I remember when tickets existed. Actual physical paper tickets. Plane tickets that were like little booklets, with (it seemed) dozens of carbon copies that were progressively ripped out as you completed stages of your journey. Theatre tickets that arrived in the post. Tickets. Paper tickets. Actual tickets.
Those days are gone now.
The smartphone may have killed the physical ticket, but the virtual ticket still at least provided access to a non-virtual experience.
A journey, a concert, a play – some form of escape from day-to-day existence – that was something that was available to you, if only you had the ticket.
So it was a shock to find that those tickets no longer worked. That the planes were going to stay on the ground. That the theatres and concert halls were going to stay silent. That the trains were going nowhere.
That in fact these traditional means of escape were closed to us.
I think we probably all felt moments of claustrophobia – sometimes it was almost dream-like – when we understood that this was the case.
So naturally we looked for escape elsewhere – and where else but in our increasingly multi-faceted digital existence?
So much of what we do is about habit, and something like the coronavirus pandemic has the potential to perceptibly change habits, to bend the curve of the future, to make it tend more dramatically than it otherwise would have in one direction or another. There was already, of course, a shift to entertainment delivered via the internet. But that shift seems certain to happen faster and more extensively now.
And again, the longer the crisis situation lasts the more pronounced this effect is likely to be.
There is certainly a crisis in live entertainment right now.
Paul McCartney, Ed Sheeran and The Rolling Stones were among some 1,500 musicians to write a letter to the British government this summer begging it to help the live music business survive the coronavirus outbreak. “The future for concerts and festivals and the hundreds of thousands of people who work in them looks bleak,” the letter said. “Until these businesses can operate again, which is likely to be 2021 at the earliest, government support will be crucial to prevent mass insolvencies and the end of this world-leading industry.”
In New York, they were hoping to open the theatres in September this year. Now they won’t be opening until January 2021 or later.
By then nearly a year will have passed since they were last functioning – a year for people to lose the habit of theatre-going – and, perhaps more significantly, for a new generation to not acquire the habit.
Going to see and hear live music or live theatre are habits that people have acquired and can lose.
And when people get out of the habit of doing something, it’s hard to entice them back to it, especially if they have formed other habits in the meantime. (I haven’t read a paper newspaper for years.)
Of course, 2020 will not be the year that live entertainment dies. But in future it will have to emphasise its “liveness” even more than before – its sense of sheer physical spectacle, its circus aspect – in order to compete with the virtual competition, so much more convenient and accessible in so many ways. This is not necessarily good news. Films did something similar, in the 1980s and after, to compete with television and home video players and some might argue that cinema as a serious art form was almost destroyed as a result. On the other hand, there was eventually a renaissance in TV.