unread news
unread news
MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Responds to Trump's Interview Praise: 'Did Anyone Show You The Rest of the Show?'
She reacted to a few rare words of praise from the president on Friday, pointing out several ways he's personally leading "the worst national response of any industrialized nation in the world."
Pregnant teacher with coronavirus couldn’t convince NYC to close school
A pregnant teacher who was hospitalized for COVID-19 says the city refused to close her Brooklyn school — even after she turned over positive lab results — while five colleagues also fell ill from the virus. Frightened for her unborn child, Raquel Iacurto, 32, begged school officials to shut PS 199 Frederick Wachtel in Midwood...
Coronavirus scare as doctor arrested, charged with coughing on nurses
Nurses dealing with the coronavirus at a Connecticut hospital told police they were deliberately coughed on by a doctor who was arrested on a breach of peace charge, according to reports.
Mental toughness expert shares tips for communicating with kids under threat of coronavirus
Kids living at home under threat of the coronavirus (COVID-19) health crisis deserve accurate information based on their current level of understanding, former U.S. Marine and mental toughness expert Eric Rittmeyer advised Saturday.
Photos: Italy's coronavirus medical heroes
The doctors and nurses on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic in Italy
Coronavirus is spreading so quickly that our brains can't keep up. Experts explain.
Exponential growth has a technical meaning that will help you understand why the coronavirus is spreading so quickly and how its course may be altered
In Spain, austerity legacy cripples coronavirus fight
Major cuts and wave of privatization has left health care system unprepared to deal with an epidemic.
‘Succession’ & ‘Barry’ Delay Production At HBO Amid Coronavirus Pandemic
Writing for the shows, however, may continue.
Tributes Pour in for the Late and Celebrated Civil Rights Activist Joseph Lowery
Lowery, who died at the age of 98 on Friday, was often dubbed the "Dean" of the civil of the civil rights movement.
Shakespeare's advice on isolation
For the first time in 200 years, Shakespeare is not being performed anywhere in the world. James Shapiro, author of "Shakespeare in a Divided America," tells Amanpour why this matters.
Trump OKs use of National Guard, veterans to fight coronavirus
It’s all hands on deck. President Donald Trump signed an executive order Friday night that allows the Pentagon to call National Guard members and former US troops back to active duty to fight the coronavirus. The extra recruits might be needed to support military members already on the front lines fighting the pandemic, the Washington...
Enjoy weekend culture while social distancing: Terrence McNally, LACO, Michelangelo
Critically acclaimed 'Sweet Land' comes to streaming. L.A. Chamber Orchestra launches an online series. The Getty wows with its Michelangelo show.
What the Chargers' draft needs are at each position
Chargers and their NFL draft prospects
‘Come As You Are in the Family Car.’ Drive-In Church Services Are Taking Off During the Coronavirus Pandemic
In the midst of a pandemic, churchgoers are driving to church--and staying in their cars, as a way to congregate while practicing social distancing.
Coronavirus, anxiety, and the profound failure of rugged individualism
A man walks across an empty street in Esslingen, Germany, March 25, 2020. | Sebastian Gollnow/picture alliance via Getty Images The coronavirus is making us all more anxious and depressed. Here’s what we can do about it. I never had serious problems with my mental health before the coronavirus hit. But over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself struggling: the constant sinking feeling in my stomach, difficulty falling asleep at night, crippling mental and physical fatigue out of nowhere. I had heard all of these symptoms described to me by depressed and anxious friends before, but this is the first time in my life I’ve truly felt them for extended periods of time. And I’m not the only one. Usage of mental health apps and chatbots has gone up in recent weeks, as have mental health-related social media posts — and dozens of friends and colleagues have relayed similar experiences. Through it all, the book that’s been at the front of my mind is Lost Connections: Why You’re Depressed and How to Find Hope (audiobook) by Johann Hari. Drawing on interviews with dozens of neuroscientists, biologists, and social scientists, the book advances an argument that is both radical and obvious: Depression and anxiety are more than just chemical imbalances in the brain; they are also products of our distinct social environments — social environments that have left our core psychological needs unmet. Over the last few weeks, there have been — and will continue to be — some fundamental shifts in the social landscape within which we live our lives. Unemployment applications have reached record highs. Small businesses are shuttering by the day. Entire cities are being told to “shelter in place.” Social distancing has become the new normal. And there’s no telling when any of it will end. I wanted to speak to Hari about what these changes in our social environment could mean for our mental health, whether reactions like mine are normal, how our hyper-individualistic culture could be contributing to our collective angst, why policies like UBI should be considered antidepressants, and much more. But there’s an important caveat I want to make first. In no way is this conversation intended to deny either that depression and anxiety have distinct biological components or that chemical antidepressants are extremely important for some people — it does and they are. While the direct social causation of mental health issues is fairly clear in the context of coronavirus, that logic does not necessarily apply to all cases. I spoke with Hari over the phone. A transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for clarity and length, follows. Roge Karma The premise of your book is that depression and anxiety can be a reflection of social conditions, and thus problems we individualize often demand collective solutions. Can you walk me through that argument at a high level? Johann Hari There are biological causes of depression and anxiety, like your genes, which can make you more sensitive to these problems. There are psychological causes like trauma and how you think about yourself. And there are social causes in our environment like loneliness or financial insecurity. All of these factors are real and they interact in complex ways in any depressed or anxious individual. The problem is we often ignore the social ones. It helps to think of it like this: Everyone knows they have natural physical needs — obviously you need food, water, shelter. If I took those things away from you, you’d be in real trouble real fast. But there’s equally strong evidence that all human beings have natural psychological needs. You need to feel you belong. You need to feel your life has meaning and purpose. You need to interact with the natural world. You need to feel that people see you and value you. You need to feel you’ve got a future that makes sense. I think in a twisted way that insight is easier to see today than it was two weeks ago. It would be odd for someone who was anxious or depressed today in response to what’s just happened to all of us to think they are suffering from a purely biological problem. Today, it’s far easier to see that these issues are a reaction to the environment. For instance, we’ve had a big increase in financial insecurity in the United States and there’s been a huge increase in anxiety and depression in response. I think it’s really problematic to say that those people are experiencing a disorder. If you are really financially insecure, it’s not a disorder for you to be anxious. In fact, it would be a disorder if you weren’t anxious. The solution isn’t to tell everyone they’ve got an individual pathology in their brain — although some of them will have some biological components that make them more vulnerable to it. The solution is for us to deal with that financial insecurity. Roge Karma I think that’s a good jumping-off point to talk about coronavirus. Almost overnight, huge swaths of the American workforce have been thrown into a precarious financial situation. Unemployment has risen to unprecedented levels. Local businesses are in dire straits. How should we be thinking about these changes from a mental health perspective? Johann Hari It massively depends on what political action happens. I’m very frustrated that whenever I turn on the news and they’re talking about what people should do about anxiety and depression, you have these mental health professionals who exclusively say things like “meditate” and “turn off the news.” Now, that’s all fine — I’m doing that stuff. But the single biggest thing that will affect people’s anxiety is not knowing if you’re going to be thrown out of your home next month or how you’re going to feed your children. And I think there’s an element of cruel optimism in telling a country of people living paycheck to paycheck that they should be responding to the anxiety they’re experiencing this moment primarily by meditating and switching off the news. That’s not going to solve the problem. The single most important thing that has to be done to deal with people’s depression and anxiety is to deal with the financial insecurity they’re facing. And this isn’t some pie in the sky thing. El Salvador, one of the poorest countries in the world, has canceled everyone’s utility bills and canceled their rent for the next three months. If El Salvador can do it, America can do it. Roge Karma What you’re saying is that these shouldn’t just be thought of as economic policies, but mental health policies as well? Johann Hari Yes. We need to radically expand our idea of what an antidepressant is. Anything that reduces depression and anxiety should be regarded as an antidepressant. For some people, that includes chemical antidepressants, but we need to radically expand that menu. I would argue that a high minimum wage is an antidepressant. A universal basic income (UBI) is an antidepressant. In one of the first UBI experiments ever in Dauphin, Canada, you saw an 8.5 percent decrease in hospitalizations due to mental health issues over three years — you won’t find any drug with that kind of effect. Roge Karma Some of the other social causes of depression that you discuss in the book don’t have quite as clear and immediate policy solutions. You have entire chapters on the importance of things like nature and human-to-human connection, but being disconnected from nature and other human beings is essential to meeting the public health crisis we face. So where does that leave us? Johann Hari Depression and anxiety are signals telling us that our needs are not being met, and I would say the single most helpful thing we can do going forward is to allow ourselves to hear the signal. What we’ve done for a really long time in our culture is either insult those signals by saying depressed and anxious people are just weak or feeble. Or we’ve pathologized the signals by saying they’re purely biological malfunctions. What we need to do is hear and respect the signal. Once you hear the signal and you respect it, you’ll start to think differently. First, it means that your pain makes sense. So don’t judge yourself. Don’t shame yourself. There is nothing “wrong” with you. And secondly, it means that when we begin to rebuild after coronavirus, we’ll have learned something really valuable about the kind of society we want. How could we redesign our education system with the understanding that nature is of the utmost importance to mental health? How could we redesign the health care system with the understanding that loneliness poses huge health risks? We can learn positive lessons about how to redesign our society to reduce depression and anxiety going forward if we allow ourselves to hear this signal. Roge Karma I think that’s such an important point. And it makes me wonder if the extent to which our culture places responsibility and blame solely on individuals amplifies our depression problem. If we are individually responsible for everything that happens to us, then there’s no reason to change the social conditions around us. This myth of the solitary individual seems central to why we feel so depressed and helpless to do anything about it. Johann Hari One of the things that really I found most revolutionary in my research was something discovered by Dr. Brett Ford, a psychologist now at the University of Toronto. She and her colleagues wanted to answer a simple question: If you try consciously to make yourself happier, will you actually become happier? They studied this in four countries: the United States, Russia, Taiwan, and Japan. They found that in the United States, those who consciously tried to make themselves happier didn’t become happier on average. But in the other countries, those who tried to make themselves happier did become happier How could this be? When they did more analysis, they discovered that in the United States, when you try to make yourself happier, you generally do something for yourself: you work harder to get a promotion, you treat yourself by buying something — we could all think of a list of things. In the other countries, when you try to make yourself happy, you do something for someone else: your friends, your family, your community. We have an instinctively individualistic idea of what happiness means; many other cultures have an instinctively collectivist definition of what happiness means. And it turns out individualism just doesn’t work very well — we’re not that species. A species of individualists would have died out on the savannas of Africa. We survived as a species because we banded together into tribes and cooperated. So there’s a reason we get anxious and depressed when we are separated from the tribe — we couldn’t survive that way. We only make sense socially. Roge Karma I think that the lesson of human interdependence is one we’re learning very painfully right now because of coronavirus. Johann Hari When I was a child, Margaret Thatcher famously said, “There’s no such thing as society.” And I think one of the reasons we have been so blind to the overwhelming evidence that there are huge social causes of depression and anxiety is because Margaret Thatcher won. Those ideas have become part of the common sense of our culture. One of the things we’re going to learn in this crisis is that there is such a thing as society —and there always was. We are a social species. We stand or fall together. A viral outbreak in Wuhan, China, can lead to the Strip in Las Vegas being shut down. You can tell yourself that you’re John Wayne riding across the horizon if you want, but you’re just as vulnerable to the effects of social transformations as anyone else. Roge Karma Here’s my last question: What would you say to people who are feeling depressed and anxious right now? What advice do you have for them? Johann Hari In a society where people are not heard, the greatest gift you can give is to actually genuinely listen to someone and be present with them. Now, we can’t go and physically see each other at the moment, but you can show up digitally and you can listen and be present and let people know that you care. And, paradoxically, that is the single best thing you can do for yourself. One of the things that correlates very tightly with depression is a lack of a sense of agency. If you feel there’s nothing you can do, you’re much more likely to become depressed. People need to know there’s a lot we can do to support each other in these circumstances. There’s a lot we can do at the political level as citizens and there’s a lot we can do at the personal level to support each other and love each other. It’s going to be hard but we absolutely have agency and power. Related listening Johann Hari and Ezra Klein discussed Lost Connections back in April 2018. You can listen to the podcast by streaming it below or subscribing to The Ezra Klein Show wherever you get your podcasts.
Justice Department Says Intentional Coronavirus Spreaders Will Be Treated as Terrorists
Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said the "purposeful exposure and infection of others" could implicate the country's terrorism-related statutes as coronavirus appears to meet the statutory definition of a biological agent.
Watch live: President Trump to see off Navy hospital ship headed for New York
The USNS Comfort is heading to the U.S. epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.
How doctors put healthy people on a slippery slope to sickness
The fact that you may be young and healthy is no guarantee against unsolicited medical services. Actually, for the health-care industry, it’s an opportunity. In 40 years of clinical practice, I’ve cared for thousands of people who have been sent off to fight battles against wars that don’t exist, or who have been encouraged to...
Coronavirus: Delta flying medical volunteers to 'significantly impacted' areas of US for free
Delta announced it will be offering free flights to medical volunteers headed to help fight COVID-19 in "significantly impacted" areas of the country.
Italy sees biggest single-day jump in coronavirus deaths, while US becomes first nation to top 100,000 cases
Joseph Lowery, who founded Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King Jr., dies at 98
The Rev. Joseph E.
Coronavirus in NY: KGB Bar is staying alive by telling artists’ stories online
As bars and restaurants across NYC struggle with the devastating effect of city-wide shutdowns due to COVID-19, one beloved literary hangout, KGB Bar, is doing its part to help its staff during this tough time. The bar itself is shuttered, but writers, poets and artists will still be livestreaming literary readings and other events on...
Trump signs order authorizing Pentagon to call up former troops to help with coronavirus fight
President Trump on Friday signed an executive order authorizing the Pentagon to bring back former troops, including members of the National Guard and reserve members, to active-duty as part of the ongoing response to the coronavirus crisis.
Coronavirus bound? A perfect weekend project: Backup your data
Online tools from Google, Apple and others are the easiest, but not the most economical. However, they are the safest.
Germany takes coronavirus patients from Italy, cases more severe across Europe
At a time when the EU has closed borders between states, Germany is standing in solidarity with its neighbors.
Dolly Parton says coronavirus pandemic is a lesson from God: 'Keep the faith, don't be too scared'
Dolly Parton believes the coronavirus pandemic is a lesson from God, she revealed in an uplifting message to fans.
Ohio chef aims to give ex-convicts a second chance
Chef and restauranteur Brandon Chrostowski received the "Silver Plate" award in March, an honor he now shares with Wolfgang Puck, Danny Meyer and other luminaries. But Chrostowski's operation is a little different, with kitchens staffed by ex-cons. Jeff Glor talks to the visionary chef about his mission to give others the second chance in life he says he was granted years ago.
'Not just a big city issue': Coronavirus cases soar in rural America popular with tourists
Rural counties in Colorado, Utah and Idaho are experiencing some of the highest rates of coronavirus cases per capita in the nation.
Abortion is a human right. A pandemic doesn't change that
Abortion access is a fundamental human right, say Serra Sippel and Akila Radhakrishnan. They contend that the denial of it by US states like Texas, Mississippi and Ohio -- even in times of crisis as the world battles the Covid-19 pandemic -- is cruel, inhumane and degrading.
Dr. Jack Graham: Coronavirus – My battle with depression has an important lesson for this crisis
I have battled depression and I know the dangers of isolation.
Trump opens the door to calling up former active service members for coronavirus fight
President Donald Trump signed an executive order Friday afternoon that could potentially lead to former active duty military members being recalled into service to help with the government's coronavirus response.
Woman fatally stabbed in the neck outside Harlem park
A woman was fatally stabbed in the neck outside a Harlem park early Saturday — and her attacker fled the deadly scene on a red scooter, police said. The woman, 33, was sitting on a park bench on the corner of East 128th Street and 3rd Avenue near Harlem River Park at about 1:30 a.m....
1 h
Business owners hope to stay open despite outbreak
While much of the U.S. is living on lockdown to minimize the spread of the coronavirus, several Southern states are resisting. Small businesses considered non-essential say the governors are the only thing between them and financial ruin. (March 28)       
1 h
Coronavirus pandemic drives up price of heroin, meth and fentanyl
The coronavirus pandemic is driving up the price of heroin, methamphetamine and fentanyl as Mexican cartels scramble to get their hands on Chinese-manufactured chemicals now in short supply. “The cartels are having a lot of difficulty producing drugs right now, and when the supply is low the price always goes up,” a US federal law...
1 h
Knicks mailbag: Point guard remains a pressing issue
You ask, we answer. The Post is fielding questions from readers about New York’s biggest pro sports teams and getting our beat writers to answer them in a series of regularly published mailbags. In today’s installment: the Knicks. I’m curious to get your take on the insistence that the Knicks need a great point guard....
1 h
Pandemic forces whiskey bar to sell valuable bottle collection
The Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington, D.C. has long been home to one of the world's largest collections of whiskey bottles, dating from prohibition and even decades before. But in these difficult days, what's been a defining feature of the bar has become a luxury. And now it's being "tapped", to keep the bar and its employees going. Christina Ruffini explains how the bar made a big sacrifice to keep the lights on and make sure its employees are paid.
1 h
The untold history behind the 1936 Olympics
With the Summer 2020 Olympics now postponed, it'll be awhile before more Olympic legends like Jesse Owens are created. By winning 4 gold medals in the 1936 games in Berlin, he dashed Adolf Hitler's claims of white supremacy. And on this very day 30 years ago, he posthumously earned another honor, the Congressional Gold Medal. But Owens wasn't alone in breaking ground at those games in Germany. Over a dozen other African American men, and 2 women, also represented America at the Games. Their lesser-known story is told in the documentary, and now the new book, "Olympic Pride, American Prejudice." Michelle Miller shares the untold story of the historic event.
1 h
How China Turns Trash Into Wealth
The author of Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale responds to Juan Villoro’s Future Tense Fiction story, “Paciente Cero.”
1 h
On-the-move actress finds value in minimal decor
With roles in wide-ranging projects including "Miss Bala" and "The Terror: Infamy," Cristina Rodlo relocates a lot. Her advice: Don't get attached.
1 h
What the Rams' draft needs are at each position
Here's who the Rams have on their roster and what their positions of need are for the NFL draft and free agency.
1 h
'They look at me and think I'm some kind of virus': What it's like to be Asian during the coronavirus pandemic
For the Asian American community, the dirty looks, the harassment and the physical abuse began long before coronavirus spread across the country.       
1 h
Column: Enough walks already: A dog's view of stay-at-home
What started off as a dog's dream come true — the whole family, home with us all the time! — has become a nightmare. So much walking!
1 h
Nearing overload in coronavirus pandemic, Mono County sheriff has a message: Stay out
The sheriff of Mono County, home of popular vacation destinations such as Mammoth Lake, has asked visitors to stop coming during the cororavirus pandemic.
1 h
Saturday Sessions: Margaret Glaspy performs "Devotion"
Margaret Glaspy was born in Red Bluff, California and began playing guitar at the age of 15. Soon after heading east for music school, she began performing in clubs in Boston and New York. After a warm reception from fans and critics for her 2016 debut album, Glaspy released her newest collection on Friday, titled “Devotion.” She joined “CBS This Morning: Saturday” from the Bridge Studio in Brooklyn to perform “Devotion”
1 h
One Way to Help Strapped Hospitals? Print PPE Using 3D Printers
As coronavirus cases soar globally and medical workers face a dearth of protective gear, citizens are stepping up in unique ways to combat the health crisis.
1 h
Ports and dockworkers seek delay on ship pollution proposal
Already hit by a coronavirus slowdown, California port workers are asking to delay new rules intended to reduce air pollution from cargo ships.
1 h
The Problem With China’s Victory Lap
On January 24, a few days after the United States confirmed its first coronavirus case, President Donald Trump expressed his gratitude for China’s “efforts and transparency” in combatting a virus that the country’s leadership tried for weeks to cover up. On behalf of the American people, Trump wrote, “I want to thank President Xi!”By then, the pandemic was on its way to wreaking havoc on the U.S. economy and its citizens’ way of life—not least because of the actions of Xi Jinping’s own government. Yet in February, Trump again praised for Xi on Twitter, writing that “he is strong, sharp and powerfully focused on leading the counterattack on the Coronavirus … Great discipline is taking place in China, as President Xi strongly leads what will be a very successful operation.”Since then, cases have skyrocketed across the United States, which now has the highest number of confirmed cases anywhere in the world, with more than 100,000 people infected. Yet Trump’s comments reflect a propaganda victory for Xi. And as the U.S. approaches the height of its outbreak, scrambling to spend trillions of dollars to save its economy, asking other countries to make up for its device shortages, soliciting doctors from overseas, and still struggling to bring stranded citizens home, it has no credible claim to be the responsible superpower leading everyone out of the crisis. Xi, the ascendant authoritarian with a massive surveillance state and a ruthless security apparatus at his disposal, wants to pick up the mantle.[Read: Why America is uniquely unsuited to dealing with the coronavirus]With combatting the virus the most immediate concern, the U.S. has not figured out how to compel China to own up to its shortcomings in managing this crisis—ham-handed attempts to brand the disease the “Chinese virus” notwithstanding. Xi is now maneuvering for a propaganda and diplomatic victory, offering aid and advice around the world.The U.S., meanwhile, is entering what’s perhaps the darkest phase of its own crisis—its domestic problems hobbling it from providing significant international aid or coordinating a comprehensive response. (The U.S. announced on Thursday that it had made available $274 million in emergency aid to 64 countries.)“On the global stage, [China is] hoping to fill the void of U.S. leadership,” Rush Doshi, the director of the China Strategy Initiative at the Brookings Institution, told me. “They have a long way to go, but they’re trying."Never mind that China put the world in this predicament in the first place. Two months into a massive societal lockdown in China, with new cases of the disease slowing down—at least by official statistics—Xi is ready to declare victory at home.He made a valedictory visit to Wuhan, the epicenter of the country’s outbreak, in mid-March. The lockdown on the surrounding province has lifted; public transit is running in Wuhan again. Xi has also sent millions of masks and thousands of ventilators to Europe, getting praise from the Italian foreign minister for helping “save lives in the first stages of the emergency.” As recently as yesterday, Xi offered Chinese support to the U.S. in a phone call with Trump.“This is happening all around the world now,” says David Shullman, a China expert at the International Republican Institute. “[There] is a really long list of places where China is offering this equipment and assistance … It also comes with a message that, ‘Look what’s happening in the established democracies.’” Chinese-backed accounts have flooded Twitter with praise for the country’s response; a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson has pushed the false claim that the U.S. Army brought the disease to China; and Xi has encouraged Chinese media to push positive stories about China’s response. But both China’s purported success against the virus, and its help to others in similar circumstances, may prove less than meets the eye. For one thing, the Chinese model of mass roundups of citizens and extensive surveillance with no real public-health purpose is not, or shouldn’t be, exportable to democracies—and democracies like South Korea and Taiwan have, through their own successes against the virus, proved that authoritarianism is not the required ingredient. The crackdown may not even have succeeded as well as China wants to advertise. Nurses in Wuhan have told the Financial Times of “hidden infections” going unreported in China’s official statistics. “If China prematurely declares victory and they’re wrong, that could lead to a second wave of infections,” Doshi said. “It’s quite sobering to think what that would mean for the world’s pandemic response and the global economy.”[Read: China is avoiding blame by trolling the world]Most immediately, it could mean that the coronavirus ground zero continues to generate and export more cases.Desperate countries were happy to accept Chinese help. But it hasn’t always provided the lifesaving equipment expected. In Ukraine, for example, Andrey Stavnitser, who is helping coordinate the coronavirus response in the Odessa region, told the Atlantic Council that one center there ordered thousands of coronavirus tests from China at great expense—only to receive “ordinary flu tests” that had “nothing to do with coronavirus.”The real short-term risk of China’s leadership exercise is that, should the country make the calculation to prize its economic health over public-safety concerns, other countries contending with the pandemic’s economic devastation may find themselves tempted to follow suit. Trump has already said he’d like to get the United States back to work by Easter, about three weeks from now—though China’s lockdown lasted months. As the crisis drags on, more and more leaders will find themselves facing gruesome calculations about the severe economic toll of keeping a low death toll. At that point, the China model may look even more tempting.
1 h
YouTube Was One Way to Survive. Now It’s One of the Only Ways.
Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, Lauren O’Brien was juggling three jobs: She’s an on-camera actor; a comedian and house performer at the Westside Comedy Theater in Santa Monica, California; and, along with her musician husband, Matt Commerce, the owner of a small events-booking business. All three, she told me with a sigh over the phone this week, “collapsed at the same time,” when California issued a statewide mandate to shelter in place. Working from home isn’t applicable when crews can’t gather for shoots, theaters are closed, and events are canceled in droves.The couple confronted their new reality quickly: They slashed their spending, asked to defer payments on their credit cards, and planned to talk with their landlord. “We went from a difficult discussion to tears to freaking out to ‘Okay, what do we do, then?’” she said, adding that they’re also the parents of a 3-year-old son. “We’re just kind of on a wing and a prayer now.”The pandemic is hitting every part of the economy, but when it comes to the entertainment industry, actors in particular are paying a steep price financially and creatively. The vocation has always come with financial uncertainty, but today’s acting community had been working in a flourishing landscape. The number of television shows airing every year surged to a new peak in 2019 thanks to streaming services, and more productions meant more opportunities to be cast. Pilot season—traditionally a months-long stretch from January to April when actors flock to Los Angeles to audition for new shows—had lately morphed into an all-year-long process. And between creator-focused crowdfunding sites such as Patreon and social-media platforms, performers had been finding more and more outlets for expressing their art.[Read: The pandemic is hitting one part of Hollywood especially hard]Yet, for even the most versatile actors, the pandemic has cut off the revenue streams they need to pay the bills: The service and hospitality industries have come to a standstill, and those who found side gigs outside those traditional categories—such as in teaching, event planning, or stand-up comedy—can’t go to work. David Sedgwick, an actor who also works as a substitute teacher and tour guide at Universal Studios in Los Angeles, told me that all three of his sources of income “vanished overnight.” “My work life has been totally disrupted,” he wrote to me in an email this week.Several organizations dedicated to actors’ welfare have set up emergency fundssince the outbreak. But raising money may prove to be a challenge.Tom Viola, the executive director of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, which set up an emergency-assistance fund, told me that it’s hoping to collect $2 million. “We are optimistic,” he wrote via email. “Earlier this week, we were thrilled to announce a $1 million matching grant from more than 20 Broadway producers. However, it’s going to take a lot of theater lovers digging into their hearts—and their wallets—in an already trying time for us to reach this goal.” What’s more, the money raised through such funds may be “nominal” at best, O’Brien said, when it comes to months of unemployment.Brittany Curran, who’s been searching for her next gig since the series on which she starred, Syfy’s The Magicians, was canceled in early March, told me via email that the pandemic is “heightening” her job-search anxiety. “Most actors aren’t stars,” she wrote, “aren’t millionaires with enough money in savings to weather the storm.”Actors, therefore, are looking for temporary shelter—and for many, including O’Brien, the internet provides some cover. She and her husband started a YouTube channel called The Hootenanny, on which they live-stream music classes geared toward children every weekday morning, both as a way to keep their son occupied and as a way to entertain families who also have restless toddlers at home. With every upload, O’Brien encourages viewers to donate $5 to her Venmo account, but says she understands if her audience, like her and her family, can’t spare the money. “If people are in the same situation as us, don’t worry about it,” she says. “Just tune in, keep your kids busy.”[Read: Say goodbye to movie theaters]They’re not the only ones migrating online while being out of work. “There’s an intense amount of collaboration,” Viola observed. “Actors, musicians, writers and other creatives are using Facebook, Instagram, Zoom conferencing and other electronic methods to build creative communities online.” All the performers navigating a world without productions whom I spoke with have noticed a spike in internet activity as well. “I don’t love the pressure to write King Lear, but as someone who has been creating my own content for a long time, it’s interesting to see everyone, even actors who are usually on TV shows, suddenly want to make their own stuff,” the actor Ashley Clements wrote me in a Twitter direct message. (Clements primarily produces and stars in web content, while supplementing her work with commercial gigs.) “I think we’re going to see a lot of podcasts, vlog-style one person shows, songs, and quarantine shorts come out of this time, as actors try to stay sane.”Indeed, coronavirus content has become its own subgenre, given how the pandemic has come to dominate headlines and conversations. There’s an appetite for public-service announcements, for commentary—and even for parody. Tess Paras, an actor who stars on Amazon’s Just Add Magic, assembled a lineup of her performer friends for a video spoofing the viral A-lister sing-along to John Lennon’s “Imagine,” rewriting the lyrics to draw attention to—and condemn—the racist rhetoric around the coronavirus. “I think social media has become an even livelier place right now,” she wrote me via Twitter. “We’re all doing bits to connect with each other and quell our collective anxiety. Honestly being able to laugh helps!”Rebekka Johnson, a comedian and cast member on the Netflix drama GLOW, which halted production on its fourth season following the outbreak, is also working on making coronavirus content. She plans to collaborate remotely with her industry friends to come up with a script about social distancing that they can each shoot at home and piece together into a comedic PSA she’ll post on her Instagram. “I guess we’re just trying to still be creative, but for the greater good,” she explained over the phone. Not everyone’s dipping into COVID-19–specific creations, Johnson added in an email: She’s noticed that many of her fellow actors, like O’Brien, have begun hosting online classes on subjects such as musical improv and voice-over work to help pay the bills.Still, not all online content is created equal. The influx of A-listers onto the same platforms threatens to overshadow these actors, drawing away the valuable attention they need to monetize their work. “It’s kind of hard to compete when, you know, [the Coldplay frontman] Chris Martin wants to put on a concert,” O’Brien pointed out. “It is really neat [that everyone’s logging on], but then there is a lot of noise, and it is hard to stand out.”[Read: Celebrities have never been less entertaining]And standing out will be the key to dealing with the potentially protracted aftermath of social distancing. Actors are used to enduring slumps between gigs, and industry emergency-assistance funds and government-instituted relief packages will help in the short term. But Johnson, who’s being paid for two weeks of work while production is halted on GLOW, anticipates a swell of funding campaigns for actors like herself if the pandemic proves to be disruptive for too long. “As an actor, it’s feast or famine,” she said. “So this was the time that I was going to make money to be able to sustain for that long period of time when you’re sort of figuring out what your next job is. I don’t know what’s going to happen, and that unknown is very scary.”Sedgwick, too, said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about his financial future for the time being. He has unemployment insurance—actors may qualify through unions such as SAG-AFTRA depending on their state —but “this kind of situation has the potential to be a tipping point,” he explained. “I’ve googled ‘bankruptcy law in California’ more than once.” And Curran said she’s “saved enough money to not be worried for a little while,” but fears that if productions don’t resume in time, she’ll be ineligible for the Screen Actors Guild’s health-insurance program, which depends on actors hitting a wage minimum every year. Actors need auditions to make it to the next “feast,” as Johnson put it; without them, they’ll have to create their own opportunities.In that sense, the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t stopped Hollywood; it’s just forced the industry to hit pause. Crews have stopped gathering, studio gates have closed, red carpets sit unrolled, and the release calendar has been left in disarray. But even though traffic has slowed on sets and stages, art doesn’t have to: Curran said she’ll be shooting “the lowest of low-budget short films” in her house and backyard. And O’Brien, on top of creating daily lesson plans for The Hootenanny, will get started on a long-gestating project. “I have been talking for, like, three years about writing a one-person show,” she said, laughing. “The silver lining is, I do have time to write now.” In other words? The show will go on.
1 h