Ohio Wesleyan faculty share their thoughts on lessons they've learned from 2020 and how they hope we can move forward to a better world in 2021.

By Ed Kahn, Ph.D.

Ed Kahn, TheatreLessons learned from 2020 potentially will be game changers for theatre. Probably not so much for large commercial venues. I’m confident they’ll bounce back from COVID-19 just as Shakespeare’s Globe did after plague closures four centuries ago. But I suspect that something exciting might be in store for small theatres, those companies more connected with communities and their political and social issues.

Thankfully, many artists soldiered on with socially distanced and streamed performances during the pandemic, as did Ohio Wesleyan’s with the devised show “Inter/Sect” and the annual “Orchesis” dance concert.

However, it’s a different dynamic when audiences can’t fully engage with performers and each other in the same space, at the same time, with the same questions and concerns. We’ve missed the chance to be present together, grappling as a community with feelings and thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement, the hotly contested election, climate-change-fueled hurricanes in the South and wildfires in the West, and everything else that happened in the past year.

Who can be complacent after the year that’s passed? As Toni Morrison wrote when considering the artist’s role in times of trouble, “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”

Soon theatre artists will return to the stage with enthusiasm, not just to entertain, but also with a renewed passion to think and feel with audiences. It’s a shift I already see happening at Ohio Wesleyan, as job postings for two new professors focus on community engagement, interdisciplinarity, and social justice.

The year 2020 was quite a challenging one for the performing arts, but theatre artists are waiting impatiently in the wings, ready once again to share their stories, attitudes, advocacy, and ideas.

Ed Kahn, Emeritus Professor of Theatre, works at the intersections of theater history, theory, and artistic practice. Watch his i³ lecture "How Theatre Can Change the World."