BWW Interview: GOING DARK with Seattle Based Artist Zandi Carlson
GOING DARK is a special interview series, conducted during and focused on the pandemic and its effect on the performing arts. These interviews, conducted via email to respect the CDC's Social Distancing recommendations, are "in their own words" accounts of the personal, financial, and artistic impacts of the pandemic. As the virus spreads, theatres around the country are shutting down, canceling seasons, and postponing shows. These are the human stories behind COVID-19.
This is GOING DARK.
BWW: Tell us about your experience with the pandemic so far. Have you had any projects that are on hold or canceled? What are you hoping to continue working on after this dark period passes?
ZC: I live in Seattle, so I'm at America's virus ground zero. For the last two weeks it really has been a daily assessment of how safe it feels outside and what's getting shut down; from large events, to schools, restaurants and retail. As things were starting to happen, I was in a theatre with around 50+ other auditors for the Theatre Puget Sound Unified General Auditions, seeing 100 auditions a day, and by the fourth and final day, (3/5) I was starting to flinch at every cough from the other folks in the room. Currently, my husband is working from home, and we have our almost 4-year-old home from preschool, as well as our 6-month-old.
I was scheduled to direct Kate Hamill's adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, starting rehearsals this past week at Bainbridge Performing Arts. BPA was one of the first companies I know about that decided to postpone rehearsals indefinitely, as well as postponing their production of Fun Home, which was set to open this past week as well. I was crushed not to work on this show. I had been so thrilled by my cast at auditions, and my meetings with designers and my choreographer had energized and excited me. I just got word that P&P will be slotted into next season, and hopefully all my cast will still be able to do the show. I'm planning on hosting a virtual read-thru of the show, so the cast can hear it out loud and have some laughs.
I've also been interviewing with larger theatre companies for assistant directing positions, for late spring as well as next season, but I wonder-with the financial impact of this, is there going to be money in the budget for those positions?
BWW: What is the general atmosphere in the arts community in Seattle right now?
ZC: The blows of cancelled shows are tough both artistically and financially. Dream roles and shows are getting postponed, and some are flat out cancelled. Many artists also work in restaurants, bars, and retail, and those are all closed now too. People are extremely worried because of this financial crisis. We are desperate for something more than GoFundMe's (and a trillion-dollar boost to the stock market doesn't help someone who won't have money for rent, bills, and groceries next month). I will say that artists are empathetic to the importance of social distancing. As frustrated and sad as we are, we are willing to stay home to protect the vulnerable, and flatten the curve to keep the hospitals from going over capacity.
For the arts scene on a bigger scale-it's tough. Large companies like the 5th Ave canceling Sister Act, are at about $1 million in losses. Seattle Shakespeare cancelled two mainstage shows; Toilus and Cressida, which was set to open this week, and their upcoming production of Macbeth, also their educational touring productions of Romeo and Juliet and a bilingual Hamlet, and the "Short Shakes" youth production of Macbeth. Seattle Public Theatre was already struggling financially, because they're in a historic building, and the City of Seattle is turning off their power for three months for upgrades, so they needed $250,000-even before the virus caused closures, including their production of Pipeline-they are literally trying to survive this period of darkness!! Smaller companies, like Reboot Theatre, are looking to postpone their production of Cabaret, but there is a shortage of physical theatres to perform in and much of next season is already booked up in rental venues.
Finally, it's gala season, and so annual fundraisers are being cancelled or moved online. Such a large percentage of non-profit arts organization's budget is by donations, so this is a scary time for theatre companies of all levels.
BWW: What self-care techniques have been most helpful to you during this time?
ZC: I'm trying to give myself grace as a parent at home with young two kids. I don't have to write King Lear, like Shakespeare did during the plague. Getting outside is helping-Vitamin D is said to help respiratory health, so I'm taking advantage of these cold but sunny days to go for socially distant walks and bike rides. I also made cookies with my daughter today. I'm trying to limit the media I consume, so I'm up to date but not overwhelmed by the news. I'm looking for content (online and off) that brightens my spirit and brings me joy.
BWW: What do you think the rebuilding process will be like for the Seattle theatre community?
ZC: I think that will depend on how the government allocates funds during and after this crisis. Things will look different-and it might be a messy regrowth, but theatre is such a place of community; it fills our souls, it helps us escape for a few hours-it's cathartic! Being in community with one another, telling and hearing stories is part of the human experience, and having that opportunity taken away from us has hopefully made people realize the importance of the arts. After this period of isolation, and once it's safe to do so, I imagine people will rush fill the seats of theatres; to be together and hear stories again.