Photo by Nasuna Stuart-Ulin. Left to right: 2019 AGM host and professional film actor: Jimmy Blais. Board members: Kakim Goh, Roger Sinha. Past Board President: Bettina Forget. Current Board President : Li Li, and Executive Director: Guy Rodgers.
When we were children, how many of us realized that the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin was a plague parable? The disease-infested rats should have been a clue. Desperate to rid their village of the deadly vermin, the citizens of Hamelin were willing to pay a king’s ransom, but the piper got rid of the rats too quickly, too easily, so the villagers refused to pay the agreed price. Instead, they paid with the loss of their children.
The Pied Piper story is alarmingly contemporary, as we debate the need for social distancing and isolation versus the costs from lockdown and shuttered businesses. We all want to get back to work, to get ‘back to normal,’ but this is not a normal situation. It is maddeningly unpredictable. We do not know if there will be a second wave later this year or a third wave next year. When will we have a vaccine? The impact on the arts has been particularly pernicious. How long will it be until people want to congregate in a theatre, a concert hall, or even at an open-air festival? For years, musicians have lamented that live performances and touring have become the only way to earn a living because on-line sales and streaming produce minimal income. How can live performances be shifted online in a way that makes sense artistically and economically? I have been hearing performers worried about being pressured to perform online under conditions that make them feel unsafe. How can a pas de deux be choreographed to meet social distancing standards?
The story of the Pied Piper is a cautionary tale about fear, ingratitude, impatience and greed. This pandemic is writing a new page of history. Future generations will look back at tragic lessons from COVID-19 involving provinces, states and countries that protested too soon that they had ‘already paid enough.’ Will the lost children from 13th century Hamelin translate into lost seniors at 21st century long-term care homes? Quebec has been hard hit by the pandemic but our leaders have been prudent. This trial by virus will not be quick, or easy. Our fellow citizens have recognized that we are all in this together, which demands courage, altruism and mutual trust. That collective engagement inspires hope.