Erin Butler WYO

WYO Performing Arts and Education Center Executive Director Erin Butler announces the launch of #WYOVirtualVaudeville during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I took a trip recently — an actual trip on an airplane. It was the first time I had flown since March 2020 and I found it sort of strange but oddly comforting in its familiarity.

I did feel out of practice, as I checked in and unloaded my personal items before going through security. I fumbled a bit and couldn’t remember the process exactly, but that was only on the way there. Coming back was different; it all felt completely familiar as I navigated check-in, security and the airport terminals to my gate.

It was nice but unsettling.

I was relieved to have an aisle to myself and anxious when I had to sit in the middle seat on a very full flight. These feelings are not uncommon of course. I think we all reveled in the surprise space we were allotted in those moments’ pre-pandemic, but now that space has become customary to many and not a luxury at all.

As we crawl out of the COVID well, I wonder how we will take to the reintroduction of closeness. Some will likely bathe in the crowds, surrounding themselves with as many people as possible, while others I suspect will dip their toes in hesitantly. This strikes me as theaters across the nation slowly begin to reopen or begin making their reopening plans — as movie theaters open their doors and hope for more patrons with summer blockbusters taking the screen. I believe, like many, that people in general will be anxious to return to doing.

To seeing shows and attending concerts and gathering for the sake of inspiration and entertainment (and to just get out of the house already). And, as we make this migration to opening, as Broadway re-emerges and The Met plans its annual gala, I hope the anticipation is enough to sustain the field. I hope the joy people feel in gathering and singing “25 or 6 to 4” while gleefully dancing in their seats will be acknowledged and maintained.

As I walked through the busy airport terminals and reflected on the individuals collected there, I couldn’t help but wonder what their experiences have been like this past year. So many unique stories. I found myself wanting to talk to every single person I came in contact with as if I knew them all intimately.

Of course, I stopped myself from doing that — remembering the social norms that have evolved as society has learned to “appropriately” congregate. It’s hard too, with a mask on, to give the easy signal of a smile indicating, “I mean no harm.” There is a great power in reconnecting, and I very much look forward to capitalizing on that power as live entertainment makes it comeback. My hope is that the experience is greater than the memory and that I/we never take that experience for granted again.

Erin Butler is executive director of WYO Performing Arts and Education Center.

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