Those Were the Bad Old Days!
When I find myself in times of trouble, Grandpa Miller comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, “You think this is bad? You should have been around in 1918!”
A little background on my great-grandpa’s family: his parents emigrated from Sweden separately, as they could only afford one passage. His father came to New York in 1881, working two jobs until he saved enough money to pay for his wife to join him—nearly a full year later. His mother made the 25-day trip across the Atlantic sitting on her steamer trunk in the hold so no one could steal her belongings. They decided they wanted to live somewhere they had space and felt more like Sweden, so they took advantage of the Homestead Act, paid their $10, moved to the Dakota Territory, and claimed their 160 acres.
The deal was they had to apply for citizenship, “improve” the land, and farm it for at least five years. That 160 acres was home to generations of my family.
When I was young I asked Grandpa what he did before he retired, and he produced a complete list of everything he had ever done. It started, “June 14, 1916—Got married. Built a house. Went farming.” The land for the house was a wedding gift from his parents. As each boy took a wife, they were given the same offer—stay on the farm, build a house, and share the land, or move into town and break your poor old mother’s heart. They all stayed.
Their daughter was born in October, 1917. Six months earlier, we had finally entered into the “Great War” and battles were being waged across the globe. By the time we signed the Armistice in November 1918, 18.3 million troops had been killed, wounded, or gone missing, as well as four million civilians.
However, the war was not the biggest killer of that generation. Every ship that crossed the Atlantic during the war and after carried not only soldiers and supplies, but also the deadly “Spanish Flu.”
Epidemiologists theorize the strain started in Kansas, and spread to troops deployed on ships headed for Europe. France was ground zero of the epidemic, with soldiers from around the world gathering for training on grounds which also housed an overcrowded hospital camp.
It was the perfect storm. What could have been a well-mitigated, local problem for Haskell County, Kansas, was carried to Europe during a time when residents of dozens of countries were intermingling. The official start of the outbreak is listed as January, 1918; it was not declared over until December of 1920. That’s three full years, and we lost between 50 and 100 million people.
And yet we survived a pandemic that killed one in every four people on the planet. We picked ourselves up and chose to live. Grandpa farmed his way through the 20s, pinched every penny through the Great Depression, almost lost a son in the Second Great War.… We humans are a durable and incredibly resilient people.
Yes, there is fear, isolation, sickness, and death, but we will make it through 2020 the same way our ancestors made it through 1920, and the Cholera Epidemic of 1820, and the Black Plague of 1720.… It’s our 100-year reminder that the human race can and will survive.
SO WHAT NOW?
Over the past several weeks we have seen our lives change in extraordinary ways. Everyday things we took for advantage—running into the grocery for a carton of eggs or a few rolls of TP; shaking the hand of a friend; going to church; seeing a movie…all gone or very different. To quote Corinthians, “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.…”
For those of us who spend our lives making music in spaces where people gather, the world has gone strangely silent. Every arts organization in the country is shuttered and dark—but that doesn’t mean the end of the arts. We have been changed, but we’re still here.
It’s imperative that each of us do everything we can to stay healthy—well, healthy and sane—that secondary wave of the boredom/panic virus has already hit most of us! As we shelter in place and self-isolate, I’ve found some options to keep the joy of the arts in our lives while we wait for the “all clear” to be sounded.
Broadway may be dark, but YouTube has a new series titled The Shows Must Go On! featuring a different musical by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber every Friday which will be available for viewing through the weekend. It’s free, but you have to subscribe to the channel.
Speaking of YouTube—you can view hundreds of full Broadway shows if you’re willing to do a little work. I started my search using the cryptic term “Broadway Musicals” and spent the next hour perusing titles. Rent, Little Women, Urinetown, Spring Awakening, Music Man, Oklahoma!, Bonnie & Clyde, Miss Saigon.…There’s something for every taste if you wanna start digging!
You can catch shows at London’s National Theatre Live through their YouTube page. Twelfth Night will stream live on Thursday, April 23 at 2 p.m. I watched One Man, Two Guvnors with James Cordon last week and loved it. They haven’t announced their May line-up, but it’s likely that Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternating the lead role, Coriolanus filmed at the Donmar Warehouse, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead starring Daniel Radcliffe, and Sondheim’s Follies with Imelda Staunton are heading your way.
One more treat on YouTube is Stars in the House, a series promoting support for the Actors Fund. You can have a private concert with Broadway’s biggest stars twice a day—2 & 8 p.m. Just type “Stars in the House” into the browser to see the daily lineup.
Broadway HD (broadwayhd.com) boasts a collection of approximately 300 productions from Broadway and London’s West End, American Conservatory Theatre, Berkeley Repertoire, Shakespeare, ballets, and productions from Los Angeles’ Geffen Playhouse Theater. The collection is refreshed once a month, giving you dozens of new selections. It’s not free, but it’s pretty cheap.
For those of you accustomed to catching The Met: Live in HD at the Cinema Art Theater, you can now view encore presentations from the series on the “on demand” page of their website (metopera.org). Each opera is available from 7:30 p.m. through 6:30 p.m. the following day. You can also view them through Met Opera on Demand apps for Apple, Amazon, Roku, and Samsung Smart TV.
Classical music fans can enjoy daily lunchtime releases of archival video and audio from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (chambermusicsociety.org) every day at 12:30 p.m.
The Brooklyn Museum’s beloved First Saturdays have gone digital, with a new show every Saturday at 6:30 p.m. Write firstname.lastname@example.org for a schedule.
Take a virtual tour of museums across the world—the Louvre (louvre.fr/en/visites-en-ligne); National Museum of Natural History (naturalhistory.si.edu/visit/virtual-tour); National Museum of Air and Space (airandspace.si.edu/anywhere); the British Museum (artsandculture.google.com/partner/the-british-museum—just one of several museums which partner with Google, so keep searching!); or view a collection of the great treasures of art across the world in the VR Museum of Fine Art (vrtodaymagazine.com/vr-museum-fine-art/).
Artists across the country are using the websites I’ve listed above as well as platforms like Facebook Live to prevent the wholesale collapse of civilization. We will all run out of dusty books we never read, closets to clean, and 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles before this is over, so we need to find some joy in our lives to prevent the spread of global grief.
We are only a few weeks into a period of trauma and loss we can’t really even comprehend, and stand the very real chance of becoming a world of hermits when we reach the other side. Do whatever is necessary to stay socialized and connected to your community. Share these suggestions with friends, and then have a virtual happy hour and discuss a show, or one of the museums. Solitude exists to be disrupted.
My biggest hope in this is we find that we have more in common than we have differences, and this open wound of world suffering will become our path to healing. A friend passed on this quote from A.O. Scott’s March 20, 2020 column in the New York Times: “We mourn for art because at the moment we are unable to mourn through art.”##
Doug is the Artistic Director for CAMP Rehoboth Chorus, Director of Music Ministries at Epworth UMC, and co-founder and Artistic Director emeritus of the Clear Space Theater Company. Contact Doug at email@example.com if you want to add your events to the calendar. Check out CAMP Arts on our website at camprehoboth.com for links to all the listed theatres, galleries and museums.
CAMP Rehoboth Arts Programs are supported, in part, by a grant from the Delaware Division of the Arts, a state agency, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts. The Division promotes Delaware arts events on DelawareScene.com