A different kind of magic
Updated: Feb 3
Now that I know what the arts and live performances can give all of us even in the darkest times, I wish this flame won’t blow out, but rather lead on the renaissance of my injured, beloved city.
Ok, this is it, the situation is far from good. I know that arts jobs are apparently unviable and don’t provide any kind of security to you or your country. We are facing the scariest thing we could think about when, back in July, we were finally given back some of our freedoms, a “second wave”. Winter is coming, yet Christmas is something we don’t really want to think about, freelancers don’t know what to do with their life and careers, and my Today Tix app is still temporarily called Tomorrow Tix. Fortunately, we are having a bunch of really good new productions online, but yes, even if we dare not say it, even if that guy discussing the difficult relationship with his dad live from the Old Vic’s stage is Andrew Scott, we all know it’s not the same. Theatre requires a direct interaction with a live audience to let the magic happen.
But this is exactly what occurred to me this summer, in a bright, mid-August afternoon.
Imagine. An empty South Bank, St. Paul in front of you, the Tate Modern at your back, a sweet breeze through your hair, the voice of the City. Yes, I said the voice, because if you listen carefully, London talks to you, most of the time. This truly is my favourite spot in the capital, even when there’s plenty of tourists running around and taking pictures, kids chasing soap bubbles and groups of Italian students screaming and dancing while waiting for the most diligent among them to finish touring the museum. However, it was one of the first times that I had the chance to listen to the City’s voice. I was sitting in front of the Tate, paying attention to a couple discussing their love story, declaring their mutual love, maybe making love with just a couple of lines. The show (Transcendent, a lyrical celebration of Black love fusing song, rap, and poetry, written for the Damsel Outdoors project) was no longer than 20 minutes or so. I soon realised I lost myself in a story, but I wasn’t sure anymore if it was their story, or my story, if it was them talking to me, to the city we were surrounded by, or if it was me and them talking to our mutual, temporarily lost lover, the theatre.
And then I remembered that our theatre, at its origins, was born in the streets, and it was accessible to everyone who wanted to stop and watch it. Thespis with his dithyrambs was the first person who played a character, a fictional one, not himself, on his wagon plenty of props, costumes, and masks. The relationship established with its audience, on the streets wasn’t probably very different from the one I was experiencing that afternoon. There was me, there was a city and its noises as a stage, and there was a bunch of people all around participating to the show, feeling the show. The magic was happening.
I felt connected to the audience, to the actors, and to my injured city more than I have ever been before, I felt the embrace of an entire community, of people coming from very different parts of the city, with different stories, hopefully very different backgrounds, all connected by the power of storytelling maybe for the first time after lockdown. And the best thing was that this kind of reassuring, comforting vibe was free, accessible to everyone, even passers-by who ran into it, even those who have never been into a theatre or attended a live performance. A sort of return to the past, at that time in Greece when there was Thypsis, and no barriers between his show and Athens.
This made me reflect upon the value of theatre, and cultural productions under this unprecedent time where there is almost no theatre, no conditions, and no money to produce shows as we have always seen them. I know that it could sound simplistic, but the fear and uncertainty, the idea of being stuck in our houses, the constant concern about the future, regardless of what our government say, do make us feel alone. There is a growing hole where that sense of community used to be, and it is something we should all worry about. Scared people, lonely people, make scared communities and lonely communities, which end up being less inclusive, and as a result, less sustainable. The individualistic instinct of survival pushes us back into our private garden, tricks our minds by convincing them that there is nothing out there for any one of us, other than a misleading lack of hope for a better, more liveable future. This is not what I want for the future of my city.
I have always thought that making art should be a collective creating process and a means to sustain a cultural vision of exchange, equality, and inclusion, and not only entertainment for international tourists of for socioeconomically and culturally privileged communities - which I am perfectly aware I belong to, as a white, university-educated, European woman. Reflecting on how art can be brought to life, how we can make space for so far unheard voices, for the eyes of this city, how we can rethink topics, investigate the cultural, political and social effects of creativity, and then go out in the streets of London, produce art made by everyone and not only for everyone, should be the pillars for a post Covid-19 renaissance of an injured, but fast-recovering city. This is what I want for the future of my city. A truly creative, open city whose voice speaks not only to me, but also to my neighbour and every other Londoner, no matter their socio economic background, education, or personal history.
And then, hopefully, magic will happen again.