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10 Ways Self Isolation is Like a Night at the Theatre

It feels like most of the world is locked down or coming to a stop, and the rest of us are self-isolating or social distancing because we're useful, empathetic members of society. That is unless you're a key worker and have to battle on - if this is the case then know that you have nothing but our utmost respect, love and gratitude.

As a theatre company, we've found ourselves not only isolating, but also closed. Naturally, this got us thinking, are there any similarities between locking yourself away to avoid a pandemic and a night at the theatre...? We say yes, and here are the loosely linked 10 we came up with!

1 - In an ideal world, there's nobody else there.

While it is definitely true that an audience makes a show, it is also true that if you've ever had to spend all night sat behind the tall person, or behind the person who sways more often than a metronome (with none of the predictability), then other people get in the way. What's that lady behind you doing? Oh, she's rustling crisp packets constantly. What's this guy to your left up to? He's on his phone because he lost interest. The couple to your right? Constant talking and giggling. Sometimes, in spite of your infinite patience, you wish you could snap your fingers and magically have the whole show performed just for you. Not least because then you could move to the best seats in the house, guilt free, without having to pay £50+ for them. Well, the same is true of self-isolation! Okay, you don't have to pay to get the best seat in your house (or maybe you do, we aren't asking), but in an ideal world it involves you being separate from the rest of humanity for a little while. If you aren't enjoying being cut off from others, try and remember all this peace and quiet next time you're sat next to the loudest drunk in the auditorium.

Other people are annoying anyway, you've always said that.

2 - Watching artists doing their thing is what gets you through it.

You're sitting in the theatre, the lights go down, and for 2 hours or so you are transported to another world. This is only achievable because of the artistry of all the talented people involved. If there's a band, there's an unholy amount of talent you don't even get to see the faces of. Those lights you're being wowed with are the vision of another artist. The actors usually get all the credit, but even they are subject to all the vision and talent of the costume, design, direction and other teams behind them. Now whilst you sit at home and binge watch Netflix for the duration of your isolation (don't feel guilty, we are all doing it) think of the sheer amount of artistic input that has gone into this drama, animation, documentary, etc. Whatever it is, there are some seriously creative people that have helped put it together so you can pass the next few hours (or days) in ignorant bliss. God, I love Netflix.

3 - The struggle to get a drink is real.

Pubs and restaurants are closed, and you really don't want to be one of those selfish, awful people who are panic buying everything at the supermarket. No self-respecting person does. But admit it, you picked up an extra bottle of wine last time you were at the shops, didn't you? An extra 'just in case' of beer? Me too. If you've had to face the horror of queueing at your local supermarket, surrounded by people planning on building forts of loo roll or defending their house with pasta (what else can they be doing with 200 packs of each?), just so you can make sure you won't run out of alcohol over the next few weeks, then you have come close to experiencing the horror of trying to get an interval drink at a busy theatre.

4 - With each new scene, the drama intensifies.

A good piece of theatre should have you engaged at all times, constantly wondering and questioning where the narrative will go, what will happen in the next scene?

The same is true of the current global situation. Each passing day brings new updates and challenges, and while it can be massively depressing (McDonald's is closed, like things needed to get any worse), it's important you continue to engage and question the updates so that you're always on the ball and in the know. Don't believe everything you read online (especially from this particular blog post).

What do you mean number 4 seemed vague and a bit of a stretch? How dare you.

5 - It should get your creative juices flowing.

If you've ever been to the theatre and seen something genuinely fantastic, something you were blown away by, then you have definitely experienced the rush of awe, wonder and creativity that comes as you step out of the theatre and into the night air. You want to go home and dust off the guitar, or rediscover the piano under the laundry pile, or thumb through your compleat (not a spelling mistake, just a pretentious writer) works of Shakespeare for your next audition piece (it's been 25 years since your last audition, but now is absolutely your time). More than anything, you want to make something. The will to create is an incredibly strong one, and that sort of inspiration doesn't come along too often. Look at where you are now! You're in a unique position where you find yourself locked up, but not in a prison-y way, with lots of time on your hands*! Use this time, it may never come around again. It is so difficult to maintain creativity against the rat race of everyday life. If you're facing the prospect of the next two months at home then go and pick up the guitar, set aside an hour a night to write something. Sing. Dance. Make the most of this time.

*Unless you're a key worker and find yourself with even less time, in which case we still cannot thank you enough.

6 - Most of the time is spent sitting down.

This one is neither clever or vague, nor does it hide some inspirational hidden message. Are you isolating or distancing right now? Are you sat down? Yeah, that's what I thought. What did you do last time you went to the theatre? That's right, you sat down the whole time. Boom.

(Unless you were going to the loo or queueing for a drink, of course.)

If you didn't spend most of your time at the theatre sat down then you were probably being subjected to some sort of 'immersive theatre experience', and that would be an awful way to spend self-isolation, so let's not go there. (It also totally ruins the metaphor.)

7 - If it's done right, it should end in raucous applause.

If you're lucky enough to have seen a fabulous piece of theatre - moving, elegant, stunning, whatever it was that knocked your socks off, then you know that the best way to show appreciation for said piece is to clap until your hands hurt. Maybe you've given a standing ovation or three. That's when, as artists; as actors, as directors, as designers and all the rest, we go home with a full heart and a big smile, knowing we've done our jobs right and we've made a bit of a difference. Well, this is your chance to feel that feeling for yourself. You're reading this, which means you're aware of what 'self-isolating' and 'social distancing' mean. You've made it this far into the post, so we can assume you're on board with the idea of both. Society owes you a raucous applause. If you do it right, this weird 'cutting yourself off from other people' thing, then the whole world owes you a standing ovation, because you are literally saving lives. I'm applauding right now, in fact. Just for you.

8 - The government probably aren't doing enough to help it.

Ooh, we've reached the controversial part of the list (I couldn't help myself). It's sad but true, the arts remain a criminally underfunded sector, considering how much we all engage with and consume the products of artistic industries. You're familiar with the headlines about arts funding being cut at schools, etc.

While you spend all this time at home, because you've been told to by the government, take stock of how much art you consume, how much it uplifts you and makes time pass easier. Then consider how the same government offer up only a tiny amount, relatively speaking, of funding to help produce it. The same government telling you to stay at home and consume it.

While you're at it, you should question how much the people in charge are doing to protect you, your loved ones, and the most vulnerable in your community. This is true of all times, not just pandemics and isolations, but in the current situation more than ever. If you don't like something, speak up. Without getting too political, many artists, self-employed workers or small business owners will suffer immeasurably in the face of this virus and our country's response to it, and as of the time of writing are yet to receive real assurances that their struggles will be aided by the government.

9 - Audience participation is awkward and unpleasant.

It is truly the stuff of nightmares. If you're an audience member in a traditional theatre surrounding, once those lights go off you consider yourself invisible to the actors and everyone else until it's time to go home. Then it happens. They're looking for an audience member to participate. The spotlight falls on you. The microphone is thrust in your face for you to contribute to the evening's entertainment, with almost no warning. That's when 99% of us show our most awkward selves. We want the world to swallow us up. If you are lucky enough to have never witnessed this, know that the next time a delivery driver calls and asks for a signature, but you don't know whether touching his magic pad is advisable with your isolation situation; or the next time someone sits next to you on the bus/train; or the next time you bump into a colleague on your necessary trip to the supermarket (to not panic buy, but normal buy) and you don't know whether you're meant to shake hands, touch elbows, bash heads or completely ignore one another, you are experiencing this same profound sense of confusion, awkwardness and trauma that 'audience participees' still haven't gotten over, and possibly never will.

10 - No matter how it turns out, it will be an interesting experience.

It is almost unheard of to have been out to the theatre and not gained something from the entertainment on show. It may have been the worst thing you have ever seen, it may have been the best. It was probably neither, but there were elements that piqued your interest, angered or moved you beyond reason. This is what makes all art artistic, and whether a positive or negative experience, it should always be interesting.

Nobody can deny that these times are - positively or negatively (probably the latter for most), interesting. This virus seems to be all that anyone can talk about (remember when Brexit was a thing?), it has aroused our curiosity, for better or for worse. There's an old English saying, considered a blessing in the west, which seems to have come originally from a Chinese curse, 'May you live in interesting times.' Well, blessing or curse, there's no denying that this is an interesting time. We are living through what will eventually be our great-grandchildren's GCSE history questions, assuming we make it that far. At least it might force them to get off their phones/VR sets/whatever new tech is out in 2050 and spend time with us.

All we can do is try to make an inevitably interesting time a positive one, in spite of the difficulties ahead.

Bonus - You can't be certain that everyone has washed their hands.

Admit it, you never thought about it much before, but sweet holy limelight will it cross your mind next time you take your ticket back from the usher, or retrieve an autograph from an actor, or an ice cream pot from a vendor... 'Have they washed their hands..?'

Speaking of which, you should probably wash yours.

Stay safe, stay home, stay sensible.


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