Pat yourself on the back if you've attended two plays within the last year — you've gotten a raise! Yes, a study commissioned by Her Majesty's Department for Culture, Media and Sport, conducted by the London School of Economics, tells us that going to a couple of plays each year delivers a heightened sense of wellbeing that is equivalent, at today's exchange rate, to a salary raise of $1,687 a year. With equal Newtonian precision, the "Quantifying and Valuing the Wellbeing Impacts of Culture and Sport" study tells us that people who report going to plays enjoy better health, saving them an additional $28.67 annually on visits to their GP.
Of course, that's in the British health-care system. You can imagine what the astronomical savings would be under the abominable ObamaCare system that I keep hearing is bankrupting our great nation. Who knew that staunch Republicans and Tea Partiers valued theater so highly?
My own takeaway from this data is that, whichever of the performing arts we're talking about, the axiomatic, gung-ho spirit of "the show must go on" ought to be fortified with a more profound realization that the show should go on. It's part of a city's life and wellbeing.
Back in February, it snowed five times during my trip to New York. One day, the thickness of the ice encasing my tires defeated me, and I phoned the Brooklyn Academy of Music to sadly inform them that my wife Sue and I couldn't attend or review their presentation of Billy Budd that night.
But the show did go on. So did the remainder of the 14 plays, musicals and operas that I scheduled for our visit. As the shows were going on up there, emails kept hitting my inbox telling me that shows down here at CP, the Great Aunt Stella Center and Old Courthouse Theatre in downtown Concord had been cancelled.
Seriously? I've looked at all the TV reports and YouTube videos I could find on the mighty Charlotte deluge. Unlike some Raleigh video and photos, none of them showed snowfall that buried the curb on a street — or a main road that wasn't passable by nightfall on Feb. 14. A telling photo of Independence Boulevard on the day of the Great Traffic Snarl shows that it was drivable and deserted by the time rush hour rolled around.
So I'm not chastising the city's preparedness for a 6-inch dusting of snow, or calling for equipping more of our city's vehicles with swiftly deployable snow removal capabilities. Not me! I'm targeting the bunker mentality that yields to the hysteria aimed at us by our local TV stations — all of them wanting us huddled up in our homes watching more alarmist bulletins. We're grown-ups. We have better things to do.
CP, the Charlotte Folk Society and Old Courthouse were all presenting adult entertainment. No need to "err on the side of caution," as Old Courthouse put it. Their audience could choose to come out in the treacherous conditions or they could stay home. Some people have busy enough schedules that cancelling one performance means missing out altogether on that chance for heightened wellbeing. Happened to me last year when Theatre Charlotte cancelled opening night of The Foreigner because of weather conditions, and it almost happened again in January when bathroom problems threatened the opening of The Miss Firecracker Contest. Rent a couple of Porta-Potties and turn the page!
"The show must go on" isn't simply a compact between a performing arts company and its audience. In community theater, it's a compact with the volunteers who have put in weeks of travel, rehearsal, study and soul into preparing themselves to perform for an expectant live audience. If you have to send an all-wheel-drive vehicle out on the road all day long, you do it if that ensures getting every one of your actors onstage at your theater when it's curtain time. Their wellbeing is enhanced at least as much as an audience member's each time the lights come up.
Weather and the arts community's reaction to it isn't just a winter issue. We're on the brink of our summer season, when cancellations of outdoor theater and Charlotte Symphony events can happen. Common sense should prevail instead of hysteria. If there's thunder and lightning — or golfball-sized hail — run for cover! But if there's merely a shower, something the Brits could manage with a bumbershoot, do what the Panthers, the Knights and the PGA would do. Play on.
There's actually a special fellowship that springs up between performers and their audience when their rendezvous is stalked by adversity. That's what happened at Winthrop Amphitheater last July when Shakespeare Carolina presented A Comedy of Errors, bringing in flashlights to light Act 2 after the electricity failed. And of course, we had the legendary 2009 Citizens of the Universe production of Fight Club, braving the elements in a Central Avenue parking lot. When the klieg lights went out, director James Cartee trained the headlights of his SUV on the action — until the scenery began to blow away and he was forced to call it a night.
Once you're comfortable giving less than that to present your art, you begin to cheat your audience — and dim the spark that brings them to you. A night of theater is important stuff, with a value that should never be underestimated.
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