The armrest on the bus was stabbing me in my side. The seat on the small van was too small
Clinically Vulnerable fans of David Tennant have offered Donmar Warehouse a free HEPA.
Clean air is our accessibility.
Currently, Donmar Warehouse, a small, 251-seat non-profit theatre in Seven Dials, London, is considering a rather unusual offer:
Clinically vulnerable patrons have asked for clean and accessible air so that we can return to the theatre. This would require a HEPA air purification set-up which would significantly reduce airborne pathogens and particulates. Our offer to partner with the Donmar in obtaining a HEPA set-up includes, if necessary, crowdfunding the whole amount, which would make the set-up free for the Donmar. And they could keep it forever.
That’s right, a free gift.
We have also offered a free professional consultation to tailor a HEPA set-up to the Donmar’s needs. The theatre likely needs to look at options for dimensions and decibel levels, so this consultation would support this process.
If you’re like me, the phrase “free gift” immediately raises suspicion. Anyone who’s been held captive for a timeshare sales pitch on the promise of a “free gift” would do well to be wary. Which is a shame because simple acts of kindness and generosity immediately become grounds for suspicion, and money becomes a marker for trustworthiness. Just ask anyone who’s tried to give something away on ebay, and was only successful once they attached a price to it.
The concept of “free gift” is justifiably terrifying, and so the staff at the Donmar may well be asking themselves: “What’s the catch? Surely, there must be a catch.”
This explainer attempts to clarify why this offer comes both from human kindness, as well as simple practicality. But understanding both will take getting on the same page about our shared circumstances.
Perhaps practicality is the easiest rationale for someone who is unfamiliar with clinical vulnerabilities and HEPA air purification. Clinically vulnerable patrons need clean and accessible air in order to safely enter public spaces. Exposure to airborne pathogens could kill us. Like any other community who requires additional support in order to access theatre, clean air is our means of accessibility. The alternative is never seeing Shakespeare in the theatre again. And anyone who watched Shakespeare streaming while locked-down can probably agree that it doesn’t hold a candle to the magic of seeing a performance live on stage, and feeling that embodied experience reverberate in other audience members. Seeing Shakespeare onstage has been a shared gift of the public in Britain for over 400 years.
The joy of seeing Shakespeare live in the theatre is even more rarefied in this instance because Scottish actor David Tennant is playing Macbeth. David Tennant is a national treasure, and we can probably agree that this is a role he was born to play. And that he’s performing at a forward-thinking, non-profit theatre committed to community uplift — well, that constellation of shiny qualities would be a privilege for anyone to partake in.
By this point, I’m sure that you can see the cultural riches that clinically vulnerable people stand to gain with accessibility, even if we do have to crowdfund it ourselves.
However, you may also be wondering, rightly, why this theatre and why this production? There are countless theatres around the world hosting productions, and no doubt many of them are currently doing Macbeth. So why have clinically vulnerable patrons focused a mountain of effort with the end result of being able to queue for day tickets to this particular show?
This is a more complex question, but one which points to the more fundamental reason for our risk calculus and energy budgeting. And why, in addition to the practical benefits for both our community and the Donmar of obtaining a HEPA set-up, there are also ethical and spiritual benefits. But this requires a mutual understanding of the world in which we’re inhabiting.
If anyone at the Donmar is reading this, and isn’t prepared to look deeply into our shared historical moment, then it’s sufficient to consider the practicalities of the HEPA set-up offer. But if you, like so many of us, have the unsettling sense of dissonance of living day-to-day maintaining a status quo that’s eroding under this world’s crises, and hoping for something better, then I encourage you to read to the end.
With that said, let’s start with the practicalities of the offer.
If you haven’t heard of HEPA air purification, it uses air filtration units to create clean and accessible air by filtering airborne pathogens and particulates, significantly reducing the likelihood that people will infect others with illnesses. A HEPA air purifier reduces airborne pathogens by approximately 99.95%, and some of the more dangerous pathogens widely circulating these days spread as aerosols that accumulate in the air and spread out across indoor spaces. Since the demand for HEPA has increased these past years, there is a wide range of options that could suit any space.
People with clinical vulnerabilities, like those who are immune compromised, have respiratory problems, or cancer, are more likely to have a severe course of illness. By-and-large we have been avoiding the theatre, and other public spaces, as a matter of safety. Offering this HEPA set-up allows us to safely access the space. The Donmar has been committed to accessibility for other groups who require additional support in order to enjoy the theatre, and we hope that ethically they see the need for our community.
The HEPA set-up would also benefit the Donmar. The absence of clinically vulnerable patrons is often invisible, by its nature I suppose, but theatres are feeling our absence in a drop in attendance in the past four years. Not to mention lost revenue from non-clinically vulnerable people who are concerned about exposure to airborne pathogens, or from cast and staff becoming ill, resulting in show cancellations. A HEPA set-up would help prevent illnesses for all people in the soace: patrons, cast, and staff, and would be a win-win for everyone.
What we are offering: A HEPA air purification set-up tailored to the Donmar’s needs.
We estimate that this would require 10 HEPA units.
Installation is out-of-the-box and maintenance entails Donmar replacing the filter once every thirteen months. This is done by hand with a screwdriver. New filters cost £90–114. Here are two of many, many options.
Option 1: £399 (/unit VAT included)
Decibels: 36 — 43–49
Size: 57.5 x 33 x 63 cm
Option 2: £582
Size: 57.5 x 33 x 123 cm
Since the Donmar’s space is limited, units can be free-standing or wall-mounted.
The approximate cost of this set-up is £5000. We are also offering a free professional consultation so that the Donmar can tailor the set-up to their needs.
Ideally, we hope the Donmar can partner financially, as we are a grassroots organisation crowdfunding from our own community, many of whom survive on disability benefits. But if necessary we will attempt to crowdfund the full amount.
That’s how much we want to see Shakespeare.
How did we get here?
You may be asking yourself who this campaign represents. The short answer is all clinically vulnerable people who might potentially go to the theatre. Our informal polls on the subject resulted in 600+ UK-based clinically vulnerable respondents saying that clean and accessible air would make them more likely to return to the theatre. It also includes 300+ fans of David Tennant who are either clinically vulnerable themselves, or are allies of accessibility for this community.
The longer answer is that this campaign represents everybody, as the adverse immunological effects of currently-circulating pathogens mean we would do well to act as if we are clinically vulnerable, but that will take more explanation later in this article. So put a pin in it for now.
The campaign for accessibility at Donmar Warehouse started when clinically vulnerable fans of David Tennant expressed online that they were unable to purchase tickets to Macbeth because they did not feel that they could safely attend.
These fans started a letter-writing campaign to Donmar Warehouse through email and social media requesting that the theatre upgrade their system. The theatre answered that their current system does not include HEPA air purification, and they would only upgrade if government guidance changed.
Unfortunately, this has been the line of reasoning which disability activists too often face. It is perhaps widely assumed that the standards of the law reflect the needs of a community, but the law is a low bar for ethics across-the-board. In fact, most if not all policy victories for disabled access have come from a fight. In 1977, the first US federal protections for people with disabilities were achieved by disabled activists who occupied buildings across the country, with the occupation of San Francisco’s federal building lasting over 100 days. I’m sure most people would like to think that society automatically sees accessibility as a priority, and that if it were necessary policy would already be in place, but the reality is that disabled people often have had to fight for access.
This is not to say that the Donmar’s initial response to patrons’ requests had any malicious intent. It’s simply how most people believing that they’re acting in good faith often see access requests, because they require a reallocation of resources, not to mention upgrading our knowledge and discourse. Both of these are hard. Many see resistance to upgrading knowledge as rooted in a deficiency of compassion, but I think it’s the opposite. Most of us are basically compassionate, so admitting that our long-held assumptions may have harmed others is scary, so denial comes in to rescue us from shame. And shame is often unbearable, even though too many of us carry so much.
In any case, the initial enquiries to the Donmar requesting HEPA were not successful, so we attempted other strategies.
After the initial writing campaign, a clinically vulnerable patron offered to gift a HEPA unit to Donmar Warehouse. The Donmar declined the gift. There are many possible reasons why this was the result, and most of them require no bad faith, as the most likely scenario is that non-profits by-and-large are incredibly busy, and the time and resources it would take to accept the HEPA would already be substantial. Regardless, it was clear that one person simply offering a HEPA unit would be insufficient and that we needed to show that we are, in fact, a movement representing a large section of society.
Next, fans organised a still-ongoing social media campaign to express their solidarity with the HEPA request, including messages, Macbeth-themed memes, and other strategies to help the Donmar (or at least whoever manages their social media accounts) register that this is a widely-supported initiative.
At this stage, it was clear that clinically vulnerable patrons needed an entity who could interface with the Donmar in a potential partnership. So I founded Accessible Air, appointed an interim board of directors of clinically vulnerable people, created a landing website, domain e-mail, and updated my LinkedIn. The advocacy landscape for clinically vulnerable people is rapidly growing, and this is often how grassroots organisations start. A group of motivated people who are able to put in the resources to advocate for the community. We are seeing it with other advocacy organisations for clinically vulnerable people, especially Long Covid advocacy groups.
Having created a grassroots organisation of-and-for clinically vulnerable people with whom Donmar Warehouse could communicate, we approached contacts who could offer the HEPA set-up to the Donmar on our behalf. From our experiences, reaching out through the contact info on the website already hadn’t worked, and cold calls about a “free gift” would likely raise defenses, for aforementioned reasons. So we decided to search our networks for people who were in a position to reach out to the Donmar. The reasoning was: if the offer came from familiar people, then perhaps it would be more likely to be heard
After weeks of waiting and chasing-up, we didn’t receive a response from the Donmar, and at this point had exhausted the available options for conversation with publicly-available contact information, as well as our own connections.
So our next step was to find other ways for our request to be heard, which meant engaging the public. The first step was counting supporters of clean and accessible air at Donmar Warehouse. A partner organisation polled clinically vulnerable people, and with 600+ respondents found that measures promoting clean and accessible air would make them more likely to attend the theatre. Another partner organisation polled fans of David Tennant, and found that 300+ are either clinically vulnerable and support clean and accessible air, or they are allies to the cause.
With a count of supporters, we decided to start reaching out. Our partner organisation Fans MASK UP, a fan-led org advocating for Covid safety wherever fans are, wrote a letter to David Tennant about accessibility for his clinically vulnerable fans. FMU sent a physical letter to his agent and posted an open letter online.
This letter has two goals:
Goal 1. Bring to his attention the general topic of fans with clinical vulnerabilities requiring clean and accessible air at his public events.
Macbeth isn’t the only event where clinically vulnerable fans haven’t felt safe attending. Many of us also want to see his convention appearances, but these haven’t been safe spaces for us. There is precedent for talent requesting mitigations. Morgan Fairchild successfully requested mitigations for her theatre performances, including masking and testing. And Jeri Ryan only takes fan convention photos outdoors.
Of course, talent requests for mitigations are not always successful, as author and TV creator Neil Gaiman asked for masking for his tour, and venues refused. Which is why Fans MASK UP wrote an explainer for how fans can request accessible air at venues, and advocated for masking at Neil’s events.
But as Accessible Air has discovered, grassroots activist requests for mitigations are not always heard, as our experiences so far requesting mitigations at the Donmar had shown. However, if requests for accessibility from talent are paired with that of grassroots activists, then they’re more likely to be heard and implemented. Moreover, if talent and venues are proactive about clean and accessible air, then it won’t take a whole campaign to establish this in each individual space.
So bringing this topic to David Tennant’s attention hopes to encourage accessibility for all of his events.
Goal 2. Ask whether he would consider requesting that the Donmar accept the offer for a HEPA set-up.
When the open letter to David Tennant was published, people who were more connected to the London theatre community chimed in with likely people at the Donmar to contact and how they might be reached. So Accessible Air then sent cold e-mails to anyone on staff who might have a stake in clean and accessible air and now are considering…which was no easy matter because these e-mail addresses aren’t advertised, so we basically guessed that there was a formula and it was sheer luck that this guess was correct.
We’ve no doubt that spamming half of the staff at the Donmar caused irritation, but as you can see we’ve been knocking for a while.
Now that Donmar Warehouse has the offer, they may well be considering the risk calculus, and for this we would like to provide additional information as the people who have been motivated enough to mount this campaign.
4 reasons why accessibility for clinically vulnerable patrons benefits everyone:
practical, ethical, survival, spiritual.
This is the choose-your-own-adventure part of the explainer.
If you believe Rishi Sunak’s government’s statements that the pandemic is over (though curiously few people believe the government on any other topic), and might have a defensive reaction to information indicating otherwise, then I suggest that you read Reasons 1 and 2 on Practicalities and Ethics, and skip the rest.
Though, to be honest, if you do believe that the pandemic is over, the information contained in the subsequent sections might well save your health and life, but at this point the primary goal here is to create a shared understanding around accessibility.
Reason 1: Practicalities
Theatre attendance has sharply declined these past four years. According to Theatre Facts 2022, in surveys of theatre patrons, up to 68% indicated that their primary reason for avoiding theatre was possible exposure to airborne pathogens.
This performance of Macbeth is sold-out, and it’s expected that all day tickets will be purchased. But if Donmar’s other productions are not sold-out, one contributing factor is likely the absence of either clinically vulnerable patrons, or non-clinically vulnerable patrons who would like a safer venue.
Not to mention, the Donmar (and other theatres) have been experiencing cancellations from illnesses in the cast, so air purification would reduce this risk significantly
I’m not sure of the costs incurred by a canceled show, particularly if it involves an A-list actor as the lead, but I imagine the £5000 cost would be made back, perhaps quickly.
Reason 2: Ethics
Perhaps I’m an optimist, but I believe that most people aren’t cynical. We want to do the compassionate thing, which is why sometimes people tie themselves up in knots justifying doing the more unconscious thing. The compassionate choice is impossible, or at least very inconvenient. The thing is: change is rarely convenient. And by its nature it’s often viewed as impossible because the previous conditions had to justify themselves as natural, inevitable:
Accessibility is impossible because it takes rethinking a theatre’s use of space. A National Health Service is impossible because there isn’t enough money to take care of a whole country. Democracy is impossible because the masses are too ignorant to guide policy.
Our taken-for-granted pillars of life were once previously viewed as impossible. But I think, in our current circumstances, something more subtle, and yet incredibly powerful, can stand in the way of compassionate choices.
We are tired.
The very idea of change might make some of us exhausted, because we feel pushed past our limits simply doing the work of maintaining the status quo. And the status quo is deteriorating around us, which doesn’t exactly help with motivation. That’s why I want to reframe this HEPA offer not as a social obligation, but as an opportunity to take stock and engage with our world in a way that’s motivating and energising.
For this we need to look deeply at our shared circumstances. In the words of V in V for Vendetta: “There is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there?”
The conservatives have been in government for thirteen years and quality-of-life has deteriorated. This is felt acutely by anyone with any level of vulnerability, like asylum seekers who literally starve to death. But also people with disabilities have found their support whittled away. It’s curious that the UK on a policy level is making life more and more precarious for people with disabilities, when the UK also produced one of the most powerful pro-disability stories ever written:
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
In 1840s London, a time of rampant inequality, social unrest, disease and, more to the point, before effective trauma therapy, the Ghost of Christmas Past brings miser Ebenezer Scrooge face-to-face with the pain of his own childhood neglect. He realises how it’s prevented him from forming meaningful relationships with other people and, as a result, he developed a bottomless appetite for wealth, which has never satiated his basic need for love.
When brought into the intimacy of a Christmas dinner by the Ghost of Christmas Present, Scrooge encounters Tiny Tim, the disabled child of his employee Bob Cratchit. And Scrooge’s belief that the vulnerable (the “surplus population”) should be exterminated melts away, replaced with a feeling of tenderness. Tenderness toward someone who is vulnerable like he was as a child.
While distributing his wealth and sharing good cheer had previously been unthinkable, because Scrooge felt so much emotional and material scarcity, suddenly it was the most natural thing in the world. And the community met his kindness with love, finally filling the wound left by his childhood neglect, and shame at his own vulnerability.
This is the reason why love and solidarity with people with disabilities, or any kind of vulnerability, is actually quite natural if we jettison the idea that we need to be strong, successful, rich, and instead realise that tender love for our fellow humans is the greatest abundance we might ever experience, and serves our core need which for so many of us is to be loved in our authenticity and vulnerability.
A Christmas Carol is a fable for how, even when the pain inside and outside of us might tempt us to contract into ourselves, with no thought except preserving the status quo of our lives against overwhelming threats to our material and emotional resources, this is precisely the moment to find compassion for ourselves and each other.
Reason 3: Survival
This is the section where, if you’re not aware of the pandemic, and would prefer not to examine that at the moment, I suggest you skip. Even though it may well protect you, your loved ones, and literally everyone with whom you live and breathe.
For those who’ve stayed: I am so, so sorry. I have bad news.
The pandemic never ended. Covid is a serious vascular infection. It causes long-term, cumulative, multi-system damage. Reinfections are making us sicker, and there is an escalating emergency of sudden deaths and disabilities. This is settled knowledge in the research if you look at any meta-analysis, but government public health communication is failing to inform the public.
If this comes as a shock, anyone over a certain age might recall that governments covered up the AIDS crisis. Ronald Reagan didn’t even say “AIDS” for most of his presidency and Margaret Thatcher blocked public health warnings about safer sex. But government cover-ups of pandemics aren’t limited to the AIDS crisis. The US covered up the Spanish Flu because they worried about its potential negative effects on war morale. Denial is such a standard response to a pandemic that if you read Petrarch’s letters, he turned down holiday invitations from relatives in plague-stricken regions.
Pandemics are inconvenient for politicians because they disrupt business-as-usual and require the allocation of resources to supporting the public in our embodied fragility, which gives lie to the survival-of-the fittest mindset which is driving the UK government’s anti-human policies. Pandemics give lie to the violently enforced demand that we all must be strong because the weak deserve privation. And people collaborate because we so internalise this eugenics mindset that we’re afraid of seeing ourselves as vulnerable, so we keep out tender emotions hidden in the dark, afraid of being exposed as weak. But it is precisely by taking care of our vulnerabilities that we replenish our energy and can reach out to others
If you feel emotionally prepared to face our mortal fragility which, if you’re a fan of Shakespeare, is a central theme of his plays, then I invite you to inform yourself about Covid below.
1. Myth: Covid is a cold.
Fact: Covid is a serious vascular infection. It infects the body’s major systems and organs. It causes long-term, cumulative damage. Every Covid infection has a 10–30% chance of developing into Long Covid, a disabling condition.
2. Myth: Vaccines prevent damage from Covid infections.
Fact: Vaccines help, but vaccinated people are dying. Vaccine effectiveness drops significantly after a few months, and with so many new variants vaccines can’t keep up. Vaccines also do not prevent damage to the body’s systems, and they only slightly reduce the chance of developing Long Covid.
3. Myth: Covid can be prevented by hand-washing.
Fact: SARS-CoV-2 spreads as an airborne aerosol. It accumulates, and spreads out, in indoor spaces like cigarette smoke. Up to 60% of people who infect others are asymptomatic or presymptomatic. They spread the virus simply by exhaling. At last count, 1 in 50 people in the UK had a Covid infection, so in an audience of 251, that’s 3 asymptomatic people exhaling the virus for hours
4. Myth: If my home test is negative, it isn’t Covid.
Fact: At-home rapid tests are as low as 30% accurate. So many people are out in public with Covid, thinking that it’s just a cold.
5. Myth: Covid infections combined with vaccines create “hybrid immunity.”
Fact: Covid infections destroy the immune system, making subsequent infections more serious, and making people more susceptible to other infections. Not to mention a cascade of problems from having a compromised immune system, including new-onset autoimmune conditions and cancers.
6. Myth: When Covid symptoms end, I’m fully recovered.
Facts: The persistent multi-system damage from each Covid infection creates a series of problems. Long Covid is perhaps the most obvious health problem to link to the initial infection. It can manifest as autoimmune conditions, brain fog, ME/CFS, gastrointestinal problems, cardiac problems and other chronic health problems. People are also experiencing serious adverse health events from the vascular damage of Covid, like heart attacks, strokes, and pulmonary embolisms, which are not being correlated to the initial infections. We have an epidemic of sudden, unexplained deaths resulting from Covid infections.
7. Myth: Covid infections are inevitable.
Facts: We can and must act to protect ourselves and each other. The simplest route is the government having adequate public health communication and resourcing entities to create clean and accessible air. Since this is not the case, it is up to all of us to prevent people from infecting people
8. Myth: The world’s ending anyway, so there’s no point adapting. Things are just going to get worse.
Fact: Shakespeare and his plays survived a time of plague. And in a country that more recently survived The Blitz, surely we’re not going to let a virus make us capitulate to the disintegration of our society, and the mass disabling and deaths of our loved ones. Surely living the lessons of Shakespeare’s plays is something we can all share.
In Macbeth, the bodies keep piling-up. Will we stand for that in our own lives?
Reason 4: Spiritual
We can probably agree that there’s something special about David Tennant. He’s sold-out a run of Macbeth and inspired hundreds of his fans to focus their desire for accessibility into a campaign. This requires some explanation as to why clinically vulnerable David Tennant fans have mobilised for accessibility.
This campaign started when clinically vulnerable David Tennant fans didn’t feel able to purchase tickets to Macbeth, or cancelled plans to queue for day tickets when they discovered that the air would not be clean and accessible for them. This has been a problem for a long time, but you might be asking how this energy coalesced into a campaign.
The simple answer is that this campaign started with my public health advocacy. I’ve been following pandemic news since 2020, drawing information from the nursing sub-reddit because I wanted to know what frontline health workers were seeing. It was evident from their literally traumatic experiences that Covid is, non-hyperbolically, the worst. Just look up the term “perimortem caesarean section” if you would like elucidation. It was clear that the cascade of serious problems that healthcare workers were seeing was from a pathogen with serious multi-system effects: limb amputations in children, blood clots the size of pancakes, multiple organ failure, hypoxia, etc. Then there was the news of mass graves and refrigerator trucks parked outside of funeral homes. To be honest, I think most of us are still avoiding processing the trauma of 2020, and it prevents us from realistically facing our changed world and making informed decisions.
Like most people, when vaccines became available, I looked forward to resuming normal life again. I like the theatre, travel, and reading sci-fi in crowded cafes. But then there were so-called “breakthrough infections,” emergency departments swamped, and then, alarmingly, a sudden uptick in serious illnesses in, of all people, A-list performers, like musicians and actors. It makes sense as performing for the public does expose a person to a frightening level of risk.
The realisation that vaccines hadn’t actually de-fanged Covid crushed me but, more ominously, what I came to realise is that public health communication was not keeping pace with the continued seriousness of Covid infections, so people have been resuming 2019 activities unaware of the danger. In fact, as research has continued, the cascade of horrific post-Covid damage has only become more worrying: serious immune dysfunction, bedbound ME/CFS, and pediatric cardiac problems. Covid is not a cold, and we would do well to start thinking of it as more like a combination of a severe adverse health event, like a stroke, and HIV, where the virus continues wreaking havoc in the body. This will be bad, and what the longitudinal studies will tell us in precisely how bad.
As public health communication has downplayed the pandemic, I’ve been horrified to see people resume their previous patterns of life, getting sicker and sicker from repeat infections. I’ve been doing my best to protect myself and my loved ones. But as a PhD candidate in English Literature, I’m also invested in the wellness (and frankly survival) of those who bring my favourite stories to life. Simply telling my favourite actors, authors and theatres that Covid is a serious vascular infection most likely won’t be heard. If my closest loved ones have taken so much convincing, even when I show them the meta-analyses (which if you don’t know is a systematic review of all of the research and not just “some study”), there wasn’t much hope of a warning from a stranger getting much traction.
So, with the goal of sounding the alarm on the pandemic, I started the google doc, “What COVID-19 is Doing to Performers,” which compiles performer event cancellations, illnesses and deaths from Covid infections. A-list musicians like Drake, Billie Eilish, Lorde, Justin Bieber and Harry Styles have become chronically ill these past few years. A growing number of actors have come forward with their Long Covid struggles. This is an emergency.
My first goal with the google doc was to encourage fans to mask at events so that they don’t infect performers, and each other, with Covid. Since David Tennant is my favourite actor, I’ve hoped that increased safety would have the knock-on effect of preventing people from infecting him. This effort quickly attracted dozens of people who volunteered to support in various capacities, and so the action grew Fans MASK UP, a decentralised, leaderless movement.
As a result of Fans MASK UP’s awareness-raising campaigns, clinically vulnerable fans of David Tennant, who have a shared stake in clean and accessible air at venues, got in contact about their lack of safe access to his events. This initial energy, which was focused on sounding the alarm on the pandemic, and expanded to a movement for creating safe spaces, then focused a campaign on behalf for accessible air at the Donmar.
To answer the question with which this section began: to some extent it was chance that the campaign for air accessibility is making this request to Donmar Warehouse. Yet, given the Donmar’s commitment to forward-thinking theatre, and David Tennant’s warmth and kindness creating a fanbase of people who disproportionately want to make compassionate choices, somehow it’s not surprising that all of these positive energies have coalesced in one place. Everyone shares the value that good theatre improves the world. And this brings us to the spiritual gains we are all sharing in this campaign.
Anyone who’s awake is aware that the world is experiencing overlapping crises. And with those in power not protecting their people, the weight of personal responsibility can be so great that our minds and bodies enter a state of “collapse.” Our nervous systems, adapted for surviving in small hunter-gatherer bands, have a fixed set of choices when facing threats: flight-flight-freeze-fawn. An extreme version of freeze is “collapse,” which sets in when we are overwhelmed by a threat, believe that fighting wouldn’t work, so play dead so that the predator hopefully loses interest in eating us.
Trauma survivors are familiar with the experience of their primitive nervous system reactions shutting-down their higher reasoning abilities, but anyone facing multiple threats where there is no clear solution can also experience this. The problem is, collapse is oriented towards surviving an attack, and is not suited for problem-solving complex issues. It locks us in a tunnel vision of survival, unable to see solutions right in front of us, and feeling cut-off from our emotions and connections to others. It reinforces hopelessness and makes us just want to give up. Many of us — and I mean all of us in this troubled world — are trapped in collapse, which makes us less flexible and compassionate, and yet I believe that most of us would like an alternative. An authentic reframing of our experiences that liberates us from the trance of hopelessness and restores our agency
For many of us, God is a less-than-useful category due to establishment Christianity’s long history of abuses. The problem is that many of us are yearning for a frame of reference beyond the material, and an internal impetus for organising our lives ethically. I think one answer comes from letting go of the idea of God as external, and looking inside ourselves for what inspires feelings of love and kindness.
This is how being a fan of David Tennant initially inspired my commitment to public health advocacy. I remembered that I care about the wonders of existence. And one reason why I think this campaign has gotten such traction is that David Tennant does that for so many people, and has energised them to improve their world, even and especially with all of its problems.
For some unknowable reason, David Tennant inspires feelings of warmth in most people. The far-right tries to take shots at him, and these inevitably backfire. It could be because he’s pretty, or kind, or talented, but there are so many people with this combination of gifts who are not nearly so universally-beloved. Personally, I think some people, for unknowable reasons, are gifted with a particularly shiny sliver of the light we all share, and when we see it, we feel the answering glow within ourselves. May seem esoteric, and yet just him wearing a trans TARDIS pin raised thousands of pounds for an LGBTQ+ charity overnight. Non-material things like kindness and compassion can and do influence the non-material. And perhaps, like David Tennant, we can harness that energy to face our world’s challenges with love and solidarity.
My own experience of being a fan inspired wider prosocial action, and I hope this can be a template for how to re-awaken to a world that’s worth loving. Despite this sensation of nervous system collapse so many of us are feeling, we actually do care about things. We care about our loved ones, our communities, our own particular niche interests. The theatre, Shakespeare, The Scottish Play. How did we find ourselves sleepwalking through doom, when we’re surrounded by such riches of our cultural inheritance?
Isn’t that something worth protecting? Worth fighting for? Worth creating a safer public space so that everyone who experiences it, from David Tennant, to folks working in the box office, to fans battling cancer, can safely feel that answering glow within themselves?
Because it’s essential for this campaign to be transparent, we are publishing this explainer. Moreover, there are so many opportunities for misunderstandings because the advocacy area for accessible air for clinically vulnerable people is only just beginning to reach wider public consciousness, and one component is based in a social movement around a pandemic that policymakers have said is over. So it’s possible that Donmar Warehouse is looking at the offer to partner for a HEPA set-up and wondering: Why?
Now, I hope it’s clear that on a practical, ethical, survival, and even spiritual level, this is the correct choice to make. And it should also be clear why there is no catch, why perhaps the costs and benefits seem disproportionate on first glance but, given the wider picture of the pandemic and the poly-crises, wonders of life like accessibility, theatre, Shakespeare, and even David Tennant, are treasures we should all share.
In the most practical sense, if we as clinically vulnerable people have to build our own means of accessibility to see Shakespeare, we will. But more so, we’re all experiencing anti-human conditions and have found a light within ourselves that we hope to share with others. Narrowly speaking, this is a campaign for accessibility. More broadly speaking, it’s an invitation to take a u-turn from contracting into nervous system collapse in the face of ever-increasing global catastrophes, with the only goal of protecting the status quo as best as possible, yet knowing deep inside that it’s eroding beneath us. The alternative we want is facing the future with love and solidarity. Feeling that glow of love for our fellow humans, whatever inspires it in us, and taking actions which support one another.
And doing this, for any of us, means making the next compassionate choice.