Theatre: I love you. But right now, in this moment, I don’t like you very much
I don’t know what to fucking wear.
My apartment’s littered with tights, stained skirts, mismatched stilettos, and earring-backs. My stained track pants beckon from my bed, enticing and soft — safe.
Rain — rain? Boots? Umbrella? Denim? Rubber?
Traffic. Surging Uber prices. E-ticket buried under emails I can’t find the strength to answer or even read. Even worse Uber prices. Mask — no, a different one, you wore that one to a film premiere last week — lipstick, keys, half-charged headphones. The Uber’s only gotten worse, but you’re late, you’re so fucking late, and you don’t know how this works anymore, how early you’re supposed to be, how apologetic you should be when you stumble in drenched.
Bye, Fig the cat. See you later.
And so begins the return to in-person theatre.
A year and some change ago, going to the theatre was joyful; mundane; sacred; routine. Entire days spent on the U of O campus easily melted into evenings at the National Arts Centre or Great Canadian Theatre Company or Arts Court — I wore what I wore, be it stretchy or starched, and no one cared. Marketing and communications officers flashed glittery smiles at me as I snatched free tickets in exchange for reviewing — smiles I could see, all teeth no nylon — and I watched, and I wrote. In 2019 and early 2020, going to the theatre was as much a part of my day-to-day as wandering the aisles of Farm Boy or showing off in my undergrad lectures — in all three scenarios, I’d often run into friends and frenemies, exchange pleasantries in washrooms or classrooms or checkouts, be reminded of lives outside the freneticism of my own.
I live in Toronto. I’m unlikely to run into classmates or ex-boyfriends. Fig is my best friend. Things are quantifiably different.
The pandemic has annihilated my most treasured act of self-care: going to the theatre as a means of shaking loose the addled thoughts in my brain, dissecting a play instead of my own interpersonal angst, loitering in lobbies and enjoying the opening night treats found there.
It’s simply not the same.
Live theatre is oh-so-slowly squeaking back to life (here in Toronto and in Ottawa, too — Fresh Meat’s tenth edition opened this week, and I saw it in the social media posts, that joy, or at least that stretch towards it — the community is rousing from its imposed slumber).
And the routine will come, and the writing will be easy again, and theatre will feel normal. Of this I am certain — leaving my studio apartment to see a live performance will one day be, once again, little more than reflex. This has to be true.
But after eighteen months of solitude, of theatre filtered through screens and streams, of writing to meet deadlines instead of to excavate meaning and resonance, the re-entry is grueling; chaotic; jerky.
I don’t know what to wear. I haven’t done this in, quite literally, years — how did that happen? I don’t know how much tickets should cost anymore. I don’t know what plays should be about, what pre-show dinner should consist of, what my job as (critic? Journalist? Student? Editor? None of them feel right anymore, not the way they might have a year ago) might be.
Theatre: this is an “until death do us part” situation, and I’m not going anywhere. I’m here for you through the rough patch.
Theatre: I love you. But right now, in this moment, I don’t like you very much.