Last February, before we knew what was going to happen with COVID, I had a conversation with a theatre owner and friend about how I felt like my heart had twice been broken; one by my personal circumstances and one by theatre. I felt like I had suffered a theatre breakup and it had been devastating, messy, and deeply painful. I struggled to articulate it at the time, but what the breakup was about was me losing faith in my ability to carry on regardless. You need a seriously thick skin to do theatre. And my skin had ruptured.
Then COVID came and nailed closed the coffin for all theatre makers. While the restaurant and tourist industries were spoken about and bemoaned, the theatre makers, stage managers, theatres, directors, FOH teams were in their own tiny circle of hell and I couldn’t ever really figure out why theatre got so little attention.
The NAC and the department of Arse and Culture did, and continue to do, what they usually do. Mess up. Theatres that were dark have now closed permanently. The closing of The Fugard was announced earlier this week, with much sadness, and even anger. But who is fighting for theatre, and begging for it, and needing it, and wanting its resurrection?
I think it is only the theatre makers who want it to come back. And here sits the uncomfortable, hideous, miserable truth on a pointy rock that is its own hard place. Unless theatre goers; uninvolved, unconnected, true audiences passionately want, longingly yearn for, and are even prepared to lobby, fight and beg for the return of theatre, it really cannot, and won’t return from the dead.
Alcohol, yes. Cigarettes, yes. Restaurants and bars, yes. Theatre? Naah. Not so much.
Unfortunately, the desperation and totally illogical passion of theatre makers has obscured the most basic and obvious reality. The person in the street couldn’t give two Hamlets and half a farce for theatre.
In a weird way I am pleased my breakup with theatre happened a year ago, and I have been able to lick my wounds in the privacy of my own home. I will make theatre on demand, or not at all, from now on. And only if there is an audience who really wants it.