The strange experience of the theater on the possible eve of darkness | Theater

Until a few days ago, I had a diary stuffed with first nights. This week, it was non-stop theater every night: a final sprint for festive down-tooling.

Wednesday night was supposed to be press night for Hex, Rufus Norris’ new musical about Sleeping Beauty at the National Theater. And then it wasn’t, because of Covid. Other official opening nights took place at what seemed like a horrific bowling game, from Moulin Rouge to Force Majeure – some of the most high-profile shows of the year. Suddenly, my sprint became a crawl.

Then a glimmer of hope Wednesday afternoon with a phone call from the Almeida theater. Did I want to come see their musical cover of Spring Awakening – based on Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play – two evenings before press night? You know, just in case …?

Everyone in production had tested negative that day, the press secretary explained, and then I realized how the industry was being forced to live from day to day again.

I embraced the moment too, of course. A friend I was due to meet for dinner told me that she didn’t feel safe sitting in an auditorium that was not socially distanced. His words worried me enough to run to my nearest walk-in center, which was operating with such military efficiency that I was boosted less than 30 minutes later and immediately felt more secure, not if only in mind at the moment.

I was happy but also surprised to see the auditorium so full. I had received an email a few hours earlier with a reminder to wear a mask and take a lateral flow test. The stewards asked us to keep our masks on, in a tone very different from what I expected in all places. It was a polite but demanding order and everyone, as far as I know, obeyed.

Along with the undertow of a vague anxiety – perhaps nervousness mingled with a firm resolve to continue to gather this way – there was palpable relief as the doors closed and the lights went down. All of us, with barely an empty seat between us, had arrived, just before the prospect of looming more terrible darkness in the industry. If it was the end of days – so soon? Once again? – we were going to sing and dance.

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