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The Pandemic Pivot: Coronavirus Vs. Creativity

Cover image for podcast episode

Today, a story about how creativity persists, even in a pandemic.

Because like a river that snakes its way around rocks, creative juices don’t just stop flowing when hit with obstacles. Often, creativity just finds a way around things.

When the coronavirus hit, Katie Harroff didn’t waste any time. Like, at all.

While most people were still scrambling to figure out how to live their new lives in quarantine, Katie not only got right back to work for her day job, but she also did something kinda nuts.

She relaunched her own theater company.

This is the last episode of "The Pandemic Pivot" popup podcast. Listen to all the episodes in the limited-run series here: https://www.kpbs.org/pivot

Support future pop-up project like this by becoming a KPBS member: http://www.kpbs.org/donate

Title: The Pandemic Pivot: Coronavirus Vs. Creativity

Description:

Photo:

Creativity can only be ignored for so long.

But for those who have the creativity bug bad….

It’s an itch that just has to be scratched…

Creativity demands it...even in the worst of times. In fact, sometimes the worst of times makes the itch, well, even itchier.

*********Clip 22 Got Her Out of Her Comforting Groove
the thing that I feel really grateful for is that now more than ever I know that I will never stop making art. I mean, this whole thing is happening and I'm more prolific in creating artistic opportunities than I've been in three years.
When the pandemic hit, Katie Harroff didn’t waste any time. Like, at all.

While most people were still scrambling to figure out how to live their new lives in quarantine, Katie not only got right back to work for her day job, but she also did something kinda nuts.

She relaunched her own theater company.

Let me say that again….Katie dusted off the live performance company she founded nearly a decade ago, and decided to reboot it… in the middle of a pandemic….when live shows aren’t even a thing anymore.

And, actually, it’s going great.
Clip 3 coronadiaries
My name is Katie Haroff. I'm the artistic director of circle, circle dot dots and we are proud to present the second installment of. The Corona diaries for your viewing pleasure right here live on Facebook.
Using Facebook Live as their digital medium of choice, circle circle dot dot has now pulled off three successful “Corona Diaries” shows.
Clip 1 coronadiaries
Randy is playing a game. Until Alex burst into the room. Randy, I told you, you cannot let mama just stay in there and watch Fox news all day. Your legs are trumps like her boyfriend. Oh, first, Ooh and no. It's a bunch of lies and conspiracy theories and does nothing but make her anxious.
And in no time at all, Katie and her circle dot cohort have rocketed themselves into the position of being experts in the largely uncharted world of live digital performances.

Clip 14 Have become the specialists
Now we're kind of the, the. specialists at this, especially in the world of theater, like I'm having meetings now with the theater forward group and random organizations from across America have like set up calls with me to just talk about how we're doing this because I think the majority of this world just sort of froze. in fear with all of this started, which makes total sense. And I don't, again, I don't know why I did it. Have that feel it. I was just like, I have to keep working.
BEAT

From KPBS, I’m Kinsee Morlan, and you’re listening to The Pandemic Pivot, a pop-up podcast about how our community is coming up with innovative ways to navigate our new lives with COVID-19.

Today, a story about how creativity persists, even in a pandemic.

Because like a river that snakes its way around rocks, creative juices don’t just stop flowing when hit with obstacles, often, creativity just finds a way around them.

MIDROLL 1

So, Katie is the programs manager at The Old Globe in Balboa Park.

And when California businesses were told to close down, The Old Globe immediately canceled all live events and started doing things online. And the theater company did it without hesitation.

Clip 3 The Old Globe Went Online Quickly
I don't know what kind of switched with us, but we worked really, really ridiculously fast. Um. To the point where the week after the, the rules had changed to stay at home. We had programs up, so we had programs up and online streaming within a week of the, of our office getting shut down. Um, and that's been really fabulous because we were able to, to build our online presence, and that's making a huge difference in the world of the globe.
So... in the early days of the coronavirus chaos, that new online work was keeping Katie busy.

But then she got that feeling. That itch. You know; the emptiness inside when you’re a creative person and you’re not feeling totally fulfilled. All of the big collaborative community events she had put together for The Globe this year were now cancelled. Gone in an instant. So that was a total gut punch.

Plus, Katie lives alone. So her isolation has been particularly, well, isolating. And the silence has actually acted more like an amplifier for the voice of her inner artist.

Do something! it kept screaming.

So… she did.

BEAT

Katie decided to relaunch circle circle dot dot, the community theater company she and her cofounder Soroya Rowley started back in 2011.

Clip 16 Her Coping Mechanism Is To Do Creative Work
Time has changed in this world and. I T I still, I feel that like every day we as human wanna work, to, to, to feel like we are, you know, filling our buckets appropriately and passionately. And, and that just hasn't changed for me. And when you're alone and not kind of at, at the expense of another person's emotional, uh. Rollercoaster. You tend to have a lot of time to deal with yourself, and I guess that's why I'm running a little theater presentation through my company that was dormant for two years and working full time at the same time.
BEAT

Katie and Soroya started circle circle dot dot nearly a decade ago. It’s community theater, but not in the shoestring-budget, low-quality performances of “Guys and Dolls” way you might be imagining.

Circle Dot only presented original work. And the plays they performed were written in collaboration with real people in San Diego who were living the real stories they were writing and performing.

And the work the little theater company undertook was edgy and interesting.

My favorite was “Deconstruction of a Drag Queen,” a play Katie wrote in collaboration with drag queen Anthony Diaz.

Clip: https://www.kpbs.org/news/2012/apr/13/behind-scenes-deconstruction-drag-queen/

The theater company was getting lots of attention and praise for their work. But when Katie’s cofounder started grad school, and she got the full time gig at the Globe, they both decided it was time to put the project on the backburner. Until further notice.

They had no idea the further notice would come in the form of a global pandemic.

BEAT

Clip 4 Why Not Relaunch Her Theater Company Online too?
Once again, I don't know where I got the energy or the drive or the motivation, but I just called up Sariah and we had this conversation about where we both were, um, and how this moment made us feel, how it kind of took away all of the things that we were working towards, um, in our world of art making. And I just asked her, I said, you know, I think it would be really easy. To present something through our Facebook page. I'm inspired by this moment right now,
Katie went to her dormant circle circle dot dot Facebook page and posted a call for submissions. She asked people to write simple, short plays that reflected life right now under quarantine.

She wasn’t expecting what happened next.

BEAT

Clip 5 Was Surprised By the Big Response
So I was so surprised that when I, when I made that post with an open call of submissions, I thought the easiest thing we can do is get two person scenes, have them be really short, and then we can present readings with a split screen. Um, and I bet a lot of people have a lot of thoughts about what's happening right now. And I have gathered a lot of really fabulous playwriting friends throughout my time working with the globe and with circle. Um, and I felt like people needed an outlet. And that Tuesday was when we did our call for submissions. And the deadline to submit was by the following. The following Friday. So I thought I'd get like six or seven. I got 70,
BEAT
Clip 6 Just Realized We're Gonna Keep Doing This
I just realized right away. Okay, people want this, they need it. Um, we're going to present that. We're going to present 12 of these for the very first installation, and then we're going to just do it again until. We run out of presentable material or this ends or it no longer becomes viable.
MULTIPLE BEATS/TRANSITION
COVID-19 has completely devastated the theater industry.

Andréa Agosto is an actress in San Diego. Right when the pandemic hit, she had just closed a show and was getting ready for her next big thing. But the thing...it never came.
Clip 1 Lost All Income Is Stressed Out
I had all these auditions lined up so I could finally know, fill up my calendar, and then, you know, my day job got shut down and then, and I was like, well, maybe, maybe theater might be okay. All of my auditions got canceled. I had some gigs that I had set up with my agents. Those all got canceled. So it was like, Oh, I ha, I went from having, you know, this extra source of income that I needed to not having it anymore. And my day job, like I'm a teacher and unfortunately my district voted to get rid of 237 of us, so I will be laid off at the end of this school year. So I'm just kind of like. Scrambling because like my day job's going to be going away and now I don't have anything on my theater or acting docket right now, so I'm a little, a little stressed out.
circle circle dot dot was one of the first theaters Andrea worked with when she moved to San Diego a few years back. She’s kept in touch with Katie and circle dot ever since.
Clip 2 Got The Notification From Circle Dot
luckily I, you know, got the notification from their page that they were looking for. For writers and actors, and I was like, I can act and you know, I'll write something. It's, you know, pretty brief, like, you know, not going to have to write anything full length or even 10 pages, I can handle that.
Andrea wrote a piece for, and acted in the first Corona Diaries digital show. She says it gave her a creative outlet, right when she needed it most.

Clip 3 Keeping Creative, Even Using Tik Tok
'I’m really sad. Um, just to be seeing the fact that, you know, everybody's talking about the theaters are staying closed. And for me, theater has always been a place of refuge, a place of safety, a place of creativity and freedom. And I, not having that is making me try to find, of course, other outlets as all artists are doing at this time. So if I'm not doing Corona diaries or I'm not, you know, participating. And something else that's online or teaching online. I'm trying my best to keep my performance skills up by doing tick talks, if that makes any sense.

So Andrea got some of what she needed from Corona Diaries.

But now she’s intent on keeping her digital performances going. So, she’s actually turned to tik tok, the wildly popular short video sharing app used mainly by teens.

Here she is acting out some pre-recorded dialogue, something that lots of people do on Tik-Tok because it’s just silly and kind of fun.

ANDREA TIK TOK CLIP

Andrea says if theater is dead for the rest of the year, the first thing she’ll do is crash and mourn. Then, she says she’ll scrape herself up off the floor and find a way to stay creative.
Clip 4 Keep Creating Somehow
If theaters don't open for the rest of the year, I, I will cry. I'm just going to be for real. I will definitely cry for a few days. Um, and then I will go back to making tik toks, um, and trying to. Match, meet up with people online, like, do you want to write something? Do you want to work on something else? I do have friends that are, we're exchanging plays right now, so we're writing, sitting each other work, giving each other feedback. So we kind of made a little playwright coalition for ourselves
MULTIPLE BEATS/TRANSITION

On top of needing her own creative outlet to continue through Coronavirus, Katie quickly realized that other people like Andrea also not only needed that outlet, but they needed income, too.

For now, Katie still has her day job at The Old Globe, so she’s in a position to help at least some of the local out-of-work performers and playwrights.

If her own creativity is what initially fueled her fire to relaunch circle circle dot dot, her desire to help other theater people is what’s keeping it going.

Clip 7 Realized She Could Help Others
There's just no jobs specifically that are shaped for performing artists in this city, specifically at this moment. So I also figured both through the programming with the globe and with the circle opportunities that every opportunity I could make can be other people's opportunities. Pretty quickly. Um, and so since I'm in the position, thank God where I currently still have work though, who knows how long it'll last or how many months or weeks I have left of that. But while I'm in this position of having income, I have just been tried really hard to find income for other people.
BEAT

Clip 8 Actors Wanted Something To Do
I got actors personally reaching out to me, asking if they could be a part of it. This is before they even knew there might be a monetary element of it. I'm just bored to tears looking for things to do, looking for places to have some exposure at this time. Um, and wa while people started reaching out to me, I just thought, you know. We could do like a digital tip jar kind of situation.
BEAT
Katie has held three Corona Diaries online shows so far. Each one smoother, and better produced than the last. And each one drawing bigger crowds than the one before.
Clip 4 coronadiaries
This is for the actors. More than anything, today's performance is going to be shared by some of the most fabulous local actors. I am so grateful to know if you enjoy their performances. Today, we are soliciting donations at our Venmo accounts, which is circle, circle, underscore.dot.
The online audiences have been great so far. Katie says each show has brought in enough money to make it worth it for the actors.
And the digital shows are fun. They did an x-rated version of Corona Diaries a few weekends ago, and the plays were a fantastic mix of raunchy, weird and hilarious.
But it’s not all stardust and rainbows. Not being able to do the thing they do, largely because it involves the energy of making art with other humans while standing on stage in front of a live audience...it’s been hard. Katie misses it.
*****Clip 21 Misses The Sound of Crowds Laughing
When anybody ever asks me right now what I'm missing. Um. I guess I miss hearing large groups of people laugh and it, and that's a funny thing that I never really realized that I got so much from until this exact moment. Um, I love making large people groups of people laugh, whether it's through a play I wrote or just like a joke that I told or, you know, I re that's something that I miss every day.
BEAT
*****Clip 20 The Aloneness Was Deafening
I cried after the Carona diaries on Saturday night and it's, it wasn't like a, I devastated kind of cry. It was just like a, this is a moment that. Would usually be different and it's, it's such a weird thing, the world of, of performing arts. But after you have a really good show, you connect even more with the people that were a part of it. You go get beers, you, you talk all night and about that experience. It's a shared sacred experience that is so much fun to like connect with people about afterwards and with these. Little performances there. There's that feeling of like, Oh, I'm connecting with all of these people or this performance, but then when it's over, it's like you shut that, that audio, you shut that video. It's like, Oh, I'm completely alone.
SOUND EFFECT FADE TO SILENCE?
And so the, the alone feeling is kind of deafening after those moments because you realize it's not quite. The whole package that you have really come to love The afterwards is a big part of that. So, yeah, I, I got a little sad.
So Katie and lots of other theater people, they can’t wait to reopen the world.

But for now, in the name of keeping people safe, these online shows are sufficing.

Clip 9 The Next Best Thing
A lot of people have, I think. Found this option as the next best thing. You know, it, it, it's a very involved to the audiences, right? They're commenting and talking to you and the performers kind of get to watch that happen live and then jump in and do a little scene and then jump out and see how people immediately respond to it. Like that's the closest we can really get right now to the, to that feeling of being on a stage. And I had a lot of actors. Say things like, it feel like the adrenaline in the moment is really incredible. And um, and then the money is just a bonus. Like it's not enough to like live in any way. But for some people when they had nothing coming in, to have a little coming in, it just gives a little bit of hope in terms of this isn't going to all go away forever. These doors are gonna open up slowly and surely.
BEAT

Clip 18 Creative Is Who She Is
I am a creative person. I find outlets of creativity in everything that I do every day. Otherwise, I am, I do not feel fulfilled. I mean, this is this moment in my life of working full time with an arts organization and ready a, a small theater company. Um. I am not short on creative outlets. So having those two things are really fulfilled me. But if I did not have those things, I would, I would do it anyway and I would do it for free. And I have all my life one way or another. I find that creative outlet because it's, it's just, it's who I am.
BEATS

To find out how to watch the next Corona Diaries on May 31, search for circle circle dot dot on Facebook.
This is the last of the Pandemic Pivot pop-up podcast. You can listen to all of the episodes in the limited-run series online at kpbs dot org slash pivot. Thanks for listening to the series and, if you liked it or hated it, let us know. Email us anytime at podcasts at kpbs dot org.

The Pandemic Pivot is written, produced and hosted by me, Kinsee Morlan. It’s edited by Alisa Barba. Emily Jankowski is the master of sound design. Lisa Morissette is operations manager. And John Decker is director of programming. Again, thanks for spending time with us.

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