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Should the Dick Wolf Universe be rebooted? by Eric Slater

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

I would love to announce that I’ve written the Great American Novel or swam from Chicago to Detroit this year, but I haven’t. I might even like to say I have been fielding an onslaught of phone calls from my agent, teeing up the slew of projects in the pipeline for a post-covid return to normalcy. No dice. Nothing yet.

I can, however, report that I have been fortunate to have a couple of acting jobs, that, having been on hiatus since March, were able to reconvene with the new protocols in place and could finish shooting this Fall. Slowly, the wheels promise to turn again.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was waiting for a call from an agent or manager, relieved as I was to be getting more career traction in recent years. Now I find myself much more concerned with the best strategies for homeschooling, the most reliable sites for receiving the groceries we actually ordered, and the quickest way to determine if a cough is really just a cough. Also, the price of air filters.

I’m an Ensemble Member of Rivendell Theatre in Chicago and this week I’m helping re-paint the walls, clean-up, and patch the floor in the performance space so the company can renew our public performance license - a license that we may not need next year. While it has felt good making my artistic home beautiful again, I can’t shake the thought that is constantly in the back of my mind: “What is theatre going to look like now”? Maybe the same, in time, but in the short term? Houses at 25% and socially-distanced, laughter muffled by masks? I certainly welcome its return but make no mistake this shit is gonna be crazy. One of the most important things we’re trying to do is create intimacy among strangers, to close the distance between artist and audience and now Distance will be legally mandated and enforced. And once the strictures are no longer quite so severe, what will the audience be expected to do? Pretend like they’re not nervous to sit 2.5 inches away from a coughing stranger? I am, at a minimum, very curious to see where this takes us.

Job security isn’t really part of this path so it’s not surprising that all arts workers are considered non-essential. And even though most people say they have survived the monotony and isolation of this pandemic wildly consuming television, film, podcasts, books, magazines, and streamed theatre productions, actors (and artists of all types) find themselves in a holding pattern until the world opens back up or the demand for streaming content become so great that the People rise up and demand that the entire Dick Wolf Universe be re-booted.

When we emerge from the other side of all this, much of life as we have known it will have been itself rebooted. Whole industries have refashioned their approach to their work so radically that they hardly resemble their former selves. But us? Artists? Culture is the institutional memory of its people and it’s our job both to reflect it and shape it. Artists are as vital to our collective recovery as any other worker. We are a necessary part of the way society takes care of itself. Whatever happens next, we will make art from it.

So, for now, I’ll stay busy home-schooling, doom scrolling, working a side gig, and looking for signs of life going back into production. I’ll even allow myself to be hopeful. But I won’t quite be waiting by the phone just yet.

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