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The Arts Landscape

The Arts Landscape: Street theater, COVID-19 style

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Evy Warshawski's neighbors gather to share stories. 

Last week, 12 neighbors and I gathered outside at 7 p.m., six feet apart, for a friendly get-together and an improv, “theater-in-the-round,” conversation.

The set was a smoothly-paved asphalt street near the end of our cul de sac. The props were masks and folding chairs of all colors and varieties, and the ambient lighting was as perfect as if a team of pros had been assigned to create the luminous colors of dusk – just for us!

Two-and-a-half hours later, sans intermission, each “actor” in our large circle had shared their poignant stories of coping during the stay-at-home mandate. Thankfully, no one was going hungry or worrying about a mortgage payment. None had to deal with astronomical medical bills or been unable to get tested if desired. Best of all, not one of us to date had lost a loved one or been physically affected by the ravages of this unforgiving virus.

We agreed we were some of the lucky ones.

One by one, individual dramas played out, each conversation revealing how lives, jobs, families, graduations and even a wedding have been upended during the past few months. Included in our eclectic circle were: retirees; small business owners; a doctor; financial manager; a Napa County public health employee; an executive coach; education and fundraising consultants; a pair of arts presenters and a primary school co-owner/administrator.

We learned from a dad that New Technology High seniors will receive their diplomas in a drive-through format and be handed their well-earned certificates via car windows. The soon-to-graduate college senior who joined our circle attended Emerson College in Boston, completed final assignments via Zoom and would receive her diploma by mail. And how will the beloved primary school resume teaching and learning for their students – at home on the internet, at the school site or maybe both? Time will tell.

We heard firsthand about a neighbor’s RV rental business that now has no bookings, and from the CEO of a local event provider whose greatly reduced staff has retooled to sewing masks and personal protective gear rather than prestige linens and napkins.

We sat spellbound listening to a neighbor’s adventurous-turned-harrowing trip to Argentina at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. After a few months, the doctor on our block was returning to performing surgeries. How, he worried, clothed in required personal protective equipment, was he going to keep his glasses from fogging up!

For the past seven weeks, our block has been eerily quiet, short of the usual sounds of car doors, leaf blowers, mail deliveries, trash pickups and sporadic construction projects. On the rare occasions of seeing a neighbor or two, we wave or shout a quick “How are you?” There’s comfort in knowing that our closest human contacts are staying safe and, ironically, keeping in touch.

For this extrovert, our gathering was a bravura moment – a welcomed and much-needed social opportunity to calm down, take the time (often plentiful these days) to check in face-to-face and collectively reminisce about the “old normal.” We decided to meet again in a month and invite other neighbors up the block to join in.

As the temperature chilled, we folded our chairs, extended air hugs and went gently into the night.

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Related to this story

Evy Warshawski, who presents arts events in Napa County, considers what happens when performances must be canceled abruptly. 

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