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 coping with the self-isolation on a daily basis, both physically and creatively.
The series continues with Tony winner Rachel Bay Jones, who brings a singular charm to all her work. Jones, who made her Broadway debut in Meet Me in St. Louis, won the 2017 Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical playing mom Heidi Hansen to Ben Platt’s Evan in the Tony-winning Dear Evan Hansen. As Heidi, Jones displayed her seemingly endless, rich emotional reserves, mining the role for all its dramatic worth, creating a wholly real portrait of a mother struggling to connect with her teenage son. And, her vocals were powerful and profoundly heartbreaking. She was also one of the shining lights in the Tony-winning revival of Pippin in 2013. Jones, who also appeared in the short-lived musical version of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, brought a quirky sensibility to Catherine, the love interest of Pippin's title character. She managed to unearth previously undiscovered comedic moments and also delivered a stirring version of Stephen Schwartz’s “I Guess I’ll Miss the Man.” Jones was most recently seen opposite Brandon Victor Dixon in the Kennedy Center's acclaimed production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Next to Normal. Watch selections from that staging above.
What is your typical day like now?
I’m trying like hell to establish new routines for myself; it’s comforting to be able to depend on things that keep happening…and it gives me something to control. Ha! So, after a few hours of pre-dawn insomnia, I give up and have my blessed cup of coffee with (guiltily hoarded) oat milk, just me and my dogs. Sometimes it’s work on projects I’m developing, sometimes it’s just jigsaw puzzles, whatever I can manage. I cook meals for the family with whatever fresh vegetables are about to go first. We have been vegan since New Year's Day, and it has made quarantine cooking a “fun” challenge; easier in a lot of ways, but man do I miss sushi. The good news is gluten is totally on the menu for all the baking projects! Noon pacific time (3 PM ET) is a great, $5, half-hour group Zoom workout class with Leading Lady Fitness to burn off the banana nut muffins I just ate, or a similar class with my gentle yoga guru and friend Jurian Hughes, and I try to get outside a little. The sun is awesome, isn’t it?
Miranda has just turned 17, and we are currently in Los Angeles, so Benim and I try to get her out for a driving lesson after her online school schedule, though my version of that pretty much involves yelps and white-knuckling the door handle, so…he’s usually the one in the front passenger seat. Evenings, the three of us cook and eat together, and we’ve been saying our version of grace at the dinner table: we say what we are grateful for. Some days the list is longer than others, but it’s always a good reminder. Throughout the day I talk to people I love as much as I can. I clean a lot. (A lot.) I dream of really learning to play the guitar. I don’t pick up the guitar. I remind myself this is all a luxury.
What book/TV show/podcast/film should everyone take the time to consume during this period?
I’ve been unable to really concentrate on anything requiring a big investment from me these days, and I’m not a big screen watcher, but we all binged the Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock series, and it was perfect. The acting is great, the stories are well written and engaging, and it’s total escapism without guilt. I tried the Tiger King thing, but honestly those people made me start to lose hope. Woof.
Books: The Overstory, by Richard Powers, life-changing novel about trees and tree people (which we all are); and Upstream by Mary Oliver. Anything by Mary Oliver, but especially this book of short essays about nature and thought and art is such a good place to hang my mind right now. Also, for anyone who is doing any writing or is a word nerd like me, Dreyer’s English is a fabulous style guide. It’s comforting to me to be humorously told the rules of language, and to marvel at the complexity of something that humans actually did really well, this language thing. Ooh, and Summerland, by Michael Chabon, is a sweet and wonderful and smart fantasy, and I know it’s written as a YA novel, but oh God I love him and it, and you will, too. The audiobook version, which he reads himself, is even better and goes down easy.
What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation?
I don’t know why, fully, but I suspect that Zoom and social media make me feel more isolated. Like I can’t quite get at the people in the box. Phone calls are good. But it might be that we have to not run away from the alone-ness of it all. Maybe there’s value in staying with the reality of that, and being kind and good to yourself. Trying like hell to be gentle with everything that comes. I have noticed that this time is bringing all of my demons out to play, and what helps is just—moment to moment— fulfilling a promise to myself to stay healthy, in all the ways I can. That is what we must do right now, stay healthy in body and mind and spirit; commit to that. And give, give, give of yourself. Call people and check in on everybody else, help when you can. It fills you up to take care of others.
Also, adopt a dog. Or maybe a bunny. Gosh, they’re sweet.
And remember, as my Nana used to say, “This, too, shall pass.”
How are you keeping your creative juices flowing?
I’m working on a few projects, and with my collaborator, Randy Redd, but I am also trying to see this time as a fill-up. We can’t put out all the time. The fields are fallow now, soaking up the sun and the storms, both; and soon seeds will be planted, and then something beautiful and tasty will come. It always does.
Are you working on any theatrical projects during this time?
Not yet. Maybe I’ll save that for when we see each other again, and we can be together, and tell our stories in magic.