Cancelling life

I’m sharing in the collective upwelling of grief in Edmonton this morning with the news that the 2020 Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival has been cancelled. The news was not surprising – after the Edinburgh Fringe announced its own cancellation, I knew our Fringe was a goner – but it still hit hard. Harder than I thought it would.

I’ve been silent in this space for the last month. I’ve had a difficult time trying to organize my thoughts into words. I’ve been wallowing in anger. Drinking too much. Eating too much. Reading the news sparingly, despite its constant intrusions into my inbox. (Didn’t I f***ing unsubscribe from all these “news” sources already?)

The last play I saw before everything closed was The Children, an appropriately (prophetically?) apocalyptic tale by Wild Side Production that ran in Theatre Network’s Performance Series. I saw the play on opening night, Thursday, March 12. A lifetime ago. A different life ago.

That was the day the AHS announced the closure of all venues/events over 250 people. As we nibbled hors d’oeuvres in the lobby after the show, standing definitely closer than two metres from one another, I mused with some fellow theatregoers that hey, at least small shows like this one didn’t need to close. Maybe this would even be a good thing for theatres with small houses, we desperately wondered. For a brief moment we held out hope that it wouldn’t go the way it did.

By Monday, everything was cancelled. I watched with a mix of disbelief, disgust and dark humour, wine glass in hand, as my inbox received a steady deluge of cancellation notices – all the rest of the plays I had booked in my calendar for that month. And then for the next two months. And now, for the rest of the summer that hasn’t even started yet here in still-frigid Edmonton.

Over the weekend after I saw The Children, I sat down to write a review of the show several times. Every time I turned on my computer I got swept away in a deluge of COVID19 updates and news stories. Those were still the early days of this global insanity, and I was obsessing. I, and the rest of the world.

I never ended up writing a review of the show, which I’m sorry about. I really enjoyed it. I liked seeing older actors digging into meaty roles. I was intrigued by its exploration of a broken world and the tantalizing little revelations about the nuclear disaster that had befallen the characters at some point in the past. Most of all, very keenly I felt its message about the generational obligation that we have to one another, and for our children especially – our own children, and everyone else’s. As I meditate on this play again, its messages continue to resonate with me. Our world wasn’t ravaged by a nuclear bomb, but this pandemic – and the global economic destruction that it caused/that happened alongside it and for which the pandemic is a convenient cover story – will be just as devastating.

After the initial shock and disbelief passed, I fell into a deep and abiding anger. I’m still there, so I guess I’ve got a long way to go if this thing is going to follow a Kubler Ross arc. Though, glancing over that model again, I seem to be pinging my way around all points of it simultaneously. So who knows.

I’m angry, so very, very angry, about the years of flourishing that have been ripped away from millions of people. It’s going to take years to recover from this level of economic destruction, on both a global and personal scale. Three to five maybe, from a perspective of purely economic averages. Multiply that by the millions of people who have lost/are about to lose their entire livelihood – like the thousands of artists who rely on the Fringe circuit as their main source of income. That’s millions of years of mutual flourishing, lost. Millions of years of art and creative expression, evaporated. Poof.

I find the term “new normal” to be odious and patronizing but at least that particular entry of Newspeak is accurate. (Don’t even get me started about the other entries in the deliberately harmful lexicon that we’ve all been forced to learn/adopt/repeat ad nauseum in – what, a month?) I don’t know what the future holds, but I bet we’ll have draconian head counts on event sizes for years. This is the end of the Fringe as we know it.

Upon reading this, if you find yourself sputtering “but but but we have to do this to flatten the curve/save lives/[insert statist commandment here]” I want you to really examine what you just said and how it makes you feel. Does it make you feel safe? Does it make you feel right? How about righteous?

The Fringe is cancelled. So is everything else.

The world is no longer the same and it never will be. And as angry as I am right now, I am also trying to re-organize my own personal coherence. I don’t have a positive spin to put on this myself, so I’ll borrow the words of one of my favourite bloggers: It’s critical that we all regain/preserve our coherence and work together in mutual flourishing, because a better world is no longer optional.

“We have no choice but to build a better world because the consolation prize is now truly terrible.”



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