You’ll be reopening without me

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For what it’s worth: neither the Old Vic nor the Harold Pinter Theatre really reassured me as to their safety levels when I visited them (entirely apart from the question of whether the air in them would be safe to breathe in a pandemic situation). They are old, rickety, cramped historic, “visit at your own risk” buildings, and it’s impossible to contemplate seriously what would happen in either of them if a fire started during a performance. Their disability and sanitary accommodations are, in my opinion, insufficient to modern needs, even without a virus spreading. I can’t imagine their ventilation systems could be affordably updated to meet contemporary standards, and it may not even matter if they do, because air conditioning has been shown to spread infectious droplets. It doesn’t matter much if you reduce the number of people in them, when the people who come are asymptomatic spreaders. Some audience members will refuse to, or insist they can’t possibly, wear masks. Even if they do, they’ll have to remove them in order to drink their “pre-ordered” drinks. I’m not even comfortable going to a movie at the moment (though an email that comes every week keeps reassuring me that they sanitize the seats after every show, they limit the numbers in any cinema and spread people out, etc.), and our local cinema was fully renovated in 2014.

If I go to the theater to relax and to think, worrying whether I’m infecting myself the whole time won’t facilitate that. If I go to the theater to see my favorite actor, I don’t want to take the risk of infecting myself to see an understudy. That’s independently of whether the UK would let me in, whether an airplane were safe, and how I would logistically and financially manage two weeks of self-isolation / quarantine on either side of a trip.

We haven’t mentioned the actors yet: would they live in a bubble, like the NBA players are doing? What would happen if one of them got sick? Would an entire cast self-isolate?

If one person in a theater tested positive, how would contact tracing for that work, exactly?

And then there’s the collateral problem: even if I’m willing to take a risk for myself, am I really willing to take the same risk for my father? I’m as sick of isolation as anyone — since mid-March I have been to my (abandoned) office building and the outside curbs of stores that do curbside delivery. I’ve driven out to the farm twice on various errands and stood ten feet away from my nieces. I periodically advance-order from a café, mask, and walk in and out to pick up an order in ten seconds or less. Sometimes I order from a delivery service, but I leave the package untouched until the person’s car has driven away. The only people inside our house are the personal care workers. I never thought I would say this but I may actually be reaching my satisfaction point with the low level of human contact. But as much as I love theater I’d never go if I thought there was even a chance that I’d bring a virus home.

Expanding the number of performances isn’t going to do it: I’ve read now multiply that a West End show must sell 60% of seats to break even. The percentage remains the same no matter the number n. If you up the number of total performances you up the number of total seats you must sell. How should this happen, if theater-going is still dangerous? And why should people pay an even higher price to endanger themselves?

The decisive piece of this, now as ever, is getting the infection under control, either by staying at home or (hopefully) an effective vaccine. Until we do that, nothing else we do will matter. Indeed, it’s clear that the other things we have done in the context of re-opening are making the situation worse.

~ by Servetus on August 16, 2020.

45 Responses to “You’ll be reopening without me”

  1. My BFF and I work for the same insurance company. And you’re right about the fire. We talked about that while we were at the Harold Pinter

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  2. I think his comment is more about providing work for the people in the theatre not for their (and visitors) health.

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    • I’m not opposed to that, although if they’re doing to do it in their current premises they are asking for trouble.

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  3. Maybe spending so much time in German spoiled me, but it’s very seldom that I walk into a historic building and think “I’m in a firetrap, where is the exit?” which I did at the Harald Pinter. I’m really not paranoid but that building sort of begs for it.

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  4. Yeah, he gives some interesting ideas / options but I wonder how feasible they will be. I have been to the cinema here once and felt safe (lots of distance between people in the audience, cleaned seats, 1.5 m distance markers, etc.) but that was in a modern, well-ventillated building…

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    • R0 (the number of transmissions per affected person) for the Netherlands is still below 1, right? Like just below it? I also think that makes a difference. There’s no way that I’d expose myself here the way you did on your vacation last week — but Wisconsin R0 is above 1.

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      • RO is just up to 1.3 this week – cases are rising here but apparently mostly due to private parties and less so due to general public exposure.
        For us, handwashing or using sanitizer a lot while we’re out and about and keeping a distance is key. I admit that on holiday, that one Sunday in Maastricht it felt somewhat unsafe to me because it was so busy in the shopping streets. Once we were away from the shops, it was all good again. Also, we were in our own cottage and own car (we avoid any form of public transport, be it planes, busses or trains), so that felt safe too.
        I’m not up to date with the numbers in the US and the specific states but if the numbers here had been what they were a few months ago (and close to what I suspect the US numbers are), we would never have done our holiday like this.

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        • You also have a high degree of social consensus around behaviors in your area. I had enough experiences in March before anything got really bad that made me think the real problem is not so much my behavior as it is the unpredictable behavior of other people who’ve been told by their political icons or have talked themselves into thinking that virus transmission either isn’t happening or doesn’t matter. A lot of people in my state seem to think a sign asking them to cover their face or informing them that if they don’t, they will be asked to leave, is an invitation to shout about their freedom. As if.

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          • Yes, that sounds so terrible! The sad thing is, some of that has swept over to the Netherlands as well, some people here take their cue from right wing USA! We have occasional protests here in The Hague against Covid 19 measures, but luckily it seems to be a very small minority, Generally people do try to adhere to the rules although when it gets busy (like in Maastricht) some also seem to forget. By the way, the funny thing here is that the protests are only allowed if social distancing is adhered to!

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            • we’ve had a lot of protests here the last two months. My impression is that the result is mixed — that is, some protests generated a high infection rate while others did not. As a consequence, of course, the politicization potential is huge.

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          • Another good thing here is that, even though I never was a huge supporter of our Prime Minister, I do generally trust him and I think he’s been handling the Corona crisis here well. I couldn’t imagine having to deal with a leader who doesn’t do facts, doesn’t listen to experts and tells such blatant lies.

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            • Even apart from that, it’s become an issue on the state level — various cities in Georgia issuing mask mandates and the governor suing the cities to get them lifted. Parallel situation in here in Wisconsin — I made it the discussion topic for Week 5 discussion in the course I am teaching right now. It took me about an hour to explain to the students what exactly happened. The end result is that we’re now in a situation where the Supreme Court has made it impossible for the state’s Secretary of Health to issue any health orders at all, and various cities are duking it out in the low levels of the federal and state courts with private citizens who are suing them in order to get local orders lifted. All this as we passed 1,000 deaths due to Covid-19 in the state this week.

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              • Désolant!

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              • Oh man, so complicated and it really doesn’t have to be if everyone would be willing to adhere to certain rules for the greater good.

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                • To be fair to them: it’s mostly people whose businesses are badly affected who are suing. That said, this situation points to the utterly inadequate federal response in the US (the legislators have repeatedly refused to meet virtually, and now they’re on a month long break after failing to pass a second stimulus package) and the horribly ideologized and self-serving position of the GOP in Wisconsin, which has twice refused to let the legislature come into special session to see if the state can help out local businesses. So it’s convenient to their economic ideology to say that the problem is not serious and then (part 2 of the saga) start a series of lawsuits to try to get school districts (who also have gotten ZERO financial support from the state) to open schools.

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          • It’s scenes like this, and the high counts, making Canadians go ‘you know what, keep the border closed.’ We have Covidiots and a group tried to organize a rally at a provincial park.

            4 people showed up…the organizer and her kids.

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            • Yeah, just keep that border closed. You might want to build a wall (/sarcasm). SEriously, though, you’re lucky there are so few there.

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              • We are doing our best. Manitoba is seeing an uptick after riding a 0 case hot streak. Most of the cases are in rural Manitoba, this is a first. I have my mask in my purse, servers wear masks, I saw lots of people at the Outlet mall wearing masks not just employees. I am stocking up on masks, sanitizer, and hearing about our library reopening protocols even though most programs are still remote.

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                • I have the vague feeling that the institutions on the back end of this curve may end up not opening at all. Every hour it seems I see a report of another major US institution deciding not to open at all, or delaying arrival for two weeks, or something like that.

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            • (in case that sounded ambiguous — I think you’re absolutely correct to keep the border closed. 100%.)

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              • No ambiguity at all. I can’t believe public health in your state is hamstrung. It blows my mind and makes me fearful with you.

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    • (Just to be clear — I’m not criticizing you, just pointing out that the NL is much safer).

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  5. En tant que professionnelle de santé, je ferai partie de la horde des cobayes “volontaires” qui subiront l’injection d’ un vaccin sans doute transgénique … Charmante perspective!

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  6. Les représentations en huis clos sembleraient une alternative.
    Le public paierait assis dans sa voiture ou sur une chaise ( dans le respect des règles barrières: masque, distance …) visionnant un écran géant en plein air
    ou bien assis devant le petit écran de son choix, chez lui.
    Mais fini les selfies et autographes!

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    • Indeed.

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      • Envisager plus de représentations, avec des doublures (mêmes de très grande valeur artistique), c’est renier la qualité pour le profit financier.
        Envisager d’exposer les spectateurs à des risques incontrôlés, c’est renier la santé pour le profit financier.

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        • I do think there is a legitimate interest in keeping people working. It’s not only about profit. It’s just that the systems we have developed rely on profit in order to keep going.

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  7. I don”t think what he is proposing in his tweets is going to work. I understand the need for artists to work, but…

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    • i was thinking yesterday about his proposed “solutions” to Brexit — also not thought through. I get that he’s desperate. Increasingly, we all are.

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  8. I agree. Our building at work are predominantly modern and they normally pack thousands of people, with evaluation of air flow and keeping to 2m social distancing we’re down to 10% of normal numbers occupation and that is tops. And that includes single use of lifts, one way flows through the building etc. None of these are even remotely possible in any of the old theatres. To be fair to the OV they have done some recent refurbishments and improved the toilet situation , but that doesn’t solve the current problem.

    As said i know what it looks like if people take precautions and safety measures seriously, in modern buildings. There is simply no way any of the old theatres would be able to do that and be commercial viable. For any realistic safety we’d be talking much less occupancy than is debated. And compulsory masking of every single person, no drinks or food at all.
    Take for example the couple of Proms concerts which will take place. Albert Hall, 6,000 seated people. There will be not a single member of audience present as it is only possible to make the players and minimal crew safe if there is nobody else there, in a space that big.

    I’m really tired of it all tbh, i haven’t seen my friends since mid March, any of them. I haven’t been to a cafe or anywhere apart from a necessary visit to an optician at dead time and with me the only patient in there during my appointment and everyone masked and glowed and ppe-ed.

    The only place i’d feel safe inside is the office, and i’m not allowed in so that people who have to be there can be kept safe.

    And sadly speech with projection, as well as singing or playing brass instruments etc is the single most risky activity which can be done. It isn’t just about the audience, it’s about artists too. In addition, every day more evidence emerges about the long terms consequences and side effects of the infection even on people who have recovered well, or who have been asymptomatic. Increased heart attacks, damaged lungs, brain and hearts 😦 I couldn’t in good conscience push performers on stage knowing that if they catch it they may be left in a state where they could never work again.

    I’ve seen attempts in other places of restarting , but the reality is it only takes 1 spreader to form a cluster. In addition to the unreliable testing and tracking round here, there would be no guarantee of catching the cluster early enough either 😦

    The Bridge Theatre is doing something, but it’s a one man show and their space is completely different as it is a new build. We’ll see how that goes.

    It’s just heart breaking, because i love here and i see London and theatre land becoming increasingly a ghost town, people loosing any form of income and becoming destitute. And although people say it will all come back, i know that’s not the case. But there just isn’t a solution at present for these place that would make it both safe and commercially viable.
    It only take looking at places that take things seriously, like film or shooting sets for example to see what adequate measures really look like. Is that even possible in a theatre environment.. i doubt it, especially as we already know where filming in safe environment has restarted it comes at 20% higher costs and with with isolating artists and crew and none of it involves audiences.

    In addition, it only took pubs to reopen for clusters to appear.

    The reason it makes me very sad is that this is not a government prepared to accept reality and stand behind arts financially in a way that would help them survive, ie for example allow them to do minimal socially distanced performances, like the OV has done and put them online, with very minimal performers and even less crew. And this will lead to people taking the kind of risks they shouldn’t 😦

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    • the stuff about damage to those who weren’t all that obviously sick came out here last week and was mostly ignored, but it’s really frightening. My department chair had it in March and she’s really concerned now, thinking maybe she won’t recover. The heart is a really resilient muscle, but this is a totally unknown situation and I am not confident our politicians have any capacity to really understand or address what is going on now or the longterm costs of this situation.

      I am increasingly convinced that we need to do a New Zealand (although, of course, that wouldn’t be possible in poor countries) if we are to ever get back to normal. I agree that the vast majority of governments seem ill equipped to recognize what’s going on and actually help. I haven’t been a cynic about government until the Brexit vote. But I am increasingly one.

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    • incidentally: our comparable situation is the local US football team: the Green Bay Packers. The loss to the city (not counting the region) from the four lost weeks of spectators (they will still play, but without the crowds) is cautiously estimated at $100M. This will probably put something like a third of the hospitality industry out of business if no governments intervene.

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  9. Three dorms and one fraternity here have clusters already. And the students only just got back. I’m as sick and tired of the quarantine effects as everyone else, but I struggle to see how they can keep the school year up. Disease runs rampant every year with the close quarters the students are in. It’s not as though the town is rooting for it to fail. The town’s economy depends on them being here. You are right. It all depends on getting the virus under control.

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    • I’m not teaching this fall but the students on my campus went back this last weekend. The dorms are virus incubators in a normal year — if you live in the dorms you will get flu or colds or whatever is going around. I also know that the administrators know this and that on some level, from a financial perspective, they have no choice but to try to open.

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      • I spoke too soon. They are sending the students home. If I were a parent who had just finished moving my kid in and now have to move them out I would be ticked that they did not see this happening.

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        • OMG that would be infuriating, the effort and the expense. Plus the kids who are housing insecure … what are they going to do? We have a small handful on our campus who are technically homeless when the dorms close. And yeah, we all saw this coming.

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          • I don’t know. They are going to keep dorms open as necessary as I understand it. The scary thing is these are not thoughtless yahoos we are talking about. They tried very hard to do it right. The other universities in the area do not have clusters so it may have been the largish gatherings the students had. I’m just ready for it to be over.

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            • One of my former employers told the students not to have parties on or off campus this fall. On the one hand, yeah — that’s absolutely essential. On the other, what do they really think students will do? (or other adults for that matter, it’s not like the students are in a special situation in that regard).

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  10. I live in Ontario. We finally hit “stage 3” which means a bit more freedom. My city(Toronto) passed a bylaw that says everyone must wear a mask when in public areas (indoors). Then they passed another bylaw that says people who live in apartments and condos must wear masks in common areas. I think that they should have passed such bill from the beginning. Not 5 months later. But at least things are getting somewhat back to normal. Even if everyone looks like a bandit or raider from a video game wearing masks. I’m not really complaining about the mask thing. Just frustrated like everyone else with the quarantine. I feel sorry for our neighbours to the south of us. You guys got it a hell of a lot worse. And Serv I hope you’re hanging there and doing well.

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    • Agree on being sick of quarantine but not seeing any alternative on the horizon. And the Canadian leadership at least go on top of the challenge. Our leadership denied there was even a problem.

      Thanks for the good wishes. I do have a plan to be really back blogging in the next little while. I’ll be unemployed in fall term. I’m hoping everything else cooperates so I can get some important elements of my life back!

      Liked by 1 person

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