Physician George Price, during the height of the global Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919, noted that the illness came to communities in the guise of both “destroyer and teacher.” Perhaps quaint to our modern ears and eyes – as glued to screens and phones and buffeted by the deluge of modern life as they are now – the Spanish flu was the first pandemic to rise in the age of “mass society.” Even back then, people the world over were grappling with the fact that the one tried and true method to prevent a widespread pandemic was antithetical to their growing conception of modern life.
When speaking to my friends and family during this time, one feeling they constantly bring up is how they feel bad for missing and even mourning their life pre-quarantine; the trips they had to cancel, the friends they would’ve met, the celebrations now held in living rooms rather than banquet halls. But why not mourn the loss of what makes life worth living? Modern life, or “mass society,” has brought with it not only great risks but also unheard-of treasures. The ability to hop on a plane and visit your loved ones half the world away, or see the same show, or concert, or movie as dozens or hundreds of strangers is not only a wonder of modernity but directly elevates the human condition, inspiring greater advancements and developments than ever before.
It all has become so integral to our lives, in fact, that we had almost begun to take it for granted. The growing interconnectivity of our world – through technology, through the arts, through education – is not inevitable. It is fragile and vulnerable to threats outside our control – whether by pandemic or climate change. But while the wheels of society might be stopped, the force which drives them is not. Humanity craves connection and will fight for it in any way possible. There is no doubt that this is a tragedy the likes of which many of us have never seen in our lifetimes. But what will define us for the future is how we adapt – whether or not we are able to use this pause to reflect on what makes our world unjust and unsustainable by fully focusing on what we value and what we’re willing to do to keep it. This “destroyer and teacher,” as it were, is not limited to just public health guidelines. It has taught us that cooperation on threats to our society is not only possible but holds boundless opportunities.
The creativity with which the world has tackled the quarantine is not unique to this crisis. The next fight of our lifetime – climate change – is around the corner. Flights might be stopped, food might be scarce, gatherings might be stifled. What we do now to retool our society to be robust against these disruptions is crucial, yes, but it doesn’t have to be painful. “The enemy of art,” as Orson Welles said, “is the absence of limitations.” Faced with the limitations of our lifetimes, it is up to us to rise to the occasion. When everything has cleared and our lives have returned to normal, don’t be too surprised to see that what was “normal” might have changed. COVID-19 has forced us all to not only change how we live our lives but forced us to reconsider how those lives should be lived. I, for one, am excited to see what that brings.
The Greenhouse team is struggling – as countless others across the world are – with the losses, limitations, and fears brought by COVID-19. As many of you may have heard, the Edinburgh Fringe is officially cancelled, and we’ve had to re-shape our plans for London. As it stands, the current plan is to appear with a reduced run in London, from the 10th August to the 6th of September. This is heartbreaking news for all of us at The Greenhouse, although we recognize that there are many on whom this situation is much harder.
What we once thought was not only possible, but inevitable, might be more difficult than we once thought… but not impossible. No matter how dire things get, the reasons why we started this project and our desire to bring it to the world will not have changed and we hope that whatever it is that gets you out of bed in the morning will not have either. That is why we are starting a new initiative – “Staying Green in the Quarantine.” Tips, tricks, videos, and stories from us to you about how we are making quarantined life work for both us and the environment. The opportunities that are present to move forward, rather than falling back on old habits/consumption, are almost endless. So, if you are bored, stressed, at your wit’s end, or are just looking for another friendly face, join us and hopefully leave the world a better place once we all can rejoin it.
Staying Green in the Quarantine is a series of videos, blogs, and articles produced by The Greenhouse team to involve the environment, the arts, and the theatrical community during the quarantine. Check it out on Youtube at The Greenhouse Theatre, on our social media, and online at www.thegreenhousetheatre.com
See you soon!
Ben, Head of Marketing