Alexandra Silber: How it feels to have your show shut down by the virus
The actor was leading the UK premiere of Paula Vogel's Indecent at the Menier Chocolate Factory
On March 13, 2020, during this very painful, confusing, and uncertain era of our human existence, Rebecca Taichman's original production of Paula Vogel's Indecent played its first of, ultimately, only two, preview performances at the Menier Chocolate Factory in Southeast London.
Previews came after a period of extensive, detailed, emotional, and spiritually grueling work on the part of our extraordinary company and creative team (particular shout out to the associates who taught us everything, Ashely Monroe and Sara Gibbons). It also came 30 minutes after the news of the month-long closing of the Broadway theatre community.
Within moments, so many of my New York colleagues were out of a job. For quite a while. In London, we knew it was only a matter of hours before the lockdown came for us too. That night my heart surged with ache for our ravaged community that's very existence relies upon its live-ness.
One of the great joys of Taichman's production is the half-hour pre-show where the entire company sits in stillness and watches the audience enter the space.
We watched and bore witness, with tears in our eyes that we could not wipe, as the audience of 175 people slowly filled the seats in an act of wartime solidarity and need.
The people with us on those two nights fought to be there, wore masks, sprayed down their seats.
They needed it.
The healing power of theatrical communion that, from the very beginning of its Greek origins was designed for shared catharsis, rivaled only perhaps by formal spirituality found in houses of worship.
For many, the theatre is that very place.
It certainly was for those two precious nights.
And just like the players in the attic of Indecent, with no clear idea what tomorrow may bring, we all decided to do a little play. For the "few souls" who braved coming. And it was glorious.
At the end of Indecent, there is a scene where two lovers, Rifkele (Molly Osborne) and Manke (me) dance passionately in the rain. It is a scene taken from Sholem Ash's God of Vengeance, the play on which Indecent is inspired.
As the sensation of the freeing-cold rain washed over us, I felt a rush of gratitude and joy. We were surrounded by waves of love, support and joy from our friends and colleagues. Moments this sacred are rare in the theatre, and it was my honour to serve.
On a personal level, only 11 weeks ago I had an adult bat mitzvah, and emerged in the ritual mikveh. This "rain water" felt as spiritual, as holy, and as cleansing. I felt certain I was the most fortunate woman on earth to tell this story — particularly beside the dream that is Molly Osborne.
Molly and I wept. We honoured all of our actor predecessors (many of whom are good friends), and above all, the real-life people we represent that can no longer speak for themselves.
I have always felt as though our theatrical creations do, truly, live. Somewhere. We take a knife to the folds of the universe and discover that Ophelia lives in this fold, Nora in another. Willy Loman, Iago, Mrs. Lovett, Electra, Julie Jordan, Anna and the King? They take off from their creators, and go forth, belonging ever more to the Universe at large.
And by that logic, so too do Rifkele and Manke. Somewhere in some universe they are always dancing together, falling in love, in the rain. Forever.
I know so many of us are terrified.
But what I learned from sharing our story during those first previews is that the theater, and the human spirit, are both inextricably linked and inextinguishable. To quote Paula Vogel,
"The play belongs to the people who labor in it, and the people who set aside time to be there in person.""
Please dear theatre makers and lovers—take heart.
From the ashes we will, all, rise.
This article was originally published in TheaterMania on 21 March.