Sam Freeman

Storytelling | Theatre | Arts Marketing

Theatre, freedom and anti-vaxxer complaints.

It’s late. The clock has just chimed midnight. Or at least it would have should I own a clock with a bell that chimes. I’m wide awake, shoulders tight and I can tell I’m wound up.

To begin.

Welsh Government have introduced new rules surrounding showing your Covid Status when attending theatre and cinema events in Wales. Mostly the media has focused on NHS Covid Passes, although you can also take a lateral flow test and attend that way too. 99.9% of people have merely shrugged and accepted it.

There’s little evidence that’s been presented that theatre and cinema are what’s driving the increase in Covid cases in Wales right now – I suppose it’s possible that Covid is rife only in arts establishments (where masks are also mandatory) whilst it is also, logic would dictate, presumably in decline in pubs, bars, restaurants, supermarkets and schools. But that seems unlikely. More likely is that politics is being played, the arts are a simple target that can be used to show that government is “doing something” and it’s unlikely we’ll kick off in the way that pubs, bars, restaurants and supermarkets will.

That’s not to say that I disagree fully with its introduction – inevitably it will raise awareness of Covid safety in audiences, protecting audience and actors alike, it’ll help some people feel reassured about coming back – it seems strange that the introduction of Covid Passes doesn’t coincide with a relaxation of mask protocol (after all if everyone is being checked surely the risk is reduced) – what stings is that it doesn’t feel science or data-led.

Whatever the reasoning inevitably when 99.9% of people shrug then 0.1% of people get incredibly angry and shout about the erosion of civil liberties, discrimination and the fact that the government has gone power crazy.

Sure, I get some of it, this does put barriers in the way of people attending, as if people needed more barriers to attend the arts. But, crucially, if you can’t have a vaccine, you can still attend with a lateral flow test – it’s just a bit time consuming compared to just turning up. Discriminatory? Perhaps, although arguably it’s creating similar barriers for everyone. Tedious? Certainly.

Invariably it’ll effect sales – not majorly I suspect, but, when you have to worry about whether you’ve got the right paperwork before making a snap decision to go to a last minute show then I suspect you might take the easier Netflix option. We’re going to have to get people to book and commit early, and that probably means keeping the flexibility that we’ve built into our refunds, resales and returns policies for tickets over the Covid months.

What is challenging is that those same people seem adamant (amongst other things) that this is a government power-play to get their data, like a shadowy big brother, always watching. They don’t want their privacy infringed by having to a) do a test, but b) (and this is crucial) register it.

I find this tricky because of how that communication has happened for them to tell us that they won’t be doing this. It’s via facebook or e-mail or the phone.

It’s also worth saying that the tone of some of what we’ve been sent from this minority has been awful. I know of venues who’ve been accused of being “Communist”, “Nazi’s”, “Collaborators” and, most beguilingly, “Satanists”. This isn’t your average conversation for an arts organisation.

Where it gets problematic is that the information people don’t want to share, frankly isn’t that interesting, not when, for a big chunk of web-savvie people, a monstrous amount of data is out there about them already.

As an example – I spent an hour this evening going through my Facebook. If you’re my friend you can learn an awful lot from my favourite restaurant to my likely political allegiances. You can see pictures from when I had a mullet and pictures from when I dyed my hair pink and blue. You can see podcasts I’ve been on, gigs I’ve performed and even read extracts of a play I wrote.

Of course you might argue that this can only be seen by my friends so is fine. But if you follow the logic that the government wants total control, and that they want data to manipulate everything you do, then it also stands to reason that they’d also be in the shadows of facebook, amazon, google, hell everything on their crazed quest for power. Well maybe not Tiktok, I’m not sure how videos of cats, dances and teenagers doing shoutouts to their crowds is helpful to a potential authoritarian overlord. Also, when are they spending the time going through it all? But it seems like an oddly specific thing to object to when you freely give so much of your data away without thinking about it.

BUT WHAT’S IN THE VACCINE. That’s what we hear lots – it’s untested, we don’t really know what it is, does it have a microchip in it?

Sure, I couldn’t tell you. But then I can’t tell you what’s in lots of things – you can have a list of terrifying things and feel scared – maize starch, potassium sorbate, purified talc, stearic acid, povidone, and soluble starch – these sound like horror show ingredients, not for my body you might say. Or at least you might say that until you take a paracetamol (which they’re all contained within). And yes the vaccines we’re all developed quicky and that’s unnerving, but then they had billions of dollars thrown at them over a short period of time and were made in the most scientifically advanced time there has ever been. Other medicines took longer to develop because the money and technology wasn’t there. Paracetamol, for reference, was invented in 1877 and it took ove 50 years to really gain momentum.

It’s easy to say that they’re crazy and laugh at people who are anti-vaxx. But when you plunge under the surface it’s more nuanced. These are people who might be coming to terms with trauma, they might be disenfranchised with society, maybe even life, they might be looking around them and seeing nothing, no hope, no future, just a world that seems to want to grind them down. When you see the rich getting richer and travelling to space when you are struggling to afford to eat, I’d argue you’re well entitled to ask if there isn’t something going badly wrong or a conspiracy to keep you down.

As an aside one of the websites offering exemption cards plays on people’s fears of being left behind, on the them and us mentality, and then charges people an astronomical price for a card that is valueless, other that to help people feel like they have a shred of control back in their lives. It’s the same methodology that Brexit and Trump used – divide, conquer and exploit.

So why can I not sleep?

I can’t sleep because I don’t know what to do – it’s so hard when the world is as monumentally fucked as it currently is, and society is as monumentally unfair, and the empathy and togetherness that I felt was slightly building during the lockdown times is fading – frankly I don’t know what to do.