THE PASSENGER'S LAMENT - by H Lawrence Sumner, courtesy of BRINK Productions
With reticent mind I return to the world and hold my soul aloft.
Is it still the world I knew?
I take in the first cool breeze of Autumn
And fight against an imaginary lack of breath.
I conjure the worst fears in this new world.
The touch of a hand, or an embrace. Lips that meet,
only to pass on a scourge. Never to transfer love.
The train arrives. Taking my seat, still afraid to get too near,
yet wanting company. A smile. Laughter.
A morning after, held by another.
We are strangers on this train.
Strange companions in social recovery.
We sit and listen to each station announced, wanting contact,
keeping distance. No one raises their heads to smile at me.
Is this still the world I knew?
I catch the eye of a fellow traveller and we acknowledge our
mutual derision of the last skeptic amongst us. One lone middle
aged woman in a medical mask. What is she afraid of? No new cases
for a month now and still she holds out.
I relax into the rhythm of tracks and passing light.
Returning to work, I leave behind an unmade bed and a cupboard
full of hoarded pasta and toilet paper.
I smile, close my eyes and allow myself this small mercy.
That I was ready for the new normal.
But there is no such place.
I open my eyes and passengers are standing. Men, women, teens. Every seat occupied and
the aisle full to capacity.
Even the masked woman has someone beside her.
But next to me - an empty seat - as it was, it shall ever be.
For them, my skin is the thing to keep at bay.
My colour is false cause to be distant.
I need no plague, no mark, no scarlet letter -
And I see this world is no better
for having suffered.
No change, no new world, no new normal.
It is still the world I knew.
Where ventilators and high price tags
Are for the lighter shades
While those like me get body bags
And avoided like the plague.
A hundred souls on board and yet, not a soul comes near.
The empty seat beside me is the loudest voice I hear.
It screams. ‘Nothing has changed!’
The world I knew had no place for smart, female, black.
With reticent mind I returned to the world and held my soul aloft.
The train stayed on the track.
The train stayed on the track.
The train stayed on the track.
I hate doors closing in my face. Sometimes its my fault. Other times it’s because of external circumstances.
I’ve learnt to not waste time. As soon as an artistic director says ‘NO’, as soon as the door slams shut, I just get back to what I’m writing.
But these are tough times.
Yes, I understand. The funding is disappearing. Some have missed out. While that seems devastating for some, nothing changes much for others.
I don’t run a company. I have no idea how disappointing it would be to miss out on crucial funding that may have seen your company through this difficult time. It’s overwhelming, for companies, individual artists and audiences.
It is a strange time. A harrowing time. Time cannot move more speedily in the fight against the effects of this pandemic.
Theatre makers have always been good stewards of time. Development, workshops, rehearsals, season runs. The never ending demands of casting, designing, set building, marketing and audience development - just a few things that we need to stay ahead of in order for the show to go on.
But the show has stopped. It isn’t on stage. Theatres are closed.
And now is the opportune time to accept this forced retreat, to recoup and regather our strength as theatre makers.
It’s an opportune time to consider what we’ve lost, temporarily.
We’ve lost the current FORM.
But we have not lost the FUNCTION.
Do a Google search for ‘The function of theatre’ and the results displayed talk about beauty, the human spirit, epic theatre, joy, the active nature of the audience and as one website puts it, ‘teaching society about itself’.
Is this not still your job as a theatre maker, a writer, actor, director, theatre manager?
Just because the FORM is currently being denied, does that change the FUNCTION.
So a government department has decided not fund the form. It can be taken as an insult that your company, or you as a sole trader aren’t important.
I’ve read articles in the last week that say artists are suffering because of funding cuts.
Suffering is not a word to use lightly in this world crisis. I’d be careful about applying it theatre.
Doors have closed, audiences not allowed into the building to see your performance. Funding denied.
I'm the first one to admit that I have no idea what a blow that is to some.
Do you honestly think that because the FORM is not being funded or is temporarily shut down, that this negates the function of theatre, or you as a theatre maker?
Change form. Morph into another creature. Shape-shift into something that does not require funding nor a stage, or for that matter, a live audience only meters away.
The audience is still out there. You still have your skill as a writer, an actor or director.
Now is the time to realize that the function of theatre doesn’t change, neither does your function as a theatre maker. Only the form.
Of course, every argument breaks down at some point. Brian Clarks' play Whose Life Is It Anyway presents a case for both form and function being totally destroyed. But we aren’t sculptors with broken backs.
We are theatre makers who have audiences waiting.
I didn’t have a play scheduled with any theatre company this year. It’s easy for me to run off at the mouth about it.
But seriously... suck it up princess ( and other non binary artists ).
Take this opportunity to redefine the form - and yourself as an artist. One theatre maker once wrote...
“Make use of time, let not advantage slip; Beauty within itself should not be wasted”
You have beauty in yourself and what you create.
Don’t waste this time of closed doors.
Or you wont be ready when they open again.
These are tough times... don't waste them.
I have no idea what Aussie Theatre Companies will do for the remainder of 2020.
WRITERS - It’s time to think long term.
The best way to retain your relationship with Artistic Directors and companies in this current situation is to write to them and give them the option of postponing development of your play.
Artistic Directors - The best way for theatre companies to recover from the CV19 virus, once it has passed, is to postpone the rest of 2020 and carry over the productions to 2021.
Writers, that will mean the play you’re writing / developing that you were hoping to get to the stage for next year will have to wait.
Theatre companies - carry over your productions to the next year. This will mean audiences don’t miss out and artists don’t miss out.
Obviously some productions will require rescheduling as actors or directors may have other plans.
But my point is specifically for writers.
Don’t be greedy and clamor for your play to be put on in 2021.
Write to the literary managers, artistic directors and others you are working with.
Your play will find it’s time.
Allow the industry to reboot and recover, with 2020 seasons being carried over to 2021.
This is the best way you save your work, and your part in the industry.
H Lawrence Sumner.
It is the business of a general to be quiet and thus ensure secrecy; upright and just, and thus maintain order - Sun Tzu
Silence is one of the hardest arguments to refute - Josh Billings
Choose silence of all virtues, for by it you hear other men's imperfections, and conceal your own - George Bernard Shaw
Be still and know that I am God - Psalm 46:10