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Commentary: Local Artists Are Finding Ways To Cope During The Pandemic

Nancy Kranzberg

I've been worried about my artist friends in all the artistic disciplines and wondering how they are coping in these troubled times. I decided to just pick up the phone--I'm old fashioned--and ask.

The main question I asked was how they were dealing with the time on their hands due to the pandemic, but many wanted to talk about the times in a broader sense. I asked mainly about the pandemic and if they felt more creative, frozen or a little of both.

I started with bass player Bob Deboo who describes himself as a creative, improvising musician. Deboo has travelled and played with the likes of David Sanborn and has even played with the St. Louis Symphony. Deboo said since he's not on stage, he's had to get creative at home and is involved with teaching on line and doing a lot of live streaming. He feels as if the pandemic has opened doors for him and that he has written and composed a lot more with more time available.

Yvonne Osei is an award-winning conceptual, interdisciplinary artist and a true visionary. She won the St. Louis Visionary award for women who have excelled and influenced other women in a positive way. She said she had to adjust to the very immediate shock to all and face the new normal.

Osei said that she had to adjust to being creative in the isolation of the new normal and find a way to echo her voice. She has had to re-focus on everything and see the world anew. Osei said that she felt that the racial crisis was equal to the pandemic in changing much in her artistic way of thinking.

Scott Miller, the creator and artistic director of New Line Theatre, says that he's had a really rough time dealing with the pandemic. Because his work is about people in a room together, he felt as if his life had been taken away and that he didn't only miss the stage, but missed the hugs and warmth of people.

Miller, who has written dozens of nationally recognized books on musical theater, has turned to writing, but as he said, "You can't write all day." During the pandemic he has written two books, one on Christmas carol parodies and one titled "Night of the Living Show Tunes, 13 Tales of the Weird." There's really no way to shut Scott Miller down, in my opinion.

Harvey Lockhart is an award-winning musician, father, educator and saxophonist. He said he's taking time to feel and evaluate the situation of the times as clearly as possible. He's been writing, practicing and trying to prepare for what the future holds.

He is working hard to figure out how the virtual system works and making the transfer. He is teaching at Cardinal Ritter High School and runs HEAL, a multi-discipline arts organization located in Grand Center.

Ashley Tate, artistic director of the Ashleyliane Dance Company, also has had a struggle learning how to deal with dance in the virtual world. She added humor to the difficult world by saying that she is teaching out of her apartment which she calls the Quarantine Closet.

Tate said, “The whole scene is a challenge of a re-imagined season." She had to deal with dance off the stage and on film, but is still performing. She has had to think about what can be done and not what can't be. She said that she is trying to still keep people involved in the arts.

Melody Evans works mostly as a ceramic artist and said that during the pandemic, she's continued to work in her studio even though her creative energy feels lackluster. She said, "As I absorb the overwhelming and distressing events of 2020, I miss the happy energy surge of creative inspiration." She said she is fortunate to have deadlines looming for previous commitments and shows in the future. She feels that the already documented sketch books are what have been driving her work and that the nature of this work is heavy on process and repetition which is good.

Erin Prange, executive director of The Big Muddy Dance Company, said, "I have seen the most amazing creativity come out of our team in the past few months, because our usual perimeters were taken away. There's been no precursor, no tradition, no preparation for this. And with that uncertainty comes a certain amount of freedom. It has allowed us to change the rules and create new online platforms for dance classes and performances that reach a national community, outdoor venues and a whole new progressive walking tour production format that enables us to give audiences a more authentic view of the dancers as they tell their story of 'Lemp Legends' throughout the Lemp Mansion and Lemp Grand Hall space."

And Jessica Baran, nationally recognized writer, poet , critic and Director of Curatorial and Program Development at Barrett Barrera Projects and Project +Gallery, said that she has found writing in any form to be difficult these past months, so she's reoriented her focus to reading and has appreciated being able to educate herself in new areas. She's also reflected quite a bit on why, specifically, she writes poetry and for whom, and she's come to the realization that, for her, it's ultimately an intimate form of communication directed to close friends rather than a general or professional public.

After listening to my artist friends, I have new admiration for what an artistic sensibility is and what a great, creative group this is. Hopefully we will be back to some sense of normality soon.

Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for more than thirty years on numerous arts related boards.

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