Right now many of my fellow colleges and friends have left NYC temporarily or for good. The departures haven't been confined to those I know. Many in NYC have packed up and left the "Big Apple" during 2020 as is evident if you follow the Instagram @stoopingnyc or just look out your window here in the city. An influx of moving vans, pristine stoop finds, and curbside couches scream, "EVERYONE IS LEAVING!"
The pandemic has made 2020 an especially hard year for artists in theatre, film, or any other live performance. Jobs that were lined up for the year slowly fell away one by one. New jobs that looked promising were scrapped or postponed for another time. I know I have had a very hard time planning what my future will look like because of the uncertainty and lack of jobs.
Some friends have used this time to branch out and start their own businesses; selling vintage, making jewelry, revamping Etsy stores, etc. I have tried to remain busy with projects as well, but again, the uncertainty rears its ugly head and things fall, change, get pushed back, etc.
With the amount of New Yorkers leaving, especially younger ones who are in the arts, I have begun to wonder what NYC's theatre and film scenes will become. I also wonder what other places' theatre and film will look like thanks to the new wave of talented people who have exited NYC. Could a Midwest town now become a hotbed for cutting edge theatre? I know there are many theatres that are coming up with new ways to share live art. The Omaha Community Playhouse, for example, is offering "drive-in" live events. These are mostly concert type theatrical performances, but those who attend feel safe and enjoy their night out. These style of "drive-in" theatres can only happen in places that have the space. NYC is so jam packed, I don't think anything along those lines would be feasible.
Many in NYC are still weighing the odds "should I stay or should I go?" It is the biggest gamble of most of our careers. Will theatre and film "come back" in a safe and sustainable way or will previous toxic practices be amplified by the current precautions? Will I be provided for at my job or treated like a pleb who must fend for myself when it comes to health and safety? Will I have to take a pay cut because my job now has to purchase PPE and "can't afford to pay my fee?" These are real worries from those in film and theatre when stepping back into their roles. It is not just "should I stay (in NYC) or should I go." It has now become "should I stay (in theatre/film/entertainment) or should I go."
I believe the world will miss out on so many talented and visionary artists because of how the pandemic was and is handled and how the aftermath will be handled in the future. It is hard to create and experiment when you are worried about your health, safety, home, and money all the same time. Others are trying to preserve a space for artists through campaigns, donations, etc. If you can, read up on them, find more, and participate how you can.
Resources and Links:
When it comes to clothing/costume history many of us studying in the west tend to skim over non-European and non-white clothing. There may be one special class on Indigenous dress or Saris, or Kimonos, but nothing substantial. Most of my resource books also barely scratch the surface of any other topic than European fashion history. I decided to try to gather books for fellow costume curious people to have a starting point to educate ourselves about these non-white and non-European fashion histories.
This is in no way the ultimate list. There are so many other books out there and books yet to be published. Use this list as a jumping off point for your own book research and not as the authority on the only books there are.
I always suggest looking at your local library for these books. If they don't have them ask for them to purchase them. If you choose to purchase them yourselves I would suggest finding small book stores. Literary Hub has a list of Black owned book stores you can check out and order from online! (The Lit Bar in NYC carries many of the books I list below.)
After the news broke that Broadway was not opening any theatre's doors until at least Labor Day and the growing number of plays and musicals being streamed on various sites, I started thinking about what that meant for my industry.
Releasing filmed theatre is an idea many have had. For example, 'Hamilton' is going to be streamed on Disney Plus come this July. Although this was already planned and in the works before quarantine many other productions have warmed up to the idea; hosting recordings of their past performances on various sites or rushing to film a current show not yet opened. As a consumer I am excited to have new content to watch, but as a professional in the industry I have a few questions. Are those working behind the scenes, the wardrobe, stage technicians, etc. being paid residuals? Are the actors? Can those filming during quarantine keep safe social distance? Finally, what does this filming mean for theatre once things get "back to normal"?
I have a few friends in the industry and Actor's Equity, so I sent out a quick text to them to see what they thought about streaming theatre. The overall consensus was that we were all happy that streaming agreements were something being discussed by our industry. Streaming is new and there are so many different opinions on what is best for those working in theatre in regards to agreements and working on a filmed theatre show. Another question we were all interested to hear discussed: "when does the filming and streaming of theatre become film"? I am looking forward to hearing more from the different theatre unions and others in the industry about this new frontier in theatre.
-Curtains for Broadway: No Shows Til Labor Day, at Least- NY TIMES
-'Hamilton' movie will stream on Disney Plus on July 3 - NY TIMES
-How the Entertainment Industry is Dealing with Coronavirus -Backstage
-How to Support a Theatre Company and Stream a Show While Social Distancing -Playbill
When one thinks of a doctor today, a picture of a person in scrubs, maybe with a white lab coat or disposable gloves on with a tie on mask may come to mind. Most would not instantly think of a figure covered in a long robe or coat with a bird head. But, during the 1600s some in Europe would describe doctors just like that; figures covered from head to toe in long robes with a beaked mask.
When the Great Plague swept through London doctors needed a way to protect themselves when making house calls. Many chose the uniform credited to Charles de Lorme, a French doctor. De Lorme's uniform included a wax covered coat, trousers connected to boots, hat, gloves, and a beaked mask. Most of the costume was to be make out of leather with none of the wearer's skin showing least his pores soak up the "miasma".
Sicknesses, especially the Black Death, Plague, Great Plague, etc. were thought to be caused by bad air or "miasma" so the beaked mask carried sweet or strong scented herbs and the waxed coat often was infused with a scent as well. These measures were thought to protect the doctor as he treated his patients, although no firm scientific proof was available. Ultimately their outfits did little to protect them.
The visual of the "plague doctor" is so iconic that many different societies have used the shape and symbol. In Italy the long shape of the beaked mask became popular in commedia dell'arte performances as well as at carnival celebrations. The costume was rightly so associated with death, forever tying it to horror movies and video games.
Plague doctors were as ineffective as the protective suits they wore. Bad air was not the cause of sickness; poor hygiene and lack of sanitation spread the disease. Some historians even doubt if they wore these uniforms at all. There is evidence of satirical cartoons, masks themselves, and the writings of some doctors, but many believe even if they were worn, they may have only been worn in Italy, France, and England.
Wellcome Collection-Deadly Stinks and Life Saving Aromas in Plague Stricken London
How Stuff Works-17th C. Plague Doctors Were the Stuff of Nightmares
National Geographic-Why Plague Doctors Wore Those Strange Beaked Masks
The Timetables of History by Bernard Grun
I am currently home in my comfy clothes writing this article as the TV show I was working on has been paused due to COVID-19. While sitting at home I was wondering what this pause would mean for costumes, clothing, and fashion, and what other viruses and illnesses have done to affect fashion throughout history. (Fitting no?)
Smallpox and Tuberculosis are just two examples of how diseases have affected fashion throughout history. There are many other epidemics and illnesses that have changed the way we dress. Maybe I'll research a few more in the future for part 2 if I end up having to extend my social separation. Stay safe and healthy. Don't forget to was your hands!