- Global Voices in the Time of Coronavirus
In March 2020, Frank Hentschker, director of the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center at The Graduate Center, CUNY, in New York City, began his curated SEGAL TALKS series, hour-long daily conversations with theatre artists and cultural thinkers from around the globe. Hentschker’s aim in conceiving “In the Time of Corona” has been to offer a platform for global voices to discuss the current challenges and sorrows, as well as hope for what he calls the new Weltzustand— the state of the world. This unique program has been made in collaboration with HowlRound Theatre Commons at Emerson College, Boston and is archived at HowlRound.com. The selections reproduced here, representing thirty artists and thinkers from twenty countries, feature edited excerpts from the conversations in April, May, and June 2020.
These passages confirm the devastation caused by the pandemic but also reaffirm a collective hope for a better future arising out of the unprecedented challenges we now face. Voices from Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America offer reflections on the pandemic as well as manifestos for the present and future. With most of the world in various stages of lockdown, there is a palpable and universal feeling of uncertainty that pervades these ruminations. The divergent perspectives on the pandemic are shaped by vastly different governmental and institutional constraints, levels of precarity, and political conditions. Presented chronologically by month, they expose the rapidly changing circumstances of the pandemic on a global scale, and also make vivid how unknowns resulting from Covid-19 frame our present reality.
As the pandemic has slowed the world down, a sense of suspension, of contemplation, of boredom, of optimism and pessimism, and of anticipation color these talks. Some artists have embraced this forced pause as a time for rejuvenation, while for others, this period is seen as a time for action and immediate change. [End Page 3] Many ask: how will actions taken now impact what will become of our theatre, our world, and art? Opportunities provided by the virtual have emerged, and artists Toshiki Okada, Daniel Wetzel, and Gianina Cărbunariu, for example, consider experimental ways to use the medium to produce art. On the other hand, Tania Bruguera and Anne Bogart worry that haste with using virtual platforms might compromise the essence and artistic quality of the work. Jalila Baccar wonders what the long-term impact of physical distancing will be on the liveness, social ritual, sensory experience, and close contact that characterize the theatrical event. Others provide more pragmatic perspectives as they don’t yet know if and how their theatres will survive the financial impact of the crisis. Milo Rau, Guillermo Calderón, and Annie-B Parson consider more philosophical and formal advancements that may occur once the pandemic has passed. The need to create new models of theatre, new aesthetics, and new spaces, both virtual and non-virtual, motivate many of the meditations included here. While we perceive an apprehension towards the unknown, there seems to also arise an accompanying sense of possibility and fascination with the new forms that will inevitably evolve beyond Covid-19.
In some countries, governments have come together to protect the common good, while in others, communities of everyday citizens have risen to help each other in crisis. Richard Schechner, Thomas Oberender, and Peter Sellars foreground the pandemic as a prelude to the even greater and more devastating challenges of climate change, suggesting the pandemic has brought about a much-needed pause in global production. Many voices express the importance of care in this time: for ourselves, for family and friends, for community, especially for those individuals and groups who remain vulnerable. Those in Chile, Cuba, Hong Kong, Germany, and Tunisia warn of the authoritarianism, nationalism, and xenophobia to which the pandemic has given license. As artists from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, and Haiti note, the pandemic has only added to the larger crises of hunger, natural disasters, disease, and war in their home countries. The political momentum and unrest of this period in the form of public protests and riots have further exposed the need...