So far, gentle reader, I’ve been telling my story with the “2020 hindsight” that a spell of unemployment can afford. Now let me pause in this (cleansingly forensic) account of The Year My Career Broke, way back in 2016 – for a 2020 COVID-19 performing arts update…
Our first and second waves that year, in March and again in May, led Melbourne into its long winter months of lockdown. By summer, with Christmas approaching, the restrictions lifted. Then it seemed that, finally, we’d made it through to the other side. But now, in early 2021, Melbourne has hit Pause yet again. This year’s lockdown rules are much the same – but the effects are different. Far less alarm in the air, fewer signs of panic in the supermarkets. The main impression this time is weary resignation. Here we go again. Is this our new bloody normal, for another bloody year?
Still, our distress this time is less because, day to day, we know what to expect. Having done this dance before, households are equipped to accommodate any sudden shift to a stay-at-home existence. So without missing a beat our teenagers flipped from going to their schools to studying at home. Again we tune into the steady stream of public updates and adjustments. And outside the empty streets, the wide berths to passers-by, the omnipresent masks and hand sanitisers, now seem as routine as a weekly viewing of Groundhog Day.
Last year’s silver linings linger still. In 2020 the performing arts community stepped up from their own lockdowns to add light relief to the dislocation and despair being spread by an unending flow of grim news. In their own disruptive wake of venue closures and cancelled gigs, they pivoted online. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra found a way to perform for ANZAC Day with singers from around the world in a virtual performance of Waltzing Matilda.
Other groups found endless ways to translate “tyrannies of distance” into powerful moments of (virtual yet heartfelt) community. Makeshift works of rough approximation held “a mirror up to culture” and showed the very age and body of our time its forms and pressures. In Queensland, Astrid Jorgenson and her Pub Choir colleagues converted their live “audience as choir” gatherings into an online Couch Choir project. Their first foray blended the video clips of 1000 people singing “Close To You” from self-isolation. Locked-down audiences laughed and wept at its daggy Aussie blend of sweetness and irony, and its heartfelt longing for connection and belonging.
Just what the world needed most at such moments, with so many stuck at home, feeling more insecure and isolated than ever before.
Around the world, professional performers blocked from their concert tours and stage productions kept the rest of us sane and entertained with slightly crazed, COVID-inspired parodies. In LA Chris Mann did a series that went viral. His inspired reworking of “My Sharona” tapped the March 2020 zeitgeist of frenzy and frustration – just from going shopping in the midst of a global pandemic.
In the UK, British actors with time on their hands played themselves in a lockdown, video-conference metadrama about their hapless plot to return to the London stage once the crisis passed. Most of their time was spent distractedly picking at each other’s foibles, mocking their profession’s obsessions, and fretting about their fragile sense of status and general lack of agency.
In Washington, cabaret performers Sandy and Richard Riccardi posted a video performance of Eliza Rubinstein’s COVID parody of Gilbert and Sullivan: “I Am the Very Model of Effective Social Distancing“. And in New York the Gilbert and Sullivan Players elaborated, with their virtual ensemble performance. For these people, once the pubs and clubs and theatres close, all the world becomes – perforce – an online stage.
So here we are, back in Melbourne, gentle reader. With 2021 barely begun, another lockdown.
As a brief distraction from The Year My Career Broke, here’s my April 2020 Melbourne Lockdown Supermarket Song, written when even our quiet little corner of the world seemed on the edge of panic and chaos. (With apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Modern Major-General“).
I Am the Very Model of a COVID-19 CitizenMelbourne Lockdown Supermarket Song, April 2020
I am the Very Model of a COVID-19 Ci-ti-zen!
I won’t buy all those Toilet Rolls, no matter how much Sh*t-We’re-In;
I’ll keep a Proper Distance as I wait my turn with Patient Smiles;
I won’t Fly Off My Trolley in the Rice or Mince or Pasta aisles!
Let’s Keep Up with the News-Each-Day on How The World Is Tra-vell-ing –
Defy Our Inner Doom-Scrolls of some Final Great Un-Rav-ell-ing –
The Virus is Alarming! Please Stay Calm on Social Media –
Don’t swallow every Rumour all those Doomsayers keep Feeding-ya!
DON’T SWALLOW EVERY RUMOUR ALL THOSE DOOMSAYERS KEEP FEEDING-YA!
We’ll Greet-and-Treat-(Won’t Meet!) with Extra Measures of Ci-vil-ity,
And Wash Our Hands as often as required for Peak Ste-ri-lity –
And Keep Up with the Experts on the Do’s and Don’ts of Distan-cing –
These Virus Curves Will Flatten if we Show We’ve All Been Listen-ing!
AND KEEP UP WITH THE EXPERTS ON THE DO’S AND DON’TS OF DISTANCING –
THESE VIRUS CURVES WILL FLATTEN IF WE SHOW WE’VE ALL BEEN LISTENING!
Let’s think about our Future, now both Fathomless and Fright-en-ing –
And ask what Matters Most For All (that could be quite En-Light-en-ing) –
And En-Ter-Tain each other while this Virus Lockdown Hinders-Us –
Feel free to Laugh-A-Loud – Just please make sure You Stay Down-Wind-Of-Us!
FEEL FREE TO LAUGH-A-LOUD – JUST PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU STAY DOWN-WIND-OF-US!
Make Time Now for Old Melbourne to En-Large its little Kind-nesses,
With Common Sense gone Viral as our Cure for Bloody-Mind-ed-ness;
And Help-at-Hand still surfacing with each new Wave in Asks-For-Aid –
We’ll end this Dance with Death with our new 2020 Mask-Erade.
So Spread the Word that once again we’ll Make This City Live-able,
Be free to rub along in Ways Not Presently Forgiv-able –
We’re Stuck Here All Together, so no matter how much Sh*t-we’re-in
Please be the Very Model of a COVID-19 Ci-ti-zen!
WE’RE STUCK HERE ALL TOGETHER SO NO MATTER HOW MUCH SH*T-WE’RE-IN
PLEASE BE THE VERY MODEL OF A COVID-19 CITIZEN!
Looking back, 2020 was the year we learned to live life in a room of one’s own with not much more than a screen and a phone. Whether for work or for pleasure or just to keep in touch with our sense of a common humanity: suspended for a time in parallel cells, waiting for each to emerge as if reborn, into an altered state of being and some vaguely imagined prospect of a brave new world.