As the temporary shutdown of Broadway and theatres around the world continues, Playbill is reaching out to some of our favorite artists to see how they are physically and creatively responding to a changed world.
The series continues with stage and screen star Marsha Mason, who was Oscar-nominated for her performances in Only When I Laugh, Chapter Two, The Goodbye Girl, and Cinderella Liberty. On Broadway Mason has been seen in Impressionism, Steel Magnolias, The Night of the Iguana, The Good Doctor, Cactus Flower, and Happy Birthday, Wanda June. She was also the associate director for the 2019 revival of Arthur Miller's All My Sons, and her recent screen credits include Grace and Frankie, The Middle, Madam Secretary, and The Good Wife.
What is your typical day like now?
I wake up in the morning and say a prayer of gratitude that real change is happening in this country. That Black Lives Matter. That through this movement there is the demand for real change in how we see and hear and listen to each other as human beings. That we are one with all human beings. We are the same. That white people like myself must reflect and contemplate on our own accountability and responsibility for the injustices poured on our fellow human beings in this country. That as a child of the '50s and '60s I bought into the delusional picture of our country even though my grade school was integrated. I protested the war in Vietnam but didn’t see all that was happening in my country. I watched the documentary on James Baldwin the other night, I Am Not Your Negro, and will watch it again and again to learn, to listen, to hear, to do.
I have become a bird watcher now…and when I look out at all the different birds flying and spending time at my feeders: red-winged black birds, wild turkeys, crows, wrens, goldfinches, chickadees, mourning doves. I see them and think…they are all birds. Just like we are all human beings…why did we, as white people, think a Black person isn’t a human being? Why did we paint a world that was only for white people? And then I think, “The 'why' doesn’t really matter anymore. We have to change the prevailing image of this country in a major way"….and then I think long and hard on how I can be a part of this change.
What book/TV show/podcast/film should everyone take the time to consume during this period?
I am reading more and viewing more on my computer and TV…Toni Morrison’s books, cooking books, Maya Angelou’s poetry, taking virtual tours of my favorite museums, and watching a lot of international films and series via MHz and Netflix and Hulu and Acorn! I don’t mind the subtitles because the work is really good.
What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation?
Meditate….so important! Any kind! Use your breath as your focal point if you don’t want to use a mantra. Take deep, slow breaths, in and then out, and focus on going deep. Fill your lungs slowly and feel your ribs expanding and your stomach expanding and slowly release the breath when full and think “release”… if you like using a sound, try “Aum” or “Om,” expanding the letters individually…along with that you can tell yourself to release and relax. Sit comfortably in a chair, or lie down and turn off the phone and devices, give yourself just 10 minutes to start if you are new to it. You can also use an image in your mind's eye, a circle with a dot in the center and see it white on black or black on white—or the flame of a candle along with your breathing, watching the flame flutter as you exhale but it doesn’t go out. I have enjoyed using Deepak Chopra’s 21-Day Meditation with Oprah also—they are online—but meditation is free to use yourself. I sometimes see a shining blue pearl in my mind's eye as I slow down and deepen my breathing…watching it shimmer and glisten as I breath in and out.
Record your dreams...I have a pad and pen next to my bed and as I lay there, waiting for sleep, I unwind the day in my mind and say a prayer of gratitude for just the day itself, for the little things that were pleasant that day, for just getting through the day, for the sheets and the bed and a roof over my head, for my health, for my family, my loved ones, my friends. Tell yourself you will get a good night's sleep and wake refreshed and happy to have another day—again breathe deeply and be grateful for your breath! Sometimes emotions will arise, so just watch them happening—don’t fret about why—just accept them and let them flow out on your exhalations. Then as you drift off just tell yourself you will remember your dreams and will write them down.
Exercise is really good! Jumping jacks if you haven’t any room, running in place, and running until you run out of breath.
And don’t get glued to the news! Don’t become obsessed with the outside world…balance and moderation in all things is better! You know when you are out of balance. Make a choice to re-balance your time and interests whatever they may be. That is what I do and practice.
How are you keeping your creative juices flowing?
Creative juices are attended to with planting flowers and, when blooming, arranging them…had great daffs and jonquils this year, and journaling! A lot of journaling! Also, I like figuring out why I am enjoying the international films and series…what makes them different, how they tell stories differently than we do, and I am also working with a playwright-screenwriter on a couple of projects to direct! We have one project that utilizes acrobats to help tell the story, so I am editing the script of the play-event to its bare bones. Speaking of "bare bones,” one way to help with isolation is an exercise I learned from a wonderful teacher, Ms. Natalie Goldberg. Writing Down The Bones:...you journal by putting pen to paper and not lift the pen off the paper for say, 5 to 10 minutes, writing constantly even if it is the same sentence over and over until another thought comes! If you keep writing, you will get in touch with yourself in wonderful ways. Also, order The Artist's Way and follow the exercises Ms. Julia Cameron has laid out to help with journaling and introspection. It is a wonderful way to help with any and all feelings one is having during this difficult and painful time.
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
There are two wonderful books I have recently read that were so very informational and current. One is The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin and Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, which are both available on Amazon. I have donated and would suggest all donate if you can to the National Bail Fund Network, which distributes to many local bail organizations, the Go Fund Me Page for George Floyd’s family, the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and because of my many years living in New Mexico, the Navajo Water Project, which helps the region particularly hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.