Acting in the time of Corona: CoVid-19 Surviving and Thriving Guide

Dear Reader,

This reaches us all in a very different time to that of our last post. Like you we have been socially isolating for months, and as many countries now begin to emerge from lockdown, our minds turn to what has kept us afloat, even thriving, in these uncertain times. 

We can't cover everything and obviously some states and countries coming out of quarantine conditions faster than others, but here's a glimpse into our lives from different corners of the globe over the past few months. Be sure to check back for more updates! We have not been essential workers and thus fortunate to see things through from remaining 'safe at home' - now as we re-emerge to our new world we get to roll up our sleeves and see where we are needed as artists, actors and activists. As always, we welcome your feedback and personal stories below.

Artistry under Lockdown 

(Michela Carattini, Sydney, Australia)

As throughout the world, all LIVE and screen production in Australia came to a sudden and complete halt 3 months ago. Those of us with arts careers not only lost our primary, but often our secondary sources of income, and we were more likely to be responsible for the care of children now home 24/7, which meant even less resources for work than BC (Before CoVid). Despite these and other compounding and intersecting circumstances, I have been surprised and truly inspired by my fellow artists and what they have been able to achieve during this time when, it has become apparent, we need each other and the arts more than ever.

From small online readings to big company live-streamed productions, music, comedy and other styles of artistry - I have been spoiled for choice well beyond my time allowance. One of my favourites is a single-person comedy skit where an actress has her April self explain to her January self what she doesn’t know yet. Another is an actor who plays with chiaroscuro in a surprisingly touching way. There additionally seemed limitless availability of online training and upskilling, now available from anywhere in the world. I, for one, can’t wait for the free Sing Like Adele class on June 21st! But perhaps most importantly, I learned from my colleagues who are refugees and knew how, and were driven to, create art even in the most dire and restricted circumstances, who gave and used it as healing, the way I might give flowers or a hug, and it birthed a renewed and passionate clarity in my calling.

Australia is now rapidly lifting restrictions, and productions are facing a whole new set of regulations to abide by in the new world of semi-permanent social-distancing. For those artists still in lockdown, here are some things I managed in complete lockdown:

  1. Update Marketing: At the beginning of lockdown, I attended an awesome webinar called “I Will Survive” by Creative + Business (still available), which encouraged me to use this time to update all my marketing: website, casting profiles, social media, and Linked In. My accountability partner came up with an awesome instagram marketing idea for my intimacy coordination business, and even a new showreel scene was possible (this, of course, depends on who you’re locked down with)!
  2. Self Tape Auditions: To my surprise, I still had audition requests coming through, and it was clear self-taping was going to be the only gateway for a while...Up until this point, I could get away with a daylight tape at home here and there, but I took this opportunity to find ways to get even better at my home tapes. I found the StageMilk and Kat Elizabeth lighting videos helpful, and ordered a cheap reflector and ring light to experiment with. I also experimented with camera angle, eyeline, voice and accent training, while throwing in an exercise or two from the latest acting book I’m reading (Susan Batson’s “Truth”). 
  3. DeClutter: I know it’s du-jour, but my goodness - everything from my office to my finances needed decluttering, and having the time to do it meant I could work more efficiently, and love the space I’m working in. Less clutter means more space, and markedly different atmospheres even to small corners (hello candles!), which became a particularly effective mental trick for my whole family during lockdown.
  4. Project Development & Pre-production: This was the perfect time to work on that feature script I had tucked away, casting & crewing that script that was ready to go, and apply for funding and grants. A colleague of mine started a “Quarantine Writer’s Group,” and although I couldn’t always attend, it made me feel connected to the industry and other artists in a low-pressure, social way. I was also able to make some tough ‘next level’ career decisions to incorporate my different arts business streams into one company, and complete all the time-consuming administrative, legal bit so I can be ready to go when things open back up. Creating a company meant getting really clear on what I want to achieve and why I’m in this business, which brings me to...
  5. Re-examine: why I’m doing this. As I watched my backyard and my world go up in many different kinds of flames, it occurred to me that the things that were happening were not suddenly just happening now. They had been happening recurrently, and the difference now was that more people seemed to care and demand change - which was a truly positive thing. I personally had fought on the front lines of social justice for many years, and it became clear that my heart had not really left that behind, and that any work I did as an artist would never be far from the work I did as an activist, a healer, and a warrior for justice and compassion.

There is a lot we can do in lockdown, but there is no denying this has been a multi-layered emotional and difficult time. I remind myself, as I remind my loved ones, that this is not another excuse to feel pressured to achieve, or to compare and despair against others’ achievements. It is wholly important to spend a season resting, recuperating, repairing, healing, being quiet and gentle with oneself and strengthening the basics of sleeping, eating, walking and relationships. Self-compassion is perhaps the most important kind of compassion we can have at this moment. And out of this, I take with me the invaluable skills of adaptation and acceptance, with no other choice but to take each day as it comes. With love from Down Under.

Are there silver linings or even benefits to lockdown?

(Christina DeRosa, Los Angeles, USA)

Absolutely!  Although it has felt like one long “Mercury in Retrograde…”  You know how Mercury in Retrograde, is a time to reflect, refocus, review, redo, renew, all the Re’s.  Funny how all the Mercury in Retrograde blog tips suggest cleaning closets out and reorganizing them during this time.  I think we can all agree we have clean closets by now.

One of my favorite quotes that has reminded me to be the light is “No matter how deep the darkness, when the sun rises, everything is bathed in light.  That’s because the sun is always blazing brightly.  Please be like the sun, no matter what.”  Daisaku Ikeda.

It has been powerful to see communities, neighbors, cities, and friends come together, not physically, due to social distancing but in other ways.  I have personally found it beautiful to go for walks during this time and see others out walking, keeping their distance but waving and saying hello and smiling through the mask. 

Through zoom meetings and long conversations with friends, I have made more time during lockdown for intimate conversations and time with the ones most important to me.  Even uncomfortable conversations about racism and diversity and change.  I believe it is thanks to Covid 19 and people being forced to stay home more and listen more that  George Floyd’s traffic death has been a legacy that will forever change history and finally fix broken systems and evolve hearts and bond families together.

One of the ways, I have found my voice and let my creativity flow has been to jump on TIK TOK and create content daily on Tik Tok.

On Tik Tok, I can be anyone I want, a cat, a little six year old girl,  Mae West and Rita Hayworth and that’s all just on a Tuesday. Come join me?

Tik Tok forces me as an actress to not only be the actor, but also the director, the DP, the set designer, the costume designer, the hair and makeup artist and the producer and that is all for a 15 second video.  Some days I may do a 60 second video but let’s be honest, our attention spans have significantly adjusted now.  If you are an artist, you need to remember your voice matters and your work still matters, amidst everything going on in the world, so tell your story, share your voice, make people laugh or lip sing to your favorite song, but don’t stop creating, don’t stop sharing, because you are here to make a difference and the world needs you, now more than ever.

Stay Smiling no matter what and remember to be like the SUN!


Transformation in the 'New Normal'

(Edith Bukovics, London, England)

This post comes to you from England rather than NYC for a change. On Friday 13th March my husband and I decided to take our kids and hunker down here with family as we waited for what we expected to be a short-lived Covid 19 storm to pass. Our work had been postponed or gone virtual, preschools were closed indefinitely and life with our baby and 3 year old was able to find much needed support in the bosom of family over here.
And so for the past three months we've balanced and been part of the quarantine and WFH reality, mentally caught between our US home and that of our temporary base in England. It has been eye opening and character building for me - and I know no one is 'acing' this time. There are things we have all grieved - jobs, opportunities relationships, human lives - things we have been forced to accept and attempt to move on from, or with.  

Now that countries are slowly looking to re-open their societies, coupled with the gathering unrest and demonstrations against systemic racism around the globe, we are reminded that everything is indeed inextricably linked and who we choose to be during this time will determine how we can forge the path forward, with so many unknowns still on the table.  This is the a time where an actor must do the fundamental work: listen, investigate, process, and act. 

Most of us may be out of an official lockdown but we won't be back to the old normal anytime soon - perhaps ever. And there is plenty to learn from and pursue during this transitional period..

Back to basics
Michela and Christina have reminded us how important taking care of ourselves is during a time like this. We all know how much we benefit from gently and consistently taking care of our bodies, our mental health and our creative lives; this is no easy task at the best of times, and can feel overwhelming in an environment where everything feels up for grabs! Yep, no one can predict how soon work practices will resume in full swing, and financially and creatively we may feel completely untethered. But that means it is more important than ever to ground ourselves, in whatever way works for us.  

I personally found that, what with the heady challenges of co-parenting whilst both WFH,  plus home schooling, looking after our baby's hourly needs etc we were in need of a robust schedule to myself up for all my non-negotiable health practices like meditation, work outs and creative free-flow time. I'm grateful that children make it a must to have structure in the home, they've eradicated any of my  unhelpful navel-gazing tendencies and we've benefitted from the many walks and cycle rides squeezed into our days - technically for their sake, but obviously of massive benefit to hubby and myself too! Looking for bugs or playing with pebbles in neighborhood streets and woodland paths meant significant time taken away from work but it's an uplifting and positive distraction to focus on their needs and explore storytelling on their level right now.

A shout out to the phenomenon that is PE With Joe  which gripped this nation throughout lockdown and beyond, and for good reason. Joe Wicks has brought a huge global audience together for his daily 09:00 workouts, getting young and old alike to build up their focus and energy levels at the top of the day. My son has loved doing this with us and it was certainly a great way to feel the family is off to a running start first thing! Never forget, Mental health is your wealth 💪

We are all equally fallible and human
Remember this? A foreign correspondent for BBC News was interrupted by his kids during a report - to much good natured ribbing and a few raised eyebrows. 

But as actors and improvisors well know, 'It's all in' - life is what happens when you're attempting to control the hell out of those other plans! And if zoom meetings and online working have taught us anything, it's that life in our new normal is fraught with tech issues, discomfort with how we can impact each other through screens and all round general messiness. 

One of the pandemic's silver linings is as a sort of leveler and I for one have taken comfort knowing that everyone from athletes to zoo keepers, politicians, photographers and agents to teachers have been navigating their work from home, and everyone I have engaged with online has had to compromise on some level, and acknowledges the imperfection of working and socializing in these new ways. I love that people are more readily able to admit their foibles and have a laugh about the impossibility of 'business as usual.' The mishaps and novelty of the situation leads to frustration yes, but also a hell of a lot of innovation and new opportunities. Here's a fun clip of James Cordon acknowledging the bizarre process of taping his Late Late Show alone in his garage, talking about the impact of a global pandemic and racial injustice in America.

What does all this mean? It's meant that a lot of us and the people we yearn to reach, may be on more of an equal playing field, and increasingly accessible. It's been a lonely business to self-isolate, no matter who you have been living with. People have also tended to have more time and interest in interacting with new collaborators in the online space. In our industry, as Michela specified that has created a new batch of general audition and 'meet and greet' opportunities with everyone from producers to casting directors. (See here for one such example) 

It's also a great time to strengthen your own tribe! One of my highlights has been creating a film club in which friends around the world come together every few weeks for a catch up and chatting about the nominated movie that week. 

Art and Social Reckoning
There is of course a larger scale reckoning happening too, which may be rooted in our quarantine times but is now being affected by so many other factors this spring - the developing impact on climate change, our increased global awareness of social and political systems such as systematic racism, and ever more awakened states of consciousness about our interconnectedness and fragile ecosystems. I encourage us all to take the time to investigate, do some upstream thinking as we move through the process. There are no quick fixes and as one of my mentors reminds me, 'there is no way around, but through.' Resisting discomfort in the moment only leads to greater suffering. 

As actors it is our job to tell stories and share human experiences. As humans, our job is also to remain compassionate with ourselves and one another. Again, no one is 'acing' this time and no one knows what the future holds for us in navigating Covid-19. There is inner work to be done, but also external engagement. For some historical perspective I highly rate this interview with Alain de Botton on Elizabeth Day's brilliant How to Fail podcast and this article from Cambridge University: Covid-19, The Long View.

It is striking to see how countries are bolstering the arts differently during this time, and how governments value cultural institutions and support out of work artists and freelancers. We may not need art and entertainment to live but let's not forget - it sure does make life worth living for.

Actors' Resources
There is an incredible and growing list of online resources to remain engaged with our fellow artists and actors around the world. Alongside your own acting school and unions may I recommend the following opportunities to enjoy what actors do best:

In conclusion I wish you continued health, inside & out -  may your transformed normal be full of opportunity, resilience and new adventure!

From Vanity Fair...ahead of the game, circa 2009!

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