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Mary McNamara: How Emmy nominee Uzo Aduba, Ann Dowd and more actors stay creative amid COVID-19

Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

So you're an actor.

Maybe you're famous, maybe you're not. Maybe you work regularly enough to support yourself, maybe you don't, at least not yet. Maybe you were in the middle of a job when COVID-19 sent everyone home, maybe you weren't.

It doesn't really matter. Because at this moment, this endless, unprecedented and anxiety-provoking moment, you and the vast majority of your peers -- from the legends to the waiters -- are all in the same boat: You're a performer in a world that is suddenly very much not a stage, at least in the traditional sense.

Sheltering at home, writers can still write, painters can paint, musicians can play and dancers can dance. But acting is rarely a one-person deal; how do you stay in artistic shape without a cast, a director, an audience? In many ways, as it turns out, some playful, some practical, some traditional, all of them creative.

If you're Dame Judi Dench, you vow to memorize the sonnets of Shakespeare and wind up learning TikTok dances with your grandson. If you're Mandy Patinkin, you allow your son to post videos on social media (occasionally in service of serious fundraising) that capture your hilarious conversations with your wife. If you once starred in a hit television series, you take part in a Zoomified reunion. And there's always Instagram -- early in the shutdown, "Contagion" star Jennifer Ehle posted videos of her reading "Pride and Prejudice," in which she also starred -- or YouTube; John Krasinski launched "Some Good News" while Josh Gad revealed himself to be a very astute interviewer in "Reunited Apart with Josh Gad."

Reggie Watts, who continues to work -- albeit remotely -- as bandleader and announcer for CBS' "The Late, Late Show," went one step further and debuted his own platform, WattsApp.

 

"I wanted to have my own multimedia channel, to post videos, do live streaming, geo-locational-based media," Watts says. "I also have a store where I sell my old electronics on it, and that's been doing really well."

The videos include Watts' unintentionally prescient series "Droneversations" -- interviews that are captured via the ultimate social-distancing device, the drone. Past episodes, filmed before the shutdown, featured Fred Armisen and Jack White; the first installment filmed post-COVID will feature Thunder Cat.

Watts, who shared a particularly emotional episode with host James Corden during the early George Floyd protests, is not daunted by the prospect of the entertainment industry going more fully digital. "It's all about vision," he says. "I don't really notice much of a difference, on camera, in my home by myself, not getting immediate feedback. I'm usually fine with that; I just try to entertain myself and that's usually OK."

For some performers, the work is more internal.

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