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Last Friday evening, my wife and I did something that we have not done since prior to the pandemic. We went to see live theater. While we have both enjoyed seeing live theater for many years, it was its absence for nearly a year and a half that made Friday’s experience so special.

We drove nearly an hour and a half to American Players Theater (APT), known as the theater in the woods, because it is located in a forest outside the small town of Spring Green. When we first moved to Madison in 1985, and until just a few years ago, it was exclusively an outdoor theater. But, a few years ago, they built the beautiful Touchstone Theater for small, intimate plays usually with only a few actors. These plays tend to be more intense and modern, than the outdoor plays, which my wife and I thoroughly enjoy. Until the pandemic shut all theater down, we had seen plays at APT every year since 1985.

Since it is so beautiful there, we usually enjoy a picnic before the show, and we did so this time as well. However, there was a huge difference from pre-COVID APT, because although live theater was permitted, in order to keep everyone safe, they were only selling 25% of their seats. So, instead of a crowded parking lot and picnic area, it was virtually empty.

If this had been before the pandemic, I would have been very saddened to see so few cars and people picnicking. But, instead, I found myself unusually happy. In fact, I remarked to my wife, that I do not think I had ever been so happy to see a play in my life. After nearly a year and a half without enjoying live entertainment, we were about to enjoy live world class theater.

After we enjoyed our picnic, we walked up the hill to the theater, and once inside, we realized how lucky we were to get tickets, as the theater normally only holds about 140 people, so at 25% capacity, that meant there were only about 35 people in the audience. In addition, out of an abundance of caution, the concession area and gift shop were closed.

Of course, while the atmosphere is important to live theater, the most important thing is the play itself and how well it is performed. Fortunately, the performance of The Mountaintop was phenomenal. It tells a fictionalized story of Martin Luther King Jr.’s last night of his life in the Lorraine Motel, accompanied by a hotel maid. Since there are some surprises in the play, I will not give them away. Suffice it to say, the play, by Katori Hall, directed by Ron OJ Parson, and acting by Gavin Lawrence and Sola Thompson, were all superlative. I also appreciated that APT, which started off as a theater performing Shakespeare and other classics (and they still do perform such plays), is now performing plays with civil rights themes featuring Black actors.

At the end of the play, everyone rose to give the actors a standing ovation. Since there were only about 35 of us in attendance, everyone seemed to try to clap and cheer louder to make up for the 3/4 empty theater. My observation was that despite the small number in the audience, the performers truly appreciated being able to perform live for the first time in well over a year, and they appeared to acknowledge the audience’s great appreciation.

We returned to our home on Goose Lake afterwards and while it was generally a very nice drive through the rolling hills and farmland of Wisconsin, it was dismaying to see the crowds of unmasked young people in the Wisconsin Dells. While it would be wonderful if they were all vaccinated, my suspicion is that many of them were not.

Going back to the theater was a sign that we are returning to normalcy. However, seeing the unmasked crowds in the Dells made my wife and I fear that our nation may never fully emerge from the pandemic. We are heartened that on June 4th, APT will expand its capacity to 50% and we look forward to going to more plays there this summer. Yet, if people continue to refuse to get vaccinated and fail to wear masks, the pandemic will continue and our ability to return to normal will be delayed. Of course, that also means more people will get sick and die from COVID.

Of course, there are other options. Some governors, including Republican Governors DeWine in Ohio and Hogan in Maryland, have created lotteries to incentivize people to get vaccinated. I wholeheartedly support such an approach. I also support vaccine passports. After all, it is smart business as business owners and employees can know they are safe if they are all vaccinated and all customers are vaccinated. Moreover, if everyone is vaccinated in a place of business or a theater, then nobody would need to wear masks.

The opposition to vaccine lotteries and passports makes absolutely no sense and seems to be driven by the same anti-science opposition to vaccines and masks that has hampered our ability to combat COVID-19. At this rate, with such inane opposition to reasonable medical and business practices, we will never reach herd immunity, and we will never return to normal while people continue to get sick and die from COVID-19. As individuals, businesses and governments, we can do better. We must do better.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact me,  Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting my web site: Systems Change Consulting.

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