On March 12, Broadway theaters went dark. Shortly after or before, other theatres in and out of New York shuttered, too. Progress on many shows in various stages of development—from early meetings to techs—stopped short. A few continued preparations, with plans to open way into the future, when it is safe for artists to travel and audiences to come together.
How are designers coping with COVID-19 closings? In this series, "When the Lights Went Out," theatrical designers share what they are doing these days. Today, scenic designer Christine Jones shares her story:
Birthday Candles was about to load in at the Roundabout. Aida was well underway at the Metropolitan Opera and approaching August techs. The Cher Tour and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for Toronto were both slated to tech in September. Talks were underway for a site-specific art exhibition with a rock band, to take place in England. Christine Jones was also deep into the design process for The Devil Wears Prada and planning a Theatre for One Residency with Arts Brookfield for the summer.
She was busy.
These days, she’s busy home-schooling her two sons. The three have been marching to alert people that Black lives matter. She maintains weekly contact with her NYU design students, even though classes are over. “Teaching my class at NYU was one of the most meaningful things I was involved with. Everyone in the department rallied together, and I was grateful to have other people to uplift and to use our work together as a ship to help us sail the new waters with,” she says.
And she’s creating new possibilities for art in the age of COVID. She says she’s “had to recognize that I am not very good at not working. I've found ways to keep dreaming, imagining, and designing, focusing on projects like Theatre for One, including writing a piece about it for a new online publication called 3Views,” says Jones.
“I am collaborating with a choreographer I love, and a musician I also love, to make a piece with the Armory meant for what I like to call ‘the in-between time,’ which will come when we can be together apart in some ways, but not others. And I am collaborating with some new folk looking at making the site-specific art exhibit a virtual experience of some kind. I have decided that my computer screen is a new proscenium and the glass of my screen is the fourth wall to be broken, with care.”
She’s delighted to have plants on her terrace. “Normally, I would not have any, knowing that I wouldn't be around enough to water them. I have flowers and some herbs, and this makes me very happy. I am meditating every day for 30 minutes and doing yoga or a workout with more consistency. In the early weeks, I cooked much more than usual and tried six new chocolate chip cookie recipes before I ran out of steam in the cooking and baking department. I ordered many cans of sardines and am now making my way through them on toast for lunch most days. I started to watch Alice Waters on Masterclass, but I find I have very little time for watching.”
“I take in the sunsets more. I face the East River and the Williamsburg Bridge and often think of Monet and his paintings of the Rouen Cathedral. The sky, the water, the buildings, the way the colors shift on them is breathtaking. I am up earlier and have seen several purple-orange sunrises, and I've watched the trees turn green.
“Right now, I am reading, So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo. I have read, Emma, by Jane Austen, Disappearing Earth, by Julia Philips, and I read Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart, three times. When I got to the end, I started over. My kids and I have been rewatching seasons of Bob's Burgers from the beginning, after the current season ended, and for some weeks there, Survivor was the highlight of our week. Something I always struggled to find time for is volunteer,” she says. Now she’s doing that at The Bowery Mission.
“Zoom has provided me with my connection to the world. I have regular Zoom calls with family and friends, and have tried a few events, but for the most part, I use it for meetings and keeping in touch with the people I love,” she adds. “I am grateful for it, while I also want to turn it inside out and see what else we can do with it. My kids are with me every other week. When they are not here, I am on Zoom for many, many hours with fellow conspirators. I am getting better at using Instagram and am especially grateful for how informative it is to find out where the protests are.”
Jones says she’s adapting rapidly—and living in denial. “I don't pretend to understand what is actually happening and am amazed at how each week feels like a new year. I feel ruptured and repairing. When people ask me how I am, I say I am everyway. I feel like everything is different and so much is the same, but under a magnifying glass, which offers us the chance to see things we couldn't see before. I believe we will gain more than we have lost.”