It’s Not the End, It’s Just an Intermission: Cara Greene Epstein (Transcript)

Full text of writer and director Cara Greene Epstein’s talk: It’s Not the End, It’s Just an Intermission at TEDxWrigleyville conference.

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Cara Greene Epstein – Writer & Director

“Oh, for a muse of fire that would ascend

The brightest heaven of invention!

A kingdom for a stage, princes to act,

And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!”

Though, to be totally honest, right now, I’d settle for a real school day, a night out and a hug from a friend. I do have to admit that Wrigley Field does make a pretty awesome stage, though.

The words that I spoke at the beginning, “O for a Muse of fire,” et cetera, are Shakespeare’s. He wrote them as the opening to his play “Henry V,” and they’re are also quite likely the first words ever spoken on the stage of the Globe Theater in London, when it opened in 1599.

The Globe would go on to become the home for most of Shakespeare’s work, and from what I hear, that Shakespeare guy was pretty popular.

But despite his popularity, just four years later, in 1603, The Globe would close for an extended period of time in order to prevent the spreading and resurgence of the bubonic plague. In fact, from 1603 to 1613, all of the theaters in London were closed on and off again for an astonishing 78 months.

Here in Chicago, in 2016, new theaters were opening as well. The Steppenwolf had just opened its 1,700 theater space. The Goodman, down in the Loop, had just opened its new Center for Education and Engagement. And the Chicago Shakespeare Theater had just started construction on its newest theater space, The Yard.

Today, all of those theaters, as well as the homes of over 250 other theater companies across Chicago, are closed due to COVID-19. From Broadway to LA, theaters are dark, and we don’t know when or if the lights are ever going to come on again.

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That means that tens of thousands of theater artists are out of work, from actors and directors to stage managers, set builders, costume designers… It’s not like it’s an easy time to go wait tables. It’s a hard time for the theater, and it’s a hard time for the world.

But while theaters may be dark, theater as an art form has the potential to shine a light on how we can process and use this time apart to build a brighter, more equitable, healthier future together.

Theater is the oldest art form we humans have. We know that the Greeks were writing plays as early as the 5th century BC, but theater goes back before that. It goes back before we learned to write, to call-and-response around fires and — who knows? — maybe before we learn to build fire itself.

Theater has outlasted empires, weathered wars and survived plagues. In the early 1600s, theaters were closed over 60% of the time in London, and that’s still looked at as one of the most fertile and innovative periods of time in Western theater history. The plays that were written then are still performed today over 400 years later.

Unfortunately, in the early 1600s, a different plague was making its way across the ocean, and it hit the shores of what would be called “America” in 1619, when the first slave ships landed in Jamestown, Virginia. Racism is an ongoing plague in America. But many of us in the theater like to think we’re not infected or that we are at worst asymptomatic.

But the truth is, our symptoms have been glaring onstage and off. We have the opportunity to use this intermission caused by one plague to work to cure another. We can champion a theater that marches, protests, burns, builds. We can reimagine the way our theaters and institutions work to make them more reflective and just.

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