Covid cut off the communal experience of live performance and venues have taken a battering. Let’s return and reconnect

Imagine a man at the end of his rope. Imagine someone says to him: “Here, put this virtual reality headset on; it will help you.” The software in the headset transports the man to the edge of a cliff. Near Dover maybe. The immaculately rendered landscape overwhelms his senses: the surge of the sea far below him, a boat in the distance, the vertigo. Imagine that some part of the man is healed by this immersion. He takes the headset off and returns to reality with renewed resilience and hope.

Shakespeare pulls a version of this trick on the Earl of Gloucester in King Lear. Not with VR but with words. The blinded Gloucester is made to think he’s a footstep away from oblivion – rocks beneath him, birds wheeling below. He’s taken over the edge of despair and back again. And the lesson he learns from the experience is to endure. And yes, the lesson we all learn from watching him is also to endure. But we also learn a thousand other things about ourselves, there in that audience, watching that play, at that moment.

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