The holiday season is here once again, and with Thanksgiving being tomorrow, I've started to consider the things that have helped me get through These Pandemic Times. (You can find my past Thanksgiving posts here: Independent Scholars and Podcasting) Of course, my friends and family are top on the list, but for the purpose of this blog, I'm thinking more about the entertainment that has inspired me and carried me through since the pandemic started. Without entertainers and their content, I would have spiraled out of control a long time ago. Below is a list of things that have kept me engaged, inspired, and centered since March 2020.
What pieces of art or entertainment have helped you stay afloat?
Delta Goodrem's Bunkerdown Sessions
When the pandemic began and various parts of the world entered lengthy lockdowns, Australian singer Delta Goodrem let fans into her home - virtually, of course. Every Wednesday night for months I waited up until the wee hours of the morning for her in-home virtual performances (which took place at the more convenient time of Thursday evenings for people who lived in her Aussie time zone). Joined by her boyfriend and performance colleague, Matthew Copley, Delta spent 30-45 minutes playing music and chatting with fans each week. Sometimes there were themes (Disney! Rock! B-Sides!) but my personal favorite was one where she played an absolutely gorgeous string of songs representing each album she had ever released in chronological order, culminating in dropping her first single from her new album Bridge Over Troubled Dreams. Ultimately, Delta and Matthew gave fans nearly 40 weeks of these intimate, partly-improvised, and wonderfully-fun nights. They were the anchor that got me through the darkest times. They gave me something to look forward to each week when everything else was bleak and the days blended into each other. If you have some time to spare, you should check out her music - and some of the Bunkerdown Sessions can be watched here.
Winnie the Pooh Show
As you'll see expanded upon below, I very much missed the theater and love Disney. Actually, though, I love Winnie the Pooh in all of his incarnations from the original A.A. Milne stories through modern shows and films. (One of my oldest stuffed animals is a much-loved and still-adorable Pooh.) In early 2021 when I began to see social media ads for an upcoming off-Broadway production called Winnie the Pooh Show, I desperately wanted to go. I also, however, wasn't sure about two things - whether I should spend the money on the VIB (Very Important Bear) experience and if I would feel ready enough to be in a theater again by the time the show came around in the fall. My family got tired of listening to me talk about these things and, after a few months, told me to just go for it. So, I did. It far surpassed my expectations. The production has a great policy where you can change your ticket dates up to a certain period before the show, which reassured me that if I didn't feel comfortable, I could postpone it. I didn't have to. They have a strict vaccination and mask policy (children too young to be vaccinated can get tested right outside the theater!), so I never worried once I was there.
As for the show? Goodness, it was pure magic. I cannot say enough wonderful things about the cast and the production as a whole. I knew what the puppets looked like from marketing materials, but it didn't truly hit home to me how it would feel to see them live and hear them. Jake Bazel's Pooh voice was so spot on that the moment I heard it I became teary, because it felt as though the Pooh I had watched growing up was there in front of me. Every single cast member beyond succeeded in embodying these classic characters and I noticed that the adult couple to my left was just as transfixed as the children to my right.
As a VIB, I had the opportunity to meet Pooh afterward, and I am forever thankful that my family told me to just do it and go for that experience. I have had interactions with Pooh in Disney parks since the mid-90s, but the thing about him there is that he cannot speak to you. If having a full conversation with your favorite character from childhood that sounds exactly as you imagined it would does not make your inner child and current adult heart overflow with joy, well then, I don't know what to say to you.
I left with Piglet and Eeyore plushies, a bounce in my step, happiness in my heart, memories to last a lifetime, and a desire to go back (which, Reader, I did this past weekend and it was just as fantastic as the first time.) This show is simply a must for anyone, of any age, who has ever loved Pooh and his friends. I cannot fathom that any other production serving as my grand return to the theater would have triggered this level of an emotional response in me, and for that I am eternally grateful to the cast, crew, creatives, and of course Pooh and his friends. Click here for more about the Winnie the Pooh Show.
I love actors, I really do. And the truth is, I don't get to listen to podcasts as often as you would think for someone who has been creating one since 2013. But during the pandemic I started taking very long daily walks. As I wandered my neighborhood for 5 or 6 miles at a time, I alternated between listening to music and finally getting to the interview podcasts I'd saved but hadn't gotten a chance to listen to. I was moved by Cheyenne Jackson on Mayim Bialik's Breakdown, loved that Stark Sands appeared on DRAMA, and most recently enjoyed hearing Jamie Dornan on Variety's Awards Circuit Podcast. But not every podcast I listened to was a new one. Two of my favorites are from several years ago: Jessica Raine and Kate Fleetwood, both on The Honest Actors' Podcast. Few things inspire and ground me like listening to artists talk candidly about their lives and careers, and I attribute one of the reasons I was able to walk so much this year to how engrossed I got in their stories.
Game of Thrones
It's well-documented that I love Game of Thrones and was a die-hard fan from beginning to end (yes, I mean that.) However, since the series ended I hadn't taken the time to revisit it as a whole. Early in 2021, my mother and I decided to do just that. We binged the series, doing almost a full season each day, and examined every aspect of the series with fresh eyes. Segments that I didn't like (House of Black and White and Dorne's failed representation, for example) flew by, while my favorites (literally anything involving the Lannister siblings) were magnificent to watch chronologically again. It may be a severely unpopular opinion, but this re-watch made me appreciate the final season more than I did originally. Yes, 'The Bells' remains my favorite episode, but above all re-watching Game of Thrones was a major comfort because I got to return to one of my all-time favorite fictional worlds and watch it in a condensed fashion that caused the tiniest of details to come into sharper focus. I'm very glad I did it, and not at all apologetic that my Twitter followers had to deal with my series-long chain of tweets during it.
I actually don't remember the last time I went to a movie theater. It wasn't something I did much in the Before Times, but I knew I wanted to see Belfast when it came out earlier this month. The trailer made it clear that it was up my alley ("if I don't love this," I told my family, "they did a bad job with it") - Irish history, with Jamie Dornan and Caitriona Balfe, and shot in black and white. So I took a trip to my local movie theater, in the middle of the day, on a weekday, when I knew there would be few people there and I was able to secure a seat with no one around me. This proved to be a wonderful idea. I completely lost myself in this simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming film, reveled in the layered performances, and left the theater dying to see it again. The 'Everlasting Love' scene has permanently etched itself into my heart in a way most movie scenes don't. Seeing something so moving in the venue where it was meant to be seen really helped me find my creativity again. That night, and most nights since, I've been able to write in a way that just flows. Sometimes all it takes is seeing the right film or show or musical at the right time to provide the inspiration you need. This was a major help there, and I am very thankful for that film and for the fact that I was able to attend it at a safe time.
Earlier this year I did a blog post called 21 Plays to Read in 2021 (or any year). The inspiration for this was simple: although I've spent the majority of my life devouring fiction, I have had a very difficult time focusing when attempting to read novels during the pandemic. I can't exactly explain why it happened, but it was really bothering me. I have so many bound-to-be-wonderful books on my shelf that aren't getting read! But then I realized that I did have the attention span for plays. This was a wonderful discovery because it allowed me to dive into fiction for much shorter periods of time than it took to read a novel and helped me live in a theatrical world during the first time that I have been away from attending a production for so long. I re-read old favorites like Outside Mullingar (John Patrick Shanley) and read for the first time some that I had only seen on stage like Sweat (Lynn Nottage). It was great to feel like I was still in touch with fiction and theater, when my mind and the pandemic had kept me away from both for so long.
It's strange, I know, to say that a mobile game built entirely on the concept of going outside and walking around during the pandemic. The thing is, Pokémon GO adapted brilliantly. Suddenly, I could do everything at home. I was able to participate in events like Community Day, catch special Pokémon, and advance in the game while purposely keeping myself away from high-risk situations. It provided a much-needed feeling of normalcy as everything else was changing.
American Girl books
After I read plays to help me get back into fiction again, I came across the Felicity, Kirsten, and Samantha American Girl books in my basement. Since they are short and I hadn't read them since childhood, it was a fun experience revisiting them with adult eyes. There were plots I remembered immediately and others I had no recollection of from the past. There were aspects of history I thought they handled very well and some I thought could have been more directly/better addressed. Also, above all, I need to apologize to the character of Samantha - who I never particularly liked as a child - but who I actually loved as an adult.
I got on the Schitt's Creek train very late. I knew my friends loved it, but I didn't see it until earlier this year. In fact, I binged the series just in time to watch the finale on the night it aired. I immediately recognized a kindred spirit in Stevie and think I might be some sort of strange hybrid of Stevie and David. I appreciate the hours of entertainment that this show gave me, because it worked wonders for preventing me from thinking about anything from the outside world for a bit.
Disney World (and Disney+) As I said earlier, I've always loved Disney and I've also always loved Disney World, and when the pandemic made it clear that I wouldn't be going anywhere any time soon, I spent a lot of time dream planning the Disney World trip I would take when it was safe to go again. In the meantime, I did a deep dive into Disney+. In 2020, I did a chronological re-watch of the main Disney animated films. In 2021, I watched 100 Disney/Pixar films in 60 days, peppering old favorites in with films (mostly Pixar) that I had never seen before. Then, my family was all vaccinated, my first trip anywhere that involved an overnight stay was down to Disney World. I wanted to make sure that we went while there were still strict restrictions in place (think masking and capacity limits) and felt that the best time to do that was after many schools returned to session and before the 50th Anniversary Celebrations brought mobs to the place. I was correct. I had an absolutely blissful and safe girls trip that truly helped me come home and regroup to get through the rest of this year.
Nostalgia and Stars in the House
The week that theater in New York shut down in March 2020, I saw two productions: Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice off-Broadway and a preview of the Broadway musical Diana. When the announcement was made that everything was ceasing, it was difficult to wrap my head around the idea that I had no idea when I would be in a theater again. I had never gone without seeing something for more than a few weeks since I was 12 years old. So, I started to do a deep dive into old cast recordings of my favorite shows. Then Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley started doing Stars in the House. These charity-benefitting virtual interviews brought some of my favorite former casts together and featured many performers I've adored for years and years. Several of the interviews particularly made me happy, and I would make sure to watch those live instead of on delay. It was great to have a connection to the art and artists whose work has been so influential on my life, even if it was also difficult to think about how the shutdown had no known endpoint. Some of my favorite episodes were the Urinetown cast reunion, The Light in the Piazza cast reunion, Ingrid Michaelson and Will Chase, My First Time: Broadway Debuts, and Cheyenne Jackson.
One thing I've hated during the pandemic is seeing every show on television decide to cover it. For me, television is an escape, and reliving the trauma of what is going on when I watch a favorite show was the opposite of fun. I wanted to should "too soon!" every time I saw a new show going hard for that plot. The only exception to this is Staged. Over the course of two short seasons, David Tennant and Michael Sheen created the only program I have come across that masterfully captures what living through this pandemic is like. Playing heightened and fictionalized versions of themselves, they follow a plot about how they were supposed to be in rehearsals for a play together but once the world shut down they were instructed to continue rehearsing but at their respective homes and through video chats. The result truly follows the many moods and absurd, depressing, and even hilariously-merry moments that occur during the long lockdowns. It was healing to see the pandemic represented in such a raw and relatable way - and it was that relatability that made it so astoundingly funny.