Performers’ downtime: What are they doing during quarantine?


Saturday Night Live has been broadcasting with all cast members at home. Broadway has been shuttered and concerts cancelled. But actors, musicians and other performers are still, in their own way, going on.

Yes, I miss it. I have tickets to the touring production of Moulin Rouge in December at the Nederlander Theatre in Chicago, and am hoping things have opened back up by then.

But what are show biz people doing now? I asked a few performers that very question, and found that they’re not letting the pandemic get the better of them. Boston-based singer-songwriter Alissa Musto’s entrancing music has been keeping me company while I’m stuck at home, and she says she was very lucky – she was performing onboard a luxury cruise ship just as all the major cruise lines announced they would immediately suspend operations in March. Alissa said “Luckily, I was able to return home before the CDC’s ‘No Sail Order’ prohibited crew from disembarking!”

Alissa told me a little more about what she’s been up to: “While coronavirus has derailed my career, my living arrangements, my lifestyle and my travel plans, I’ve sought solace in the one thing it can’t take away; my music. During my time at home, I’ve been collaborating with my brother and sister, who are also musicians. From our house, we wrote, recorded and produced a new song called ‘How Still’ which is a tribute to the 100,000 crew members still stuck onboard. It is now on Spotify, Apple Music and all other major music retailers.” The video includes shorts and selfies from seafarers around the world.  

Fashion models are still modeling, even if they haven’t been able to mix and mingle. Oksana Jager, who founded the Skylar Modeling School in New York and Los Angeles, has worked with the likes of Burberry, Michael Kors, Calvin Klein, La Mar, Shiseido, Origins, Vogue and so many more, has found a way to do virtual photoshoots over FaceTime. I asked Oksana how the quarantine has affected the modeling industry, and she says “There are no casting nor jobs with the agencies closed, or the agents are working from home. The quarantine made some creative solutions to still producing content with brands that send clothing to the model’s house and have them shoot the content from the comfort of their homes.” Like most models, Oksana is used to being at the beauty end of the camera, so it’s a little different experience for her, but she’s made it work, and she just completed a FaceTime shoot with a Milan-based photographer while at her home in Los Angeles. “You have to implement your posing skills, art directing and find the right angles and light to create a perfect image. It might be challenging, especially if you have no experience working on the other side of the camera. Although with these challenges came a great opportunity to shoot with your favorite photographer while being on different sides of the globe.”

Hip hop artist and fellow Hoosier Charleito has been busy in his home studio, making music to match the time we’re in. He’s been working on Solidified 2, the follow-up to his previous album. Charleito tells me “This is the perfect time to create. With all of the businesses closed down now is the perfect time for artists to release their new music from home.” He says the project has more of a mixtape feel, and he says he’s confident about the summer ahead. He describes his project saying “The first album “Solidifed) which released on October 31, 2019 had a much more personal and dark tone to it. This time around the music will match the summer and the time we’re in as a whole.”

Mella Barnes, a full-time session musician, says that her business is booming. “A lot of my clients are songwriters, and they are finding a lot of time to write music now that they are at home, and writing songs has been a great stress reliever for them. It’s a busy time for those of us in the recording industry right now, everyone wants to make music!”

So what about stand-up comedians? If they’re working from home, do they still have to stand up? I asked Jeremy Nunes, who has appeared on “Dry Bar Comedy” and soon on Amazon Prime, and he says he’s been as productive as possible. “Auditions for acting roles have continued, as I have auditioned for three separate roles via home recording. I’ve added revenue sources such as podcasting, writing jokes for other comedians and web series, and even done voice-over work. I’m completing my first book, and writing more and more jokes! With my first special landing on Amazon in the coming months, I’m working to have an all new hour show ready to go!”

Actor and filmmaker Eric Schumacher doesn’t have much downtime, but he says he’s “chomping at the bit to get on set but not until it can be done safely.” Even though projects have been delayed – The Love Song of William H. Shaw, and a new streaming series called Horse Camp in which he was a principal performer have both been put on hold, but Eric says he’s shifted gears to focus more on other projects as producer and director, and he’s been guesting on radio shows and podcasts to promote the film Tombstone Rashomon, in which he played Doc Holliday. Tombstone Rashomon released about two weeks ago on DVD, and Eric says it sold out in about a week. And if that’s not enough to keep him busy, he says “I also gave a free class about acting as part of an online fan convention a week ago and am doing what I can to support my fellow performers.”

My favorite pop singer Caroline has had millions of streams from her extraordinary recordings. I caught up with Caroline and asked her what she’s been up to: “Coronavirus has been so hard on the music industry!” she told me. “All of my concerts were canceled and I think it’s going to take a while to be able to do gigs again. Luckily, I’ve been still singing by doing virtual concerts on Instagram LIVE, Tik Tok has also been very fun! I’m actually releasing music on May 5th because I think everyone needs something to distract them.” Caroline, I can’t wait to hear it!

Michael Griffin, the world’s best living escape artist, is also keeping busy during his downtime, even though as he says, “all of my shows since mid-March through May have somehow vanished without the use of a single mirror or other gimmick.” He’s working on creating his new Escape mysteries, and he says “I have some huge surprises with the world’s most dangerous escape ever attempted and it should re-appear when the smoke clears.”

And if you’ve ever been to Times Square, you may have had the good fortune to see my good friend Natalia “Saw Lady” Paruz. What she can do with the musical saw is simply amazing, but all of her gigs, including a concert tour to Israel and Poland, were cancelled. Natalia says that at first, she went into hibernation, as did many of us. “But then I was invited to do a couple of live streaming performances for Atlas Obscura, and that spurred me into action.” She also launched a new website in partnership with composer Scott Munson, geared at film makers seeking music for their soundtracks, and she is also writing children’s stories that if staged, would fit the sound of the musical saw. And when she’s not playing the musical saw, Natalia is busy in her back yard garden, something she and I have in common (my bumper crop of Concord grapes yielded my first batch of wine last year!). Natalia’s haunting music has been heard by audiences around the world, including in films such as Dummy with Adrian Brody, and Time Out of Mind with Richard Gere.

So there you have it. Everything from pop music to actors, stand-up comedians, escape artists and musical saws, performers aren’t letting the coronavirus keep them down. They are an inspiration to all of us who are still stuck at home!