A personal essay on leaving your room to see something on the big screen – with apologies to Arthur Miller.
To say that this year so far has been confusing and frightening would be a significant understatement. I realise in saying this I will sound like one of those advertisements from corporations attempting to humanise themselves to encourage you to keep spending, but these are unprecedented times. Everything feels very uncertain just now, and I know that I, for one, wake up each day asking the question ‘what now?’ – not because I’m looking forward to the day but because I’m wary of the changes it may bring. It sometimes feels as though everything keeps changing, sometimes seemingly without rhyme or reason. This lack of certainty has left us looking for some control in our lives, a sense of security and safety. Often, this sense of safety is most easily found in escapism, in being transported somewhere else for a few hours. Films, television, books, games – while some decry the arts as worthless, I’d like to have seen these detractors get through lockdown without them.
But things are changing now. Schools and universities are back in business, bars and restaurants are opening up again (for now, and only until 10pm), and it seems as though we’re all having to adjust to what’s being dubbed ‘the new normal’. Of course, that doesn’t mean people aren’t still confused or frightened, or that we no longer need the escapism that the arts can bring. Perhaps we need it now more than ever as we adjust to this new reality. But is it possible to have that escapism in a safe way? To leave behind the same four walls of your bedroom and actually feel as though you’re having a proper night out, an event, an experience, despite the necessary restrictions? Believe it or not, such safe escapism is entirely possible.
(Drumroll) Please welcome to the stage… The Byre Theatre! While the venue is currently unable to host live performances, it is able to screen films, offering a welcoming change of scenery from halls and your laptop screen. There are safety measures aplenty including a one-way system, socially distanced seating and the use of hand sanitiser and face coverings in order to ensure you’re able to get out and enjoy a trip to the cinema while remaining safe. The films that are being screened have been chosen for their sense of nostalgia, for being feel-good or comforting, and even some have been chosen in relation to academia – though, unfortunately, a visit to the Byre won’t count towards your final grades. That being said, from the end of October, they will have student programmers working with them, ensuring that the films they choose are ones that people most want to watch. If there’s a film you’d like to see on the big screen, whether it’s an old favourite or a film you missed at the cinema when it first came out, let them know! An added bonus of going to the Byre is also, undoubtedly, the tubs of Janetta’s ice cream available for purchase online in advance – so take a comfy seat, sit back, relax and watch a film on a screen that isn’t your phone or laptop. What’s not to like?
I realise that this piece could easily come across as me doing some advertising for the theatre, and while that may be the case, I hope I’m encouraging more than that. Coming to university is a time for embracing strange traditions and new experiences, and although of course we would all rather these new experiences didn’t include a global pandemic, perhaps the experience of a trip to the theatre and the tradition of an ice-cream during the interval is just what we all need right about now. In an address to the nation last week, the First Minister encouraged us to ‘try to keep smiling, keep hoping and keep looking out for each other’, and I hope that people coming together – at a safe distance – for some entertainment to leave them smiling, will help our community in some small way to do that. While it will be impossible to return to complete normality any time soon, hopefully the entertainment and welcome the Byre can provide will be a welcome respite – some safety and escapism amidst the uncertainty of our current situation. Those advertisements aren’t lying – these are unprecedented times – so let’s be kind to ourselves and each other. Oh, and our wallets – student tickets are just six quid!
Catriona M. Scott has been working at the Byre Theatre since July 2019. Come and say hi next time you’re at the Box Office!