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 nominee Max von Essen, recently seen as Marvin in the acclaimed national tour of William Finn and James Lapine's Falsettos. For his portrayal of Henri Baurel in An American in Paris, von Essen received nominations for Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Grammy Awards, and has also appeared on Broadway in Anastasia, the revival of Evita, Dance of the Vampires, Jesus Christ Superstar, and the closing company of the original Les Misérables (as well as the first revival). Von Essen's powerful, nuanced tenor can also be heard on his debut solo CD, Call Me Old Fashioned: The Broadway Standard.
What is your typical day like now?
Well, let's see. The only reason I get up is to feed my cat because she meows at me at 8 AM. Then I go back to bed until noon. Haha. Sometimes I push myself to get up before 11 AM and do yoga. There are so many amazing people and studios offering donation-based classes. The one I like best is my friend Tony (@tonybordonaro3 on Instagram). He's so sweet, he says just come and join even if you're unable to donate. There's so much generosity shining through during this difficult time. There's also play time with my cat, some piano playing and singing, checking in with the news, and doing some cooking. I also signed up for Cameo and donate every dollar to The Actors Fund. Nice to feel like I can still help out during this time. I'll also meditate if I feel my mind really spinning out of control. Then the evening consists of virtual cocktail hours through House Party or Zoom and then off to bed at the sensible hour of 3 AM.
When and if you are feeling inspired, run with it! It is not required, but it is encouraged. It will lift you, even if it is fleeting.
What book/TV show/podcast/film should everyone take the time to consume during this period?
I wish I was reading, but my mind is just racing too much, so I've had trouble settling and concentrating. TV shows have become my go-to. One of my faves has been Tiger King, which literally united this country more than any political leader could. I also flew through all three seasons of Ozark. Dear God, that show is good! The acting! Like a damn master class. Which is good, since I can feel my own ability slowly slipping away. I also highly recommend Unorthodox. Moving story, beautifully told. Then if I just need a boost, I get on YouTube and start searching some of my favorite performers.
What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation?
OK, advice, here we go. This is what I'm telling myself. This is a crisis, and we're all different. Some people seem to be thriving, taking advantage of this time, cooking, baking, pumping out creative content, and often sharing all of this on social media. I, on the other hand, often feel stuck, down, useless, depressed, and fearful I'm completely wasting this time. And guess what, it's all OK. We have to be kind to ourselves. The only challenge I propose is if you are feeling creative, if you do have a burst of energy, a positive moment, a small desire to write a poem, sing a song, get some air and take a walk, call a friend, etc... then go with that feeling! When and if you are feeling inspired, run with it! It is not required, but it is encouraged. It will lift you, even if it is fleeting. The moments start to add up, and the positivity builds.
How are you keeping your creative juices flowing?
Well, it's kind of like I was saying earlier. If I'm feeling even just a bit inspired, I run with it. I do a quick warmup, I sit at the piano and sing. I go through piles of old music and just sing songs that bring me joy. I sing for people on Cameo, and sometimes I go live on Instagram and just chat and check in with people. With all that said, though, I'm still feeling stuck and I'm trying to be kind to myself. There is so much online content being churned out and so many hashtags and challenges, and in general, I'm just not up to it. I'm sad. I'm lonely. I miss life as we knew it, and I miss performing. It feeds my heart and soul and I'm feeling lost without performing live for an audience. It's going to take some time, but I can't wait to get on a stage and create like that again!
Are you working on any theatrical projects during this time?
No projects at this time, no. Everything I had in the works was canceled. But I am playing around with a few new songs to add into my solo show once I can start performing again. Right now I'm just focused on getting myself through this, helping others whenever I can, and remaining grateful for my health and my ability to ride this out. So many are not nearly as lucky.