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"the job of actors has forever been to know what they are without a theatre"

A theatre without actors is just a building. But what are actors without theatres, ponders Toby Schmitz.

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Theatres are closed. Acting happens regardless

Date: 16 Jun 2020

ROSENCRANTZ: A private performance.

PLAYER: How private?

ROSENCRANTZ: Well, there are only two of us, is that enough?

PLAYER: For an audience, disappointing. For voyeurs, about average.

(Tom Stoppard – Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead)

I don’t know what theatres are without actors.

I resist a blunt answer because theatres are too important, and I’m thankful it’s not my job to work that out. Yet the job of actors has forever been to know what they are without a theatre.

They are still actors, if you were wondering. They can tell a story in a field, on the back of a cart, in front of a mirror. Theatre is a sacred communion. Communality doesn’t need a church. It actually doesn’t even need an audience. You can share a story with yourself. You can pray alone. The story is the binding human thing, though an audience of one or more is ideal, if art is to infect.

Whether we live-stream it, pre-record it, belt it from a parapet or whisper it to a tiny audience, legally or illegally distanced, actors will find a way. Actors solve things. That’s their job. Paid or not, it’s what they do.

Of course, it is absurd and sad that Australian actors can’t receive government assistance during this industrial shutdown, while agents, casting directors, theatre administrators and ushers – those who depend on actors to define their jobs – can.

The reason, I think, that we haven’t heard much about this Kafka-like or Orwellian (take your pick) predicament isn’t so much about embarrassment but rather that very few people in this country ever thought ours was a real job to begin with.

One is tempted to recall all those record executives who got between the artist and the listener, from perhaps Elvis on, who were made suddenly redundant when the broom of iTunes came through, however the simile doesn’t hold much water.

The virus will undoubtedly change theatre, how we might deliver stories, what those stories are, how companies might diversify, streamline, yet one suspects – and hopes of course – that theatres will reopen.

It is with no glee, no smugness, that the actor watches theatre companies wondering how they might survive another year without ticket sales.

It’s from melancholy experience that we encourage everyone to stay calm with hope, to keep wondering. Keep playing. The play’s the thing.

A year without theatre is nothing for an actor. Try 10 years. Try a lifetime.

And Theatre herself will last a year, or a hundred, without actual buildings and box offices. Trust me.

Toby Schmitz performs Thom Pain (based on nothing) at the Old Fitzroy Theatre, June 29-July 4, streaming live from the venue.

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