“Dr. Drama” Discusses Musicals and Mental Health at BroadwayCon 2021
by Melissa Griegel
The subject of mental health and theater has never been more relevant than this year. With the closing of Broadway during the pandemic, actors and theater professional suddenly found themselves out of work. What was initially thought to be a temporary “pause” has now stretched out over a year. Many lost their income, their health benefits, and in many ways, their identity.
Clinical Psychologist Alisa Hurwitz, PsyD, also known as “Dr. Drama” has been very involved in the theater community during the pandemic, hosting weekly live Instagram interviews with members of the theater community. Her mental health forum, a staple a BroadwayCon, was held virtually this year. Titled “Musicals & Mental Health: How Broadway Performers are Coping During the Pandemic,” she spoke openly with Lesli Margherita (Emojiland, Matilda), Brittney Mack (Six: The Musical), Hailey Kilgore (Once on this Island), and Sky Lakota-Lynch (Dear Evan Hansen).
Margherita started off the conversation, “We thought it was going to be three weeks. I was in Emojiland in New York and my husband was working in LA. It got scary very quickly. New York City went on lockdown and the city became very depressing.” The hardest thing about the sudden closure was that there was no “ending” for Emojiland. “It was weird not being able to say goodbye and do all of the things you do when a show closes. It was a limited run, so we knew we wouldn’t be coming back. It wasn’t until months later when we were able to retrieve our items from our dressing rooms.”
It was even more jolting for Mack. “We had just finished two weeks of previews and it was opening night when we got shut down.” Mack had gotten to the theater really early that night to get ready. She had all of her family in town from Chicago for the big night. “There were flowers in all of the dressing rooms. It looked like The Secret Garden,” she recalls. When Rachel, the Assistant Stage Manager, came up to her and said, “Here’s the thing…” and told her about the situation, it was really hard to believe. “I started thinking about the magnitude of how it would affect all of the individuals in theater, and people all over the world.”
Lakota-Lynch had just finished his run in Dear Evan Hansen and was about to head to Chicago to start in a new show in the Goodman Theater. “We had been working on that show for three years, and I was going to be initiating a character role for the first time. It was a really depressing blow.” He headed home to stay with his parents in Delaware to re-set.
Kilgore echoed some of what Margherita discussed. “I was living in Harlem. I had to leave NYC immediately. I have a pre-existing medical condition and needed to be out of the city. Plus there was ‘dark energy’ in Harlem. No one was out in the streets. My mom bought me a plane ticket and said, ‘You are coming home.’ It was just what I needed.”
Hurwitz asked all of the panelists how the pandemic and loss of work impacted their identity and sense of self. For Margherita, it was “really, really hard” for a long time. She had already been putting out social media content prior to the shutdown and now “everybody was doing it. What I was doing wasn’t special anymore. Who am I now? I am nothing right now. What do I do now? Am I still relevant? I used to have a strong sense of self. It’s been a struggle. I am in the process of rebuilding the machine.” She also added that she was constantly asked to partake in virtual events. “I needed to take a step back. Creativity can’t be forced.”
Margherita did some theater-related teaching during the pandemic, but didn’t really enjoy it. Mack, on the other hand, found that teaching came very naturally. “My mom is a teacher and I used to help her. Teaching has always been a part of me life,” she said. “Teaching allowed me to think outside of myself. God has given me this gift.” The financial and emotional struggles were very difficult but she tried to overcome some of the stress by doing yoga, praying, and meeting with a few close friends outside in the garden behind her apartment.
“I didn’t have any hobbies,” Lakota-Lynch said, “So now who am I? I am not working and I don’t have anything to do.” He had been pushing himself really hard for years. Being very driven to succeed, he worked and worked to the detriment of his health. “I was losing weight. This has given me a little re-set. My girlfriend Gabby (Gabrielle Carrubba, Dear Evan Hansen) has hobbies so I learned a few new things. I now really like cooking.”
Kilgore was working on a TV show when the pandemic hit. They went back into production a few months ago. “It was really exciting and gave me more normalcy, but I also had guilt that I was working when my friends weren’t.” The protests and marches and increased awareness surrounding Black Lives Matter really hit home for Kilgore. “Being a woman of color, there as a lot of dialogue surrounding equality. I know I am here to perform. I had to rebuild my identity as a black woman. I am very interested to see if Broadway will make changes to accommodate people of color. I will be holding people more accountable now.”
To end the session with hope, Hurwitz asked the panelists: “What brings you joy?” Hailey loved being part of Project Sing Out. Lakota-Lynch goes on long walks to clear his head. Mack found joy in fostering a female dog and her litter of seven pups. Margherita decided to try something new and take figure skating lessons. We look forward to seeing all of these talented performers back on Broadway.