May 26, 2020

Q&A with Ms. Katherine Speed: coping with COVID-19 as a professional in performing arts

Madelyn Peng ’21, Staff Writer

Ms. Katherine Speed, a drama teacher at the middle school and a professional actress, misses acting in plays, such as portraying Siobhan in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. Photo courtesy of Katherine Speed.

What does your current daily schedule consist of? 

My schedule varies from day to day, but it’s a combination of teaching, self-care, and family time. I generally wake up and have breakfast and a pot of tea. Four or five days a week, I go for a run in the early afternoon, and then I have some free time the rest of the day, which I usually try to fill with spending time with my family (I’m quarantining at my parents’ house right now), watching “LOST” with my sister and her partner, playing games, or having a family meal.

What do you miss the most about performing right now, and how do you cope with this?

The thing I miss most about performing is the community that comes with it. I consider myself an extroverted introvert, so the experience of being in a rehearsal room with a cast that I have gotten to know quite well is energizing and healing for me — something that being on Zoom can never quite replicate. That feeling is compounded as important dates pass. For example, this weekend was supposed to be opening weekend for the production of Beauty and the Beast that I was cast in, and I’m feeling pretty sad about that. That being said, I have done a few community play readings of plays in the public domain via Zoom, and spending time with people in small groups or one-on-one virtually helps me to maintain that sense of community without being overwhelmed by large group Zoom gatherings.

What do you do to maintain your creativity during this unfamiliar time?

I’ve been using this time to pursue more independent projects that I otherwise would have tabled. For example, I have a screenplay that I wrote years ago that I’ve wanted to adapt into a podcast series. Up until this quarantine, I wasn’t working on that much because it’s very solitary work that I can’t really prioritize when I have so many other projects that people depend on me for, but now that those projects are all on hold or canceled altogether, I’ve been able to shift my focus back to that!

What do you look forward to every day?

I have a ten-mile race scheduled for the end of May that I began training for before the quarantine started. While the race has been canceled, the quarantine has allowed me to continue my training uninterrupted, and now I’m far past the ten mile mark!

How do you predict your career will change once we return to normal?

Although I am a highly creative person and do consider myself a theatre-maker, I mainly consider myself a teacher in my career, and a lot of what will change is dependent on school/district/state-wide policy. I anticipate that it will be a while before we are allowed to gather in the large groups that allow for the kinds of audiences that we expect at the middle school’s musicals, so this might mean changing protocols for audience interaction, as well as potentially smaller casts.

I know that many performing arts students at the high school struggle with not being able to act and play music together during this difficult time. What would you recommend these students do instead and do you have any specific advice or words of encouragement?

There’s a lot of pressure right now to produce something while quarantined, and I want to encourage students who might be overwhelmed by that daunting task to recognize the trauma of what we’re all going through. Yes, Shakespeare wrote King Lear while quarantining from the Black Plague, but that doesn’t mean that you have to create something incredible in order to feel like a real artist during this time. But that said, if you do want to continue making art, I would encourage you to use this time to build your own portfolio of work. If you’re an actor, create a reel of yourself performing different monologues, musical theatre pieces, etc. in case auditions for the future move to virtual platforms. If you’re a dancer, choreograph your own solo! Consider working with fellow dancers to create a showcase of your work around a unified theme. If you’re a musician, use this time to perfect your part in a piece, and then try to make a video where you each play your own part. There are lots of ways we can get our performances out there, and lots of ways you can be productive during this time. Finally, as encouragement, remember that what we as a society have turned to for comfort in this challenging time is exactly what you are dedicating yourself to — art. Never has there been a time where your chosen pursuit has been more valuable.

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