It Is What It Is
Theatre has always been a huge part of my life. When I was a child, a family function wasn’t complete without a performance, carefully planned and directed by me, starring all of my siblings and cousins. My grandfather built scenery out of particle board and 2x4s that I used in my basement playhouse, complete with a clothesline curtain and an appliance box repurposed into a ticket booth. I was a part of every school play, went to theatre camp, produced full-scale backyard productions, participated in tons of community theatre, and spent my weekends holed up in my bedroom listening to cast albums and studying every script, program, book, and video I could get my hands on. After graduating from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University in 2007, I moved right to Manhattan with very big dreams and a very small savings account. I’ve been fortunate enough to be a professional theatremaker for all of my adult life, and I reference my past and my important life moments by what show I happened to be doing at any given moment. Theatre feeds me. Theatre excites me. Theatre devastates me. Theatre fuels me. And in many ways, theatre defines me. March 2020 was a particularly exciting time. Two productions that I directed of The Play That Goes Wrong – a national tour and the Off-Broadway production – were having successful runs, I had just finished my time as the Production Stage Manager of Beetlejuice on Broadway, and I was gearing up for tech rehearsals to begin for Sing Street on Broadway. Then, within minutes, all of that – all of this – got taken away.
When COVID-19 arrived in the United States and New York City began to shut down, we could not believe Broadway was shuttering for a whole month. “Can you imagine how hard it will be to build Broadway back up?!” “How are we going to sit at home for four weeks??” “What are we going to do?!” The pandemic consumed so much energy and so many airwaves. Fear surrounding COVID-19 was escalating fast as we all waded through an abyss of unknowns. My boyfriend, Joey, and I stocked up on toilet paper, ordered groceries for delivery, and my mom sent us homemade masks. In April, we both recovered quickly from mild cases of the virus. The great return of Broadway got pushed back again. And again. This version of life without such a defining part of me was the new normal.
On May 25th, George Floyd was murdered and the country faced another pandemic – one of racial injustice. The demand for equality brought millions of people outside their homes and into the streets for the first time in months. I joined some local marches in Harlem. I ventured to educate myself, to fight for what I know is right, to understand a life experience that wasn’t my own, and to use my privilege and my resources to combat White Supremacy and help achieve equality in our industry and in the world.
Often, I’m asked how I have filled my time and stayed inspired over the last ten months. Wow, I cannot believe it has been that long. I’ve continued to give energy to what I know gives me energy – I have read plays and books about theatre, I’ve watched documentaries and listened to cast albums, and I’ve talked to colleagues about potential future projects. I have dreamed about what the resurgence of our industry might look like, and how I want to contribute to it. I haven’t stopped loving that thing that I love so much.
I have been able to connect with aspiring and established theatremakers all over the globe in ways that we never might have been afforded if it wasn’t for all of this time that we have. I’m grateful for that. For the first time in my adult life, I’ve been able to give significant time and energy to causes that are important to me. As a member of the leadership teams of Broadway for Biden and Claim Our Space Now, I’ve been able to use my skills to help make this country a safer place that is more equitable for everyone, and to amplify voices that are grossly underrepresented. As an Adjunct at Columbia University and SUNY Purchase, my classes have continued remotely and the students have been another source of constant inspiration.
I have worked on a few events remotely, and there are a few more coming up in the next few months. I’ve discovered I’m out of practice – my stamina is not what it used to be and I have to retrain myself to handle full work days! In the Spring, I’ll be heading to Seoul to restage Beetlejuice for its South Korean production. We are busy in remote pre-production and I am very thankful to have the opportunity to work, travel, and to learn.
I’ve found new ways to connect with friends and family. I long for sitting in coffee shops and getting the quiet corner seat in my favorite bars and restaurants, but Zoom, FaceTime, and masked park visits have filled some of that void. My friends motivate me too – they have pivoted, authored books, found new ways to tell stories, and recalibrated their lives. Without a show schedule to fill our evenings, Joey and I have been able to cook dinner and eat it right after we make it – and we get to watch primetime television shows when they actually air! We have let ourselves sleep in, we have taken lots of naps, and we have given the dog more belly rubs than he has ever gotten. I’ve watched so much Netflix (and Hulu…and Disney+…and HBO…), I’m in two books clubs, sometimes I really structure my days and sometimes I just…don’t. For so many years, a 10- or 12-hour day was normal for me, but over the last several months, I think my body has finally learned what actually relaxing is. I need to hold onto that.
One of my favorite sayings is “It is what it is,” and I’m always bringing myself back to that – reminding myself to trust the journey. 2020 was a hell of a year, and 2021 seems to have crashed in like a tidal wave. The fight against the pandemic and the fight for racial justice and equality continue. I want everyone to get the vaccine as quickly as possible. I want to be able to gather. I want to laugh and work and cry and challenge each other and cheer for each other…in person. I want our society to acknowledge our deficiencies, and come together in a way that is truly intersectional so that we can rebuild systems that are suppressive. I’m looking forward to having a new administration in the White House and I’m excited to be a part of the resurgence of live theatre. Though I still spend time worrying – nervous about my future, our future, the future of the industry – and remain anxious about all those endless unknowns, I also spend time counting my blessings and reminding myself of the many things for which I am truly grateful.
In December, I polled friends on Facebook and Instagram to see what people might be interested in reading about on this blog, and I have a long list of ideas! For now, I’m off to plan meals for next week – I’m starting the Whole 30 (my third time!). Give yourselves a little extra love today. We could also use it right now. More soon. In the meantime, let’s all enjoy the majesty that is Stephanie Mills in the original Broadway production of The Wiz.