by Christina Lay
Our regularly scheduled blog post has been interrupted to bring you this public service announcement: Keep Calm and Support Your Local Artists.
Yesterday, with one fell swoop, the seasons of two local performing arts companies ended prematurely and many others were disrupted when the governor of Oregon announced a ban on all events with audiences of 250 or more people, and our local performing arts center cancelled all performances for the next thirty days.
The Eugene Opera was set to perform Puccini’s great opera, Tosca, today and Sunday. This was the big event of the season, the opera’s Reason d’etre. The cancellation is potentially devastating to the small company. Tens of thousands of dollars have already been spent and the loss of ticket revenue is a crushing blow.
For this blog, though, I’m thinking about the cost to the artistic soul and the soul of the community. Countless hours of planning, preparation, practice and rehearsal led up to this point. The opera had gathered not only several fantastic principal singers to perform, but a twenty-two member chorus, a children’s chorus of fifteen, an orchestra of fifty-eight, a technical crew of about twenty, and dozens of peripheral people who contribute to the production in some way. Thursday night was the final dress rehearsal (I’ll kick myself forever for missing it). The music, the songs, the concentrated effort of artists challenging themselves to the utmost, all pulled together to a pitch-perfect level, all the confluences of design, staging, costuming, directing, conducting, all arranged, organized, ready, to culminate in…silence. An empty stage. An empty theatre.
Ironically, the blog I’d been working on before this took over my attention concerned my grim determination to complete a novel that is a year past deadline and about a thousand hours of mental anguish over budget. I wrote briefly about how I considered abandoning the project, walking away from all that work: 86,000 words and two years’ worth of practicing my craft. I couldn’t do it of course, couldn’t stop striving for that final “performance” that is publication.
I’ve always believed that the main driving force behind art of any sort is communication, the burning need to express the inexpressible, to span the vast gap between one distinct person and another, to escape the shell of our body and let our souls fly free. To not publish, to not perform, to not share, to slip the novel into the drawer and quietly turn your back on all that you’ve created, is an especially exquisite sort of despair. This, alas, is what the opera, the grandest of art forms, is experiencing, only they don’t have the choice to forge ahead. Toscawill remain unsung; in this instance, in this remote corner of the globe, the show will not go on.
I’m certainly not blaming the governor or anyone else for this outcome, but that doesn’t mean I can’t mourn the loss and in my own small way, make a plea.
Eugene Opera isn’t the only arts organization being affected. The State of Washington has taken similar measures, and oh my god, Broadway Theatres are closed. Italy, Puccini’s home, is shut. As we circle the wagons and go into crisis mode, I’d urge you, if you’re a ticket holder to a cancelled event, to donate that amount to the organization or artist in question. Even if you’re not, consider a donation to any group that’s hard hit. Beyond that, buy a book, a piece of art, a song. Do not abandon the arts in these dark times. This is when we need our artists the most, to give us hope and remind us of our common humanity, especially in times when isolation is recommended and communication is breaking down across all spectrums of society.
Yes, Toscawill be sung and sung again, but not our Tosca. And not today.