An irreverent look at plagues and pandemics, past and present. Live from Lockdown!
Join the Cabaret
School Resources & Engagement
The Contagion Cabaret needed an MC because it started off as, well, a cabaret. Which is to say, a live theatre performance. My job was to warm the audience up, to encourage them to be friendly, embrace each other, pass around anything they’d brought with them - all in a spirit of love and generosity. We’re not allowed to do this anymore. Quelle Dommage. (That’s French for what a shame.) So now you’ll find me spreading the joy to you through the internet. I wish I could get nearer to you, but that's the world we live in now.
Let me into your mind instead.
We can't to see what you've caught.
1. Write a diary
The Contagion Cabaret begins with a poem by Robert Lawrence Binyon which reminds us of the things that get forgotten by the history books. So start recording.
Write a blog account of your time in lockdown. Share your feelings and thoughts. How have they changed as the weeks progressed? How do they compare to Thucydides' account of lockdown? Or Camus’? Or Mary Shelley’s? You see, it’s happened again and again.
2. Objectify us
What household objects represent lockdown for you?
Grab them and make ART. Use them to illustrate one of our pieces, represent your life or make a political point.
See what I did there?
Respond to the Contagion Cabaret by infecting someone else's masterpiece. Just look at our version of Dana Jay Bein’s version of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody.
Go on, be bold.
What can you alter and deface to project the new reality.
Paintings, songs (hymns?), fairy tales.
4. Show Us What You’re Missing
What would you give (or take?) for some loving human contact. What do you miss from before Covid 19?
Make a montage, photo or collage. Or a chirpy little song. Perhaps you could base it on "I got it from Agnes."
Listen to Camus whose imaginary lockdown characters felt “cheated of the future”.
Does this resonate with you? Express how you feel about this. What difference will this year have made to your life?
6. Get Angry
Did our government do enough?
Are they doing enough now?
A slow response is nothing new.
Listen to Daniel Defoe talking about it, referring to the Bubonic plague in 1665. Listen to the Times criticising the government during the terrible Spanish flu in 1918. Will they never learn?
Write them a letter, harangue them, paint a huge revolutionary angry image on a sheet to hang out of your window. (Then photograph it and send it to us.)
7. Get Even Angrier
Listen to Emilie Taylor-Pirie talking about infodemics, listen to Trump referring to the China disease, listen to Claire Moore with her changing flags quoting from the journal of medicine. How quick we are as a human race to blame others, to categorise and make it personal. Here is Rucka Rucka Ali’s satirical response to the racism surrounding Ebola.
Write your own song to express something you feel angry about during Covid 19.
Watch our extract from Damaged Goods (a French play from the 19th century). Rather than admit he has syphilis, George would prefer to infect his future wife. Watch Roy Cohn in Angels in America (a play set in the 80s). In real life he was a great friend of Trump's until word of his illness got out.
What actions have been performed in the name of maintaining respectability? Write or sing about one.
9. Write About Illness
Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed… it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature.
We’ve always been fascinated by sickness. The Ferryman or Little Dorrit for examples of our fascination. And yet, according to Virginia Woolf there’s very little written about the feeling illness. So let's write about it.
How would you describe in a literary or poetic way the last time you were ill?
10. Paint your family
The Spanish flu pandemic wasn’t front page news. We had to trawl to find the scant newspaper reports in Contagion Cabaret. Which is surprising when you consider that this pandemic in 1918 killed 20 million people in Europe. Yes, 20 million. That’s about 3 times as many as died in the war.
Egon Schiele was one victim. Before he became infected, he painted a family portrait of himself, his pregnant wife and their future child. The child was never born. She died 3 months later and he died 3 days after that.
What would your family portrait look like?
The Family by Egon Schiele (1918)
11. Honour Your Heroes
At the end of Contagion Cabaret we show you a real life example of human self sacrifice straight from a village called Eyam. Have a watch. This sketch shows Elizabeth Hancock of Eyam burying one of her 6 dead children. The people from the neighbouring village of Stoney Middleton could do nothing for her but stand on a hillside and watch.
Write a song, poem or letter from the perspective of one of these observers. In every human disaster there are stories of selflessness and sacrifice. Can you think of one in modern times?
12. Are we being punished?
The Ferryman says:
Fair London that did late abound in bliss, And wast our Kingdom's great Metropolis, …..for thy pride of heart and deeds unjust, He lays thy pomp and glory in the dust.
Finlay's beautiful song 'Strange' was written before the Covid-19 pandemic.
In what ways are we destroying the world? Is there any route back from this? Can we learn anything? Tell us what that is.
In Contagion Cabaret, Professor Sally Shuttleworth talks about Dr Benjamin Ward Richardson and his dream of “Hygeia, a City of Health”. Listen to Yuval Noah Harari’s piece from the Financial Times talking about global solidarity. Watch the extract of Road, Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel.
What can we leave our future selves? How can we share and respond in a selfless and united way. How do you think Covid 19 will change the world and will anything turn out for the better? What are your dreams for the future?