By Wesley Farnsworth
As we near the eve of Theatre Three’s return to the Norma Young Arena Stage and the two year anniversary of the onset of Covid-19 restrictions affecting our first production of Funny You Don’t Act Like a Negro by closing early, I can’t help but reflect back on these two years and the roller coaster of a journey we’ve taken to get here. And may I just say…*clears throat, and proceeds to scream at the top of their lungs*. Ahem, much better. Now with that out of the way, let’s chat about what these past two years have been like with all the anxieties, struggles, frustrations, disappointments, and yes…victories big and small.
I want to preface everything I’m about to say with one universal fact: we are all living in unprecedented times, and in no way am I judging anyone else. Hell, full transparency, there were times these past two years that I was not up to par myself. But I advise everyone, myself included, to give ourselves a bit of grace. If you’re reading this, we navigated a global health crisis. That is an achievement in its own right, so by all means, if we failed a few times throughout these last few years, I think we all earned a few extra chances to make up for it and keep moving forward. High fives for that!
As Box Office and Customer Services Manager, over the last two years I took on many other hats and roles that all placed me in contact and communication with our patron base, from Technical Support for our Digital Productions, to Event Coordinator for our Fund the Music Man Digital Auction, and any myriad of other temporary titles that I needed to adopt as the Theatre Three team rallied together to keep us moving forward. And when I tell you I’ve heard it all? I genuinely, truly mean that. Don’t believe me? Here are some examples, as verbatim as I can manage without sometimes dipping into a rated R blog post, of the statements that have been said to myself and staff members throughout the last two years:
“How dare you ask for vaccination records, we’re never attending your theater again!”
“Thank you so much for asking for vaccination records, we feel comfortable attending your theater!”
“If wearing masks protects everyone from Covid, what’s going to protect them from me?”
“Please tell me you’re going to have patrons wear masks!”
“I don’t want a digital version, why can’t I just watch the show in person?”
“I’m so glad you have a digital version available, I’m immunocompromised and can’t attend in person right now!”
“You’re fear-mongering and promoting fake news with these mandates!”
“I can’t believe you’re producing in person again, isn’t that dangerous?”
This is just a taste of the responses (and frankly veiled threats) we’ve received from patrons. We’ve gotten great feedback and support from many patrons, but by and large it has been incredibly divisive and polarizing with just about every single decision we have made; from the alternate venues that we have performed in (many of which generously worked with our schedules to accommodate us during their own tumultuous times), to the restrictions we were required to enforce in order to produce live theater in the first place (handed down to us by union and governmental organizations for the safety of performers, audience members and staff), and the methods by which we offered digital productions (which were in line with the publishers, unions, and the systems we already were using with adding additional expenses to the theater during the financial burden of a pandemic).
That being said…who wins in this discussion? Certainly not the theater. No matter what, we cannot give everyone what they want. In fact, we have never been able to do so even before the pandemic. However, during these last two years, it is incredibly easy to get wrapped up in the personal needs of the self, rather than to factor in all of the outlying factors that are affecting everyone else. I get it, believe me. I take phone calls almost every day from patrons who let the everyday struggles get the best of them and get upset over easily fixed mistakes or corrections. But I remind myself that I don’t know what everyone else is going through. On top of Covid-19, on top of political unrest in the country, on top of freezing storms, I don’t know what their struggles are that make what they are going through unique. So the best we can do is take a deep breath, give a bit of grace, and try our best to walk away content with how things were left. There’s no way for everyone to walk away happy with the final decision, but we can at least be as transparent and understanding as possible so that everyone knows WHY the choice was made.
At the end of the day, we’re all just trying to make it in this world and take those brief moments of happiness to indulge in art and joy and escapism from these unprecedented times. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty much over living in unprecedented times. I’d love nothing more than to have the most exciting event of the week be a surprise dinner party with the T3 staff after a good performance, as opposed to the latest Covid-19 health report, or finding out that we can perform indoor theater as long as we jump through fifteen hoops instead of seventeen of them! Until that day happens, remember to be a little bit more kind to yourself and others. We may not be able to get everything that we want right now, but we can make sure that everybody gets what they need: a little grace.