BWW Interview: GOING DARK Series - Writers and Artists Share Their COVID-19 Impact Stories
GOING DARK continues. In part 5 of the series, out-of-work writers and performers give personal accounts of the pandemic's impact on their careers. These are uncertain and fragile times, and the weight is felt heavily by the arts community. Forced to go dark by growing pandemic concerns, theatres around the country have shut their doors. Actors are left without working jobs, and arts journalism is fading out with it. These are the real, honest, and un-pretty stories behind the pandemic. Conducted via email, these interviews give voice to artists while they struggle to find paying jobs, continue honing their skills to stay sharp in their craft, and wait out the pandemic from isolation in their homes. This is America as we know it, now and indefinitely. We're all "on-hold".
This is GOING DARK.
BWW: As an arts writer, how has this pandemic affected you both professionally and personally?
JM: Beginning last week, writing about anything but pandemic related cancellations became almost entirely impossible. My sources began asking me to hold the stories I was working on for the next several weeks/months because everything was being canceled or rescheduled. Planning stories about future events also became unthinkable because so much is so uncertain at the moment.
As someone who also made a weekly event calendar, my job suddenly went from finding and adding events to deleting pretty much everything from the calendar for the next several weeks. I was actually planning a story about how local artists and venues were coping with social distancing when I was laid off from my job, but journalism is always a tough business to make money in, so I can't be sure that was entirely virus-related. My wife and I are also a standup comedy duo, so we have a lot of free time on our thoroughly washed hands but very little financial security or health insurance.
BWW: What do you think the future for the arts in OKC will look like once the pandemic passes?
JM: My hope is that if/when this pandemic comes to an end, people will be starved for human interaction and live art and music, and there will be renewed interest in plays, concerts, museums, etc. Artists will continue to find ways to create and to share even in dire situations, but unfortunately many of the most creative people I know are also some of the more vulnerable in terms of health and finances. If adequate steps aren't taken to help them, they may not be around for any post-COVID-19 boom that might happen in the future.
BWW: I hope you're able to find some peace right now. Has anything been particularly helpful in maintaining a sense of calmness and normalcy? Have you turned to any specific art such as music or movies?
JM: A combination of silly comedies (Monty Python, Schitt's Creek, Dolemite Is My Name), post-apocalyptic fiction (Parable of the Sower, The Fifth Season) and metal of all kinds (Cattle Decapitation released the perfect soundtrack for all of this in November) helps keep the anxiety to a minimum, but those are all things I've been relying on for the past several years. On the plus side, I'm no longer working 50+ hour weeks so I have time to catch up on all the TV and movies I missed over the past couple of years.
BWW: What were you working on that has been put on hold because of the virus? Are you planning on continuing with the project once it's up and running again?
MQ: I was cast in the regional premiere of Puffs at The Pollard Theatre in Guthrie, OK. Our rehearsals were to start mid-April. But with the virus outbreak, those rehearsals have been suspended until further notice. Should rehearsals pick back up before that time or a little after, then absolutely I will continue with the project because I love everything Harry Potter and I'm a Hufflepuff. Hiiiiii!
BWW: What self-care techniques have been helpful to you during this uncertain time? Have you been leaning on any particular books, movies, TV shows, or music?
MQ: I have been feeling nostalgic, so I was watching a wonderful musical favorite called "Were The World Mine". If you heard of it and seen it, it's a great coming of age film centered around the Shakespeare play, A Midsummer Night's Dream. For music, I always listen to anything from Hillsong. More than anything, my faith just needs to be up (more) than my fears and anxiety. Also, I have to note, Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist has been giving me life!!
BWW: Have you been able to lean on family and friends for support, and how has that been helpful for you?
MQ: Honestly, not as much as I should. I tend to be a major introvert when it comes to what I'm dealing with. But with the days we're living in now, I should and I guess am starting to be more open to leaning on friends. But just a little bit at a time.
BWW: What are you doing to fill the downtime? Are you staying busy or just trying to relax and de-stress?
MQ: My life hasn't slowed down, only because I am starting a new full-time job this week as an administrative assistant. I'm beyond thankful that this is even a reality because of a theatre friend thinking of me first for the position. But once Oklahoma resumes back to normal, it's going to get just as busy for me, and I won't even be overwhelmed by it. After all, We're all in this together!
BWW: What is the atmosphere like in the arts community where you work? Have the cancellations and postponements caused a lot of anxiety and uncertainty?
JW: In a lot of ways the atmosphere is grim. Artists always want something beautiful or meaningful to come at a time like this, so many of us are creating things from home. But the reality is our entire industry at every level is shut down. Which in the short-term is terrifying for artists (actors, designers, crew, directors) but also for the community at large. I was supposed to go to Canada for a gig in two weeks, the theatre who was bringing me up and the theatre that was hosting our productions both cancelled the rest of their seasons. So now I have to, amid this mess, find a job that is hiring. The ramifications of all this will definitely be felt for a long, long time, as most theatres just lost the last 1/4 of their yearly profit. Plus, not knowing how long this shut-down will reach, there are summer stock theatres who aren't sure whether they'll be able to go forward. Long story short, the mood in the arts community is uneasy.
BWW: How are you staying sharp in your craft while also taking time for yourself right now?
JW: Staying sharp...well...right now I'm still adjusting. I've made a habit of playing guitar a little bit every day, consuming a lot of Netflix.... that's research, right?
BWW: Are there any other artforms, such as music, movies, or books that are getting you through?
JW: Honestly, its inspiring to see people use this time to be creative. I've seen puppet shows, original songs and artwork created and posted online, just for the sake of creating. And considering most of us just lost thousands of dollars and health insurance, that's pretty amazing.