Unwelcome Solitude

(written on 20th October, BEFORE the second lockdown in Germany)

Having not performed since the start of Corona in March, I am now performing every single day - the same show, for 5 weeks, in the same theatre in Hamburg, sometimes even two shows a day.

Quite an experience – with some quite painful aspects.

Many theatres in Hamburg have lost audiences because of Corona : partly because people, especially those who are older, don’t yet dare to enter public spaces, and partly, and especially, because cultural events have lost their social character as a result of all these Corona-distancing rules.

At present, the theatre in which I perform has the biggest audiences in the city. For decades our place has developed a long history and a very loyal circle of subscribers. They have got older too, and many of them are single women of a “certain age.” You can’t imagine how happy and grateful these ladies are to be allowed finally to visit their beloved theatre again! To escape at last from their single households and be part of a common experience once more! And they know they are lucky, because here, in “their theatre”, they are permitted to come as they are; alone, without a partner in life. Here their solitude is properly respected.

The sinner, Hildegard Knef - Gilla CremerThis is not the case in other places. Single people create a financial problem: in order to follow the rules on social distancing, a theatre is, for example, only allowed to sell 190 tickets instead of the usual 750, so every ticket sale counts! Even fewer tickets are sold if people need only a single seat. Consequently, some theatres follow a rather painful and discriminatory strategy: either you buy two tickets or you are not allowed to purchase anything.

And even though in “our” theatre all these single, older women feel welcome and happy to be there, it hurts me to see them. Well, for the first time I SEE the public with great clarity! Each lone spectator becomes as visible as a monument, popping up vividly amongst the many seats covered in white to the right, left, behind and in front. They are not part of a whole, not part of a crowd, not part of a chattering public jammed together. In Corona times there are no crowds - solitude is emphasised. It is impossible to ignore who is sitting all by HERself, rarer to note he who sits by HIMself alone.

Now one could argue, that it is a sign of autonomy and self-assurance for a woman of any age to go out by herself and have fun. Of course it is! But it takes a lot of courage to feel comfortable when you are so exposed. It takes courage to sob or laugh out loud, when nobody sobs or giggles near you, when you only hear the sound of your own breath.

Part of the experience of theatre has always been coming-together-with-others, the surprise of who might sit next to you today, with whom you might have a nice chat in the interval or a glass of wine after the show, to SHARE what you've just experienced! To have an exchange!

Having to keep a distance creates a weird sense of solitude, a particular uncomfortable silence. And somehow it questions profoundly all the good reasons for making theatre, or going to the theatre.

Once upon a time theatre was a cultural “fiesta”, a celebration - that’s how I remember it.

Freundschaft - Gilla CremerEven when, at the end of the show, the diminished audience makes an enormous effort to clap as loudly and enthusiastically as they can, pretending they are four times the size - I don’t lose my sense of how weird this is. Since the coming of Corona, something is rotten in the State of Theatre!

Sometimes I feel like a brave little soldier, a soldier for cultural affairs: I march on and on every single day. At times I feel very tired and very old - and that’s quite painful, too. But I do my job. I do it as well as I can and with all my strength and all my heart. I even feel joy while marching on and onto the stage. Yes, I really do! I carry wonderful stories in my backpack! Hey! I believe in them! Don’t dare think I am depressed or anything. No, I am not!

And yet - I seem to have forgotten what I was fighting for and which direction I was supposed to take. Perhaps I am walking in a circle?

Excuse me - what was my assignment?

Gilla Cremer
Theater Unikate, Hamburg

A special thanks to Gilly Adams for correcting my lousy English.