Tag: blog

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

Productivity

By Meghan Grover

Posted on Thursday, April 23, 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. 

I put on my Teaching-Artist-Casual garb: yoga pants, a flowy shirt, and purple combat boots.

The Franklin Ave 4-5 train is 4 min away – huzzah!  

I finish writing a lesson plan in google docs, send my mom a ❤️ (I should call her, but I don’t have time!!), and I eat my breakfast burrito.

The train arrives. 

I get a seat! Yas!

I listen to Up First, The Daily, and the beginning of Pod Save the People on 1.5 speed.    

I feel furious at the news as I pop out of the 86th Street subway. 

To calm myself I listen to showtunes (Spongebob Squarepants the Musical’s “Best Day Ever” or Follies’ “Broadway Baby” usually does the trick).  

I carry three heavy bags of crafts, props, and Bluetooth speakers as I swarm through hundreds of people.  

I show my ID to the security guard of the first school, and make my way to my first class.

I take my first full breath of the day and finally relax as I make eye contact with twenty four-year-olds. We laugh as we go on an imaginary adventure in the forest where we help various puppet-animals in need. As we reflect at the end of class, the young people describe how much they loved “giving the mouse a magic blanket” or “showing the frog their Elsa freeze power.” I feel so happy.

After two classes of this forest-themed residency, I must move on to my next thing!

 I jog to the 4-5 train to go back to Brooklyn. I eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while I listen to the second half of Pod Save America, on 2.0 speed this time. I feel informed. And even angrier. 

I send more emails and try to get more teaching gigs on the subway because being still feels unproductive. 

After an hour on the train and walking, I show my ID to the security guard in the temporary housing facility, and I enter a classroom of twenty more young people.

I take that full breath and relax and smile! We read the book Dancing in the Wings and learn about Sassy, a young person who becomes a successful ballerina. After we read the book, we imagine that we are in a time machine, and we travel to the year 2080 where we draw pictures of the awards we will receive for all of our own life achievements. The young people giggle as they pretend to be old and share their successes on our pretend award show. I feel so happy.

But as I walk back to the subway station, I feel furious at the stark difference of opportunity between the morning private school and the afternoon temporary housing facility.

I try to push that anger away as I eat my second peanut butter and jelly sandwich while taking the B train to go back into Manhattan. I respond to more emails on the train and then on the subway platform of Herald Square.  

I take an improv class, or I rehearse a play, or I see a play… something like that…  

And then I take the 2-3 back to Franklin Ave. Still emailing, writing lesson plans, applying for jobs. 

I consider making plans with some friends but I feel too busy and exhausted.

I was productive, though, wasn’t I? I am ready to wake up at 6AM the next day and continue to be a part of the ever-moving machine. 

 

 

….

But then the machine stopped. 

On Sunday March 15, 2020, everything was cancelled, paused, sheltered-in-place.

I tried to keep my ever-moving machine “on” as I sheltered in Crown Heights. I was privileged to still have a few virtual jobs and endless zoom activities. So I facilitated synchronous and asynchronous zoom drama sessions, devised theater online, read the news and twitter, delivered people groceries, listened to podcasts…

But I didn’t feel the “productive” movement that I desperately wanted.

I just felt overwhelmed and flustered with each zoom meeting, news story, and email. 

What was I trying to produce!? What would make me feel USEFUL!!? I WANTED TO ACCOMPLISH SOMETHING MORE!!!! 

Then

                      After five weeks

                                                                 I walked to Prospect Park 

                                                                                                                            Without headphones. 

I walked up the steps to Lookout Hill where I could see 5-mile stretches of the city.

I took a breath through my masked face: that rare, long breath that I had not felt since entering a classroom to teach.

The ambulances, blossoms, and birds moved all around my very still body. 

I felt uncomfortable, but I kept breathing until I did not feel the fury and anxiety that made me want to move. 

I was still. 

I felt pain. 

Pain that I so often denied myself. 

I took out my journal that is usually filled with to-do lists, ideas for plays, and lesson plans. 

And I wrote. 

I wrote about teaching artistry: In this time of crisis as I teach virtually, emotional check-ins and just chatting with students are vital. It is not about “getting things done” but about connecting with one another. In addition to zooming with students, the most impactful zoom interactions have been with fellow educators. These interactions have not been about lesson plans and curriculum goals, but about how we are feeling: about Schitt’s Creek & Tiger King, Marie’s Crisis Cafe, and our favorite books, recipes, and scrabble words. Our conversations have been about who we are: not about what we are doing and accomplishing. 

I wrote about social change: Takiema Bunhe-Smith was a keynote speaker for the virtual Face to Face conference on April 15. She said that supporting individuals going through trauma is vital to work as a teaching artist, but we also have to think about the systems in place that affect trauma. The pandemic has laid bare the inequities of the social, political and economic machine that determine people’s worth through their “productivity” and profit. This machine perpetuates white supremacy and oppression that determines who gets to live and die: Black people in New York City are dying at twice the rate of white people. Latinx people are also dying from the virus at much higher rates than white people. The same can be seen through infection rates and hospitalization too.

Sometimes it feels like the ever-moving disparities of our society will never stop. Especially now.

But this machine is made up of people, and I truly have hope that people can change when they begin to see one another as human: when people can reflect on how the system actively dehumanizes some and humanizes others.

Change means our work with individuals: mutual aid, donations, the practice of teaching artistry (where we get to support people to develop their unique creativity in this world!). And change means work on the systemic level: phone calls to government officials, virtual and in-person protests, petitions. People demanding what they need and electing people to dismantle these inequitable systems.

Change means constantly learning and questioning what I think I know.

Instead of being angry, how can I use my agitation and energy to act and take responsibility?

So then I wrote about myself: How I sometimes live in contradiction to the practices of teaching artistry. Teaching artistry can open people to recognize that they do not need to act within the confines of this “productive” machine. With the exception of the joy I felt in a classroom, most of my days were “moving on to the next thing” and not really connecting with other people or myself. Self-care does not involve me only doing Yoga with Adriene, but taking myself into real stillness so that I can reflect on who I am. I spend all this time trying to be productive sometimes without thinking about what I am truly trying to produce. 

At this point in my writing, I closed my journal and my eyes.

And I wept.

I wept for the sick people, for the deaths, for the loneliness, for the hardship, and for our current system that perpetuates this harm. I wept for the cuts to social services, to education, to the arts, for our current leaders, and for a future that feels so bleak. 

But then I wept for resilience.

Because the very essence of teaching artistry is adapting so that we can continue to create, imagine and act on our current circumstance: to problem-solve and explore multiple solutions. 

We specialize in creating stories that we want to see enacted in this world! 

We can use our capacities to produce new machines of love, humanity, and freedom, not only in our classrooms and on zoom, but in our neighborhood, our country, and our world.

 

*****

Meghan Grover is a Brooklyn-based theater artist and educator originally from Cleveland, Ohio. She is passionate about creating original theater with people of all ages. Meghan works with New York City Children’s Theater, Park Avenue Youth Theater, DOROT, Trusty Sidekick Theater Company, CAT Youth Theatre, Bluelaces Theater Company, AMIOS and Hook & Eye Theater Company. Meghan is also a co-founding member and facilitator of the Defrost Project where she creates community-based art with residents of small towns in Minnesota. She is a Moth StorySLAM winner and GrandSLAM performer. Meghan graduated from the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater BFA Actor Training Program and is currently getting her MA in Applied Theatre at CUNY. She is extremely grateful to be a part of the Roundtable family and the amazing arts education community!

The Calm During the Storm

By AnJu Hyppolite

Posted on Tuesday, April 21, 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. 

Dear Reader,

Last month, I posted a CALM OVER HYSTERIA piece on my Instagram (IG) page and thought a similar post would be good to share with this community. I wanted to express how I am coping with the loss of lives throughout the world, loved ones who have contracted COVID-19, the shelter-in-place, loss of work, physical distancing, and the 10 trillion other things that cross my mind as this issue persists, while offering hope to the teaching artist community and beyond. As I sit here today on Friday, April 17th, I am at a loss for words. So much has changed since I wrote that IG post on March 15th. At the time, our mayor announced that NYC schools, nightclubs, movie theaters, small theater houses, and concert venues would close, while restaurants and bars would be limited to takeout and delivery.1 An announcement about postponed court cases, a delay in the state’s presidential primary, and an early end to the collegiate academic semester also came across New York City residents’ news feeds.1 By March 20th, New York City’s governor signed an executive order, ordering all non-essential businesses to close and urging residents to stay home if possible.2 The shelter-in-place which at one time was effective through April 15th and then the end of April, has since been extended through May 15th. As government officials learn more about this pandemic, the updates are constant and things are rapidly changing. The incidence and mortality data, which I will not regurgitate, is appalling and saddening. Still, I want to extend hope.

 

When I scribed the IG post, I mentioned that I am choosing the calm during the storm. I wrote about what I planned to do during this time. Productivity was a huge part of that plan. While I have been productive, I realize that productivity is not a reality for everyone. Consistently seeing posts/memes that suggest you are lazy or undisciplined if you’re not writing that bestselling novel (or doing any other grand thing) can lead to feelings of unworthiness. While productivity may be feasible for one person, another individual may need to process feelings. Perhaps journaling may be ideal for that person. Perhaps being still could work for another or indoor gardening for someone else. Whatever you need to do to make sure you are taking care of yourself is exactly what you should be doing at this time, while taking the current climate into consideration and all of the precautionary measures. I am a firm believer that everyone has to do what is best for them—ALWAYS in ALL WAYS.

 

Whatever you take from this, please know that I am not telling you how you should or should not feel, or what to do or not do. I hope to offer beneficial fodder to help you and your loved ones cope during this pandemic.

 

First, a bop poem (bop style created by Afaa Michael Weaver).

 

You Are the Calm 

by AnJu Hyppolite

 

your inner child, a prisoner, looks through a shattered window

at a colorless sky—an offer of somber decay

poisonous smoke imbibed

intoxicatingly haunting a feverish embrace 

that coaxes you to dance

longing to return to the green of your heart

 

You are the calm during the storm

 

muffled voices dazzle you rhythmically

into the dark womb of seclusion

a fire that once burned nightly is doused

broken days come bearing ice

bringing mired morning dew

sinister laughter lingers in an echo

of ghostly reverberations haunting you back

here is the past you could never escape

 

You are the calm during the storm

 

remember you are magic

hold on to your peace 

grounded in rooted joy,

let it be your vast ocean of calm

celebrate your breath—it is sacred, 

a blossoming flower that stops you in your frenzy

 

You are the calm during the storm

 

There is so much in this life that is beyond our control. Our breath is something we can control. Because there is an involuntary aspect of breathing, it is easy to take it for granted. What makes breathing such an amazing capability is the duality of our respiratory muscles: voluntary and involuntary control. Additionally, breath is a sign of life and when voluntary control is underway, it can be used to ground oneself to eliminate stress and anxiety in the body. What a special ability we have!

 

My fervent wishes for you and your loved ones: Safety and health. 

 

My offer: Find what works for you and no matter what, go back to your breath. It will always ground you, bringing you to the present moment and yourself.

 

With calming hope and love,

 

AnJu 💚☥💚

 

1 New York City to Close Schools, Restaurants and Bars

2 Coronavirus in NY: Cuomo issues stay-at-home order for New Yorkers 

*****

AnJu Hyppolite is a Brooklyn-born award-winning actor, writer, and educator who works at the intersection of theater arts, literacy advocacy, and social equity. She is a Lakou NOU artist-in-residence with Haiti Cultural Exchange. AnJu uses meditation practices, yoga, and her spiritual beliefs to cultivate the life she wants and knows she deserves.

Keeping the He(ART) Alive: Adapting and Setting Boundaries

By Lauren Extrom

Posted on Thursday, April 16, 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. To view other blogs in the series, please click here.

—–

My grandfather (who was already quite sick before the virus arrived in the states) went into hospice care in his home in early March, before the stay-at-home orders were put in place, so I decided to take a trip to the suburbs of Chicago to say goodbye to him and to visit with family. I didn’t realize that my planned trip of five days would turn into a month-long trip, with little to no idea of when I would be able to return to my apartment—my life—in Brooklyn. 

I went over to his house, sang to him with my sister, and visited with family on the evening of March 11th. The next morning, I learned that he had passed away in his sleep. We planned to hold funeral services the following weekend but had to cancel due to the restrictions on public gatherings. Now my grandfather is sitting on our dining room table, cremated, silently reminding us of the impact he had on our lives. 

I’m not sure if any of us have processed it. I wish I could hug and comfort my family members who took care of him until his day of passing, but, unfortunately, hugging is not really an option in our culture anymore. So, we just take each day as it comes, do our best to remember that death ultimately is a part of life, and try to stay focused on our priorities. 

~~

Social distancing. Hand sanitizer. Business closures. Unemployment. Stay-at-home orders. Quarantine. Pandemic. 

All of this terminology has become such a large part of our everyday vocabulary, yet I still find it difficult to comprehend that all of this is actually happening. 

Whether we work on the frontlines or from home, it is safe to say that this virus has affected all of our lives in some way. My mom still goes to work as a nurse administrator at a hospital just outside of the city and is required to wear a mask all day. My dad still drives downtown every day to go to work at a small law office; two of his coworkers recently got sick with what they think is the coronavirus, but my dad still goes to work because he is 65 and is worried he may not have a job after the pandemic ends. My sister works from home but is worried about losing her job due to increased layoffs. I just finished graduate school and was in the process of interviewing for jobs in NYC, but now I am unsure of my next steps toward future employment in the arts. This pandemic is now a part of our reality, and as much as I wish it weren’t, I must accept it. 

I recognize that I am much more fortunate than most during these times; I have a loving family whom I can stay with outside of NYC and will be receiving financial support from them until I can find some sort of remote work. If it weren’t for them, I’m not sure how I would be able to pay my rent for my apartment in NYC and put food in my stomach. I’m very grateful to have this time with my family, and I certainly don’t take that time for granted. 

Still, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t miss the solitude I usually have access to in my apartment, and to the artistic community that I am a part of in NYC. For me, my practice as an artist is a personal one and is often done in solitude when I am not performing or collaborating with others. I would spend hours in a practice room if I could, writing songs and practicing music and monologues, all of which usually involves a lot of self-acceptance, weird vocal exercises, and silly faces and tongue shape examinations in the mirror. Although I have a piano here in my parents’ house and can isolate myself in my childhood bedroom to do some writing, I can’t deny that I have had to make some adjustments to my routines and artistic goals as a result of my new living situation. 

When it comes to boundaries, I used to be a doormat. It wasn’t until I started following emotionally intelligent trailblazers such as Brené Brown and Elizabeth Gilbert that I began to see boundaries as essential to any relationship, especially my relationship with myself. 

Here are a few of the ways in which I have tried to set healthy routines and boundaries around my artistic practice while living with my family. Every day is certainly not the same, and no matter what, I try to be kind to myself as I navigate my new living situation. I also know that every artist’s at-home situation is going to be different, so not all of these ideas will work for everyone. Regardless, I try to keep these ideas in mind as I tackle each day: 

  • I try to let my family members know about my schedule. If I want to spend an hour (or more) undisturbed in my room to do some writing, I will let them know ahead of time so that they don’t assume that something is wrong or that I am ignoring them. I also will let them know when I plan to practice the piano and/or sing, as I will inevitably be heard by everyone in the house, no matter what room they are in. And on that *note*…
  • I try to set and stick to a schedule for myself. I won’t lie—this took me about a week or so to get used to, as I’m used to having a different schedule every day in NYC. For me, this schedule always starts with a yoga and meditation session (I even wear ear plugs so I can try to tap into my peace even while my sister’s dog is wildly barking downstairs). I also only check in on the news in the late afternoon and again later in the evening, after I’ve spent some quality time on my projects. And, at the end of each day, I’ve started to have solo dance parties and literally shake off all of the energy I don’t need to hold onto anymore.
  • I try to nest into my working space. The more I can feel at home away from my home in NYC, the more vulnerable I can be with myself in my artistic practice. I’ve even considered putting up inspirational quotes on my walls in my bedroom, just how I have done in my room in NYC, so that I can remember that no matter where I go, my passion for my art is always with me.
  • I try to tap into other artistic disciplines when I feel stuck in my own. Part of the reason why I enjoy my little dance parties is so that I can get out of my head and into my body, which is something that really helps me let my music compositional ideas flow through me instead of building up inside of my head.
  • I try to remind myself that my artistic practice is my own, no matter what others may think. It can be easy to let a loved one’s comment or opinion of your artistic practice get on your nerves, especially if you’re not used to having an audience tuned into your practice session. I couldn’t tell you the number of times someone in my family has said, “Oh, why don’t you sing something for us?” when I just wanted to practice in peace.
  • I try to stay in touch with my other artsy friends. Seriously, I have never been more grateful for technology. Between virtually watching a play with two of my actor friends, to participating in a Zoom chat with my fellow choir members, it really helps to share ideas and struggles with those in my artistic community.
  • I try to set mantras to live by each day to lift my spirits. I am a huge fan of personal mantras, especially as it relates to my artistic practice. For me, my practice as an artist requires me to be very vulnerable with myself. If I feel that the people in my space don’t respect or understand that, I internally coach myself through my mantras so I can stay focused and not let my insecurities distract me from practicing.
  • When in doubt, I try to stay resourceful and open-minded. As much as I would love to belt my heart out during my practice sessions, my sister works from home and is on calls for most of the day. Therefore, I have started to educate myself more on music history and vocal pedagogy topics through YouTube videos and documentaries on Netflix. Even if I can’t practice in all of the ways I would like to, I can at least educate myself more in my artistic discipline.

It has taken some time, but I do think that I have been able to garner a lot of respect from my family members regarding my artistic lifestyle. Because I am the only working artist in my household, it can be challenging to explain what I do and why I do it. However, my family really does support me and has given me space to practice when I ask for it. 

In some households, this might not be the case, and therefore boundaries may not be respected. If this is the case for you, past experience has shown me that bargaining can actually be quite useful. Proposing ideas such as, “I will walk the dog later if we can keep the news off or on mute while I practice the piano for 30 minutes” allows both parties to feel respected and cared for. 

Additionally, if you are struggling to find some quiet space in your current quarantine location (depending on what restrictions currently reside in your area), perhaps it is possible for you to go on a brainstorming walk outside, or even listen to some music to circulate your thoughts. At times, even just being in a different room from others for a few minutes can help establish a sense of personal space, so that you can check in with yourself and your energy levels. 

Ultimately, I’m trying to see this time as an opportunity to dive deeper into how I approach my art form, because I’ve had no choice but to get creative with it. And, who knows: perhaps by sharing our artistic practices with those in our households, we may find that we even grow closer to them, or inspire them to get in touch with their artistic sides as well. We could all use a bit more art in our lives these days, anyway.

*****

Lauren Extrom (she/her/hers) is a practicing artist, arts administrator, yogi, and aspiring teaching artist. Though she considers herself a dancer and a storyteller, she tends to identify mostly as a vocalist/musician/composer/lyricist. She received her BA in Music and American Studies from Boston University, and she recently received her MA in Performing Arts Administration from NYU. When not practicing social distancing, she resides in NYC and sings as a solo cabaret vocalist, as well as a back-up vocalist in an indie rock band. She also travels to Boston to rehearse with a non-profit choir, VOICES 21C. Lauren is currently working on a few video editing projects for her friends, and is also orchestrating a musical album, which she hopes to release later this year.

Contact: lae315@nyu.edu

Website: https://laurenalyssaextrom.weebly.com/

You’re Not Going to Write King Lear and That’s Okay: On Finding Empowerment Through Art for Art’s Sake under Covid-19

Teaching Artists Speak Out: Blogs from Quarantine. Post by Chelsea Asher. Background image: NYC apartment building and blue sky.

By Chelsea Asher

Posted on Tuesday, April 14, 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. To view other blogs in the series, please click here.

—–

Teaching artists are no stranger to the American hustle culture – if anything, it’s the nature of the work we do. In New York City, we’re on and off trains, buses and subways. We’re in and out of classrooms, federal institutions and midtown buildings. We’re on late night and early morning weekend calls and basically just doing the whole damn lot. Before I was faced with the reality of losing many of my employment opportunities, sudden social distancing, and isolation, you might have caught me saying, “Well, if only I had more time, I’d be able to finally write my novel.”

The nature of the pandemic has forced many of us to interrogate truths we ordinarily wouldn’t have had to. This looks different for everyone, and has been particularly poignant, as ever, for communities living below the poverty line. As a teaching artist, I am anxious about the impact a recession will have on arts education and our students, as well as the pressure on many artists to hustle: to commodify and monetize their newfound “free time” toward an unattainable benchmark of success.

“Just a reminder that when Shakespeare was quarantined because of the plague, he wrote King Lear,” musician Rosanne Cash, and many other Twitter users along with her, began as the pandemic was actualized in the states. Thomas Nashe wrote Summers’ Last Will and Testament and Giovanni Boccaccio wrote The Decameron during historical plagues. Isaac Newton invented his theory of gravity while quarantined and Edvard Munch continued to paint even when he contracted the Spanish Flu.

One could argue that none of these people had access to Hulu or Netflix, but that’s not what’s important. These singular, historical creators are being upheld as the pinnacle example of optimism, goodness and, let’s face it, profit coming from our immediate times of uncertainty and hardship during Covid-19. Can you imagine a cultural standard that drives us, even during an outbreak, to think of how our own pandemics can look successful? Allow me to take the pressure off. Take a breath, unclench your shoulders, and release. You are not going to write King Lear. You probably aren’t even going to write King Lear 2. And that’s more than okay.

Let me pose a different question: when is the last time you created without the idea of product, success or audience in mind? At the start of my social distancing and isolation, I painted for the first time since I was a teenager. As a writer, I can’t explain what drew me to create this way, but as I took to the page with color and made something imperfect, I felt free. I video chatted with friends and colleagues this week and found them answering in the midst of baking recipes from their childhoods, learning guitar for the first time, and taking online dance classes. Lack of time may not have been stopping us from writing a Nobel-worthy novel, but it has kept us from the liberating nature of creating for fun, for experimentation, for solace and, most importantly, for ourselves.

In a time when the hustle is pushing down upon us, when everything remains uncertain, I wonder what our communities would look like if we could take a moment together in solace to start this artistic revolution without the expectation of volume, quality or driving a profit, but by the nature of creation itself? When I video called my friend the other night, she answered in the middle of cooking a harrowing recipe she’d been trying to get right for almost two hours. I laughed and marveled why she was putting herself through it. She just shrugged. “Why not? What else are we supposed to do?”

*****

Chelsea Asher is a writer and educator, living in Queens, NY. She received her MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence college and her work has been featured in Lunch Ticket, Dark Moon Digest and more.

Grief of the Grounded Gig Artist

By Dianna Garten

Written: Monday, March 30, 2020 (quarantine day 10… or 17… or 63… I’m not sure anymore)

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. To view other blogs in the series, please click here.

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I was so excited for March and April. Twenty-nineteen had been a rough year for me; dealing with health issues had made many other things in my life take a back seat. It wasn’t all bad, but I was eager to start 2020 with a fresh outlook and attitude, and by late February, 2020 was going great! I was working on several student shows and had another contract lined up to start  soon, I was in the process of producing my first short film that was set to shoot at the end of March, I was training for my first half-marathon, I was prepping for a large gala, and I had just locked in a plan to take a show to the Edinburgh Fringe! I was feeling immensely hopeful about 2020 and was ready to hustle as hard as I could going into the spring to see all these things to fruition. It felt like I was taking my life back. I was following the news and hearing the updates about Coronavirus, but it seemed far away and possibly many months down the road. By the end of February, it felt closer, but still not imminent.

Then, the week of March 9th, everything changed very quickly.

March 8th: I had finished my last long run, clocking 11 miles and feeling excited for the half- marathon the following Sunday. I joked on social media with another runner about the race getting cancelled, but still felt certain that it wouldn’t happen.
March 10th: Then on Tuesday it did. And the wave of cancellations began.
March 11th: On Wednesday the gala I was prepping for was cancelled.
March 12th: On Thursday the church I attend cancelled services through the end of April, and the bombshell announcement: Broadway closed.
March 13th: Friday. I was working in a school and could sense the uneasiness in the air; the adults were doing the best they could, but everyone was wearing gloves and recoiling from the five-year-olds when they coughed.
I received emails from every off-Broadway theater I had ever attended announcing early closures.
March 14th: Saturday. Many of my friends discussed leaving the city indefinitely.
March 15th: Sunday. Public school closed.

I had been saying all week “If schools are open I have work”, and then suddenly they weren’t and my financial footing became very uncertain.

I quickly began working for a family that reached out to me for help with the kids since private schools were closed and very frank about being unlikely to reopen. This lasted for just a week as the following Friday, March 20th , the limitations on movements of non-essential workers was announced. I had spent a week commuting in a ghost town, struggling to come to terms with being primarily a child care provider again and by the end of the week I didn’t even have that.

One of my many jobs, the one that I have loved the most and poured the most into, had announced early in that week that they wouldn’t be able to pay out contracts with the school closure, the company had lost too much revenue, so all Teaching Artists were out of work a month and half early. Another company promised to pay out accrued sick pay and sent us links and guides to file for unemployment. I was reeling. One of my best friends expressed gratitude for the chance to slow down. In contrast, I was not grateful for any of it. I felt like everything good I had planned and worked towards had been ripped from my hands in a matter of days (the Edinburgh cancellation didn’t come until later, but the end of March brought that too). I had been taking back my life, and it felt like my life had been taken from me instead.

Despite my immense feeling of loss, betrayal, and frustration, I was, and still am, taking this crisis very seriously. I do not doubt any of the measures being taken and after a few days for each cancellation respectively I knew the decision was right. However, I still was deeply disheartened; saddened by all that had changed in a matter of days and uncertain what the next months ahead would hold.

“I had a voice in my head saying that creative inspiration often comes out of trials, so why wasn’t I feeling inspired? Why did my creativity feel sapped?”

Every time I went to social media or my news app I would see a variety of amazing stories about people finding exciting and creative ways to deal with the closures next to analyses and reports that would completely terrify me. I had a voice in my head saying that creative inspiration often comes out of trials, so why wasn’t I feeling inspired? Why did my creativity feel sapped? I was seeing others seemingly using the time to sit down and write, or draw, or sing, or read, or in some other way create what could come to be their magnum opus. Why couldn’t I start?

Despite the feelings of internal and external pressure, I know I am not the only one who has lost something. Many people are facing much more serious losses than me right now. I count myself lucky to have a warm safe home, a family that doesn’t have to go to the front lines, and devices that can keep me connected while inside. Still, I feel the pain of my community around me; closed shows, cancelled residencies, delayed shoot dates, lost jobs. The impact on the arts community has been profound and the future remains uncertain. When your art form is all about bringing people together in a space, what does it mean when gatherings are prohibited? What is theater in the solitary? And what is community when we lack the space to commune? Now, after one full week of working from home, hustling to transform my side chess tutoring job into a more substantial one edging on my main source of income, engaging in zoom call after zoom call, watching the people who held by financial fate in their hands get defensive about questions, I am less inspired than when the crises started. Each day seems to bring new bad news, fears, and disappointments and the time stretches out before us for time unknown.

Yet, I have come to accept one thing which has helped immensely: I do not need to force productivity.

I will continue to work and try tp find ways to keep income coming in, but I needn’t immediately have creative inspiration or feel like a failure. Inspiration is different for everyone. For some these first two weeks may have been the perfect opportunity to get your creativity going. For others like me, it is ok to take time and grieve the things that have been lost whether they were opportunities, plans, shows, or anything else.

It’s ok to be sad and feel the hurt of the dreams that were becoming tangible and now cannot.
You can feel this and still be fully committed to #flattenthecurve.
It is ok to rest and breathe and be wherever you are.
As an artist, I trust that as I adapt to the new temporary normal the creativity will come back.
The theater community and the arts-ed community are adaptive, it’s what we do.
We are only human and our hurt is part of our humanity; we don’t have to worship at the idol of productivity.
This stop has been forced upon us, creativity will not inherently come back when exerted on with that same force.
Be gentle with yourself, give yourself what you need, feel the pain and fear and grief; you are still an artist and your spark will come back. (And if you know any young children who might be interested in chess, put me in touch with their parents, it’s my main gig now.)

*****

Dianna Garten is an NYC based theater director and teaching artist. Her directing credits include The Divorcee ShowerBossa Nova and BeesA FatimaSpinoza’s Ethics, Who am I? and I am Cecil, among many additional staged readings. She has assistant directed Not A GiftPainting His WingsAbortion: A Race Redux, and Skin Deep. Dianna specializes in devising with students and she has partnered with students to create over twenty original plays. She is deeply committed to lifting students’ voices through the vehicle of theater. Her theatrical experience also includes performing and stage-managing. She has worked with youth throughout New York City and internationally in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Kigali, Rwanda. She earned her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and my MA in Applied Theatre from CUNY’s School of Professional Studies. diannagarten.com