LONDON (NYT NEWS SERVICE).-
Just as cultural life in Europe was learning to adapt to social distancing, small audiences and the need to wear face masks, along have come new lockdowns.
Over the past month, Europes museums, theaters, concert halls and bookshops have found themselves forced to close for the second time this year as coronavirus cases have soared across the continent.
Lockdowns are in place in England, France, Germany, Italy and elsewhere. Most are expected for now to be only about a month long, and people are also still allowed to go to work in many countries: Actors can rehearse and dancers practice, even as the only audiences possible are online.
There is another difference, too: peoples emotions. For some, a second lockdown is more hopeless, while others are more optimistic. Then there are those who are frustrated: On Monday, almost 40 German museum directors issued a statement asking the countrys government not to force them to close.
To understand how people are feeling about the situation, we spoke to six cultural figures, including an Italian opera star, a renowned Parisian bookseller and the head of Londons Victoria and Albert Museum. Here are edited excerpts from those conversations.
Actor Tom Dewispelaere, Antwerp, Belgium
Its so sad we had to stop.
During the nine times we played Samuel Becketts Waiting for Godot for the Toneelhuis Theater recently, the audiences were very moved. They were back in the theater for the first time, but I think it was also because they got to see these two figures, Vladimir and Estragon, who are waiting for something to happen.
They could really empathize with them, because humanity has for months now been waiting for hope, for a vaccine, for a solution, for a way out.
We did everything we could to make it safe. We rented a gigantic hall here in Antwerp as big as a football field, and we decided to build our own stage for 200 people, totally COVID-proof. But alas
It is the right decision. The first line of the play is Nothing to be done. And with this situation, theres nothing to be done. We just have to wait to play Waiting for Godot again.
Opera Singer Francesco Meli, Genoa, Italy
The first lockdown was a great shock many people in Italy were in hospital, many were dying. I was depressed. What future can we have? I thought. But this time Im not depressed. Im angry. This decision to close theaters is crazy I dont understand it.
So many other people feel the same way. Thats why youre seeing these protests.
Over the summer, everybody who works in theaters the directors, the musicians, the singers, the technical staff worked to make them COVID safe with certain protocols. And the moment we find a way, the prime minister says, No! Goodbye! Its terrible. Its like a demagogy.
I could understand a total lockdown. But why only us and a few other places gyms, swimming pools, universities. Why?
I know that some people in the orchestras and some singers have tested positive in Italy. I tested positive while performing Aida at La Scala. But it is normal if you test positive at work, you stay at home and quarantine.
This will do great damage.
DJ Virginia, Berlin, Germany
At the start of October, I did two shows each one outside, with everyone on the dance floor wearing masks. I was nervous, but after a couple of minutes it felt like always: The fun and excitement, you feel the bass through your body.
There was a thought in my mind: I should enjoy it as much as I can. As its winter, its more likely there might be another lockdown. And thats exactly how it happened: A week later, my next show was canceled.
Im still processing this lockdown as financial issues come up its just so much harder than the first. A lot of people promoters, artists, bar owners have said they wont be able to make it through a second phase, and its devastating.
Im lucky as I have savings. I put money to the side just in case not expecting this situation, obviously. I need to focus on the silver lining that is there. My motto for this moment is One day at a time, because otherwise Ill go nuts.
Museum Director Tristram Hunt, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Im feeling intense frustration. Its another sense of loss of what could have been. Our exhibition on bags was supposed to open, our Raphael Court was planned to reopen, our Renaissance watercolors display was going to open these lovely moments during the gloom of November.
The British government has been supportive this financial year, but our real problem is looking into the future, and this builds up more problems.
Were already having to make the judgment calls on when everything reopens. Were told the lockdown will only be for a month until Dec. 2 but its the hope that kills you.
Were kind of back onto the global merry-go-round of changing exhibition timetables all us directors sending each other letters saying, Were having to extend our show again, or Were closed, but dont worry, were looking after your objects. Its actually very sweet. I got one from the Louvre yesterday, and the ones from Russia are particularly lovely, covered in lots of stamps official embossed marks.
Bookseller Sylvia Whitman, Shakespeare and Company, Paris
Wed gone through all our savings, so last week we sent out an email saying, If you have the means to buy a Christmas present for someone on our website, itd make a big difference to us.
And the response was amazing the phones been ringing, emails coming in so it feels like a beehive here even though were closed.
It a real morale boost, because people are saying, We want you to stay open. In Paris, theyre talking about maybe letting bookshops reopen in two weeks. Theres been such a huge debate about it. Yesterday, we had François Hollande, the former president, come into the shop, as hed heard we were in trouble and he wanted to film a video calling for bookshops to be reopened. It was actually very moving what he said about how important reading is to society.
He didnt buy anything, no.
Its interesting the books people are buying. In the first confinement, people were buying a lot of pandemic books The Plague by Camus and this time people seem to be looking for escapism sci-fi, Greek mythology. Theres less panic.
Ballerina Michelle Willems, Ballett Zurich, Switzerland
I feel luckier than dancers anywhere else I know of now. Back in March, we had to completely stop working. I had to do exercises holding my kitchen table. But now, we can work 50% of normal. It means we can go into the studio for half of our normal hours, which is enough time to stay in shape, and for our bodies not to go up and down all the time.
We all have to wear masks, but we can touch, and dance with a partner.
A masks a bit difficult for the stamina and breathing, but Im happy to wear it. I havent performed in a mask yet, but I feel the audience would miss a lot.
The government here hasnt closed the theaters, but they said we can only perform for 50 people. And in a theater that normally has 1,250 people, thats too big of a loss of money. I think its necessary to do this, because the numbers of coronavirus cases are growing immensely again, but theres a lot of contradictions. People can still go to restaurants, and I dont know how doing that is safer than going to a theater.
When will I perform again? That is the big question.
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