The two overriding issues since the first day we all walked into CovidLand have been public health and the economy, and they remain so today. Another issue, just behind those for most people, are the social ones. In the first few weeks of lockdown, people got a kick out of the novelty of Zoom gatherings of family and friends. All these weeks later, getting together socially on Zoom just reminds us what a poor substitute it is for the real thing.
The worlds of entertainment, arts, and culture both nationally and here in Newton also went through a sudden, extreme shift – taking everything they do and trying to figure out how to do it remotely on-line. Our own Newton Nomadic Theater went from performances of live theater one week to a series of on-line events through the next four weeks (Story Slam – Covid19 Edition, Poems on a Sunday Night, Love Letters, Lunatic Talent Jamboree). Likewise, while they were all great fun to do, at some point each new on-line event reminds us how much we yearn for the real thing in the flesh.
In recent weeks I’ve been keeping myself busy putting together things called Photo Hunters – visual scavenger hunts in our parks. The big appeal to me was that it was a social activity that families could do outside in the real world. Something we all need more of. I’ve been getting lots of emails from folks saying what an unexpected, and much needed pleasure it was to be doing something together in the real world.
In the last 24 hours I’ve been stunned to see just how pent-up this social demand is. Our theater is planning an upcoming real-world, public, live musical event – the Secret Drive-In Concert featuring the local band Couch. Compared to a pre-Covid19 concert this would be a very constrained, limited facsimile of a normal concert. 100 cars, parked in every other spot in a parking lot, with the music pumped into people’s car stereo systems (ala a drive-in movie theater).
After six year of hosting all sorts of events with the theater I’m quite used to the effort involved in rounding up an audience for any event. It always involves hammering away at as many different promotional avenues as you can find over and over and over again to try to grab peoples attention among all the other competing ways they could spend their time. This time it was very, very different. I sent out the first email to our theater’s email list last night at 11:30 PM and awoke this morning to anguished emails from disappointed people about it being sold-out. It’s clear that if had done our normal more general publicity campaign over weeks we would have easily had 10 times as many people there.
In the weeks and months ahead its going to be a delicate balancing act. For our collective mental health we all need to begin re-connecting, re-engaging together in the public sphere. How we do that incrementally and safely without re-igniting the fire is something we’re all figuring out.
I know that, like our theater, lots of other local organizations, groups, and individuals are wrestling with just these issues and various plans are taking shape. I have faith that the next few months will thankfully be better than the last few and that we’ll be taking fitful steps towards publicly re-connecting in the physical world. That said, this summer will still not be like any other summer that any of us have lived through.
In the meantime, I and my friends, and lots and lot of other people in Newton will keep trying to come up with new, safe ways to scratch our human social itch. Stay tuned.