When the Hustle Halts

By Stephanie Anderson

Posted on Tuesday, April 28, 2020

This blog is a part of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable’s new blog series, “Teaching Artists Speak Out: Blogs from Quarantine.” As schools remain closed, we’ve invited some “Teaching Artists of the Roundtable” to help us curate a series of blog posts written for and by NYC teaching artists. We’ll be posting new blogs each Tuesday and Thursday for the next several weeks. 

Let’s go back to Tuesday before everything changed.  

I went from Brooklyn to a class in midtown
to a class on the upper west side
to the office in Herald Square
to a class on the upper east side
to a meeting in Harlem
to a rehearsal in FiDi
And then back to Brooklyn.  

Three days later absolutely everything in my schedule had been cancelled.  Sound familiar?

Before quarantine, I went to an improv show at the PIT, and the audience was asked to simultaneously yell a one-word suggestion, a word that summarized what we wanted most in life.  My roommate yelled, “Pizza!”  I yelled “STABILITY!”  I would like both, please.

There is no stability for a teaching artist.  Not really.  There is no predictable yearly income, no guaranteed residencies, no dependable student attendance, no consistent schedule, no complete ownership over curriculum, no reasonable commute, no power to be particularly picky when saying no to projects.  I am acutely aware of my lack of control, but still I try.  I hustle to get on teaching rosters, maximize my time, and color-coordinate my schedule with artistic precision.  

But then this virus halted my hustle and took away the illusion of control, and I hated it.  Grasping at any semblance of productivity, I signed up to write for this blog, and when asked to pitch topics, I was ready.  I was five days into quarantine, so I had obviously already completed the five stages of grief, and I was prepared to harness my newfound enlightenment to write “What We Can Control.”  You know, something along the lines, of… 

We can’t control this virus or our health or our livelihood, but we can control our attitudes!  
Our use of time!  
Be positive!  
Try Yoga!  
Exercise!  
Eat well!  
Call all your friends!  
Apply to all the jobs!  
Write that play!  
Learn that language!  
Make lemonade out of lemons and turn quarantine into opportunity because you can’t control the chaos in the world but you can control your response to it all! 

However, I soon realized I couldn’t control my response, my emotions, or my energy levels.  I woke up, and I didn’t want to do anything.  I was jaded and exhausted from pouring my heart into productions and residencies and relationships only for them to be taken away.  I saw other teaching artists somehow starting yoga channels, speaking on zoom panels, running a half-marathon in their backyard, organizing 24 hour play festivals, and starting Socially Distant Improv (shout out to Dana!).  

But I was just tired, deflated, unmotivated.  And this scared me because normally motivation is my superpower.  I am a resilient, scrappy, hard-working problem solver.  At least I was?  I felt such a loss of identity because I was no longer productive.  

I was supposed to make my official New York directing debut last weekend: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at The King’s College.  In Act I, Rosencrantz says, “We have no control…none at all.”  Tom Stoppard knew all along.  We have no control, and that’s my big take on day fifty-one.  As much as I try, I can’t control the world, my life, or my emotional responses from moment to moment.  

All I can do is choose where I put my focus, and that has been a constant learning process.  

On day one of quarantine, I started writing a daily list of gratitude, and this bedtime ritual has made a world of difference.  I choose to focus on my faith, the needs of others, and the good in the world.  I focus on my mental health rather than my productivity.  I focus on the times in my life when I have found income, opportunity, and human connection in the most surprising places, and I remember that this too will pass.  When I think upon these things as opposed to what I can’t control, I find a weird sort of quarantine peace, even joy (I’ll let you know how tomorrow goes). 

I have also found joy in redefining productivity.  I’ve played piano for hours with no intention of perfecting a piece, writing a musical, or sharing it with the world.  I’ve called my Aunt Sally.  I’ve made biscuits just because I wanted biscuits.  I’ve gone on walks to nowhere. Slow walks.  Sans podcast.  I’ve sat on the couch and watched three episodes of Gilmore Girls back to back without multi-tasking or feeling guilty.  All of this is so refreshingly “unproductive” because it will never go on my resume, but it has fed my soul and kept me sane.  

Thankfully, new opportunities continue to arise and bring back a semblance of a routine, and I’m slowly rebuilding my capacity to create art and listen to The Daily without letting it wreck me.  I’ve been feeling more like myself again with enough work to motivate me but not define me.  It has taken a global pandemic to make me slow down, but now I’m forced to embrace Dr. Wayne Dyer’s wisdom: “I am a human being, not a human doing.”  I like being.  I like having time to say yes to people.  It turns out, even without my old hustle, I am still loved, still valued, still capable of finding and spreading joy.  And so are you.    

 

*****

Stephanie Anderson is a director, actor and theatre educator with a MA in Educational Theatre from New York University. Stephanie spent five years teaching theatre at a public high school in China, where she built a theatre program from scratch, teaching multi-tiered classes and directing over a dozen showcases and productions. In New York, Stephanie teaches musical theatre, improv, and devising for programs including NYU’s Looking for Shakespeare, Opening Act, Ping Chong + Company, Uncommon Charter High School, Story Pirates, and TADA! Youth Theatre.  She can be seen acting with Verbatim Performance Lab which explores human behavior and implicit bias.  Directing credits include The Last 5 Years, Fiddler on the Roof, Beauty and the Beast, You Can’t Take It With You, Things I Had to Learn, and Hello, Dolly!  www.stephaniejanderson.com

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