To All the Artists with Chronic Illness…
Reflecting on theater in COVID, artists making demands and managing chronic illness
It’s good to be back this week. I’m grateful for the time I had off last week. It allowed me to make delicious food to nurture myself and my loved ones. I was even able to see some of my family (outside and at a distance!) It was a nourishing pause. It was also a difficult week. I’ve been managing several health issues right now, two of which are chronic illnesses and the other which likes to pop into my life every once in a while just to make sure I’m listening.
I’ve also been navigating a challenging and complex work related issue that involves multiple people. I’m trying to give myself permission to take the time I need to take care of my body and to think and feel through my own standing on the matter at hand. I say standing because when challenges arise it can feel de-stabilizing. Like the ground beneath me is giving out. Or maybe a better analogy is how when your leg falls asleep while sitting and you stand up to walk it suddenly feels like Jello. Anybody else get that? Maybe just me…
All of these things happening concurrently have beckoned to me to revisit my values. They have asked me to listen. And I have been defensive at times and resentful at times. I told one of my collaborators last week that I often find myself bargaining with my own illnesses, trying to figure out how to control them. It is a deep, emotional process to accept my own limitations or blind spots. It requires real work to develop a self-awareness that in a difficult moment allows me to ask what I need, to ask what others need, and to respond to those needs. Trying to care for ourselves and make our art in this time of COVID when there is a real barrier to working and communicating in person is devastatingly difficult. Especially for the theater people like me who were so accustomed to communicating face to face.
These challenges have given rise to incredible innovations in the performing arts that have opened my eyes to the many possibilities of multi-media performance. It has also cost something. To sit for so many hours every day in front of a screen, to have to resolve conflicts over emailing, texting and Zoom, to not be able to celebrate our successes together–it’s lonely. I miss my people. I miss going to a bar after rehearsal. I miss rehearsal! And tech. And openings and closings and everything in between. I wonder: what will it be like when we can actually return? There have been seismic shifts in the theater industry since March. Will we feel those changes? Will we be able to mourn what we’ve lost, celebrate what we’ve gained, and look to a future that fully integrates the needs that so many artists have been shouting from the rooftops? I hope so.
In addition to sharing some throwbacks to a time when I was making theater in a room with wonderful people, I am sharing a community statement that artists from the downtown NYC institution known as The Flea published this week demanding restitution for years of inequity and abuse. I stand in solidarity with these artists. Let’s take care of ourselves so that we can do the good work that needs to be done. That’s my goal this week.