shows has a profound knock-on effect on our audiences. Even as somebody in the industry I hesitate now to book a ticket too far in advance, I’d rather wait and take my chance on the day that I want to go, yet in making this choice I’m also mindful that there are producers needing to see an advance ticket sale. I’m assuming that time and time alone will restore a much needed equilibrium to this, but I also wonder whether from hereonin the show won’t go on?
Whilst our perceived reality pre-2020 was that things were somewhat fixed eg you’d book a holiday and assume that your flight would happen, we now find ourselves in a world full of uncertainty, and I’m curious how that permeates throughout society.
Speaking recently to some business owners I was struck by their optimism that things would “soon get back to normal” but they seemed to have missed the point entirely that normal in 2022 has a different complexion from normal 2019. It should be noted that not all the changes are bad, take zoom life for example, the fact that the pandemic normalised video conference calls as opposed to traipsing here, there and everywhere for meetings that often took a fifth of the time to travel to places is revolutionary for personal time management. As a parent of young children the normalisation of hybrid working is a game changer, but I can also recognise that this change has the potential to change the city landscape for good.
We lived online for over a year – that is bound to change us all. I’ve definitely noticed that my concentration span is much shorter these days. I sense myself metaphorically scrolling through information said in person to me with a sense of undue urgency. With online life comes the pros and cons of social media, the artificial divide that’s created when we all unwittingly believe a truth just because somebody wrote it down and posted it.
What will it mean for the training industry this fast-scroll life that now exists as a shop window to dance and drama training. Well I think that we’ve already seen a shift. It’s no coincidence that some of the newer colleges that hit the ground running with their brilliant social media campaigns of commercial videos have done considerably better than the “old guard” colleges over recent years. The rapid growth of quite a few of them has been fascinating to watch. As with all these things only time will tell if they’re actually any good. It’ll be interesting to see their stats over the next few years to find out the quality of that growth. Alternatively of course there’s my other theory that elite training is on its way out, and bulk “life training” is on its way in. When training hundreds at a time there will always be enough clickbait to mute the fact that the majority of students don’t do that well.
As for waiting for things to settle down and go back to “normal” though. . .we all have to accept that “normal” has always been a moveable point.