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Portraits of the Pandemic
A Podcast

Written by Northern Stage Education Actors
Directed & Adapted by Director of Education Eric Love
From Eric Love, Director of Education:
In spring of 2020, I was directing a production of FROZEN, JR. starring a huge cast of young actors when on Friday, March 13th, the coronavirus closed the doors of the theater. Case numbers were rising, people were panicking, and there were a lot of questions with no answers. I found myself at home, alone and scared of what lay ahead. And it wasn’t just me feeling this way. It was everyone everywhere. 
With all our shows canceled, and everything going virtual, an idea began to take shape. I wanted to provide a lifeline for these teens in our theater community – give them a reason to take meaningful time to reflect through journaling. I reached out to all the students who had recently acted with Northern Stage. I explained that I would send five creative writing prompts a week for the first eight weeks of quarantine. Each week, we would all meet on ZOOM so they could connect with one another and share their favorite writing. Thirty-four brave young actors signed on for this odyssey – opening a window into their unique quarantine perspectives. They wrote hundreds of pages which have been distilled into what you are about to hear.
These are their Portraits of the Pandemic.
 “I am deeply moved by the bond that has formed among this group of young people in these trying times. The Portraits of the Pandemic program helped them transition into quarantine, process complicated emotions, and stabilize into a new way of living. This fall, we will be distilling hundreds of pages of writing into a compelling documentary audio play that will tell the quarantine odysseys of these extraordinary young people. We can’t wait to share it with you!” – Eric Love, June 2020 

Writing Highlights from the Original Workshop

“I work at an assisted living home in Newport, NH, called Summercrest. I’m a waitress there usually 2-3 days a week. A normal night at work I open the dining room to all the smiling faces of our residents and greet them as they sit down for dinner. This week was different. Most of them hadn’t seen their families because Summercrest has now closed to the public. This is so no visitors can bring in even the possibility of COVID-19. Even all of them gathering in one space has become dangerous so Monday night I went in to find the tables un-set and a large cart in the kitchen. We now have to deliver them all dinner to their rooms. It was heartbreaking to think that not only are they not seeing their families, but they also can’t even see their friends that live a room over. When I opened each of their doors to deliver their food, I was surprised. Their cheery smiles were still there. I greeted them with more enthusiasm than usual knowing that I was one of the few interactions they have had all day. I asked them how they were but they were more concerned with me and how I was. I set their trays down and looked forward to saying goodnight when I came back to pick them up. These wonderful seniors wouldn’t have to stay in their rooms away from their friends and family if it wasn’t for the coronavirus. But it is nice to know that their lively attitudes still remain even in this scary, hazy time.” – Mia Caccavaro, Junior, Newport High School
“I’m healthy. I’m hopeful. The one thing I can’t say with complete certainty is that I’m happy. As the week begins, the boredom is beginning to set in in earnest. The activities I busy myself with are beginning to feel monotonous. Sitting by the fire and reading a book no longer feels as satisfying. I have 17 models I built before the quarantine and of those, I have painted one. I have my paints set up and everything ready. All I have to do is sit down and paint. But even then, I find it hard to muster the same motivation I once could. Even the well of endless content on Netflix and Youtube feels like it has run dry. It feels harder and harder to be content. As I contemplated my problem, I came to a realization. Before, I was stuck at school for 7 hours and rehearsal the rest of the day. And while I loved rehearsal and school to a lesser extent, it left little time for reading, painting, drawing and the many other activities I love. But that’s what made them special. When I finally got to paint or read, it was a special treat outside the norm. It’s the same reason ice cream tastes so much better if you don’t have it every night for dessert. You have to treat yourself every once in a while. Now that I have more time on my hands than I could ever fully use, I fill it with the activities that once were an occasional special treat. And because of that, they’ve lost their sweetness. It’s like listening to the same song over and over until you don’t want to hear it ever again. The same gems no longer sparkle like they used to. The lake no longer shimmers like it once did. The magic is gone. And I guess the only activity now is getting the magic back.” – Finn Powers, Junior, Woodstock Union High School
“Walking down our road is my favorite. We live on a historic dirt road, so there’s always little gems to be found. On the way down, there’s this old cemetery. I think it’s from the 1800s — the headstones are cracked and bent from time’s soft hand. I’ve never been in because I’m too scared, but I like to look in and imagine the lives of those people. Further down from the little cemetery is the brook that our road is named after. It’s my favorite part about living here. It babbles and sits under a beautiful willow tree, and I wonder what it’s seen. I’m sure that brook has seen so many lives and moments come and go. If it can withstand a pandemic, so can I. Spring is here. Things are new again. Don’t get me wrong, I’m beyond terrified of the rising numbers in the news every morning and what the next six months will bring, but I’ve become adjusted. I was told recently that I’m too positive, and that made me take a step back. With a whirlwind of sadness and anger at my door, I don’t want to dwell on things that are going to drag me down. I’ve been there before, and no one benefits from it. All I can do is keep my chin up and march forward into this dusk, because the stars will come out soon. The moon will rise again. Day in and day out, I will sit at my desk with my paint brushes in hand and canvas at the ready. Things will be good again. We just have to wait.” – Isabelle Ackerman, Junior, Lebanon High School
Prickly sickness, thick and viscous:
Sneeze and breathe this ficklest ickiness.
His sticky lips kiss, tricking and snickering,
Pricking pores and things for sticking in.
Lights the wick so he can lick, flick, and tickle,
Quickly sickening your city
Carrying his nickeled sickle.
Your nose trickles when you giggle,
Your spittle flits when you chitter.
He bitterly bites the brats and the brittle,
Rattles their bones and makes them flitter.
Yes, he’ll make you shiver, that sickly, pesky, witty critter.
  – “Virus” by Meredith Felde, Senior, Hanover High School

“I never really knew what it was like to miss someone before. I used to go up to people and give them a hug and say ‘Oh my god, I missed you so much!’ but I don’t know if I really did. I was busy with the rest of my exciting life, and everyone else in it. I did not always give people that much thought over the days, weeks, or even months that we were apart. I was too busy to miss people. Well now, I’m not very busy. Now, I have time to miss my friends. And I miss them a lot. It’s like a hollow feeling in my chest that grows and fades away over time. A hole in my chest that oozes with nostalgia. I still attempt to fill this hole with work-outs, social media, and obsessive baking. Also it’s not just people I miss. I miss things that I haven’t thought about in years. I miss Montshire summer camp. I miss Disney World. I haven’t done those things in a very long time. I miss walking down the streets of New York. I miss swimming in the ocean. I miss everyday things too. I miss rehearsal. I miss lunch at school. I have found a new appreciation for all these events. Now, I know what it is like to miss things.” – Bebhinn Knudsen, 9th Grade, Hartford High School
“Words have always been part of me. I’ve always been a writer, ever since my kindergarten teacher gave me a pencil and a few pieces of paper stapled together to look like a book. I’ve always loved reading words, writing words, and loving words for their own sake, like ‘aggressive’ and ‘scintillating.’ I’ve always strongly believed that words can change the world. But once I moved at the beginning of 7th grade, I was swept up in adjusting to a new school and being away from my friends, and also became more involved in theater than I’d ever been before. I pretty much stopped writing, and was so swept up in life that I didn’t start writing again until this pandemic happened. I could suddenly write again, and it was wonderful! But, I feel like this proves how twisted the world is right now. The coronavirus is killing people, but it’s reconnecting me with my favorite art form. And even though it’s reconnecting me with my words, which I thought could change the world, there’s nothing I can do about it. This is mostly what’s been plaguing me: the realization that there is nothing I can do, even armed with my most powerful weapon. I feel like a bird that just learned how to fly, but whose wings were then broken. I am broken and sad, yet whole and happy. I am hating this quarantine, but also loving it. I am restless at night, yet more at peace with myself than I’ve been in a long time. All I know is that the world is a dizzy maze filled with mirrors twisting itself into a pretzel, and it’s taking me along with it.” – Erica Holmes, 8th Grade, Frances C. Richmond School
“I can’t name any one thing I am grateful for right now. I am grateful to have my family, a way of communicating with family and friends, I am glad to have toilet paper, and my family, and light, and electricity, and a window to see the world I am missing. Today it’s rainy, so my window isn’t giving me much inspiration. But when our trees out front and our flowers start blooming, it will be beautiful! And if the crazy weather keeps up and it snows again, all the pine trees covered in snow will remind me of Christmas, the most wonderful time of the year. My birthday is coming up in 4-ish weeks, and I am grateful to be able to celebrate it with my family. I am grateful for our bunnies, and the two litters of baby bunnies we will have by June. I am grateful for the much-needed break 2 weeks ago, and I am grateful there is some hope for summer. I am grateful for happy memories I have, and for my friends who always make me smile. I am grateful for BitMoji so I can see which outfit and hairstyle look best on me, and grateful for my iPad so I can watch YouTube and play games whenever I want. I am grateful for smores, and constellations, and late-night fire pits where we hold bunnies for hours and talk as a family. I am grateful for my school wanting to stay close with everyone, and grateful for online shopping websites. I am grateful for my love of drawing, and am grateful for the infinite multiverses. I like to imagine a universe where I am perfect, or where I was better at sports, or a universe where coronavirus never tore everyone apart. In short, I am grateful.” – Flynn Moreno, 6th Grade, Hartford Memorial Middle School
“I’m sick of almosts. I haven’t managed to fill all this time in quarantine with anything of substance; all I have is an abundance of almosts. I’m almost in touch with my friends, but facetime doesn’t quite bridge the gap. My family is almost close, but closed doors with seemingly endless work behind them separate us. I’m almost learning to play piano. I’m almost getting back into art. I’m almost a writer. My room is almost clean. I’m almost done with my work. I’m almost happy with my Instagram account. I almost hate it. I’m almost happy. I’m almost sad. I’m almost angry. I’m almost calm. I’m… almost living . Almost is this foggy reality between what isn’t and what wants to be. I despise its obscurity. Almost is taunting; it pretends to be something tangible and reachable, when it’s really indomitable. No matter how full one tries to cram it, Almost will not be filled up. Quarantine is the quintessence of almost: it’s a blurred actuality. In a way, this period of quarantine is like the period of falling after jumping (or in this case maybe being pushed) off a hypothetical cliff. We’re all plummeting in search of whatever reality is next to come. Some of us want to dive headfirst into what comes after quarantine, yet some are desperately grappling at the face of the cliff in hopes of getting back to life before the fall.” – Skylar Spiro, 8th Grade, Richmond Middle School
“This week has been so boring. I’m just not feeling fulfilled right now. I’m so cold and hungry to be somewhere else, anywhere else. I’m eager to serve, and help in the way that I know I can. I want to be filled with gas, over and over again, to have new tires and just race across the blacktop for miles upon miles. I want to be inspected, washed, waxed, taken care of. I want to feel the wind coming through the window and use the bass in the stereo system. Instead, I sit here, in the shade, day after day, without motion, just staying put, through rain, snow, leaves, the occasional sunny day. Last Saturday was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. My tires sped over dirt and pavement, rotation after rotation, my windows rolled down and the wind whistled through them, my radio blasted the playlist it always does, and everything was as it should be. Other times I’m in use but it’s confusing. Why would my driver want to just sit in the back? She just opens up my hatch and sits there, as if she has nothing better to do! What about our daily trips to White River (as the signs call it)? Has she lost hope in me? What did I do to make her want to abandon me?” – “The Diary of My Car” by Olivia Swayze, 11th Grade, The Sharon Academy