Theatre Thursday: 120 days to go

Today, September 2nd, marks the start of the eighteenth month of our COVID adventure in the U.S. Everyone had thought that it would all be over by last spring, within a year, but we were wrong.

Despite large numbers of people being vaccinated, there are still breakthrough cases of the Delta Variant, meaning that people who are fully vaccinated can still be infected, albeit generally with much milder symptoms.

Those of us who are fully vaccinated may have to get booster shots to protect against Delta or other variants, and everything is up in the air again.

Unfortunately, some people — among them governors in a couple of very conservative states — seem to be actively doing everything they can not just to prevent but to prohibit local jurisdictions from imposing actions like mandatory masking (especially in schools) or requiring proof of COVID vaccination to work at or attend school, depending on whether the children are old enough.

They’re also blocking requirements for people to be vaccinated to attend certain public events.

As a result, case rates are going up, ICUs are filling up, and people are dying — including a number of very vocal anti-vaxxers and people who have called COVID a “hoax.”

If we had shut down in March 2020 and then not tried to open up in July of that year, waiting instead until September 2020, we might have greatly reduced the spread of infection. It would have also been nice to have the vaccines rolling out in great numbers well before — oh, when was it?

January 20, 2021-ish. But we wound up having to start to shut things down again in March of 2021, with another failed attempt at re-opening in July, and here we are, going through it all over.

September 2 means that there are just 120 days remaining in 2021, but whether this marks the last year of this plague and a turning point when we do beat it or just marks the lead-in to our third plague years is anyone’s guess.

It’s an interesting date, though, because on September 2, 1666, the Great Fire of London began and it burned for five days, destroying a quarter of the city — and this happened on the tail-end of London suffering through the Black Death — the bubonic plague that had struck in 1665.

Now, you’ve probably heard the story that the fire had a silver lining because when it burned down so many houses in impoverished neighborhoods, it drove out the rats, which took the fleas that carried the plague with them. You’ve probably heard it, but the story is not true.

It was probably just a weak attempt at the time (or even years after) to say, “Hey. The fire wasn’t all that bad a thing, really.” Stiff upper lip and all that rot.

If there was a silver lining, though, it was this. The 17th century in general had not been fun for England. First of all, after Queen Elizabeth (not yet the First) died, she left no heirs, so the country had to go to Scotland to find a King, bringing James VI on down — although in England, he reigned as James I.

His assuming the throne essentially united England and Scotland, sort of — ask the Scottish their feelings on that — and he was succeeded by his son Charles I in 1625. However, Charles I really didn’t get along with Parliament, and there was a lot of argument between them.

Charles I believed that monarchs ruled based on divine right — quite possibly because his father was the dude who put the “King James” in “King James Version” of the Bible. But Parliament saw  Charlie boy’s “divine rights” as an excuse for tyranny, which made the king do things like tax the rich.

It eventually came to a head, as it were, Charles I was put on trial, deposed and executed. The driving force behind it was a guy named Oliver Cromwell, a Puritan who took over as Lord Protector once the old king — well, mainly his head — was out of the way.

Cromwell definitely ranks high on any conceivable list of History’s Greatest Assholes. One of his notable acts was shutting down all theatrical performances because, again, he was an asshole and a puritan douche. He also didn’t treat Ireland all that well.

After the English Civil War, he held power for almost five years. Oddly enough, his reign ended on September 3, 1658.

His reign ended because he died, but it was due to disease, not execution. Fear not, though. After the monarchy was restored and Charles II, son of I, took up the throne, Oliver’s body was dug up and he was executed posthumously, his head winding up on a pike in a prominent location in the city.

This happened, fittingly, on the 12th anniversary of the execution of Charles I, which put a nice set of bookends on the whole ugly affair.

Charles II brought back culture and the arts and all that good stuff with a vengeance, and the theatres opened once again. One of the new theatres that opened during what became known as The Restoration was the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane. It opened in 1663 — and then closed down because of the plague. But it did survive the Great Fire of 1666, and kept on going.

Well, at least until 1672, when it burnt down. It was rebuilt in 1674, with a third iteration constructed in 1794 and the fourth and current version erected in 1812.

Moral of the story? Kings and leaders come on go, as do plagues and cities. But art and creativity — and especially theatre — just keep going on, and on, and on, no matter what apparent temporary darkness may befall them.

We’re in the thick of it again now because some people are too selfish and uncaring to do the right thing to help everyone. Sadly (for them) these people will either wind up having to be very lucky, or they’ll die. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground any more.

So mask and vax — or don’t. Just accept the consequences if you choose not to, and don’t beg some doctor to save your life.

Sunday Nibble #64: Out of the ashes

As of today, it will have been fourteen days from my second Moderna vaccination, so I am now technically immunized against COVID — well, at least most strains, although it’s not clear yet whether this vaccine also works against COVID-19 variants alpha, beta, or gamma.

In case those designations don’t look familiar, it’s because they’re new, and are designed to follow the same recently introduced guidelines that ended the practice of naming a virus or flu strain for the area it was first spotted.

So I’ll be keeping my mask on in public for a while even though California is set to end the requirement on June 15th. It’s still not clear whether Los Angeles County is going to follow suit, though.

But the main thing is that it does feel like we’re reaching the beginning of the end, at least in some places in the U.S. But even as we slowly emerge back into some form of more public and social life, the signs of what we lost are starting to become apparent.

It reminds me of another great plague, the bubonic plague that struck London in 1665. It hit the cities particularly hard because they were crowded and unsanitary. A lot of people who could fled to the countryside as the city of London basically shut down.

This included a 23-year-old Isaac Newton, who found himself isolated in his country home in Woolsthorpe. As a result, he started to develop his theories of optics and gravitation, as well as create (or possibly rediscover) calculus.

Then, in September of 1666, London burned down. The Great Fire, as it became known, devastated everything within the old Roman walls as it tore through the city over the course of four days. The problem was a lot of wooden construction, jammed together haphazardly, but the actions of the Lord Mayor didn’t help at all.

Fire-fighting practice at the time was to create firebreaks by demolishing adjacent buildings that weren’t burning so that the fire couldn’t jump, and then focus on the structures that were on fire. But Mayor Thomas Bloodworth was having none of that. In a classic and short-sighted case of “buildings are worth more than people,” he refused to authorize the tearing down of a lot of warehouses because they couldn’t contact the owners.

Ironically, if he’d just had two houses torn down at the beginning, they might have stopped the thing at the bakery in which it started.

That’s not the only irony, though. The fire itself actually helped end the plague because it either killed or drove out the rats that were infested with the fleas that spread the infection.

Now, Los Angeles hasn’t burned down. Sure, lots of Southern California likes to burn up regularly, but our irony is that we tend to only lose rural neighborhoods while the cities, which are mostly concrete and steel, stay intact. But the city has burned metaphorically and, in a lot of ways, what we lost over the last year may have inadvertently helped slow down the spread of our plague as well. And, unlike Bloodworth, our mayor actually did the right thing, even if far too many people got selfish and bitched and complained instead of following the rules from the beginning.

Yes — if we had all just completely locked down and stayed at home for the first six weeks, we probably would have slowed things way down. But we didn’t learn the lesson that Bloodworth ignored as well: Sometimes, in order to save a lot of businesses or properties or homes, you have to intentionally destroy a few.

In fact, as of February 2021, Los Angeles County had lost the most small businesses of any county in the U.S. These were mostly restaurants and bars, small retail stores, salons, and gyms. The general category of “personal services business” was particularly hard-hit, especially because there were so many such businesses in the county.

But there were bigger victims. Larger retailers like Fry’s Electronics folded, and K-Mart and Sears shuttered a lot of locations. A huge movie chain, Pacific Theatres and Arclight Cinemas, shut down permanently, putting the status of L.A.’s historic Cinerama Dome in limbo. (That one particularly hurts because my dad was one of the architects involved in its creation early on in his career.)

Surprisingly, AMC survived despite rumors of it going bankrupt in 2020, and it’s now re-opened and thriving. And at least some of the arthouse cinemas live on, like the New Beverly, which just re-opened this past week. Of course, that one is owned by Quentin Tarantino, who’s got the money to have kept paying for the lease while it was dormant.

Just too bad he insisted on opening it with one of his history-mangling messterpieces.

As an antidote to that, the Nuart also survives, and that’s good news, although they do seem to be focusing on longer runs of obscure documentaries instead of the “you can’t find this online” arthouse stuff they used to thrive on. And, sadly, nary a sign of the return of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Yet.

Then again, that film is rapidly creeping up on 50 years old. On the other hand, it was so far ahead of its time and so much in tune with current attitudes that I don’t see why it wouldn’t still play with current Gen-Z audiences.

Don’t dream it… be it.

Between the original film and the 2016 TV remake (which decidedly does not suck), it covers all of the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC bases. Although the fact that they missed getting that remake done during the 40th anniversary year is just sad. But bonus points for casting Tim Curry as the Criminologist.

So… do I think that everything is going to go back to normal in a couple of weeks? Oh, hell no. And I’m going to be keeping my mask on for a good while after this. Why? Because being able to unmask depends entirely on having been fully vaccinated, and I still don’t trust people enough to not lie.

I mean, come on. People have no problem lying about their untrained mutts being “therapy dogs” in order to bring them everywhere — even though, legally, “therapy dogs” are not a thing, and it’s only trained service dogs that should be allowed.

Not to mention that the anti-vax crowd actually crosses political lines. You’ll find just as many on the far right as on the far left. Yes, for different reasons, but same end results. They’ll refuse the shot, but then lie about it in order to regain their “freedom.”

So even as Southern California and Los Angeles pull that phoenix trick and rise from the ashes, I’m still going to take precautions. Meaning that this mask is staying on my face in public until we’ve vaccinated the fuck out of everyone and/or there have been no new cases of COVID-19 of any form diagnosed in the state for at least three months.

So… see you next fall, maybe?