Art vs. COVID-19
I think about my dear artist friends who can no longer teach in the schools or perform in front of a live audience. COVID-19 has infiltrated our lives and forced us to take on a new lifestyle. “When you live your life on the internet, it can feel like the novel coronavirus has brought the planet to a screeching halt. Coachella is canceled. Burning Man is canceled. E3 is canceled. South By Southwest is canceled... Everything is canceled” (Monica). All New York City Broadway shows have been cancelled through June 7, 2020. “For an industry whose long-standing motto is “the show must go on,” the events of these past few weeks have been a shock to all of us” (Broadway.com). Basically the arts are canceled and people are in fear of losing their jobs.
Broadway actor and singer Brian Stokes Mitchell sings out the window of his apartment on Broadway on the Upper West Side every night around 7:00pm when New Yorkers are cheering and clapping for the first responders.
"Mitchell said many people in the Broadway community have been hit by the disease, lamenting his friend Terrance McNally, the famed playwright who died on March 24 from complications stemming from coronavirus. He also noted that for most artists, the disease has been financially devastating” (Moynihan).
A lot of people in the performing arts are considered gig workers. When speaking to my friend Jamie Roach who is a performer and teaching artist in New York City he said,
“Teaching Artists typically work in communities, engaging in the arts with people while simultaneously striving to do our own art. Those of us who have been doing it for a while are used to the hustle of getting work on a piecemeal basis, and applying and auditioning, and doing scary things. We are always walking into an unknown space for the first time, and getting to know people quickly and trying to get people to be vulnerable art makers. It’s not for the faint of heart, but we’ve developed a tolerance for living in the liminal unknown. We have 1099s and W-2s like you wouldn’t believe. We understand drought and understand floods. We endure hectic Spring schedules knowing the Summer will be sparse. And yet, there are moments of bliss beyond belief when artistic collaboration shines in a rehearsal room, a classroom, or elsewhere. And that’s what makes us able to also pivot and create in these unknown times as well. Our ability to live in the vulnerable is also our strength."
Now artists have little to no work, but some organizations are reaching out to their staff and creating work online. James Miles, The Executive Director of Arts Corps in Seattle, Washington, said “Many people are currently commissioning playwrights, being creative and giving teaching artists work. Artists are coming together and collaborating through this platform, creating art kits to students who do not have the internet, and sending videos to families.”
The New Victory Theater in New York City is doing arts videos called “New Victory Arts Break Arts at Home.” Russell Granet, President and CEO of The New 42nd Street, Inc. commented on twitter saying “No matter how far apart we may be, we will continue to connect you to cultures from around the world and to each other through the performing arts.”
Catherine Hanna Schrock, director of community development for Blindspot Collective in San Diego, California, believes that “We really do feel like in moments like these, where people are deeply desiring to be connected, Blindspot might be able to innovate and have a role.”
She and Blake McCarty, director of artistic development, are conducting weekly zoom happy hours with their artistic community where they have a place to connect and play theater games. Mcarty said “Some of the other programs that we would typically conduct in person, particularly education and outreach programs, will move online. We’re in ongoing conversations with some of the schools and institutions with whom we partner.”
Honolulu Theatre for Youth is creating video episodes for the youth called “The Hawaii Way.” Their latest episode is entitled “Fear.” The artists reached out to kids in Hawaii to see how they were feeling. The theater team edits remotely from their homes and is produced in association with NMG Network and Hawaii News Now.
Jamie has seen his fellow Teaching Artists staying nimble, “I’m so proud of the ingenuity and creativity that has emerged with a group of Teaching Artists coming together to create an interactive, educational, real time remote, theatrical experience called Adventure Theater Live!, using our skills as artists and educators to reach out to families in this time.
I’ve also seen our Queer Playback Theatre group grow with an international presence now that we’ve opened our rehearsals virtually, helping adults find joy and connection through this medium.”
There are fears that theater and the arts are going to look different after we are allowed to leave our homes. “In each disaster there is suffering felt most when the disaster is over” (Solnitl). Our world may look very different, “or a new one that is perhaps more just and free will arise” (Solnit). James Miles feels, “We will see new models of theater explored through this. Seeing theater online so that we can make it more accessible and lower the cost. Plays are meant for the people.” I have to believe there is a better day coming, but right now more than ever please support local artists. Art will keep us sane, help us deal with the situation and remember and capture the moments of our shared experiences especially after all of this is over. #makeartanyway #keepmakingart #keepmakingartanyway
To continue this conversation, follow FitzSili Production’s facebook and instagram accounts for upcoming live stream conversations with artists!
*A personal shout out to Jamie Roach who has been such an important part in the process of writing this article. Thank you dear friend for always giving me hope in dark times and bringing me joy.
Chin, Monica. “You can care about COVID-19 and also be sad when things are canceled.” 12 March. 2020. Web 15 April. 2020.
Coddon, L. David. “Blindspot Collective finds opportunities for innovation, experimentation.” 15April. 2020. Web 16 April. 2020
Granet, Russell. 13 April 2020. Twitter.
Honolulu Theatre for Youth
Miles, James. “Are we going to be OK?” Arts Edition Series. KUOW Public Radio. Jeannie Yandel and Zaki Hamid. NPR. Seattle, WA. 9 April 2020. Radio.
Moynihan, Ellen. “'I’m singing for them’: Broadway star Brian Stokes Mitchell, recovering from coronavirus, now sings from his NYC apartment window to salute health care workers.” 13 April. 2020. Web 15 April. 2020.
Roach, Jamie. interview. 10 April. 2020.
Solnit, Rebcca. A Paradise Built in Hell. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2009. Print.