Theatre + Covid = Confusion

by Charles Kruger

Since 2009, I have attended over 600 plays in the Bay Area. That’s an average of four plays a month for over a decade. We attend to what we love. I have been in love with theatre since childhood, having arrived on the planet in 1956. As a troubled teenager, who dropped out of high school, I continued sneaking onto campus to attend theatre classes. In college, even when I wasn’t cast in plays, I would attend every rehearsal of every major production. Just to be in the room. I went on to earn a graduate degree in theatre.

It took years to find a theatrical niche as a member of the San Francisco Theatre Critics Circle. I am beyond grateful for my decade plus of Bay area theatre, thinking about so many productions and contributing in a meaningful way to the theatre community. I have been difficult at times, a real pain in the ass, but the community has been ever forgiving and appreciative of what I have to offer. Writing hundreds of reviews at a rapid rate has been a fantastic formation as an essayist and journalist.

All of which is to say that my theatrical adventure has not merely enriched my life; it has been my life.

In March of 2020, with the arrival of COVID, my theatrical world ground to a painful halt, an experience I share with everybody else for whom it is home.

For nearly two years, I didn’t attend theatre at all. Then, after vaccination, and a booster, I crept back into the auditoriums. It was difficult. After one outing, I publicly called out a beloved theatre company for what I thought were lax COVID protocols. There was some bitterness which followed. (The company forgave me, others thanked me, some remain angry.) Later, I attended an opening at the SF Opera only to have what amounted almost to an altercation with the house manager about masking. I have been to a few more shows since then.

Yes, theaters are making heroic and conscientious efforts to keep audiences and staff as safe as possible. But it just isn’t enough. Theatre is a social event. Social events include conversation, and, most often, eating and drinking. Huddled masked audience members, nervous with each other, separated by seats marked with big Xs to ensure social distancing, are a poor substitute for the creation of that corporate creature that is an audience of individuals who magically become one through the power of performance.

This is not theatre — it is a fractured imitation. A broken vessel that leaks. It is tragic – but it will not do. Not for me.

With the ever more complex public health situation, I have decided to stop attending until the COVID crisis is past — that may be some time.

I realize that the risks for individuals, vaxed, boosted and masked, is minimal—even where protocols are lax. But the risk to the community is much greater. As long as people gather, COVID will spread, and while that is not a problem for many of us who are at low risk for severe disease, such spread will eventually reach those less fortunate. Some will die; some will be living with long COVID. Personally, I can’t live with that.

Feeling as I do, I find I cannot properly enjoy theatrical events. Too often, my experience is marred by discomfort with mask scoffers, or too much distancing, or just plain sadness at being reminded of what is missed by the inadequacy of what is present.

For this reason, TheatreStorm is now on an indefinite hiatus as far as reviewing performances is concerned, unless they are outside (probably not a seasonal option until late Spring), or streaming.

I will, I hope, be writing stories about the community experience as we all struggle through this time. I know we remain a community in spite of the difficulties.

I’ll see you on the flip side.

Love,

“The Storming Bohemian”
(Charles Kruger)

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