I Support the Arts and the Arts Support Me
Last night the overture to Jesus Christ Superstar made me cry.
It was my first trip into London since lockdown began, and three friends and I went to Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre to see a socially-distanced concert-performance of the musical.
When described like that, it sounds contrived, turgid even. It was anything but.
It was magical.
The train journey was strange. I’d put my going out makeup on, which is lipstick-heavy (cue memories of my mum saying, ‘It looks like jam, Lisa!’) and I hadn’t factored in the snugness of my facemask. Talking to my friends, I could feel the heat from my breath on my eyeballs and lipstick sticking to the mask and smearing around my moving mouth.
But I got over it. What’s smudged lipstick in the face of a Global pandemic?
The walk through Regent’s Park was a joy. In a typically West London moment, we observed three uniformed staff valiantly trying to cover a park bench with plastic sheeting before transferring a frail elderly man from his wheelchair. Strange times, even for the super-rich.
As we queued at the theatre entrance, a woman in a visor shot at our heads with a temperature gun. It took three goes to get through the armour of my fringe (Which made me a bit sweaty, if I’m honest).
We were asked to keep masks on, despite being in the open air – except when were eating or drinking, then directed to follow the one-way system and use the copious hand gel stations available.
Did that seem weird? Yes, but only for a few minutes.
The bar had a three-tier system: 1) Order 2) Pay 3) Collect drinks. It worked so well we went back twice.
And so to the performance (*rubs hands gleefully).
Anyone who knows Jesus Christ Superstar will acknowledge the overture is something special. The musical journey through what’s to come sparks primal emotions, as I’m sure Lloyd-Webber intended it to…but it doesn’t usually make me cry. This time it did.
It was like the first drop of water on my tongue at the end of a stifling day. And whilst that analogy might seem trite, I mean it in the truest sense.
I believe we need our emotions to be delved into, stirred and brought to the surface in order to feel truly alive. We make sense of our lives through the stories we are told, and these actors and musicians were primed and ready to give their all.
The performers came on wearing masks, which they removed (to the palpable relief of the audience) when they began to sing. They remained at least one metre apart for the duration of the concert, but this didn’t in any way detract from the chemistry between them. The choreography was vital and mesmerising, the singing powerful. Energy radiated from that stage.
Despite the empty spaces in the tiered seating (I believe they are only allowed to sell a quarter of their capacity to meet distancing guidelines) those actors could have been performing to a stadium. It was a mighty show.
My tears made me realise I have been starved of the special kind of storytelling that live performance offers. When a real-life human is there either acting, singing, or making my spirits soar with a musical instrument, there is a visceral connection that I don’t feel through a screen.
Nothing can match experiencing a breath-taking scene performed right in front of your eyes, turning to the person next to you and seeing their jaw has dropped as far as your own. Sharing that moment with a live audience gives the personal experience an extra layer: The heads bobbing to the same beat, the sound of a collective gasp or giggle. It’s unrivalled.
Just as Zoom bridged – but didn’t come close to filling – a gap that meeting with a friend for coffee or glass of wine left, the streaming of mind-blowingly good productions like the National Theatre’s NT at Home shows, half-filled my cup with edifying culture. I hope innovative projects like this continue for those who don’t have the opportunity to access live shows. According to FT.com, the NT season reached 173 countries and achieved 15 million views. Wow.
But I was still thirsty for more, and last night I drank my fill.
Seeing a show I love performed to that extraordinary standard was more satisfying than I could have imagined. It has left me with a sense that these baby steps towards normality will soon turn to strides and, one day, theatres will be full again.
And the tears I shed after a four-minute-long overture have left me in no doubt that our lives will be richer for it. I support the arts, and the arts support me.
(Feature photo by Mike on Pexels)