Celebrations and stories about experiencing reopening of arts organizations are being shared, and they are joyous and poignant. Here are four of my favorites:
First, the image of this man unabashedly rejoicing as he enters The Metropolitan Museum of Art needs no further commentary.
Second, writer Gretchen Rubin had undertaken a project to visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art every day she was in New York in 2020. She is featured in this thoughtful and personal video from the Met along with Angela Reynolds, Assistant Building Manager of the Met, Taiwanese artist Hai-Hsin Huang, who has published two books of her drawings of Met visitors.
Rubin muses about how the art itself is defined for her by its setting – and being with other people. She used to relish the empty rooms of the members-only hours, but now wants crowds. “If I could take a Van Gogh home and put it in my living room, I don’t think it would seem like a masterpiece the way that it does if I go see it in the Met and I’m with other people who came to this room to see this art object. We all have to experience something together in order for it to achieve its true significance.”
She wrote on her own blog about her mixed emotions at being back. There was the thrill of seeing her favorite pieces up close since there were so many fewer people there, but ultimately calling it “a little eerie.” She says, “This pandemic is terrible in its consequences —there’s so much tragedy, sorrow, grief, disruption, loss, uncertainty. But it has also reawakened appreciation of so many things. I’ve always loved the Met, and now it almost breaks my heart to be there.”
Third, the Kabuki-za Theatre in Tokyo reopened in early August. I’ve seen kabuki in that theatre, and I found it to be an electric experience.** In a BBC video, an audience member returning to see a performance says: “There hasn’t been much to look forward to these past five months, so I feel as if I’ve finally come back to life.” What more can we ask of any experience but that it helps us to feel alive.
Finally, Michael Paulson, theater reporter for The New York Times, wrote about the process behind the Berkshire Theatre Group’s outdoor, socially distant production of Godspell, and the experience of seeing it with an audience. On an appearance on the Times’s podcast The Daily, Paulson described how it took time for the audience to relax and be present with the performance. And at the end:
“The crowd absolutely gives a standing ovation. This, like, this enthusiasm like, “Wow, they really did this, and wow, they were good, and wow, I really did this. I came back to a show and I lived to tell about it.” He continues, “It’s not what we had before the pandemic, and it’s not what we hope to have, but I think it’s meaningful. It’s a group of actors, it’s a theater, showing a way to make art, to see art for now. And it’s succeeding.”
We succeed just by continuing. No, it’s not the same. Zoom theater is not the same. Museums without crowds are not the same. But whether the attempt is to be as similar as possible to what we knew before, or to seize this opportunity to innovate, it’s a triumph just to keep going and let the experiences unfold on these new terms.
**I was in Tokyo on a trip during my studies at Yale School of Management getting my MBA. I had seen video of kabuki during a formative experience taking a Japanese theatre class with Carol Martin during my undergraduate studies as a drama major at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. For all the fancy meetings and tours we had during the trip, my main goal was to seize the opportunity of being in Tokyo during the New Year celebrations to see kabuki in person. I convinced about 15 or so of my business school classmates to go to the theatre with me, most of whom rarely attended theatre at home. Of course I had never been to a Japanese theatre before, but I had the confidence that I could figure it out for all of us and lead the charge. It was a thrill to see the virtuosity of the performances, and witness the audience interaction with the performers that I had only read about and that we rarely experience in American theatre. But the greatest joy was to introduce this unique experience to my classmates.