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Tim Robbins: Society Just Wants ‘Art to Die’ Amid COVID-19 Vaccine Requirements

Robbins refused to reopen his theatre company while vaccine mandates were still in place because "theater is a forum and it has to be open to everybody."

Tim Robbins

Tim Robbins

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The vast majority of the entertainment industry was quick to embrace COVID-19 safety protocols, seeing masks and vaccine mandates as a way back to work during a pandemic that would have otherwise shut productions down. But not everyone sees those rules as universally positive.

In a new Substack interview with Matt Taibbi, Tim Robbins expressed his concerns that too much pandemic-related caution could ultimately make the arts less accessible. The “Shawshank Redemption” star explained that the Actors Gang Theatre, a Los Angeles theatre company where he serves as artistic director, made the decision to postpone its reopening in 2021 because he did not want to enforce a vaccine mandate for audience members.

“We were capable of opening last September, but there were still all of these restrictions,” Robinson said of the vaccine mandates in California. “I had a problem with this idea of having a litmus test at the door for entry. I understood the health concerns, but I also understand that theater is a forum and it has to be open to everybody. If you start specifying reasons why people can’t be in a theater, I don’t think it’s a theater anymore. Not in the tradition of what it has always been historically, which is a forum where stories are told and disparate elements come together and figure it out.”

He added: “That’s what it’s been for. People figure out their relationship with the gods, with society, with each other. But at the door, you don’t say you can’t come in, because you haven’t done this or that. I had a problem with that. So I waited until everyone could be allowed in the theater.”

Ultimately, Robbins is concerned that preventative public health measures taken during the pandemic went too far and could ultimately be a dangerous trend for the arts.

“I almost feel like there are forces within our society that just want art to die,” he said. “It’s now not only just the scolds from the right, like in the old days when the Moral Majority wanted art to die. Now it’s unions and people that are, again, claiming virtuous reasons for all of this. The truth is a lot of local theater has failed, and the pandemic helped put the nail in the coffin.”

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