So ... now what?

The governor has lifted the restrictions on theaters so that performing arts venues can fully operate again. While the virus hasn’t totally gone away, the numbers do indicate that we can probably start to look toward relief soon.

But, I keep hearing the phrase “back to normal,” and I actually don’t understand what that means. Effectively, the entire world has faced this pandemic in different ways, but I think we can easily say that the last year has been a transformative one.

I just got done recording a new episode for my podcast “Euripides, Eumenides.” (If you haven’t begun to listen, feel free. We’ve got several episodes out now.) However, after recording the episode, my guest and I talked for a long time afterward about what the arts might look like in a world where society was forced to live in relative seclusion for an extended period. What really has this done to us? Because we are not the same people we were a year ago.

I think about how the jazz age of the 1920s can be linked directly to the Spanish flu pandemic a century ago. The artistic expressions that gained popularity were those that would allow people to appreciate the life they’re living, and that there is no guarantee of that life in the first place.

One of my recent guests on Euripides, Eumenides put it this way: “A renaissance always follows a plague.” So, what will our renaissance look like?

I think it’s safe to say that 2020 was one of the most tumultuous years in recent memory, particularly from a sociological perspective. Division ran rampant, and it seemed as though rather than look for solutions and opportunities to ask questions of those we don’t agree with, we seemed to be more content to dig in our heels and remain firm in our own personal stances, ultimately staying divided.

This year, the Sheridan Civic Theatre Guild has scheduled me to direct a play. I have sometimes been that stage provocateur who likes to use the forum to help us as a community raise and examine some difficult questions about society. Sure, we can add some gags and things for fun, but I would like to have you stroke your chin a bit after my shows.

I knew I was going to be directing last summer, and I had picked a play that would have addressed a fairly sensitive social issue. But, now that we have left 2020 behind us, I was asked if this was really the right thing to be doing now. And I agreed that maybe rather than show us another element of society that drives a wedge between us, perhaps it would be better to help us grow together as a people again.

So, my next project for the stage is to be a radio play adaptation of the old, old Hitchcock film “The 39 Steps,” an espionage thriller that ends relatively peacefully. I have intended for this to be a streaming opportunity that can be enjoyed at home. But, as Bob Dylan so eloquently stated, “Times are a-changin’.” I still plan to do this play, but it might look a little different than the version I intended for a more secluded world.

A friend of mine who teaches theater at a college recently imparted these words on social media. They come from a new biography of the stage and screen director Mike Nichols: “I passionately believe that in art, and certainly in the theatre, there are only two questions ... The first questions is “What is this, really, when it happens in life?” Not what is the accepted convention ... but what is it really like? And the other question we really have to ask is, “What happens next?”

We’re there, Mike. We’re there. What is going to happen next?

I’ll see you at intermission!

Aaron Odom is the managing and artistic director of Trident Theatre.

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