Television just can’t replace live entertainment, and the pandemic proved it
One year ago this week, Washington University students, myself among them, packed into apartments and dorms in anticipation of WILD. Classes were largely forgotten and all emphasis was on the night’s activity. Looking back, I can’t even remember who the performer was, though a quick Google search tells me it was A$ap Ferg. The performer didn’t really matter; the event was an excuse for everyone to ignore school for a night, pack into Brookings Quad and, well, go wild.
This year, I am sitting in my off-campus apartment, an apartment I didn’t expect to be in one year ago. (Before COVID, I had planned to go abroad.) There is no WILD this year; the height of excitement is seeing my masked friends from six feet away. Brookings Quad is empty, as is most of campus. That kind of communal gathering is gone, put on a shelf until it becomes safe again.
In the last eight months, since Wash. U. students were sent home over spring break, I’ve missed a lot of events like WILD. I had tickets to a concert for my birthday—the concert was postponed twice before being canceled. I was both looking forward to and dreading sitting in the movie theaters for the big releases of May, “Black Widow” and “No Time To Die.” Looking forward because I have followed both franchises for over a decade, dreading because I didn’t think either movie would be particularly good. Now, both movies have moved their release dates to the early summer of 2021.
That trend hasn’t changed with my return to St. Louis. Instead of my phone calendar reminding me of events that are no longer happening, I find myself surrounded by people whose clubs are no longer performing. A cappella groups aren’t having concerts; they’re still trying to figure out how to recruit and sing together remotely. Sitting down for a show in the Village Black Box or the Edison is out of the question, leaving Zoom plays (as the Black Rep has done) and a dark, empty stage.
For the first several weeks of the semester, it was like nothing was different. No clubs would have had performances anyways, being too consumed with (in a normal year) auditions and rehearsals. But it’s the end of October. This is when things should be starting, and instead, there is nothing.
I have not been to a movie theater since February, when I saw “Birds of Prey.” I had no idea it would be both the first and last movie I would see in theaters in 2020. February was probably the last time I saw a play as well, too, scrambling to fit “Men on Boats” into my schedule. I spent much of my February in The Pageant, buying cheap concert tickets and swaying or jumping in the middle of the standing-room-only crowd. I’m not sure when I’ll be comfortable doing something like that again. The Pageant is holding a concert on November 20. I will not be there.
What I have done instead, and what I think many people have done, is fill the time that would be spent on live entertainment—trips to the movies, going to an open mic, seeing a concert—watching pre-recorded content on streaming services. Given that I was an essential worker, I spent much of my spring and summer working, but even still, I plowed through six TV shows that had been on my list. Since school started, I’ve watched three more. And it’s been great! But watching TV isn’t a true substitute for live entertainment, and I’ve found myself missing that more and more, especially as I walk past Mallinckrodt or see the empty stage in Brookings Quad. TV is isolating, especially when it’s unsafe to do something as mundane as having a “Bachelor” watch party. And it’s a strain on the eyes, which are already tired from sitting through Zoom class after Zoom meeting. It’s too cold now for outdoor entertainment, but I’m hopeful that in the spring, I can once again be a part of a gathering in Brookings Quad—all attendees six feet apart and masked, of course.