Siege Diaries 5/13/2020

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“Lemons”, wrote my friend Tim Jennings, Executive Director of the Shaw Festival, in a post yesterday.  The Shaw had managed to keep their actors (who work on contract) employed and rehearsing up through this past Sunday, thanks to the timely purchase of an insurance policy a few years ago, but they had to finally let them all go, recognizing the season as originally planned would not go forward.

And then they turned around and hired the vast majority as temporary workers.  Wrote Tim, “They are now employed under our newly created “Education and Outreach Specialists” (ECOS) system – a temporary, full time job that is running in step with the Wage Subsidy program – and will help us connect more deeply and in wonderful ways with our patrons, communities and educational partners as well as helping with professional development, trainings and wellness programs for our staff, and others.”  He went on to say that one member said this could well be one of the busiest summers ever for the Shaw.  “Damn fine lemonade, ” he concluded.

I learned through a Facebook post that the International Shostakovich Days festival in Gohrisch, Germany had likewise been cancelled.  However, the note went on to mention that they were hoping to host a virtual version in early July, with 9 of 10 pianists scheduled to give world premieres of works by Shostakovich hoping to still give their premieres. (Yes, new works by Shostakovich–all of them quite early works.)  In doing so, suddenly this opens this festival to people like me who could have never hoped to attend in person–and I’m excited I might get to see something special.

Last Saturday I attended an online session hosted by the folks who put on Rushcon, featuring a band called YYNOT that started off as a Rush tribute band but had moved into recording their own material as well as doing covers.  Interestingly enough, they had started as an Internet-based band, putting their tracks together remotely with members in three different states (four, including the new drummer they’ve just added). So they’re uniquely qualified to succeed in this age of isolation.  They’re doing an online event right now (which I cannot attend due to some other deadlines).

A little over a week ago, friends of mine attended the ExArc (Experimental Archaeology) conference online–another event in Germany that many of them would not have been able to attend in person.

And suddenly, my noontime Toastmasters club, which had been struggling for a couple of years, is picking up new members.  Being able to attend virtually has suddenly opened opportunities to the club that our previous tie to a physical space (with the virtual component as sort of a kluge) prevented.

And next week, I’ll get a chance to attend the first meeting of my original PMI chapter–PMI-DHC, where I served on the Board for nine years, including as President–since I moved to Stoney Creek–all because they, too, have moved to make their meetings virtual.

Damn fine lemonade, indeed.  What conferences or performances might I be able to attend in the future if there were virtual components?   Even after things reopen?   What new creative endeavours might emerge from this?

Don’t get me wrong.  I’d rather be able to attend things in person. But suddenly,  options that were once not even considered are the only way available at the moment. Will that change things for the future?  Make more people think differently about different audiences that might be untapped?

I hope so.

*****

Today’s historical event is related to the book I’m now reading The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson, one of my favorite popular historians.  The book concerns the period in 1940 when Winston Churchill succeeded Neville Chamberlain as Britain’s Prime Minister, just before the surrender of France and the evacuation of Dunkirk.  Churchill is such an iconic figure that it’s often forgotten that he was not initially a very popular choice to take on the role of PM.

On this date in 1940, he made his first speech to the British House of Commons as leader of a unity government (where his own Conservative party still mostly backed Chamberlain).  In taking on this taks, he stated, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”  Churchill was blunt about the task before him, and his only goal. “You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.”  (Read the entire speech here.)

History, of course, knows the ending to this tale, but on that May day eighty years ago, the future was still very much hidden in darkness, and the road was not certain.

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