Siege Diaries 4/28/2020


The Stratford Festival just cancelled their season.  The Festival has meant so much over the years to the small town of Stratford, helping build an economy based around outstanding theatre.  The Festival is credited with saving the town in many ways. Now, for this year at least, it’s gone.

Apart from the human loss, I think events like these are the worst part of this crisis.

The Festival is special to me, as I’ve mentioned before–throughout my high school and university years, I attended almost every year with my parents.  I honeymooned there. And last year, I finally got back to see plays live there.  I had plans for this year’s season.

And it’s just one of many cultural institutions–theatres, orchestras, dance companies, art galleries–that have had to cancel everything all around the world.  Some are managing to get out content–the Berlin Philharmonic is managing to hold a small concert in their empty hall this weekend;  there are a variety of livestreaming concerts almost every day from all kinds of musicians and even some dance and theatre–but I think it’s probably the festival cancellations that are the most heartbreaking, because these mean so much to the towns that support them.   And it’s these same festivals that may have the most difficult time coming back, at least until the pandemic ends with a treatment or a vaccine.  Festivals bring lots of people together in small spaces for live performances, and if there’s any group that will have a challenge implementing any kind of physical distancing, it’s them.  That’s not even counting the fact that people are not likely to have the budget of disposable income to spend until this is fully past–not to mention the desire or the ability to travel much.

I do have confidence that once this crisis is resolved, there will be a Stratford Festival again.  I suspect the Canadian government might just make sure of that.  It may be a smaller version of itself for awhile, and will need to be subsidized and supported with the assistance of donors, but I do think it will survive. Those who love it will support it.  It’s just hard to see that future from this dark day in April.

And I have to admit it gives me just a twinge of rage every time I see someone thinking that pandemic rules don’t apply to them and can’t see beyond their own desires and inconvenience.  There is not only the direct human impact–the deaths, the impact on the front-line workers–but there’s all this collateral damage to all the things that make us human–the cultural institutions that celebrate creativity and inspire us–the very things that are making this time in isolation at all tolerable.

This came on the same day as a government update where it was clear that while we’re “flattening the curve” as a whole,  we’re not out of the woods yet.  Ontario is refusing to give dates or timelines–which is, I think, good–but I still think there are those who are now thinking “Oh, it’s just in the long-term care homes, I can lighten up.”  Putting aside the fact that those long-term care facilities are full of our elders–who we should be protecting and honouring, not writing off–that’s incredibly short-sighted, because “declining community transmission” doesn’t mean it’s gone.

Again, I know without a shadow of a doubt that this crisis will not kill the arts. Many of  will manage to rise again, in some form or another–because I think most people know how important they are–including the government. But there are those who will have to abandon their careers in their arts for something that will put food on the table for now, and those who already have day jobs may find that they need to rely completely on them for now–especially for those in the performing arts.   I also realize that some of this culture is a privilege of the better-off among us–even through it shouldn’t be–and there are those who could not afford to support or participate in theatre or music or the arts, even if they wanted to, because simple needs like food and shelter have taken precedence.

Again, I come back to the idea of what ensuring that the basic food and shelter needs for every Canadian were met could do for our society in the future.  What if we decided that these were things that everyone deserved?

A girl can dream…