By Chrissy Brooks
Chrissy Brooks is a San Francisco Bay Area wife, mother of 2, actress, singer, dancer & blogger. Check her out at: chrissybrooks.com
On March 13, 2020, amidst the settling of the bleach-like powder in the audience seats, sprayed earlier in the day by men in white medical grade suits in an effort to disinfect the theater, I belted out Climb Every Mountain to an audience of a select few. As I performed this stirring aria, I tried not to choke on the chemicals floating in the air, or the emotional finality of the performance. The audience, the actors, and the backstage hands – we all knew this would be the last of our live performance opportunities for a long time. The musical, The Sound of Music, produced by Broadway By the Bay, was never opened to the public, and our country was on the brink of complete shutdown to address the COVID-19 spread.
And now here we are, one year later. I have not returned to the stage since March 13, 2020. Over the past year, I have spent the majority of my time tutoring my 10-year old. She struggles with the stress of online learning, like so many others. So, I am able to, and have chosen to focus my energy on helping her power through this tough time. With in-person learning on the horizon, soon she will be back in school; and I will have time on my hands again. But what should I do?
The performing arts world has come to a screeching halt, and jobs are difficult to find. Instead of going to a Palm Reader, which I seriously considered, being a virgin to palm reading, and so desperately needing guidance, I decided to ask my colleagues and friends for help. I wanted to hear other people’s stories in hopes it would help me find inspiration and direction, so I reached out to a few of my colleagues I have met over the decade of my life performing, working and living in the San Francisco Bay Area. These lovely humans are just a few of the brave people I know who have pivoted during the pandemic.
- Leandra Watson (Pre COVID: Costume Designer / Present: in process of rebranding herself)
- Tripp Hudgins (Pre COVID: Admin & Student / Present: Communications Catch-All)
- Katie Coleman (Pre COVID: SF Hamilton Pianist & Musical Director / Present: NYC Real Estate Agent)
- Nina Meehan (Pre COVID: Artist Director of BACT/ Present: CEO and Founder of BACT)
Leandra Watson, 32, was a full-time costume designer for theatre and opera. PreCOVID, she was traveling the high seas as a wardrobe supervisor for live entertainment on cruise ships. But once COVID-19 started affecting her work, she had to pivot. “Yes. At the time, it was out of necessity for survival,” Leandra explains. She was not making enough money doing theater, and her job kept her from making her health a priority. She continues, “I used it [her job in theater] as an excuse not to take care of myself, letting my health get pretty bad. It prevented me from having much of a social life or dating. And I couldn’t see it at the time, but it stood in the way of a lot of dreams and goals I have for my life.” Leandra hopes to have a career centering around herbs or interior design, but also hopes to settle down and raise a family as a full-time mom. Looking back, Leandra feels grateful for having to pivot careers, and she advises others looking for a career change to not “let fear hold you back from seeking your highest potential!”
Tripp Hudgins, 51, is a “communications catch-all at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, VA”. Prior to this position, he was writing his dissertation and working for Design Set Match as an admin in Berkeley, CA. “Then, everything shut down and the almost full-time nature of my [his] job ended as he went online. I worked far fewer hours from home. My wife’s position was also terminated. Then, to make matters more interesting, my family and I had to move. Our building scheduled to be torn down. This was not a surprise, but we were forced to move about a month after everything was shut down in the Bay Area. As fate would have it, we found a place to live all the way across the country in Richmond, VA so we could be near family.” Tripp is still looking for full-time work in and around Richmond, and even so far as D.C. His family’s move across country was necessary and motivated by the pandemic. His advice to others looking to pivot is, “you have to be really flexible and imagine ways of rebranding yourself as an employee. Get creative with how you re-imagine yourself. That’s what I have done and I have a phone interview tomorrow.”
Katie Coleman also left the Bay Area for the East Coast, after the pandemic hit. She moved out of necessity and was motivated by the pandemic. Katie is a professional pianist, and pre-COVID she was a musical theater director and pianist for the SF company of Hamilton. In March 2020, the SF Hamilton show abruptly closed. Katie then waited for months, not sure if the show would open again. She writes, “For the first six months of quarantine, there were a lot of teasers regarding when theater would come back. At first we thought we’d be shut down for 3 weeks or a month. Then two months. Then it was announced the show wouldn’t reopen in San Francisco.” Knowing eventually she wanted to end up in New York City, she decided to move across the country where she eventually got her real estate license. She officially started her new career as a real estate agent on February 1, 2021 in NYC. Her advice to others is “try your best to not have imposter syndrome, and instead, fully embrace FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT.” She has re-invented herself many times before, and thinks that this won’t be her last.
Nina Meehan, CEO and founder of Bay Area Children’s Theater Company (BACT), has gotten creative with her pandemic pivot. She used to hold the title of Artistic Director at BACT, but since the pandemic hit, she changed her career path to help her company survive. She writes, “my job involved the art on the stage, the education programs happening all over the Bay Area, the audience experience, selecting future seasons…There was a lot of hands-on work that it takes to create live theatre.” Since live theater has suffered during this time, she pivoted to focus her efforts on creating Audio Musical Subscriptions boxes. She oversees a team in charge of packing, shipping, and creating online audio-musicals kits called Play On!. She views her pivot as necessary to her company’s survival, and is glad she made the shift in her career. Her advice to others having to change careers is to “try to give yourself the space to see the positives and the opportunities.”
It’s now March 13, 2021, and the world looks very different than it did a year ago. So many lives have been lost, jobs have been laid off, schools are struggling to open, and our country’s division and history of inequity has been brought to the political forefront. The physical and emotional strain of today is unprecedented, but we still must survive.
I am proud to say these brave few, interviewed in this article, are my colleagues and friends. They have persevered in unique ways to evolve in the world around them. Although their situations can appear to be unique to the Bay Area, we can all relate to their struggles. Their need to pivot during the pandemic is a global reality. These inspirational stories have helped me gain the confidence in making hard decisions.
This seems like the right time to take a leap of faith, to be brave, and to look for new opportunities. Once my kids are back in school full-time, I will be committing to a new career. What that career is yet, I don’t know. Although I am looking forward to the return of on-stage performances, I need to take this chance to explore other career opportunities. The performing arts world has been devastated by this pandemic, and it will need time to recover and renew. So, check back on June 14th at undiscoveredworks.org for an update on my pandemic pivot. I promise you this: I will be brave.