By SAMANTHA CASTRO
Alessandra Ruiz is a Cuban-American nonunion actress. She took acting classes starting at the age of 5 and auditioned for television, film, and theater. After she earned her Bachelor of Arts for Theater Acting at the University of California, she moved from her home in Los Angeles, California, to New York City to further pursue jobs in theater.
Before COVID-19 closed the curtain on theaters and performance spaces and forced people to stay at home Ruiz was preparing for another round of shows for a performance and voice workshop called “You Sound Like A Girl.” The recurring program tours different high schools and middle schools in the city. It was planned to resume at the end of March but the illness that stalks the world had other ideas.
Ruiz felt conflicted when she first received the news about the production being postponed. But she eventually accepted that health would come first especially the children’s health. As an actress, she joins productions that empower the younger generation. So, even if the production continued, she wouldn’t “feel comfortable endangering” herself and other people.
“As much as we [the cast] wanted the production to continue,” said Ruiz. “It was the smartest decision for ourselves and students.”
Gregory McGovern, 32, a community theater actor at Sea View Playwrights Theatre, felt similarly about the situation. McGovern’s acting career started in college and continued in several theater plays and feature films after graduation. He had a role in “Angels inAmerica Part I” that was to premiere at the theater on April 10. But, as details of COVID-19 started to develop, it was no surprise to him and the cast when future rehearsals were canceled and the show was postponed. He described his feelings as “understanding and upset.”
“It was necessary for us [the cast] to do,” said McGovern. “We actually want to have audiences at our shows.”
However, the canceling of everything proves to be an obstacle towards graduation for Brooklyn College senior and actor, Danielle Kogan. Kogan, 22, first found her love for acting as a drama major at Fiorello H. Laguardia High School. She continues her passion by working as a freelance actor during her time as a theater major at the college. The final part of her requirement to graduate is to perform at the “Divising Play Festival,” where she and her group of four other students in the class perform the 10-minute play they created and rehearsed throughout the semester. Rehearsals began for her group soon stopped when the City University of New York decided to close all their campuses. Currently, the curriculum has changed the requirements from a final performance to a final reading online.
All three actors are taking advantage of the time at home, finding ways to fulfill their creative needs as well as their basic needs. McGovern isn’t too worried about his income because of his full-time job at a firm but he still finds it “very boring and stressful.”
To fight that boredom, he started to work on his play he first started writing last year.
Following the writing trend, Ruiz is writing poems and monologues expressing her emotions during self-quarantine. She found that the best way of coping is to use her emotions to “fuel her art” When referring to a poem she wrote she said, “It [the poem] was for me and it felt good in a relieving and cathartic way.”
She’s grateful that she’s able to earn some income from doing voice-over work. She receives scripts of future audiobooks and records and edits from home. Kogan also does voice-over work but also freelance as an editor. She fuels her creativity similarity to what Ruiz and McGovern do. But, seeing the panic on social media, she made it a mission to post on her Instagram something creative every day.
To further push this mission, she opened a group chat for creatives, challenging them to do the same thing.
“Don’t let this thing be the reason you get rusty,” said Kogan. “This can’t be the thing that kills your art.”
Even with finding ways to express themselves and practice their craft at home, nothing beats performing with other people in front of an audience.
“I miss being in a space amongst fellow artists with the same passion and desire to tell a story,” said Ruiz.
All three actors agreed that the best way people can support nonunion actors at this time is through social media and streaming services. They suggest checking on what your local creatives are doing on social media and sharing their work. Social media has been the main player in exposure but now it’s important more than ever.
“Support the arts during this rough time,” said McGovern.
The Actor’s Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA are working on ways to support their members since all kinds of productions have come to a halt due to COVID-19.
On March 24, Actor’s Equity Association announced its “Curtain Up” emergency fund. The association donated half of a million dollars to launch the fund and plans to match other contributions adding up to $250,000.
On the same day, the SAG-AFTRA Executive Committee gained authority to take actions on behalf of the National Board during this time of emergency. The committee now has the power to relieve members of their dues and cancel member’s late payments. The union’s foundation also launched its “COVID-19 Disaster Fund,” that covers the member’s necessities.
However, for performers who aren’t in unions, they have to find other ways to stay active and earn money.