Letter to the editor: We’re all responsible for making sure the arts survive this pandemic

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Kent Smith, head usher at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City, awaits the Mission Creek Festival crowds on Tuesday, April 2, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

By Rachel Korach Howell, Iowa City

In a plagued world, everyone suffers. Some more than others, of course. Outside of the direct impact of illness, the economy will be hit hard.

And then there’s the rest of us. We will lose touch with each other.

First, the schools: Online courses mean less discussion, less engagement, less academic fulfillment. We seem to be on the cusp of closing our elementary, middle and high schools on top of the college closures.

No visits to Grampa and Grandma. That spring break trip is canceled. Sunday brunches with friends and family, board game nights, movie nights, taco dinners — COVID-19 has hit pause on the things we do to keep ourselves sane within the normal humdrum life stressors that are already difficult to bear on a regular basis.

We risk forgetting what it’s like not to be alone. We might forget that the people we don’t see anymore are real, like us.

So, what can we do now to hold out against that?

Making art is a cathartic exercise and it is a place to put the pieces of our soul that we’re not able to express for whatever reason. But I’m a theater artist at heart. It’s not just the making, it’s the sharing, too.

Every show process is different, but there are commonalities: surprise tech issues, financial fears, last-minute changes. The biggest commonality, though, is that every show also reveals a family not recognized until they come together and jump the hurdles together — supporting, respecting and enjoying each other, creating something beautiful.

Theater is alive. Literally alive, with the reactions and expectations of cast, crew, audience. No two performances are ever the same. Each show has its own soul, no matter if you loved or hated it: It was built to share and engage and enliven and consider and love.

And that is what we must do as a community. No matter the reason for or form taken by your art, these are the things that can save humanity.

We recently canceled the three remaining performances of a project through which I had discovered a family. A lot of theaters are shuttering, and it’s not irresponsible by any means. They’re doing it out of care. And it’s at extraordinary cost to the presenting organizations.

Theaters rely on ticket sales to survive, and they’re not going to see even a fraction of these over the next few months. I think things will get pretty rough for the majority of them.

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But we need them. We need them to be places of congregation where we can reconnect once the worst of this is behind us. We need to celebrate our humanity together again. To reconnect with each other. Tell stories that matter and maybe some that don’t. Laugh together. Cry. Feel.

We will need to reinstate the idea that we all are important and that we all matter.

Theater reminds us that we are all a family waiting to happen. We need you to help us share the important art we create together. Please consider a donation to local theater companies. Or refuse a refund for tickets you have purchased. Or pre-purchase a season pass for 2020-21. Theaters will need our help.

And we’re really gonna need theirs.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 281.

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