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We Must Have an Honest Response to Coronavirus’ Impact on Working Class Artists in Chicago

This Op-Ed is unique in that it is exemplary of the immediate thoughts in Week 4 of the pandemic by Prop Thtr Artistic Director, Olivia Lilley and Poet/Astrologer, Jeannette Gomes. Their thoughts were intertwined and edited for readability by Scapi staff. You can read the full raw transcript after the jump.

“How are you?” has become a loaded phrase these days. I’m stable, I have enough money right at this moment to survive, but you never know.

When the idea first occurred to me that an infectious disease could confine us Americans to our homes, I was a little alarmed.

The first thing that affected me and my work at Prop Thtr was someone, a very good friend of mine, very early on decided not to attend our rehearsals, and all the other rehearsals she was involved with for fear of this happening.

I didn’t quite know what to make of it. I know this person has an incredibly good and informed judgement, and so I took it seriously obviously but also was very conscious as the leader of a rehearsal room. As a director, the impulse to stay calm and be level-headed about this was reflexive so though I was in a state of confusion, I needed to be the strong one. 

So I was the strong one, and it all started happening. I had to detach myself to continue to be the strong one, whatever that means. For a while we had to make huge decisions about postponing while, like many artists in the city, I also work at a restaurant so then it was kind of- It was actually kind of a relief to go there and not have to be the strong one. For me personally, that was huge to have that switch of roles especially in that first week.

Of course, as things developed, my role as one of the leaders of the Thtr also played outward as the theater community at large made steps forward.

It made me realize that at some point instead of being the strong one there needs to be some level of prevention for, I don’t know, hustling without thought.

I think theaters have a lot of gushing expenses right now and the smart ones are definitely getting the artists what they need, artists and staff, for the work that they’ve done. But also, a bunch of theaters in Chicago have been talking and exchanging ideas across various Zooms and Go To Meeting platforms and it’s been really nice to see how everyone is thoughtfully addressing the issues. I feel like people are still in a very planning and like trying to poke holes in their planning kind of phase. This is what they should be doing, in my opinion.

While it’s important that we’re all thinking and talking, I think we could all slow down a bit In terms of the output.

It is true, though, that the time of crisis has made it so that I am meeting people I never would have, that I would otherwise never have been in the same room with. It’s just hard to know the future, what is the future?

It doesn’t feel like ‘the better off’ are doing enough. However, I see a lot of hope in what’s happening in our small communities across the country.

Like in my Ward specifically, and I’m sure lots of Wards in Chicago are also doing this but we have a mutual aid group run by the Alderman Rossana Rodriguez. Their form is really great because it takes you through lots of questions about different kinds of tasks you feel comfortable doing.

You feel very taken care of going through the Google Form. I personally wish that I had health insurance and felt comfortable delivering groceries to people. Because I don’t have health insurance and I’ve been sick a bunch this year, I don’t feel comfortable doing that kind of work right now.

A friend of mine is making me a mask, and she’s sending it to me in the mail. So I’m really excited to have that mask because it means maybe I can go to the grocery store again without being afraid. So I see all that hands-on support, like the DIY support happening, and feeling so real but the people who are in charge of like, really big infrastructures and government and just people with a lot of power need to not just remove themselves from the situation. They have to take responsibility. 

I’d say the first thing that they can do, there are so many things that they can do, but the first thing needs to be giving. Giving dollars to causes, to buy a million masks, to things that will really make a big difference today and are not just about financial returns.

I’m just trying now to be present with how different everyone’s reality is. Being really present with the gross differences of everyone’s experiences in America. 

There are places where you can go where like 8 people live in a circle and they have tremendous wealth between them, and thinking about how if they donated a tenth of their wealth it would be hundreds of millions of dollars. And how that wouldn’t be much to lose for them. 

Thinking about how there are so many people who are truly suffering and I think a lot about how for far too long there have been too many people who have been turning a blind eye to the reality of the suffering that a majority of people experience. To the glamorization of the very few people who truly have the money and the power. 

Everyone who I know who is just like a normal person… They are helping their community. They’re doing everything that they can to help their family and help their neighbor, but then thinking about how there’s an obvious radio silence. Thinking about how especially as informed people, even more especially as artists it is really important to be present with how much misinformation is happening at the moment.

There are vastly different realities that are being lived and experienced and talked about and we have to be present with all of those. 

We have to take that information into the future and do with it what we can.

Olivia Lilley on video chat with Jeanette Gomes

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Olivia Lilley: Hello Jeannette

Jeanette Gomes: Hi Olivia How are you

O: …Um I mean that’s a loaded phrase these days

J: Yeah That’s very true-

O: I’m stable I have enough money right at this moment to survive

But You never know *laughs*

J: Yeah Thinking into the future right now is a loaded gun as they say

O:…Anyway I hear you have some questions for me

J: I do I do Let’s get started 

When you saw the possibility of all of this coming how did you react

O: Um well someone a very good friend of mine was Very early on decided to not attend our rehearsals And all the other rehearsals she was involved with for fear of this happening And when that happened I was a little alarmed I was like  I didn’t quite know what to make of it I know this person has an incredibly good and informed judgement And so I um took it seriously obviously But also was very conscious of as the leader of a, of a rehearsal room As director That I needed to stay calm And um be level headed about this So though I was in kind of a state of confusion I needed to be the strong one So I was the strong one Um And then when it all started happening I had to sort of Detach myself and be the strong one For awhile While we had to make very important decisions about postponing And then also I work at a restaurant so then it was kind of- It was actually kind of a relief to go there and not have to be the strong one And be- And the leadership there was definitely taking up the reigns of ‘being the strong one’ And So that was really beautiful to get to like kind of Switch out of that mindset into another mindset And support the leaders there Um and it really like showed me that this is a restaurant that I definitely want to be working at for a long time once this is all over and they Hopefully Open back up So yeah that’s kind of where I stood That was my Week 1

J: So How do you feel about how theaters are reacting, and do you feel like they’re doing enough to help?

O: I think something that’s really important to do That everyone should be doing is going like… I don’t know At some point Rather than being ‘the strong one’ the entire time It would be really bad if everyone was like “OH I JUST-I GOT THIS” and just like kept hustling without thought um I think theaters have a lot of um Gushing expenses right now and the smart ones are definitely like getting the artists what they need Artists and staff For the work that they’ve done But also um A bunch of theaters in Chicago have been sort of Talking and Exchanging ideas across various Zooms and Go To Meeting platforms And it’s been really nice to see how everyone is thoughtfully addressing the issues And Addressing meaning like having ideas but I feel like people are still in a very planning and like trying to poke holes in their planning kind of phase So I think they are doing enough I think we could all slow down a bit In terms of the output That we’re just Unleashing BUT It is important that we are all Thinking and talking to each other You know Because I’m meeting people who I would never have met Actually or It’s very rare that we would end up in the same room And that’s led to a lot of new relationships That I think I’m so confused why I didn’t have them so that’s like a positive yeah That’s a positive because it’s hard The future What is the future

Jeanette Gomes on the video chat

J: Are people in general doing enough to help one another?

O: I feel like actually no There are lot of very very wealthy people who should be giving money to help *laughs*

J: Yeah

O: I’d say that’s like the biggest one The people with lots- The small town Like we were talking about the other day- of billionaires

J: Yeah

O: needs to do something. Um I mean I’d say in small communities And in communities across the country uh there’s been a lot of support for each other. Like in my Ward specifically, and I’m sure lots of Wards in Chicago are also doing this but we have a mutual aid group run by the Alderman Rossana Rodriguez Their form is really great because it takes you on like through lots of questions about different kinds of tasks you feel comfortable doing And there’s no It feels very You feel very taken care of going through the Google Form I personally wish that I had health insurance and felt comfortable delivering groceries to people Because I don’t have health insurance and I’ve been sick a bunch this year I don’t feel comfortable doing that kind of work right now A friend of mine is making me a mask And she’s sending it to me in the mail So I’m really excited to have that mask because it means maybe I can go to the grocery store again without being afraid So I see all that hands on support Like the DIY support happening and feeling so Real um But the people who are in charge of like really big infrastructures and government and just people with a lot of power need to like Not just remove themselves from the situation They have to Take responsibility And I’d say the first thing that they can do There’s many things that they can do but the first thing needs to be giving Giving dollars to causes To buy a million masks To things that will really make a big difference today and are not just about financial returns

I 100% agree with you My own personal observation you know Just kind of being present with how different every one’s reality is Being really present with the gross differences of everyone’s experience is in America And how you know There are places where you can go where like 8 people live in a circle and they have like billions and billions of dollars between them And thinking about how if they donated a tenth of their wealth it would be hundreds of millions of dollars And how that wouldn’t be much to lose But also thinking about how there are so many people who are truly suffering and I think a lot about how For far too long there have been too many people who have been turning a blind eye to the reality of the suffering that a majority of people experience To the glamorization of a very few amount of people who truly have the money and the power And seeing how Everyone that I know just like a normal person who’s existing They are helping their  community They’re doing everything that they can to like help their family and help their neighbor But then thinking about how there’s an obvious radio silence

JG: It’s like deaths are like a clickbait article right now

O: Yeah Thinking about how Especially as informed people Especially as artists it is really important to be present with how much misinformation is happening at the moment And how there are vastly different realities that are being lived and experienced and talked about And we have to be present with all of those And like recognize that’s there’s like We have to take that information into the future and do with it what we will Because there are a lot of people who could be donating the resources and the materials that we all need to survive and that’s not happening 

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