Artists in Canada and the U.S. have been anxiously waiting for their call back to the stage after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the doors closed.
“All artists really are finding themselves in this position of having to pivot,” said Bethany Jillard Krohn, a singer and actor living in Stratford, Ont. “We are all finding a shift in focus, and that can be incredibly challenging because this is what we are trained to do, this is our expertise.”
Since last spring, the pandemic made it impossible to continue with live theatre, and thousands of artists were left without jobs.
Brooklyn-based director Gaye Taylor Hederman said it has been a difficult storm to weather.
“Theatre is all about breathing the same air with people, being in the same space together,” Hederman said.
“Suddenly that literally became the most dangerous thing that anyone could do.”
But a group spearheaded by Hederman has found a way to reach audiences through the art of a simple phone call.
One night an idea came to the director in a dream. “I really wanted to do something that could help connect people and could also raise some funds for people at this time,” Hederman said.
The dream was a new business venture, focused on providing singing telegrams performed by professional artists. The idea made a lot of sense, as many performers had unexpected free time, and not too many paying gigs.
In a matter of weeks “A Generous Act” was put into action, and artists quickly started making calls, filling orders, and performing once again.
“It’s a gift, to be able to have however small the outlet, to be able to reach across to somebody and say ‘Hi, you are given this, and I am now going to give this song to you, I’m going to use this instrument that has been getting rusty,’ ” Jillard Krohn said.
To order, people go online and fill out a form. They choose a song, date, and time, pay a fee, and then the company assigns an artist to make the phone call. The songs available for choosing are all in the public domain.
Each song costs $30 USD. The majority of that money goes to the artist, and 10 per cent goes to the Actor’s Fund, a non profit agency that supports a wider entertainment community during difficult times.
The company got started right before Christmas and within a couple weeks, the group already had several orders. Hederman said one person bought 26 telegrams to give to family and co-workers as gifts over the holiday season. In response as to why she was so drawn to the idea the woman said, “I think it comes down to actual people communicating, giving an experience rather than an object, and a reminder that New York is full of talent even if you can’t go to the theatre.”
Bethany and her husband Aaron were in New York at the time of the shut down, but have returned to Canada as the pandemic plays out. The couple is two of the eight artists on the current roster.
They already have had several fun encounters while make the calls and sharing the gift of song.
“You realize that people don’t answer their phones, ” Aaron said as he recalls how on one of his first assignments a fair bit of phone tag was involved.
At the moment, Hederman said the group plans to continue the project even after theatres reopen. She said for her, creating the space has become a meaningful enterprise, as it gives back both to the community and to so many artists in need.
Hederman said she believes finding ways to build and foster connections through art, in a time when we are so focused on keeping a distance, can make even the most challenging moments a little bit easier to manage.