Since the temporary shutdown of Broadway and theatres around the world began in March, Playbill has been reaching out to artists to see how they are physically and creatively responding to a changed world. As the six-month anniversary of the Broadway shutdown approaches, we're looking back at how these artists have been keeping busy. Below, take a look at what more than 25 theatre folk have been reading.
To see more about these and other performers profiled in our Checking In With… series, click here.
The Glass Hotel was a haunting and melancholy read.
In April, I finished reading The Soul of America by Jon Meacham. It took me about eight months to finish the book.
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
I am reading Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Joe Dispenza. He combines quantum physics, neuroscience, brain chemistry, and genetics to show you, the reader, that you are not doomed by your genes and hardwired to be a certain way for the rest of your life. This time in our history feels like a genuine opportunity for a major reset, so I am working diligently to change old patterns that are no longer serving me.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
André De Shields
Thomas Merton's New Seeds of Contemplation, Joseph Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Wayne W. Dyer's There's a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem, and Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose.
I’ve been reading a lot of architecture books because I’m a nerd. Specifically, The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst. It is excellent, and he’s a fascinating man.
Darius de Haas
I just got through reading The Sound of Freedom: Marian Anderson, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Concert That Awakened America. I love reading more and more about specific periods in this country’s history and seeing the cyclical nature of how we as a nation have dealt with different issues—be it race, politics, equal rights, or what have you. I think everyone has to just allow themselves the time to find what they’re drawn to.
Nathan Lee Graham
I’m currently starting to read Jeffrey C. Stewart’s book The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke, who was considered the father of the Harlem Renaissance. She’s a very thick read, and I’m sure it will be fascinating!
There is a book series called The Survivalist by Arthur Bradley, which is an easy and fun read. Also, the book series One Second After, One Year After, The Final Day by John Matherson are also awesome. These books make me feel like no matter how bad the world may seem to be right now, it could be way worse.
Rather than recommending a book or a film, my advice would be to stay abreast of what is going on in the world by reading the New York Times carefully and selectively every day.
I'm rereading all the James Kirkwood novels.
Rachel Bay Jones
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.
Here are a few recent favorites: A Change of Time by Ida Jessen, Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, Milkman by Anna Burns, Tell Me How It Ends and Lost Children Archive, both by Valeria Luiselli. I am now trying to read escapist fiction like John Le Carré and Hilary Mantel. I have a huge stack of books I want to read and now have the time to read them!
Just read The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, about a Christian Dutch family, who during World War II, hid hundreds of Jewish friends and neighbors across all of Holland. They are caught, and you can imagine their fate, but it’s a harrowing account of an even scarier time in our history and puts things in perspective.
Bradley and Danielle King
Brad ordered a book from Bookshop.org (great way to support your local indie store!) called How to Cheat at Everything that walks you through the history of most of the con games and hustles on the street—that's been fascinating.
I'm reading a lot of plays. Julia Cho, Lauren Yee, and Matthew Lopez are among some of the playwrights on the list. I also have so many friends who are using this time to write, and I've enjoyed reading outlines and drafts from my talented writer friends.
I love reading heartfelt “checking on you” texts from loved ones. I’m in the middle of reading Becoming Michelle Obama and recently finished London Bridges by James Patterson, Lethal Agent by Vince Flynn, and Daily Guideposts.
I am a sucker for fiction and a good story! Recently finished the book and series of Little Fires Everywhere. It is an amazing story to begin with, and the series heightened the stakes of the piece even more with glorious storytelling by Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington! Ugh. Huge fan of this! I am currently reading American Dirt and find myself reading until my eyes can’t hold open anymore. Drug cartel. Mom and son trying to find freedom and safety. Murder. Love. Family. So many feelings. Hooked after the first seven pages.
I am reading The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. Great book!
I am reading more and viewing more on my computer and TV…Toni Morrison’s books, cooking books, Maya Angelou’s poetry,
I’m teaching a master class on Zoom this summer with musical theatre students at University of Melbourne/Victoria College of the Arts on the Negro spiritual to Contemporary Gospel to its influence on the Broadway musical stage. I’ve been reading books on slavery and the history of African American music. Not the lightest reading but excited to bring my culture and heritage through art to a group of students who know very little about it. Our focus has been on African American musical art forms. We’ve explored Negro spirituals, gospel, and eventually how these African American art forms have influenced musical theatre. In my research preparing for this class I have submerged myself in the musical forms created by the stripping of identity and humanity from a group of people and transformed into a response that ultimately restored identity and worth. And in the middle of that comes the pandemic and the loss of life in our country that has magnified how far we have not come. It’s been emotional, empowering, painful, and inspiring.
I've been in a phase of reading a lot of books on creative process, while I have the time right now—Elia Kazan's Kazan On Directing, Jerome Robbins' By Himself, Stephen Sondheim's Finishing the Hat. But I'm also really looking forward to starting The Overstory, which was recommended to me by my sister-in-law, Jeanette Delgado.
Michael James Scott
Michelle Obama’s Becoming (I recommend doing the audio book because she is reading it, so it’s like you’re having a kiki with her in your car or wherever you’re listening to it).
I just finished a brilliant and compelling novel by Jan Eliasberg titled Hannah’s War. It’s a book of historical fiction based on an extraordinary female nuclear physicist prior to—and during—WWII.
Well, we are in the midst of a landmark cultural and political shift right now that should absolutely encourage everyone to read up on Black history. Start at 1619 and move forward to present day.
Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics; An American Caddie in St. Andrews is an easy read.