‘The situation in Great Britain is serious but not hopeless.’
Winston Churchill speaking to Eamon De Valera, 1953
Over twenty days in self-isolation…
In my last post I commented how the world as we know it has ended. In a future post I will dwell on my long-term vision regarding the immense geopolitical and economic shift Covid-19 will cause.
Today I want to concentrate on the present and the immediate emotional toll of this crisis on individuals in Italy. Yesterday evening the country decided, right or wrong, to go for an all-out lockdown.
As a result Italian society has been divided roughly in two classes. The couch-potato class and the hyperactive class. The couch-potato class is the huge number of people stranded at home and banned (in theory but not in practice) to get out of their houses unless for ultra-necessary needs (e.g. food or medicines). The hyperactive class is the doctors, nurses, policemen, supermarket workers and the many hundred thousands people that still have to keep society functioning. This latter group is by and large stressed, facing the risk of becoming infected every day, and in many cases overworked.
I belong to the couch-potato class. That doesn’t mean I’m not doing anything. Contrary to what you may think I’m working… a lot.. more to that later, but for many people the emotional toll of the transition from free citizen to house-prison inmate is slowly settling in.
At first the shock is so great that you kind of hope all of this is a temporary thing. You try to keep your mind out of it. You may indulge in some pointless routine to keep the momentum going. You may overdrink a little, smoke a joint, or play videogames in order not to feel your emotions.
Personally, I’m a big fan of the Resident Evil videogame series and that’s what I indulged myself with in the very first week of March, after all in this game you’re battling a deadly virus. What better chance to play it if not now.
Sooner or later, however the gravity of the situation becomes evident. In my case I kind of recovered emotionally after one week and I’m now sort of getting used to the situation, living the present so to speak. I don’t feel particularly afraid but rather preoccupied for my 78-year old mother who is quarantined like me.
However, speaking to people over the phone or the internet, I’m starting to feel a sense of hopelessness in some of them (not all of them…just some). Especially the ones who are self-employed, live paycheck to paycheck, or cannot rely on the security of a civil servant job.
The way I see it at the moment the situation is hopeless but not serious. As I commented in a previous post an epidemic is not like a war, contrary to what people may think. The infrastructure of a country is left intact, the economy can jump start exactly from where it left. However, depending on the duration of the lockdown, in Italy and in Europe, the situation may turn very serious.
Like it or not we live in a co-dependent, interconnected, globalized world and the more a society is sophisticated the more it is vulnerable. A complete lockdown can be sustained in the short-term (even medium one) but if protracted for too long the impact will be devastating.
Make no mistake. As countries play the pandemic game and go from lockdown to lockdown (e.g. the situation is resolved here but detoriates in Austria and France, Germany is under control but Britain becomes a leper island, and all the possibilities you can imagine just in Europe) supply chains become disrupted or crumble. Want to play a game with your kids? Just go around the house and see where everything you find is made in, food, medicines, fridge, even your good-old wrench.
It is easy to understand why a Chinese-style lockdown of London, for example, would represent a white flag of complete surrender and the last of all resources. First it’s the factories stopping, then it’s the services, then it is the banks…it’s an economic septic shock.
My advice, stay hopeless and stay positive, the situation is not serious…yet. Also give a look at the countries which have successfully dealt with this crisis so far: Taiwan, Hong Kong (OK it’s not a country technically but you catch my drift), Singapore, and South Korea.
In South Korea bars and restaurants are working, in Singapore schools are open. There are ways to go around this. As individuals we need social distancing, of course, but we also need intelligence, common sense, pragmatism, phone apps (have a look at the video below, it’s an app used in Singapore www.tracetogether.gov.sg)
Yes, we also need a lot of masks and ventilators, but don’t forget you have a brain too.
OK. Enough about this rant. Now as for the present…especially of theatre.
I’m not going to launch a philosophical tirade about how living in the present is important, meditation, Zen, bla, bla, bla. Rather I’d like to begin with a vision. Here, I’m speaking to the actors, directors, writers, etc. After all this is a theatre blog.
On the upside. This situation will be resolved sooner or later. There is a strong chance quarantine measures will work and the epidemic will be brought somehow under control.
On the downside. Unfortunately, until we have a vaccine, come up with some kind of Mary Poppins drug, or reach herd immunity theatre is going to be dead for a while. Also there will be enormous problems bringing audiences back to indoor venues (with outdoor venues it may be a little different). This is valid for the countries that are willing to contain the virus. For the countries that aspire to herd immunity (which translates to ‘we’d rather have some people dying of the virus now than everyone dying of hunger in the long run because of a great economic depression‘) it may be different. Or maybe not. That route, although it has its logic, is a BIG gamble. We’re all interconnected… remember the pandemic game I mentioned above?
Once again we have to give a look at the countries that have successfully dealt with this virus. On the top of the list is China. I haven’t mentioned it so far because China’s political system is not exactly identical to ours. As a matter of fact, the Chinese government has additional pedagogical tools, compared to European countries, to convince people not to take a jog when a city is in quarantine.
China has reported in the last few days zero community infections. As I’m looking at the world data I see they reported 46 new positive cases yesterday. Almost all of them are ‘imported’ from abroad as far as I know. Touch wood on the reliability of Chinese data but still, if you compare that to the over 6,500 cases Italy reported yesterday….
How’s life in China now then? Well, the country has restarted to work but life is not exactly as it used to be 4 months before. The video below may give you a hint of what we can expect if lockdown measures prove to be successful [***spoiler alert… unless we copy Taiwan, South Korea or Singapore, those measure will not be effective in Italy]
As you can see, reality will still impose restrictions on the theatre world.
Probably directors, actors, writers will find an outlet in the video and film industries which may restart under stringent conditions. However, I doubt that may happen with live shows.
So how do I occupy my time? Well, I’m acting on a mid-term, long-term vision.
Mid-term, as I watch what is happening in Beijing right now I’m thinking outside the box. At the moment I’m working on two projects where theatre skills (and additional ones) may be useful and kind of retraining towards that direction.
Long-term, preparing to restart my activity as a producer in a complete different setting. Once again the VISION here is extremely important. I’ll write about that in a later post. Unfortunately as many of you have understood I’m stage junkie. Walking off the stage is not an option.
The present is therefore dictated by how I envision the world will change and act accordingly.
There’s a piece of good news about this. You don’t need money for that. You need imagination. If you are in the creative industries that’s a resource you shouldn’t be lacking.
Set objectives, present, mid and long-term, keep moving. It’s more important to have objectives right now than money. You can do that while in self-isolation as well.
Here’s a list of my present objectives, for instance.
* I’ve just finishing publishing a photo book of FISICO, our International Physical Theatre Festival, on Amazon (free on Kindle from the 23rd to the 25th of March) and I’ll publish at least another 2 books of past plays.
* We’ve made open to the public almost all of our shows on YouTube, especially the didactic ones as we used to work a lot with schools. I’ll show you one on my next post.
* I’m playing the violin daily if I can, trying to improve my technique (I’m at the Suzuki 3 level going for the 4).. much better than videogames I’ve found out.
* Retraining for my mid-term goals (that’s currently taking a lot of my time)
* Developing projects for our long-term goals as a company
Recapitulating: stay hopeless, stay positive, have a vision. Don’t ruminate too much about the future.
Quoting Winston Churchill: ‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts.’
Stay safe and carry on.
To be continued…