The Show Cannot Go On: What I Miss About Live Performance

At 9 a.m. on March 13, 2020 (otherwise known as the day the world fell apart), I was starting a 12-hour rehearsal day as a stage manager for a dance show. My hands were damp with cool spring air as I crossed my fingers, hoping the world would hold out for at least five more days to see our opening night. Closure after closure was being announced on the news and we knew our odds were slim. By 2 p.m., our hearts sank as the producer walked onto the stage announcing that our show would be postponed.

Like with everyone at the beginning of this strange pandemic era, we thought that it would only last a few weeks. So, we left everything as if we would be returning to the stage the next day: dance floor still laid out, lights hung in the air, curtains closed waiting to dazzle an audience in a matter of days. 

Now, it has been almost seven months since we closed the theatre doors. Seven months since I have seen the curtains come up to reveal an illuminated stage, seven months since I have heard an orchestra tune before erupting into an overture, seven months since I have watched stage crew whisper behind the scenes before maneuvering a difficult set changeover. 

It has been almost seven months since the joy of live performance was ripped away.

As I go into the final year of my theatre degree, I am deeply struggling with the loss of live performance in all its capacities. My entire industry is suffering right now and it's impossible to ignore. Broadway’s lights have gone dark and theatres across the globe sit empty. There is an overwhelming sense of loss within the community which I and so many others find solace and survival. 

For theatre artists, our livelihood is in performance. We live for sharing our art with an audience. There is no feeling that compares to a sold-out show; the rush of energy that comes as the applause take over and the lights go out. How does an industry based entirely on human interaction survive in these precarious times of social distancing?

I salute my fellow creatives who have embraced this new world to the best of their abilities. There are some truly amazing styles of performance which have emerged as a result of ‘rona restrictions.’ Things like porch side concerts with the Musical Stage Company, or the immaculate online programming developed by the National Ballet of Canada, there is so much art to consume online right now– but I miss the feeling of engagement that only comes from a group of people experiencing the show together. As an audience member, I miss the connection with my fellow audience members, as we grip the edges of our seats and collectively hold our breath as we experience raw emotion splayed out onstage. I miss watching people race towards the bathroom during intermission because no one wants to miss even a moment of the second act. I miss walking out into the lobby after a phenomenal performance listening to snippets of awestruck conversation.

As a theatre practitioner, I miss the feeling of certainty. For myself, and so many other artists, there is no way of knowing if we will ever return to our theatres the way in which we left them. The theatre community is grieving an insurmountable loss, we have lost our audiences, our sense of security with our finances and chances of employment, and our greatest love, without any idea of if it will ever return in the way we once knew. So, if you know someone who works in performance, support them, understand what they have lost and how they are overwhelmed by uncertainty, and know that when we return we will welcome you to our audiences with open arms (and probably while wearing a mask). 

If you are a theatre artist know that you are not alone in your grief. The show will eventually go on, and so will we.