Staying creative during quarantine can be challenging. New work conditions with more, or less, distractions and commitments, fewer in person arts and entertainment opportunities in your community, and an atmosphere of stress and uncertainty can all negatively affect creativity. In this interview, Nic Morse, Digital Media Specialist (and our in house illustrator!) checks in with Vincent Carlson, a PhD student in Theatre at Illinois to chat about what creativity and engagement with the arts looks like for him during COVID-19.
Can you give us a little background on your higher education journey thus far?
After my BA in Theatre (2004), I continued to work professionally as an actor and director for about 10 years. I then got my MA in British Literature (2017) as I was the Artistic Director of a regional Shakespeare theatre. I left that theatre in 2018 to pursue a PhD - I was accepted in 2019 at the University of Illinois.
What got you into this creative field and what motivates you as a creator?
I was an actor in high school and college, and have worked as an actor and director for 19 years. I am an artist who feels strongly about the theatre as an essential part of the health of our society and a tool for our communities. Storytelling is innately woven into the fabric of our lives - it is how we connect and inspect our lives: our pasts, present, and futures. It is how we discover and express our humanity, the diversity and extremes of who we are and what we do as people in this world.
What challenges has COVID-19 brought to the theatre community that the general public may not realize?
All theatres have been paused. And that is not a new thing in the history of theatre. Theatres have been shut down because of plague before - sometimes for years at a time. But theatre as an art form is resilient and necessary. People return to the theatre. And we'll do so again. How we do so, in what ways we do so, and why we need to do so is being discussed by artists everywhere.
Also, theatre artists right now - a lot of them have lost their jobs - or jobs adjacent to producing theatre - building and food services. Additionally, many artists supplement their seasonal income with food industry jobs or temporary work that has been suspended by the pandemic. So a lot of artists are unemployed right now. It is not only putting a strain on the economy and entire industries - theatre/arts, education, and food services - but the pandemic is having an unforeseeable impact on individual lives.
What have you been doing to stay creative during the era of COVID?
I am at a great advantage where, as a PhD student, I am able to study and read and write just as I was before. I have similar, if not the exact same, access to people and resources as I did before the shutdown. I also am employed through the university as a teacher, and the move to remote learning, while challenging, has been a much-appreciated financial security. As far as creativity - I miss going to the theatre and to the cinema. I am watching all the TV shows and movies and the live streams of theatre productions like everyone else - but I believe in the power of being in the same room as a community - as a group of people. So I yearn for that again.
But in the meantime, I have sort of situated my time as an incubation period - I am reading and watching a lot of material. I am writing, and I have participated in a number of play readings with friends over Zoom. So I am trying to stay connected, while also catching up and receiving a lot of content. At the same time, I do believe it is necessary to hit pause. The world is in crisis, and it's not just the pandemic. I am using this time to reflect and listen and learn - and to think about what type of artist and teacher and friend and human I want to be in the world as we crawl towards an uncertain future.
It's necessary to stop and see where you are at times. And now is a good time to do so, And I recognize my privilege in being able to do so because of my position with the university. That is not lost on me. I am thankful for that.
Do you have any advice for graduate students or anyone who may be in a creative slump due to quarantine?
You can always produce something creatively. Write for yourself. Read more. Write a poem or a scene for a play. Share it with friends. Receive the content that the world has to offer. Books and comics and podcasts and streaming music - there is so much out there to receive. You can be productive if you want, but you don't have to manufacture output. Productivity can be finishing the book you want to read. Starting and writing a journal. Supporting a charity or social organization through various avenues. Rest and recover. Have conversations with yourself, your family, your community. Productivity can be making sure that you are healthy and ready to connect in the way that is most helpful for yourself and your world.
This interview was conducted by Nic Morse, Digital Media Specialist here at the Graduate College. Nic came to the Graduate College after owning his own production company in town called, Protagonist Pizza Productions and is now working on videos, graphic design, and motion graphics for Higher Education at Illinois.