A WORLD FULL OF ART AND ARTISTS
I've been writing about the theatre since I was ten years old. I was lucky enough to live with my parents in London's West End and it was possible to walk to most theatres. Wherever I have lived in the world, my life has been essentially tied to theatre. Suddenly, and I do mean suddenly, overnight, there are no theatres. No reviews to write, no schedule to shoehorn into an already overcrowded week, no avid scouring of websites and press releases. No theatres. But, I'm discovering, no theatre doesn't mean no art.
So I thought I'd just keep going, like everybody else, and look about me for a different inspiration. Whenever I look at my computer, which is all the time at the moment because I’m self-isolated, I’m overwhelmed by the extraordinary imperative of artists to make art. I can’t drag myself away from the outpouring of music, song, theatre, cabaret, spoken word, from living rooms and gardens, performed by artists compelled to share their talent with anyone who cares to watch.
Looking for something else on Facebook, I came across NY cabaret greats KT Sullivan and Jeff Harnar accompanied by Jon Weber in KT’s living room, singing ‘Tomorrow’ from Annie. It brought tears to my eyes. A moment later, I was listening to Barbara Fasano and Eric Comstock playing and singing ‘I Cannot Hear the City’ from their own piano bench instead of from Birdland where they can usually be heard. A perfect song for our times. That made me cry too. Billy Stritch and Linda Lavin, who happen to live in the same NY apartment building, so no violation of quarantine, gave an hourlong concert of great songs around Billy’s piano. and that fine bass player Jay Leonhart plays live on YouTube every day at 5. A classical friend sent me a link to the Rotterdam Phil playing Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ from the Ninth Symphony, with each musician in his or her own home, playing together. So touching, so right. And the entire NY Youth Orchestra, no two musicians in the same space, play the first movement of Mahler’s First Symphony together, quite beautifully.
Here in England, although where you are at the moment is irrelevant as long as you’ve got internet connection, there’s the charm of the two young musicians, violinist and cellist, married, who solemnly walk to the end of their garden path every day at noon and give a short chamber music concert for anyone who passes their gate.
There’s a group of professional actors, currently unable to practice their craft because their shows have closed, who are reading all of Shakespeare’s plays, in order, as The Show Must Go Online on YouTube. Several theatre companies, such as American Conservatory Theatre and Berkeley Rep in California, had the foresight to video their current offerings before they closed and made them available online. It’s notable that the usual hurdles confronting filming or livestreaming theatre are being knocked down as non-existent in the face of the losses incurred by artists and companies as their shows are closed or not opening. As a result, many playwrights are waiving their rights to their work so that they can be seen by as large an audience as possible.
Big Broadway names are singing in their homes to support charities such as Actor’s Fund in ‘Stars in the House’ promoted by the always energetic Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley which is worth dipping into every day. But my favourite of all is a project started by the Broadway star Laura Benanti, Eliza in the recent Broadway My Fair Lady, who remembered her own beginnings in a high school production of Hello Dolly! and how important it had been to her subsequent career. A few days ago, she stepped outside her house to invite all those high school students who won’t get the chance to show off the numbers they’ve been rehearsing all year because their end of term musicals have been cancelled, to sing their songs anyway for her. Thousands have taken her at her word and the internet is buzzing with those young performers singing their hearts out because she told them there’s someone out there who wants to hear what they’ve worked so hard to produce. Great idea, Ms Bernanti, and well done, high school kids of the world.
Ruth Leon is a writer and critic specialising in music and theatre.