The Sunday Magazine·Personal Essay

Art in the time of coronavirus: Bill Richardson's weekly schedule of balcony performances

“We must do what we can with what we have, respecting, of course, the requirement for self-isolation. I don’t have much, but I do have this balcony, and I am going to stand upon it, to lift up those who are proximate to the highly scenic parking lot over which I look.”
Bill Richardson sitting on his balcony in Vancouver. (Bill Pechet)

Bill Richardson, special to CBC Radio

I live in a small apartment without much to recommend it, other than this balcony, upon which now I stand. It's long been my intention to create here a miniature Eden, with delicate vines doing my bidding on custom-built trellises. Flowers popping up on a precise schedule from bulbs in terracotta pots, and, oh, maybe a wee fountain, Zen in its effect, tinkle, tinkle. And a table and chairs for two, some place to while away the pleasant hours of a summer night, while enjoying a rare vintage. 

On this balcony, however, is an exceptionally ugly chair I found by the dumpster, a crude Buddha someone left on the "for free" shelf in the laundry room, and a dead bonsai. Nothing more.

Even in tidy times, which these are not, this balcony, its possibilities unexploited, has presented itself as a rebuke. I feel this more so now, in our season of deepening urgency. And that's because my social media feeds brim over with video clips from Spain, France and the Netherlands showing citizens on their terraces applauding the brave first responders. Then there are the Italians, musical and unbowed, 'balconizing' themselves and singing. CBC host and big-haired diva Julie Nesrallah has done likewise in Toronto.

There's no art quite so enlivening as that borne of defiance. We are all on a war footing, now. We must do what we can with what we have, respecting, of course, the requirement for self-isolation. I don't have much, but I do have this balcony, and I am going to stand upon it, to lift up those who are proximate to the highly scenic parking lot over which I look. Herewith, the schedule of events.

There's no art quite so enlivening as that borne of defiance.- Bill Richardson

Monday

To compensate for last week's cancelation of St Patrick's Day, a lingering hurt not soon assuaged, I shall stand upon my balcony, and sing, lustily, over and over, The Unicorn and other hits of the Irish Rovers. Also, I shall prance about and if you throw change, we can call it the jig economy.

Tuesday

I shall don my famous Halloween outfit from a few years back, when I went out as The Royal Family — all of them, including Princess Michael of Kent — and shall stand upon my balcony and wave at passing planes. This was before Meghan was on the scene, so she's not part of the tableau, which is just as well, as it turns out.

Wednesday

With toilet paper in such short supply, I shall stand upon my balcony and you can come pitch your double ply rolls up to me. Then I shall use my nimble fingers to separate them — it's amazing to see, like watching someone spin wool — and return them to you as two rolls of single ply. It's the least I can do, in these straitened times, to ease the burden on the supply chain.

Thursday

I shall stand upon my balcony at sunset, and enact the "Wherefore art thou?" scene from Romeo and Juliet, possibly using puppets made from sponges and pipe cleaners, and certainly using an inconsistent accent.

Friday

I shall stand upon my balcony and read aloud from the most magisterial of all novels written in English, Valley of the Dolls, for precisely sixty minutes. Then I shall retire to take a cold and private shower, then reappear, so you'll know I'm okay.

Saturday

I shall stand upon my balcony and from my laptop play a YouTube instructional video that will enable anyone within earshot to craft an origami frog that actually hops. Supplies not provided.

Sunday

I shall stand upon my balcony, motionless, and wait for the moment when my neighbour across the alley — who hasn't grasped that his draperies actually have a "close" function — begins his session of naked Crossfit training in his home gym. Then, I shall point. It is a religious experience, and utterly ecumenical, and will really make you want to wash your hands.

Monday

Repeat.

The schedule is subject to change. Space is limited. No more than 10 attendees, please — this will be strictly enforced. Please maintain two metres' distance. Please do not impede access to the organics bin — the world needs compost now, more than ever.

While this is a free event, offered for the benefit of all, I wouldn't say no to tinned goods — no sardines or lima beans please. Peace, love and respect. Good luck to us all.

Click 'listen' above to hear the full essay.

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