BWW Interview: Barbara Bear on Having To Live Life Without the Arts During a Pandemic from the Perspective of an Audience Member
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic much has been written on the effects it has had on theatre companies around the world and the thousands of artists onstage and off that are unemployed until further notice.
What hasn't been written about very much is the effect this pandemic has had on audience members. Let's face it, without an audience why would you spend lots of money to mount a production?
Those of us in the DMV area know that one of the most loyal audience members we have is Ms. Barbara Bear. With her southern charm and endless amounts of support for local theatre, Barbara is easily one of the area's top supporters of the arts.
Before everything shut down, if you were attending a production around here, you most likely would find Barbara in the audience. If you are friends with her on Facebook you might get exhausted just trying to keep up with all of her activities. There most likely is a book in her future entitled Sometimes You Just Need a Vodka Martini....
Imagine the effect this pandemic has had on someone like Barbara Bear. Here you have someone who is constantly on the go so to have everything shut down must be I imagine quite jarring.
As you will read, Barbara's passion for the arts started at an early age and continues to this day. When it is safe to have theatre and other artsy type things return, I guarantee you Barbara Bear will be at the first performance of something. I think you'll agree that's something in itself to look forward to.
Be sure to bring your best theatre etiquette skills because Barbara will let you know if you don't. Trust me on this one. She has a post-pandemic piece of advice to offer all of us as only she can. This pandemic might have caused her to take an unscheduled intermission from attending theatre and more but when things open up again look out!!
Were you interested in the arts as a kid?
Yes, but I lived in Newport News, Va until I was 19 years old. I did spend a number of summers at my grandmother's place in Staunton, Va in my youth. Not a lot of "theater" in Newport News or Staunton in those days. But I did go to a lot of movies in both places ... have always been a movie fan. We loved movie musicals - my mother, sister and I always saw the latest movie musical.
What was the first show you ever saw and after seeing it were you totally hooked on live theatre?
The first show I saw was The Music Man on August 10, 1961 at The National Theatre in Washington, D.C. I paid $2.75 for an Upper Balcony seat. We moved to Arlington, Va in July 1961 and my sister and I knew we had to go to The National Theatre to see this musical we had heard so much about on TV...we watched all of the variety shows, like Ed Sullivan, that had musical theater stars performing regularly. I got to meet Forrest Tucker after seeing the show at National Theatre and he autographed my program. He was the nicest guy...I thought "wow...I've met a star and he was so nice." So, yes, both my late sister and I loved theater - we went to Arena Stage and National Theatre regularly. Not as much theater back in those days. But, we did venture to New York City to see shows too.
Besides being a true lover of the arts, you are involved in many other things. Can you please tell us what some of your other interests are?
I enjoy being involved with local senior center activities. I belong to the Fast Forwards Walking Group at Aurora Hills Senior Center near Pentagon City ... we take walks that include areas in Arlington, D.C. and may even venture into Maryland sometimes. A fun group. I also belong to a local Antiques Club - we meet once a month and have some really interesting speakers and there are always tasty homemade treats when we meet. One of my friends is an Art Historian and she presents wonderful art lectures at several Arlington (and Maryland) senior centers...they often focus on exhibits at the National Gallery, and other galleries in our area or Richmond or other locations. I have lived in the same community for over 34 years and have served on a committee or two and continue to "work behind the scenes" to make recommendations to keep the property values up in my community. I also like to travel when I can - most recently to Scotland and Eastern Europe.
What was the last performance and movie you saw before everything shut down and at that time did you know that would be the end of your viewings for a while?
The last movie I saw was Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band on March 18 - the staff at Cinema Arts told me they were shutting down that day. The last play I saw was on March 13 and that was Dani Danger Stoller's great play Easy Women Smoking Loose Cigarettes at Signature Theatre and Signature told me that day that they were closing up for a while.
With pretty much all forms of the arts being shut down, what are you doing to fill your time?
I am reviewing old theater programs; watching Facebook and Zoom related theater stuff; doing a "bit" of yard work (always some twigs to pick up and dead branches to clip off ... lots of trees where I live). I also have been watching some live events on my phone - Mount Vernon has been presenting some really interesting interviews on a regular basis.
You are a big advocate for proper theatre etiquette. When audiences are allowed to return to the theatre, do you think they will be better behaved?
That's a good question. I hope they will "behave" better. But I'm cautiously optimistic. Not sure how being in quarantine can improve your theater behavior - but anything is possible, I guess.
Are there any reminders you would like to offer them?
Yes, don't toss your face masks, rubber gloves in the aisles and elsewhere
What do you miss the most about all of the arts and your other activities being shut down and what are you most looking forward to when things can resume?
I miss being with others in the theater. I miss congratulating the performers after a show. I miss sitting at Signature Theatre's Ali's Bar (It has the best lobby in town) and having a bite to eat and a martini. I miss taking the Metro to the Kennedy Center and wondering if the train will get me there on time for the performance. I miss my adventures with my Friday morning walking group. I miss going to the Live HD MET opera broadcasts at the movie theater. I miss going to see an art exhibit at The Phillips Gallery or The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, etc. I miss freedom.
I most look forward to getting back to normal ...