This past Wednesday we kicked-off the first of our bi-weekly Tent Talks with HVSF favorites Jason O’Connell and Kate Hamill and our Artistic Director, Davis McCallum. We will host our next talk Wednesday, May 27 at 3:00pm with actor, writer, and voiceover artist Gabra Zackman. Interested in joining us for the next one?
Where are you two these days? Where are you zooming us from?
Kate & Jason: We’re home!
KH: We’re back at our home in Queens. We were sheltering in place for five weeks? six weeks? in Minneapolis, because I was working on a show there that had gotten closed, like everything else, and then we took an epic, cross-country road trip. [laughs]
JO: I drive, but Kate does not. I’ve never driven more than six hours at a clip, so going from Minneapolis to New York was daunting.
So much has happened since the world premiere of Kate’s PRIDE & PREJUDICE at HVSF in 2017, do you want to share your big news of this year?
KH: January 20 – just under the wire – we got married!
JO: I remember we picked the date, more than a year ago. And I was like January Twentieth, Twenty-Twenty – it just sounds so auspicious. Who knew? But it was honestly good timing! We could have easily wound up trying to put it off because Kate was in previews for her Dracula at CSC. When we knew that was coming along, there was a moment where we thought “do we need to change our personal plans to fit around that?”, but instead we just went full boar, and we were lucky, it was great.
You both are among the busiest people in the American theater. What has the pandemic has meant for freelance artists? What’s the total number of projects that were coming down the pike for you guys that were postponed or cancelled?
KH: In April, I was supposed to have two world premieres: Scarlet Letter at South Coast Rep and Emma at the Guthrie. Emma is indefinitely postponed, I do think the Guthrie Theater will eventually do it, but their season is significantly impacted. They just cancelled all the way until March. Scarlet Letter at South Coast Rep is cancelled.
I think at this point, I’ve had eight plays cancelled. Not all of them were world premieres and a lot of them are published plays with productions that go on without me. And a lot of new plays that have either been postponed, like Emma, the world premieres moved, like Scarlet Letter is now going to be at the McCarter next season, knock on wood, and I have some other stuff in development that was supposed to come out next year that now is a little bit in flux.
JO: I had about maybe five things – between workshops, acting gigs, and remounts of things – all these different things that were looking like they were coming down the pike for the rest of the year that are either on hold or have gone the way of the dodo bird. [laughs]
But the oddly comforting thing about the moment is that everyone is kind of in the same boat. Everyone is in this suspended moment, it’s not like “oh, my career got affected and there are people churning out plays down the street”. It’s just not the reality.
On certain days when you are in the right frame of mind, there’s a very zen way to approach it. Like we’re all taking this breath together. And other times you’re like omg another thing is cancelled.
I was saying to someone this morning, it’s like a return to the very beginning of your career when no one is paying you for anything. You’ve got a million things on the burner — ideas you’re developing and considering and trying to make happen — but it’s all a work in progress. In a weird way, it is something I can relate back to — that moment when I wasn’t lucky enough to have so much scheduled and on my plate, but you’re thinking: What can I do to be ready for the future?
KH: It’s funny because one of the few things that is still chugging along is playwriting. I’ve had a couple of Zoom workshops. There is a lot of writing going on, but obviously acting work is non-existent right now.
I want to ask you both an open-ended question. You’re writers and actors, and theater-makers broadly. Do you have any early hunches about what you think the next new normal is going to look like?
KH: I’m someone that is always asking: “What’s the value in what I’m doing? Why don’t I work in politics? Or something that sometimes feels a little bit more concrete?” And what the crisis has taught me is how invaluable theater is. I love watching Netflix and watching movies, but what I miss so terribly is being in a room with people and the catharsis that you have in a community in the gathering. I do think eventually people are going to desperately, desperately need that community and catharsis — they are going to crave it. Personally I am trying to prime the engine and write as much as possible towards that eventuality.
In the meantime, the gap is being filled by Zoom developmental work and other things. There are people that say “Zoom isn’t theater” and I agree, but if takeout and delivery help my local restaurant, then I am still going to do it even if I miss having a sit-down meal.
The exciting thing is that lots of artists, theater makers, and staff have time to sit and pause and go “okay, this is an unwelcome pause, we will have to be rebirthed. How can we come back better and stronger?”. Now is the time to start planning towards what could happen.
JO: Yeah, I think the fears of people saying “oh is this the end of theater”, I don’t believe that for the same reason Kate said — it’s such a need that we have to gather together and experience these things, it’s what makes theater unique. It’s going to be so joyful and electrifying when we are able to do it again.
The last night of the show that got cancelled right before I went to Minneapolis to be with Kate was this Amadeus I was doing at Syracuse Stage. We opened and closed on the same night and knew that was going to be the case, but we did have an audience. They were being safe and responsible, but it was a big audience and it was an electric moment because everybody knew this was the last we are going to get of this for a while. It was so special and unique because of the people who were in that room.
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We ultimately filmed the performance and made it available as a webcast for people to purchase. We were going to film it that night whether we had an audience or not. It was like “well we are going to shut down, maybe we won’t have an audience on opening, but we will gather together and do a rehearsal, a performance for the cameras.” And it would have been great, but it wouldn’t have been half of what it was with the people in that room experiencing it with us.
Have you developed any quarantine rituals? Anything that you’re doing now that you recommend as a survival technique for the rest of us to take on?
KH: We try to walk every day, we find if we do not get outside, we start to go completely insane. [laughs] I don’t know if it’s a coping mechanism, but we’ve started to cook elaborate meals all the time. All the sudden, stuff that I was like “Why would I ever make coq au vin, it takes like eight hours?!”. Like many theater people, I am a project-based person, so cooking is like having a lot of small projects. [laughs]
I was just reflecting to Jason, that two months ago, he was still in performance and I was still in rehearsal. So we are still adjusting to a new normal.
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JO: This isn’t a ritual, but being kind to yourself. If you can only muster the energy to get one or two things done in a day that’s okay. It’s exhausting — mentally and emotionally. You bring groceries in and its a two-hour process of cleaning and washing and you’re drained by the end. We tend to beat ourselves up for not being as productive as we were two months ago, and that way madness lies. It’s only natural that you have to stop and take a breath and be kind to yourself.