I’m not enjoying this whole social distancing lark. It somehow manages to be both boring and stressful, doesn’t it? It’s a little bit lonely, there’s not quite enough to do, and one easily ends up scrolling endlessly through news about the escalating spread of the virus.
Fortunately, there are people out there who want you to stay sane and fulfilled, as well as indoors. Cultural institutions across the world, many of them temporarily closed down, have taken to the internet and made fantastic selections of concerts, ballets, operas, and films available to you at home—and many of them are free.
I want to tell you about the ones I’m enjoying the most while hanging out with myself in my home. I’ll also share some of the things I’m reading online at the moment that are not the news.
An important note before the big list of stuff: to everybody who is not able to stay at home and self-isolate—those who are working in health care or taking care of vulnerable kids and adults, clergy and therapists, those who are collecting garbage, working in shops, and keeping the busses and trains running—you are doing a fantastic job. You’re protecting us all, even though some of you are already exhausted. THANK YOU. I hope you have time in the evenings to put on your softest clothes and eat too much chocolate in bed while indulging in your favourite kind of entertainment. Here are some ideas.
Music to make you adjust your 19th century cravat
Good news, everyone! The Berlin Philharmonie have temporarily waived the subscription fee for their online concerts: you get free access to a stunning collection of classical concerts for 30 days, and you don’t have to give them your account details to start listening.
The Berlin Philharmonic is one of the best classical orchestras in the world. You can pick any concert in the collection by random, and it will be beautiful. If you are struggling to choose, how about starting with the 2011 New Year’s Concert? It’s full of grandiose pieces that will, maybe, hopefully, that’s the plan, make you feel quite emotional. I don’t know about you, but at the moment I cherish Big Feelings that are not about the advent of unpredictable viruses. Among the excellent pieces in this concert are Stravinsky’s The Firebird (TRIUMPHANT! BOLD! FOWL!) and Grieg’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in A Minor, which is not an exciting title. The piece itself, though, is a joy.
While listening to Grieg I’m always convinced that Nature Is Filled With The Spirit of Light and that It Is Where We Should Be, Meditating on Cobwebs in Meadows and Striding Across the Morning Mountains, but at the same time Grieg’s music also makes me feel like I’m an impossibly well-dressed young man from one of Oslo’s better families, circa 1890, taking restrained, self-absorbed walks in the park and possibly experiencing conflicted emotions about other young, well-dressed men. It’s an exciting emotional mix. I can only recommend it.
Theatre at home that might also get you into dancing shape
In another generous corona shutdown initiative, the Royal Theatre in Denmark is in the process of making past performances available online for free. So far, you can experience ballet (Napoli) and opera (La Boheme, Orpheus), and more is coming. One might question their choice of La Boheme for this, a crushingly sad story about a young woman dying from infectious disease. I won’t do that, because it’s a beautiful opera and I love it, but if your nerves are already a bit frayed, maybe go for Napoli instead or one of the mystery performances soon to be added to the collection.
Another feature of the Royal Theatre’s efforts to keep you stimulated and sane during self-isolation is their “train alongside our performers” shtick. Here you can watch videos of the dancers training at home and join in. The workouts are in Danish, but a lot of it is self-explanatory. One of the videos online right now is very much aimed at kids, but let me speak from experience: it’s a fun workout for adults too. Who doesn’t want to jump like a kangaroo? Nobody, that’s who.
If you want a more serious ballet workout with all the right words in French and a voice-over talking at you sternly about your core, youtube is your friend. Move that table out of the way and find something to hold onto
while pretending to walk on clouds during the exercises at the bar. You too can be a prima ballerina today.
Weird, wonderful and mostly free cinema
At the moment, the world may seem slightly confined and increasingly monochrome. Watch it unfold and light up in unexpected ways through the wonders of cinema. Your home screenings may actually be superior to the out-in-the-world cinema experiences of yesteryear. Yes, I’m alluding to the healing powers of watching quality films while wearing your favourite pyjamas.
The online service of the BFI (British Film Institute) is a treasure trove. You should tell all your friends about it (at a 2 metre distance, currently, if you choose to tell them in person). They always have a large free section. This is where you go for films about Shakespeare, shipbuilding, and steel. There are free musicals, a collection of Victorian film, and films about such delights as the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (British chapter). WTF – A Box Of Odd is an actual category. As your computer must believe you’re in the UK for this service to work, you may need a VPN.
The BFI have a subscription collection too, and right now you can get a 14-day subscription for free. The collection for subscribers is enormous, but well organized. Do you like science fiction? Head this way. Would you like to explore films from the BFI Flare LGBTIQ+ Festival? Go ahead. To start with, I suggest Weekend, The Way He Looks, and (if you have the stomach for horror—I don’t) Stranger by the Lake.
If you have a bit of money to spend on your Cinema At Home experience, I can’t recommend the documentary film festival CPH:DOX enough. Due to social distancing measures imposed in Denmark just when this year’s festival was about to begin, their entire programme has been moved online. You can watch their films at home for 3 to 6 euros apiece. Overwhelmed by the size of their programme? How about these two films about trans lives? Alternatively, dive into one of the films in their main competition.
Newsletters, poems, and comics to grow your heart three sizes
The good news continue: normally, Daniel Lavery’s hilarious, clever, and also moving newsletter is partly free, partly for subscribers only. During the current crisis, all new posts will be free. You still have to be a paying subscriber to read his old posts, but everybody has access to recent joys like this and this. Nicole Cliffe has also decided to make all her new posts free for the time being. Nicole’s newsletter is a mix of original content, group discussions, and links to her advice column, plus assorted internet bits she has uncovered. It makes me feel better every time I read it.
The Poetry Foundation curates poems online—for free. You can also read about the poets and learn about different types of poetry. This is where I learned the word “enjambment” which, it turns out, has nothing to do with covering things in marmalade. Try some of the poems by Kaveh Akbar, Mary Oliver, Ilya Kaminsky, and Danez Smith. There is deep darkness as well as joy here. If you’re not up for that at the moment, that’s very understandable, and maybe you would like to go straight to the comics below.
Comics? Yes, comics! Do you love them? I love them! I adore this quirky story by Sarah Anderson about a vampire/werewolf romance and I’ve been a fan of Emily McGovern’s Background Slytherin comic for years.
It goes without saying that if you love something, and you can afford it, it’s always a good idea to support independent content creators financially.
That’s it. Those are my recommendations today. So, do you have enough time for all the things you are suddenly doing and watching and listening to in your home? What are your tips for staying sane and fulfilled during this time? Share them in the comments. Stay safe, friends, and love each other well.