BWW Interview: The GOING DARK Interview series continues with Donald Jordan, Tristan Hill, and Graeme Morrison
Part three of the GOING DARK interview series includes an Artistic Director, an Actor/Singer who witnessed the dawn of the Pandemic while living and working in China, and a Musical Theatre student.
GOING DARK is a special pandemic related interview series that focuses on the impact of the pandemic on the performing arts. Because of pandemic related cancellations and postponements, artists are struggling for work. Many actors and theatre technicians hold additional jobs outside of the theatre, and even those are closing as restaurants and retail shops shut their doors in response to the pandemic.
These interviews, conducted via email to respect Social Distancing recommendations, offer a personal insight into the effect of a global pandemic on the performing arts community.
This is GOING DARK.
BWW: You were on the front lines of this pandemic, living in China when it first started. What was it like there then? Is it a similar feeling now? Has it been easier to cope with this time around?
TH: I lived in China for 2 months last year. I moved in September to help build a Musical Theatre program for a school in Guangzhou. Thankfully from other circumstances, not because of the virus, I came home 2 months later in November. During this time people didn't know about the virus yet so there was no issue over there. But I saw the epidemic through my co-workers I met while in China. They did what the US and other parts of the world are doing now- everything closed and they self-isolated. I recently talked to a few people over there (in China) and everything is calm and almost back to normal. It's only a matter of time before everything goes back to normal here.
BWW: What is the audition process like now that the immediate future for the performing arts is so uncertain?
TH: I graduated in May of 2019 from UCO. When I got back from China, all I wanted to do was audition. I saved money from serving tables and took a few trips for a conference audition. The conference includes cruise lines, summer theatre, and year-round theatre. But that was my last audition since everything else has been canceled or postponed. I've had 3 major auditions cancelled. It's scary. A lot of summer jobs aren't casting from recent auditions because their summer season could get canceled. The best thing to do is look online and submit self-tapes to companies.
BWW: How are you keeping your skills sharp while we await the lights to go back up?
TH: Living in Oklahoma, the last few months of being back in the country, I've been taking a few dance classes and vocal lessons. But the biggest thing I do to keep my skills up is training at the gym. Lifting, swimming, running, and full body stretching. But as of last night, my gym has closed for the next 2 weeks for social distancing. Until further notice, my house will be my gym, piano room, and dance studio. This way I can stay sharp for those postponed auditions.
BWW: Has this been more of an anxious period for you or more of a waiting and accepting period?
TH: Having a career in the performing arts is one of the most anxious things someone can do. It has been very anxious and stressful because we don't know what a lot of companies are wanting to do. Most people/companies are waiting on the government to see if we can slow this virus down. So, the waiting period I was already in is even worse because most businesses are closed for 2 weeks, and a lot of theatres and parks are closed until further notice, not knowing what the future holds. But the thing I'm going to do, and what most people should do, is stay focused on the craft. Do ballet in the garage, stretch while you watch one of your favorite musicals. We, the performing arts community, will get through this together even stronger.
BWW: Tell us about the difficult decision to postpone your season in response to the pandemic. Is this an unprecedented decision for CityRep? How did you come to the conclusion?
DJ: Over the course of my 45 years in professional theatres, I have worked for many theatres where a particular title changed in the course of a season. Less often, I have experienced when a single show or weekend of shows had to be cancelled, either by weather, major building problems, etc. Cancelling two complete productions, truncating a season and ending early is unprecedented in my experience.
The decision was not difficult. It was simply the right thing to do. It became quickly apparent to all of us in the American theatre, and to most Americans, and I have been generally heartened by the amazingly rapid response. In the course of 5 days, we have seen our people rise up together to meet a huge health challenge.
While the economic consequences are daunting, and the artistic loss of so many productions on the stages of our nation is tremendous, I have seen the members of our creative community meet this challenge with optimism, kindness, compassion, courage and selflessness.
BWW: Do you plan to still produce the same shows or will you re-open with a new schedule? Is this a constantly in-flux situation?
DJ: Given the specific nature of THE OKLAHOMA CITY PROJECT and the 25th anniversary of the Murrah building bombing, we will probably not re-schedule this, although I cannot say if we might do it in a future season.
A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER is a title we have wanted to do for a couple of years. Given the upcoming renovation of one of our Primary Stages, the Freede Little Theatre, we will not be able to produce GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE for at least a couple of seasons. Beyond that, I do not know if we might try and approach it again. I do think OKC would love the show--- it is a multiple TONY winner, including for Best Musical.
BWW: This event has caused widespread postponements and cancellations for the theatre community, all the way from Broadway, which is currently dark, to regional theatres and university productions. Can we, as a local theatre community in Oklahoma City, come back from this? What's it going to take to recover?
DJ: I think most people do not realize how precarious the funding ALWAYS is for the arts, just as they don't realize all of the artistic, educational and economic benefits of a vibrant arts scene. It is, in fact, essential for a city to thrive.
We CAN recover, IF we choose to. Arts donors and funders with resources simply must reach deep and contribute more, and when shows re-open, those of us who know the importance and beauty of the theatre must lead the way, buy tickets and go.
This is not new---actually we must always do that. WE are the people who can preserve and encourage our theatre community. Buy a ticket, make a donation, volunteer, serve on a board...it is up to us!
BWW: What has your experience been like as a performing arts student during the virus outbreak?
GM: It's been... interesting. I think the most difficult part has just been the muddy communication on all sides - and that's no one's fault. I don't think anyone in Oklahoma was really ready to deal with a pandemic. The University did their absolute best to get us the information they had, but they didn't have very much information either. The postponement and cancellation dates kept changing, there were rumors school was just going to shut down all together. When the announcements finally came, the professors were given no warning so now they are scrambling to try to figure out how to come up with an online curriculum for a dance class. It's just kind of chaos. We still don't know how we're going to be taking dance classes online, but I'm sure they'll figure it out. It's just difficult because with our major, we really can't just hop on the computer. Our career requires straight legs and pointed feet, not fast typing skills.
BWW: Were you working on a show or planning any auditions that were put on hold?
GM: Yeah, actually, I was a part of three different shows that have been tentatively pushed back. Our Music Theatre staff has tried to rework the schedule, but in all honesty it's still kind of up in the air. I usually run the lights or light design in conjunction with my friend Caleb Barnett (we switch off and on. Normally whoever isn't in the show will do the lights) so I was planning to go into tech for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat when we got back from break. Then I was supposed to play Elliot in Band Geeks mid-April, as well as a few roles in the one of the Senior Directing Scenes- Songs for a New World.
I had a lot of my auditions earlier in the season, but I had two left and both of them have switched to video submissions. It's funny, while I was writing this interview, I got an email from one of the companies notifying me their audition would be switched to a video submission.
BWW: How has leaning on your fellow performing artists and students been helpful to you during this time?
GM: They have been instrumental in keeping me sane. I went back home for this "Spring Month" as we've coined it, and I think I have FaceTimed with someone every night. We are fortunate to live in a time where we have the opportunity to do that - I really don't know where I would be without my friends or if I wasn't able to talk to them. We are all just trying to figure it out together.
BWW: The pandemic response is constantly changing and evolving, minute by minute. What has helped you cope during this time?
GM: We are about four days in to social distancing and I'm already going stir crazy! I've started on that list of Netflix and Disney+ shows I've never had time to watch and when I get too lazy, I get up and force myself to move a little bit. Later today, I'm going to be taking an online ballet class, so I'm hoping that this will give me an idea of what the online dance classes will be like when we get back into school. I also brought my guitar and I'm very blessed to have a piano in my home, so I plan on really heavily leaning into music during this time. Music was where I started way before I ever got into theatre and it's always been there for me in times of great distress, so I have no doubt it will help a lot of us get through this. I'm a faithful person and I know not everyone is and that's okay, but regardless of your beliefs, I'm a firm believer there's always a light at the end of the tunnel. This season will pass, but until then I'll keep playing my music.