Monday, February 05, 2007

Theater industry has cloud hanging over it: response to a potential flu epidemic


Already another blog entry of mine has addressed the CDC report on the threat of avian influenza (bird flu) and the prospect that public gatherings in many cities could be suspended for several months. As I noted, the personal ethical problems underlying such a recommendation would be staggering, since any such epidemic would probably be variable and unpredictable in how it affects various individuals.

The theater industry would seem especially vulnerable. More than almost any other endeavor, legitimate theater and stage, as well as opera, symphony concerts, ballet and what we call the performing arts, bring people together to experience an artistic vision together. Movies also do this, although DVDs and the Internet, as well as Cable TV, are providing additional revenue to content producers that don't require the social gatherings. (Piracy can undermine these, however.) Film festivals would be particularly vulnerable. And what about major league sports? Of course, there has also been discussion about public schools.

Theatrical, opera and orchestra companies have survived shutdowns before because of strikes and labor disputes. (So has baseball.) But the CDC recommendations raise this "threat" do an unprecedented level, and could lead to a permanent change in the way art affects our culture.

Picture: A public school in Farmville, VA, which closed its public schools for a time in the early 1960s over desegregation.

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