Theater removes us from the warp and weft of reality and allows us to escape into other lives. Lighting, sets, and actors pull us from our theater seats through the invisible fourth wall into the story on stge.
When theaters close, as theaters around the world have during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are stuck within our own four walls longing for action. The invisible virus replaces the invisible wall. Angst replaces escape.
April 1, 2020, Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company sent an email to everyone on their mailing list announcing their closure. Subject: Huntington Headlines. The email’s featured photo showed the Calderwood Pavilion marquee bearing this message:
SEE YOU AT THE THEATRE SOON!
STAY SAFE & HEALTHY
Photo: Huntington Theatre Company
Located in the landmark Boston Center for the Arts, the Calderwood Pavilion houses the 370-seat Virginia Wimberly Theatre, 200-seat Nancy and Edward Roberts Studio Theatre, Carol Deane Rehearsal Hall, and Nicholas Martin Rehearsal Hall. The Huntington Theatre website says that the Calderwood “provides a home for artistic collaborations; fosters the development of new plays; helps build and diversify audiences; creates more opportunities for youth and community outreach; and expands the existing BCA complex to include more performance venues for Boston’s smaller arts organizations.”
That’s a lot of ingenuity to shut down.
The subhead in the email, under the marquee photo, said:
Our hearts go out to those around the world who have been directly
affected by the tragedy of COVID-19. As the situation continues to
evolve, so do the Huntington’s plans. Here is our latest update.
News followed of performance reschedulings, [email protected], the 2020-2021 season, and how to give.
The ampersand in the marquee message stands as a beacon of hope.
Media personalities and journalists on radio, on television, online, and in print urge us to help “flatten the curve.” That is, the more we wash our hands, wear a mask, avoid crowds, social distance, and stay home, the faster the rise in coronavirus infections will fall to a flat plane. We will be on top of the virus instead of succumbing to it, or six feet under.
Look at the flat-top marquee ampersand. Like the media people, it broadcasts “flatten the curve.” The ampersand resembles the one that London, UK, illustrator and graphic artist Justin Chodzko designed for Coming Together, the font produced in 2010 by The Society of Typographic Aficionados (SOTA) to benefit victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Coming Together consists entirely of ampersands — more than 400 — to represent the idea of people coming together to help one another. Nearly 400 type designers, graphic designers, and other artists from around the world contributed to the Font Aid IV project.
Ampersand in Calderwood Pavilion marquee, 2020
Ampersand designed by Justin Chodzko for Font Aid IV, 2010
We long to physically come together, but until we can, the marquee ampersand tells us we must help each other to level the COVID arc. Author Karen Russell wrote in The New Yorker (“Dispatches from a Pandemic,” April 13, 2020, p. 36), “ ‘Flatten the curve’ caused a paradigm shift for me … The phrase is an injunction: it says, gently and urgently, that it is not too late for us to change the shape of this story.”
Circa 1599, William Shakespeare wrote in Act II, Scene VII of his pastoral comedy As You Like It :
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays may parts, …
See yourself on the world stage, acting in the role that you play best. Help others escape the virus by doing your part to “change the shape” of the curve. Allow yourself to escape the virus by washing our hands, wearing a mask, avoiding crowds, social distancing, and staying home. Soon you will be back in the theatre, infection-free and pulled by stagecraft into the fabric of the story, healthy and strong.