• Susan Swavely

Creativity in the Time of Covid

Susan Swavely | Office Management Coordinator

In these unprecedented and challenging times, I hope this blog post finds you well.

For the past three years we’ve had a perfect opening to every email, every commercial, every newsletter: unprecedented and challenging and finding us well. It’s exhausting. Honestly, another think-piece on COVID—I wouldn’t blame you if you stopped reading now. BUT WAIT! It’s not about COVID, not really, anyway. It’s about art and film and finding my way.

I’m a recent graduate of the University of South Carolina, graduating with a B.A. in English and Theatre, and a minor in Spanish. (And now I’m wondering how long it’s acceptable to call myself a recent grad since it was in May.) Throughout college I was lucky enough to get to act in nine productions—well, one did get canceled for COVID—and really let myself find my passion: storytelling. Throughout college I got to explore different ways to tell stories: I wrote a novel, more poems than I can count, a few plays and short stories, and got to pretend to be lots of different people on stage. And now, as an intern at Local Cinema Studios, I get to learn about a new type of storytelling: film.

There’s something so intimate about film that I love. The grand gesture of the stage melts away, and you can hear every breath the actors take. The other breathing you’ll hear is the crew. And ah, how lovely to be a part of the crew. This summer I was lucky enough to get to work on the sweet coming of age film, Holy Irresistible, through my internship with Local Cinema Studios. I worked in production as an assistant production coordinator, managing payroll for the actors, actor communication and transportation, crafty, and making sure things on set could run smoothly overall. Because it was a smaller-scale indie film, I also got to help out in other departments: I assisted with hair and makeup, worked on set as a PA, and helped prep with the art department. Every day I felt like a little sponge, absorbing all the knowledge I could, so I’d be ready to be as helpful as possible.

Since this summer, I’ve also been lucky enough to be cast as a featured extra in a feature film in Atlanta and do some other extra work for a pilot TV series—and I’ve done some crew work as well. Local Cinema Studios and Iris Indie International have already started production for our next film, which is slated to film in January 2022. We had a pickup day to shoot a Christmas Parade in Rome, GA at the end of November, and I got to be the A.D.’s right hand (wo)man, along with another LCS intern, Lilly Heidari and Iris Indie Associate, Myles Isreal. Every time I’m on a set, I feel like I learn a million things about film and storytelling. I get to see the director’s vision, the cinematographer’s passion, and all of the cast and crew’s hard work. I truly love it.

All of this, of course, has an extra little layer over the top—like a fine layering of dust on an old bookshelf. Not the prettiest metaphor, but it’s not the prettiest thing: COVID. The last two years of my college career were deeply affected by the virus, both personally, where I formed a tight bubble with five friends, and couldn’t see people unmasked outside that small group, but also artistically. I did three plays during the height of the pandemic, and all were deeply affected by it. One was fully virtual, on Zoom, one was recorded and edited together sort of like a film (but where none of the actors could be on camera at the same time), and one of them was in front of a live audience, but with the entire cast and crew fully masked at all times. Film was also affected by the virus, of course. It feels silly to think that anything wasn’t affected. During the summer, even with a fully vaccinated cast and crew, everyone who wasn’t immediately on camera, had to wear a mask on set at all times. Extra cleaning precautions were taken, and crafty was all individually wrapped. We wanted to keep everyone as safe as possible, of course, but this had its challenges. Working long days in a mask can be difficult and meeting new people and working with them without really being able to read their faces was also challenging. We were also tested regularly—multiple times a week, to make sure we were as safe as humanly possible.

Art, as it does, persists. Continuing to create during COVID was vital, I think. Making movies, writing plays, acting on stage—even with all the changes that had to be made—is important. One of my favorite things was a mini playwriting contest put on by a few theatre students from the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theatre BFA acting program and the NYU Playwrights Horizons program, where playwrights from all over the world submitted short plays written in only 48 hours with specific “ingredients” that had to be present in the plot. It made me feel closer to my artistic community, in such an isolating time for creativity. Art is important. It’s one of those silly little things that makes humanity good, that makes humanity, well, humanity. And I’m talking about it like the pandemic is over, and we’re all back to creating the way we did pre-pandemic. It’s not, and we’re not. Creating art is still deeply altered by COVID. Actually, I don’t know if there will ever be a return to pre-pandemic conditions. That’s another thing about art, for as much as it loves and honors the past, it only moves forward. And this generation of people will be deeply scarred by the pain and loss caused by COVID-19. I think it will be something that follows us, sort of marks us, and also influences our art, both with what we create and how we create it. I hope it makes us more compassionate—more able to focus on people as people, and to care for our communities. I know that’s the effect—one of the many, many effects—it has had on me and my work.