Should Theatre Go On Hiatus?
Written by Natalia Knowlton
There is a palpable collective anxiety around the future of theatre. As an art form that heavily relies on having a live audience, theatre simply can’t exist (let alone thrive) until this pandemic is over and lockdown culture ends. While theatres are closed and artists are dealing with the aftermath of losing most (if not all) of their income, how can we make the most of this hiatus?
I know, a bold statement to make - but if theatre can’t return until groups of people can gather safely, then there is no room for us and that’s okay. Other art forms are more accessible and safer at the moment, such as films, tv and books. But that doesn't make theatre any less valuable, it is like no other art form and people will eagerly return to it when it's safe to do so.
I recognise that it’s easier for me to embrace a hiatus because as a writer I can continue to write during lockdown. But I still struggle, at least once a day I ask myself:
Is this idea going to be relevant in a post-pandemic world?
Who’s going to produce this?
Even if I self-produce, will anyone program this?
If we want theatre to have a life after lockdown, we need to survive this first. Here’s how we can start embracing a hiatus in our careers:
Remember that this is temporary
I’ve seen a lot of tweets from artists saying that they’re grieving their careers and the projects that have been cancelled.
Although I think it's healthy to lean into those feelings if we have them, I find it helpful to remind myself that this is temporary. Yes, our careers are on hold but they’re not over. There’s no doubt that the theatre landscape will look significantly different in the future, but as artists we should embrace that opportunity. Instead of focusing on what we can’t control, let’s take this time to pause and reflect on how we want to continue working if we want more sustainable careers.
So remember, a hiatus is a break, not a breakup.
FOMO is eliminated
As Kara mentioned in her Resting: What To Do In-Between Jobs post, there is no need for FOMO (fear of missing out) because we are all in the same boat. This is one of the many reasons I love Christmas because it’s the only time of year when the world stops and even if you do work, no one is really checking their emails or offering work (and you don't have to be religious or culturally Christian to enjoy this!). Like Christmas, a pandemic that stops us from working can also free us from demanding and unsustainable creative careers. This is our chance to recharge our batteries properly (without any guilt or FOMO!) and reflect on our practice.
Rethink your day job or theatre career altogether
My first six months out of drama school were hell. With a student visa about to expire, I needed to find work quickly to a) survive and b) save the money I needed for my next visa if I wanted to stay in the UK (but nobody wanted to hire me with a student visa about to expire!). During those six months, I took every shift available at my FOH job and worked other odd jobs whilst dealing with the stress of getting a new visa.
Although I used that time to tour Cream Pie with Kara, I didn't work on any other creative projects or my own writing. I gave myself such a hard time for not using that “downtime” to create, when in reality, I couldn’t be creative because I was really anxious about my finances and immigration status.
I’m telling this story because I think it applies to many artists at the moment. Those who can continue creating are privileged (I’m including myself in this) but many artists are hugely preoccupied with their survival at the moment and are forced to work in another industry.
Working in another industry for a year doesn’t make you less of an artist. Maybe this hiatus will make you realise that you want to keep working in theatre, that it’s still your passion. Maybe it’ll make you quit altogether, or you’ll come out thinking that a day job in another sector suits you better (a definite bonus is that it diversifies your sources of income, which is not a bad place to be in if there is another economic crisis in the future).
Get out of your theatre bubble
Back in Canada, my first day job out of university was office temping. There’s a part of me that misses it; working as an admin assistant or receptionist during the day and then going to rehearsals in the evening. It was exhausting but I learned a lot from talking to people I wouldn’t normally encounter.
To create engaging and insightful art is to actively comment on the state of the world. Use this time to observe new surroundings, expose yourself to new people and conversations you would’ve never encountered otherwise.
As someone who has spent years working in theatre marketing and Front of House to pay the bills whilst writing/devising and self-producing on the side, it becomes difficult to stay in touch with the world when you’ve voluntarily stuck yourself in a bubble/echo chamber.
Don't get me wrong, there are definitely benefits to having a day job in theatre, like staying in touch with theatre trends and constantly exposing yourself to work that inspires you, but there is a risk of your work turning stale and regurgitating shared opinions in the community. Take this year to learn about other people and how they’re dealing with this crisis. You’ll come back with a whole new perspective.
Try new hobbies/avenues of creativity
Maybe you’re on board with the hiatus concept but you’re thinking “I’m an artist, I still need to be creative and express myself!”
I hear you. Just because theatres are closed, doesn’t mean you can’t continue creating (if you want to be creative of course). As I’ve said before, it’s easier for writers to hone their craft at home while actors can’t really do much other than film themselves doing monologues in their rooms (which is not the same in my opinion). As Kara suggested in her post that I mentioned earlier, find ways to keep yourself performance-ready at home; whether that’s focusing on your vocals or staying in shape.
Find a way to adapt your practice to this new lockdown setting. Or take this time to try new hobbies or avenues to channel your creativity. Maybe now is the chance to finally write that script for you to perform, learn more about self-producing or take up painting.
When I hear the word hiatus I think of Blink-182 announcing their indefinite hiatus back in 2005 (a sad day for 15-year-old Natalia). They insisted that this wasn’t a breakup, but a chance for the band to take a break to pursue other creative projects.
And that’s what they did. Tom Delonge took this break from pop-punk to create music under Angels and Airwaves and write books about aliens and UFO’s (a life-long passion of his), whilst Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker created +44. Through these projects, they were able to do what they couldn’t do under Blink-182.
They got back together, broke up again and came back with a new member (Matt Skiba, but minus Delonge). Is Blink-182 the same? Of course not. But they've used their breaks to step out of their comfort zone and challenge their creative practice. Their concerts still sell out while keeping their sound fresh.
To change is to evolve, to come back stronger. I say we take this opportunity to rest and hibernate for the winter, so we can blossom when spring and theatre return. And it will, of course it will.