As the temporary shutdown of Broadway and theatres around the world continues, Playbill is reaching out to artists to see how they are physically and creatively responding to a changed world.
The series continues with Devina Sabnis, who is currently making her Off-Broadway debut as Kelly in The Office! A Musical Parody, having played the role in the North American tour of the comedy. The production resumed performances earlier this month, playing to 33 percent reduced capacity audiences, in the Jerry Orbach Theater at The Theater Center. Sabnis' previous credits include Elf and Wizard of Oz at Syracuse Stage and Bye Bye Birdie at Priscilla Beach Theatre.
What is your typical day like now?
I wake up around 8:30 AM. Then I get the coffee brewing, while I take a shower and do vocal warm-ups. After I drink my coffee and eat a small breakfast, I put on my mask, grab my script, and head to the theatre for rehearsal! I love rehearsal! It’s not only an opportunity to practice on the show, but it also allows me to get to know and hang out with the cast, many of whom are good friends. During lunch, if I haven’t packed a lunch, I usually find a cast member to get lunch with. We often bring lunch back to the theatre and spread out six feet away to chat and eat. Rehearsal is over around 6 PM. When I get back to my apartment, I cook with my sister or we get take-out. After dinner, I either watch a movie with my sister, FaceTime my friends, binge Netflix in my bed, or play World of Warcraft with my boyfriend. I’m in bed around 11 PM. And then on to a new day!
What book/TV show/podcast/film should everyone take the time to consume during this period?
I think that if there’s anything this past year has shown me, it’s the importance of being aware of what is happening around the world. I recommend that everyone subscribe to a newspaper of their choice. I personally subscribe to the New York Times Daily Briefings, which I skim as I drink my coffee, and during my commute to the theatre, I listen to The Daily podcast so that I can keep updated with current events. Over quarantine I also binged a lot of shows, but I would say that Barry on HBO was one of my favorites.
During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow actors, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
Take time to listen to other people’s stories, empathize with them, and engage thoughtfully. It is okay to ask questions, but remember to do so compassionately, without judgment, and keep an open mind. Also understand that it’s great to educate yourself, but work towards using that education and reflection to create active change in your environment whenever you can.
What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation and/or the current unrest?
For me, the best thing to do was to validate my feelings. This time is extremely difficult, and I have absolutely struggled with quarantine and feelings of being purposeless. At first, I tried my best to be productive, but it started to weigh on me when what I thought would be “two weeks” became a year, and my entire industry had shut down, leaving me without a job. Then I decided to start spending time doing things that I didn’t really have the time to do before. I started watching TV shows and made a list of critically acclaimed movies to watch with my family. I went hiking and had Zumba dance parties with my sister. I spent a lot of time reading outside on my hammock and allowing myself to rest and relax for the first time. I lived at home for almost six months. It was the longest time my entire family had spent together since my older sister graduated high school in 2012. While I’m sad about the circumstances that led us to quarantining together in my childhood home, I’m also very grateful for the quality time that I got to spend with them. At the time, I had that tiny voice in my head telling myself I was not being productive, but I now look back on that quarantine period with relatively fond memories. Take the time to do whatever you need to do for your mental health without feeling pressured to “be productive.”
You performed in the tour of The Office. What was that experience like?
Touring is a special experience that I am genuinely grateful for. You learn how to adapt quickly to different theatre spaces, hotels, sleeper busses, and waking up in a different state daily. Everyday was a new adventure. Some days I was homesick, while others I was so excited to travel to a new place, I forgot how much I was missing home. You are constantly trying to figure out when to partake in being social and when to find time for just yourself. It was an amazing experience, cut short by COVID-19. I hope that I have the opportunity to tour again at some point in the future.
How are you feeling about returning to live performances?
It feels extremely surreal. Once I realized the pandemic was going to last over a year, I did not imagine that I was going to get to perform again so soon. Like many others, I was praying that I could go back to doing what I’m most passionate about as soon as it was safe to do so. I was ecstatic when Tobly [McSmith], the writer, called to offer me the role of Kelly and Others in the Off-Broadway production The Office! A Musical Parody. However, it wasn’t until Catherine Russell, the producer, called to share all the safety measures that had been put in place to make this show run successfully and safely that I knew that I had to be a part of it. Catherine Russell and the Theater Center have worked tirelessly to safely bring back theatre to New York City. I’m so grateful that I have the opportunity to do what I love without having to worry about my health.
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
Because there are so many worthy causes to learn more about or donate to, I asked the cast of The Office! to help me out with this question!
Emma Brock (Michael Scott): National Police Accountability Project
Nathan David Smith (Dwight): Indie Theater Fund
Laura Mehl (Pam): Endometriosis Research Center
Danny Adams (Jim): Uptown Wagon
Devina Sabnis (Kelly): RAICES
Gabrielle Filloux (Angela): California Wildfire Relief Fund
Emily Qualmann (Meredith): The Trevor Project
Bob McSmith (Creed): RAINN