The Need For A Glorious Social Occasion Amid Social Distance
In a matter of weeks, GQ shifted from its yearly listicle detailing substitutes to cure Chelsea boot fatigue to offering-up “21 Comfy Athletic Shorts to Live In Right Now.” I wrestled with why I should pivot from the swaddling sweatpants that have comforted me through dayslong stints of unbathed videoconferencing. Still, there it was: a “feature story” on fleecy-chic shorts for those anxious to remain fashionable-at-home. Matched with places to buy grapefruit hand sanitizer and the top street-influenced pandemic wear, it makes perfect sense.
This is where one goes to locate the camo luxe mask-cap they’ve been searching for.
I clicked away without buying anything, but their recommendation that I trade fluffy pants for comfy shorts signaled yet another startling reality of my contactless life: I’ve sorely missed the over-the-top showiness that marked the more glamorous happenings of society’s pre-pandemic socializing. While my participation in such events is rarer than a great conjunction, I suddenly long to be one of many preened and plumed spectators roused by a star-powered distraction.
In the salad days of 2020, when unwashed hands were shaken and strangers hugged with reckless abandon, there seemed a need to disappear in the background of an expertly framed #foodgram post. In more modern times, capturing and sharing freshly plated barbecue jackfruit and kimchi sliders lacks the sweet-seeming oomph that comes with photographing the sights and sounds of a lavish, multi-course dinner party with friends. Nowadays, solitary images of homemade delicacies on ornate china call to mind our basic need for togetherness. While the philosophical underpinnings of selfieism—food- or self-serving—seem to support efforts to endure inescapable distancing, infinite scrolls of lonely plates and isolated faces remind me that memories are created through shared experiences.
The ability to physically connect is integral to shaping and sustaining interpersonal relationships. It’s unsurprising that detachment has produced the greatest demand for, and outpouring of, odes to bonding from artists: the creative philosophers who’ve chronicled the relational bonds between us in music, dance, theatre, and literature since Socrates, Alcibiades, and Aristophanes mansplained love in circuitous rambles during one of Greece’s most raucous get downs.
Acknowledging where I fall on the Likert scale of attention seeking behavior, I’m wary of claiming that the effects of social isolation on a trained homebody (i.e. me) mirror the impact it’s having on raging extroverts. Personally, the madness has done little to alter my humdrum routine. Yet, I’m cognizant of the shock others must be experiencing. In light of this fact, I gather that my slight itch to be groomed and extravagant for a day is a full-fledged dermatitis inflammation for normal outgoing sorts.
The remoteness we’re experiencing has forever changed how we see ourselves and our loved ones. The combination of distance and anxiety has made wearing emotions on sordid sleeves fashionable. For this reason, the expected rise in work-related Zooming is being matched by recurring online meetings between friends and family where affection is the virtual background. Once permitted to reengage—to affectionately embrace and close talk—the desire to hug over-and-over again, won’t lessen. Ever.
Unfortunately, we don’t know how soon that day will come. As Dr. Fauci stoically relays his trademarked pessimistic-optimism, we are collectively anesthetized to talk of loosened restrictions or a full reopening of the economy. We’re all mindful of our responsibility to one another and the necessity to remain patient until all the coasts are clear. There are far too many unknowns to accept any generalized guess of what happens next. And so, getting fancy at home is the likeliest option until the menace retreats.
It is around this time each year that we gather in LWT’s main stage and lock arms with our most avid supporters at our annual gala. These unforgettable happenings feature superlative performances from the brightest stars whose names are illuminating Broadway marquees and beyond. As one-off opportunities, they offer distinctive access to acknowledge and applaud LWT’s most faithful, albeit obfuscated by an underlying plea for much needed support. However, and more than all else, the gala offers singular moments to advance conversations surrounding the future of our theatre—while celebrating those who continue to make our work meaningful and possible.
This year will be altogether different, and possibly, more significant than ever before.
Considering the times and the gala’s customary function—fundraising through an evening of sumptuous banqueting and world-class entertainment—the largesse will take a backseat to the concerns encircling us. We will widen access to include many other backers who will be invited to tune in to the, assuredly, heartening and all-embracing extravaganza.
Just as the theatre’s guiding principles are recalibrating to reflect the thoughtful inclusivity of new artistic director Jacob Padrón, LWT is doing the necessary work in constructing a larger roundtable where access is equidistant and nonrestrictive. This is evidenced by the thoughtfulness underpinning our fast-approaching virtual hug-a-thon: a magnificent affair brimming with must-sees as stellar as in year’s past, but streamed as an affecting and heartful love note from LWT to New Haven, and beyond. The family-friendly sing-along will feature pitch-perfect performances by Broadway mainstays Matthew Morrison, Laura Benanti, Stephanie J. Block, Robin De Jesús, Norm Lewis, Kelli O’Hara, and Bryce Pinkham; emerging and yet already beloved stars from LWT’s 2019/20 season, Tracey Conyer Lee and Mason Alexander Park; and New Haven Regional August Wilson Monologue Competition finalist, Juwan Lee. Following a much needed opportunity to show-off during a red carpet-at-home experience, preshow festivities include a host of New Haven’s finest chefs and pâtissiers plating an inspired collection of prix fixe menu items to help us realize our white tablecloth dreams, while the area’s finest mixologists and sommeliers sate other bottled up yearnings.
I’m looking forward to the star-studded occasion because it epitomizes LWT’s irrepressible connection to its local community. The need to feel symbiotic connections during a time of unprecedented detachment cannot be overstated. Plus, many of us are simply desperate for an excuse to change clothes.
King Kenney is a writer, lecturer, cause marketing strategist, and Director of Marketing and Communications at Long Wharf Theatre.