BWW Interview: GOING DARK, Part 20 - Collin O'Neill
The United States is formulating a plan for when and how businesses can re-open. A world with COVID-19 is new, scary, and unprecedented. In an abundance of caution, theatres are still dark. The cancellations and postponements happened quickly, and re-opening theatre is an uncertain and indefinite process that is only in preliminary stages. GOING DARK is an exclusive interview series that focuses on the artists and technicians who are waiting out this new world, on hold and in quarantine. Out-of-work artists everywhere are sharing their voices, and their stories are similar. Like the rest of us, they wait, with their talents, hearts, and passions on hold. We wait, we hope, we pray, for a day when theatre can return, and life as we knew it can return with it. Part 20 features Oklahoma City University graduate and New York City based actor Collin O'Neill.
This is GOING DARK.
BWW: When the pandemic related cancellations started happening, did everything change suddenly? What was the atmosphere like in New York?
CO: To me, nothing felt sudden at first. Things were happening incrementally. It was a slow build as the cancellations continued to take on a larger and larger scope. It wasn't until massive venues like The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the MoMA were closed that I began to grasp the gravity of the situation. At this point, it felt like businesses and establishments were getting shut down by the hour. I work at The Color Factory in SoHo and though we held on for a while, disciplining ourselves, bulking up our sanitation policies and implementing more and more social distancing measures, we eventually followed suit with other museums and tourist attractions, and closed down until further notice.
All of the sudden it was everywhere and the long rumored "American disturbance" felt within arm's distance from me. Within a span of two weeks, the atmosphere in New York went from rumors and humored debates on the severity of the virus to panicked lines of people stretching around blocks outside of grocery stores. Multiple times, daily, I would see an entire subway car full of people give a death stare at anyone who sneezed or so much as breathed loudly. A cough or a sneeze became the quickest way to get a subway bench entirely to yourself. People were afraid. So rapidly, this virus became exceedingly pervasive.
At first, shamefully, I downplayed the severity of the virus, comparing it to a flu. How bad could it be? This was before shutdowns had begun, and admittedly this was to ease my nerves and imagine the virus as something I unfortunately know very well, the flu. Eventually, as everything got more "real", my attitude changed significantly. This was dangerous and it felt like it was everywhere. The last week before my job closed down, traveling to and from work on public transit was frightening. It became even frightening to do my job where I work up close with the public for up to eight hours a day. My roommates and I stocked our apartment, should grocery stores become inaccessible. We sanitized just about everything in our apartment thoroughly, every day. This became the new normal.
BWW: Were you working on any projects that got canceled or put on hold?
CO: Regional theaters and touring productions followed quickly in Broadway's footsteps and were immediately being cancelled and postponed. Unfortunately, I was in consideration for a few regional projects, along with one off-Broadway show, that were subsequently cancelled. Some of these were fully cancelled, whereas others I am still unsure if they are being postponed. The hit was pretty tough for myself and certainly others. Many friends of mine had regional contracts and debuts that were completely cancelled. I don't want to go back until it's safe, but, wow, I am excited to get back to work.
BWW: How have your future career plans changed because of the pandemic?
CO: I am currently quarantining in Connecticut with my family and right now the big question is when I will go back home to NYC. I don't know when or if my job will open back up. I am super grateful that my agent has still been able to get me auditions that I can submit from home. It seems that for at least a little while longer, self-tapes and remote submission/auditioning will remain the practice. It is tough, but I'm grateful that I can still do something. It is very likely that multiple regional theaters and tours will be opening back up before New York theatres, so the current hope is to go down that route for a while until the city is more under control.
BWW: Have you been reading any particular books or clinging to a specific art form that is helping you through this time?
CO: Oh yes! Reading has been my solace. I have been reading endlessly. I have finally been able to get around to reading all the books I have literally put off for years. It is glorious. I recently read Circe by Madeline Miller, which is gorgeous and compelling; I highly recommend it. In fact, I recommend both of her books- the other is called Song of Achilles. I've read other amazing books as well, but Madeline's are sticking out currently. I, Collin, and you, Adrienne, have joined the same book club and wow, it is profoundly magical. We read and discussed Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras which was fantastic. I am currently reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Other than books, art and music have been abundantly gratifying at this time.
I have been playing piano a lot, which has been really nice. I used to take piano super seriously, but when I went to OCU, I had to put it on the back burner. It's been a pleasure to help friends and record accompaniments for them for their submissions. I've also been trying to sing a lot and keep the muscles working the best I can. Netflix and Hulu have been there for me as well. We've all gotten close (not like we weren't before). I have watched some amazing series. Unorthodox and Little Fires Everywhere have been highlights for me. As scary as this has been, I'm grateful for this time with my family. It's been a while since all five of us have spent this much time together. Occasionally, the city can be all-consuming and auditioning can feel super regimented. It's been nice to have this time to re-approach art and my craft in this way, to grow, expand and sit in it. In a way, that has been a gift for me. I want to continue to read, learn and absorb as much new material as I can. This time has set a fire for me and so many others. It's given me a hunger to get back to work. I can't wait.
Follow Collin on Instagram @coneill9693.