Having seen shows regularly since I was a child and reviewing countless music, theatre and dance events as an adult for many years, losing the experience of live performance due to the pandemic is a profound void in my life. In the meantime, however, since I am in a position as a blogger and a contributor on WISH-TV’s Indy Style to continue advocating on their behalf, I am on a quest to spotlight artists and arts organizations and report how they’re coping and can be supported during the crisis.
With that mission in mind, I reached out to Gordon R. Strain, a multidisciplinary artist whose parents, arts patrons Jim and Cheryl Strain, I have known since their son was a teenager. Now 42, Strain is the father of two daughters, Darian, age 22, and Josephine, age 10, and a professor and chair of the theatre department at Franklin College, co-founder and co-owner of the Franklin Department of Public Art (FDPA), and co-owner of Pigasus Pictures, an Indiana-based film production company. Strain is also a sculptor and muralist whose work can be seen throughout Indiana and in various U.S. cities. And if those talents weren’t enough, Strain is also a scenic designer whose work has been at Indiana Repertory Theatre and Phoenix Theatre, well as in Ohio, New York, Chicago and Bermuda.
Strain is quarantined at home in Franklin with his wife, Dianne Moneypenny, who is an associate professor of World Languages & Culture at Indiana University East. Below is a Q&A we had via email and Facebook Messenger.
How did the pandemic impact you professionally?
The pandemic has had a huge impact on me professionally. I had just wrapped principle filming (“So Cold the River” based on the novel by Michael Koryta) down in West Baden, and also opened a play (“The Wolves”) at Franklin College. So, on the plus side, the film can at least start the editing process, and the kids at the college had one sold-out performance. But Pigasus Pictures was also about to do a short film in Johnson County — which is now on hold. It will be interesting to see how things shake out once we can start rolling again. And if we can still get people to invest…? Outside of the film and theatre world, I have started silversmithing again…since I am home and needed to practice. Oh yeah…and trying to figure out online teaching “on the fly.” That’s going just about as well as could be expected.
How about personally?
Personally, this has been a huge struggle. I am very extroverted and need time with others. So, cooped up at home has not been good for me. My daughters aren’t with me, which is hard, too. I already struggle with depression, and being out of a routine has really made a negative impact. I try to have “normal” days, but the stress/anxiety has been high. Coupled with the fact that my dad has COVID-19…let’s just say that this is not my most productive time.
How has your father’s illness affected you?
It has been hard to not be able to go see him and try to help. Trying to talk to my mom to get information is just not the same. I mean, she has been a trooper, as has he. He is on the road to recovery…and I am just looking forward to hugs and family time. But certainly, it has been a HUGE distraction from work. It just reminds me that, while teaching college is important, it’s really not more important than the ones you love.
How long have you been in quarantine?
We locked down our house on Friday the 13th, I believe? I mean, I have gone to the store a few times…but I used to go grocery shopping every single day. I also have some friends that I meet to run with. At a far distance from each other. We are taking it seriously.
How have you spent your time? Are you creating art of any kind?
Well, a lot of time has been in bed and crying…or just generally feeling down. But I am getting better with that, I think. I would love to say that I am creating more art, but it’s been a slow process to get moving. Hopefully, I find a groove. I do teach a cocktail class via Zoom on Monday nights. My friends, who knew I was writing a cookbook, suggested I teach them some stuff. So, that’s fun.
What is your biggest fear?
Well, at first, I would have said “a family member getting the virus.” And that happened. And I hope it doesn’t happen to others whom I love (or anyone). But I am also scared about what employment will be like when we get out of this. Like…I want to keep making art and movies. I hope there is a market for it.
What is the pandemic teaching you?
Patience. Forced patience.
What kinds of changes do you predict the world will undergo once things return to normal?
Fewer hugs, more hand washing. I hope people wake up and realize the stock market is not the economy, and local businesses need our support. So, hopefully people start paying more attention to how, where, and why they are spending money. But so much will be different. I predict movie theatres will be less popular. And certainly, small budget/independent films will not be in them anymore.
Have you seen any bright spots resulting from the pandemic?
It’s funny that it took a pandemic to realize that I can “meet” my best friends for a drink every week. They live in California and NYC and we always just tried to plan visits. But now, we just set a time and meet online. Like…that was easy. I even built a set for all my Zoom meetings.
What do you miss the most while having to be in quarantine?
I just miss seeing people. Going places. The gym, restaurants, all of it. And, as I mentioned earlier, I am very eager to see my kids again.
What is the first thing you want to do once this is over?
Go out to eat with my family.
Any personal message to my readers?
I know a lot of people are saying it, but…this sucks. And it sucks for everyone. And don’t let that diminish your own feelings. You don’t have to be productive. You don’t have to create your masterpiece. Or you can. Whatever. This is uncharted territory…I am just doing what I can to survive and keep my family safe and alive. If something cool comes out at the end, great. But I am not forcing it.
For more information about Strain, go to gordonstrain.com and follow him on twitter and Facebook at @gordanstrainart.