Some of the more interesting fallout of the COVID-19 crisis are those “refugees” of the pandemic, who reside in other cities, but have chosen to return to their hometown of Indianapolis to quarantine with their immediate families. One of those individuals is New York-based actor-singer-dancer Cory Lingner, with whom I have enjoyed a long, personal and professional relationship. My friendship with him also extends to his parents Terry and Louise and brother Chris, a principal dancer with Indianapolis Ballet.
I had the good fortune of working with Lingner when I co-produced, alongside Dustin Klein, the sold-out run of his cabaret debut “Cory Lingner: Just a ‘Dancer’,” with music director-pianist Richard Rockage, presented by Magic Thread Cabaret at The Cat in Carmel in 2018.
Prior to his MTC show, I have followed the career of the University High school and 2013 Weitzenhoffer School of Musical Theatre at University of Oklahoma graduate ever since his Broadway debut in “On the Town,” which I had the pleasure of seeing. Most recently, Lingner toured internationally in “An American in Paris.” He had previously performed in that same show during its Broadway run. Lingner was also in the cast of “Carousel” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” On television, Lingner has appeared on Saturday Night Live, The Tony Awards, Today Show, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and Hulu’s “The Battery’s Down.”
I reached out to Lingner, who is quarantined with his parents at their family home, via email. Following is a transcript of our Q&A exchange.
What career activity was interrupted as a result of the pandemic?
Everything. All of the upcoming projects and shows I was scheduled to be a part of this year were either canceled or delayed due to the virus.
What impact did it have on you? Are you experiencing grief over the loss?
There’s definitely some heartache. Not only for me and my situation, but the fact that everyone is going through this. Those of us in the arts have taken a major hit during this pandemic and the fact that it’s not safe to do what we love has been disheartening. But, of course, it’s vital to take every precaution and make sure we’re doing what we can as a community to keep everyone safe and healthy during these difficult times.
How is that you found yourself in Indy under quarantine?
Back in March, I was in rehearsals at New York City Encores! for its upcoming production of “Love Life”. When we got the official confirmation that we were going to have to cancel the show, we did our first/last run-through of the show after our week of rehearsals and it ended up being one of those rare and beautiful theatrical experiences. Everyone was so emotional. Tears were shed. Both sorrowful and thankful. But, later that day, my brother Chris called me and expressed he wanted me to come back to Indy ASAP. He had been researching and following information about the virus for a while and believed it was going to get really bad in NYC. Turns out, he was absolutely right. He was willing to drive all the way from Indy to NYC to pick me up in his car and we’d drive back together. It’s a 12-hour drive there and then 12 hours back to Indy. I told him I’d rent a car and meet him halfway. I didn’t want him to drive all night just to pick me up. So, we met in Pittsburgh and then continued to drive back to Indy together and I’ve been here for almost two months now.
How does it make you feel to be with your family at this time?
It’s been great! My family and I have always been close and I love them so much. Even though what’s going on in the world right now is terrible, a positive thing that’s come out of this is all this wonderful family time I’m getting. Being in New York City, as well as living the life of an artist, I’m usually on the go all the time. I’m going from one gig or project to the next. In fact, this past year was my first time going on tour. It was great that I got to travel the world and meet all these wonderful people, but it definitely made it harder for me to stay connected with my family. So, these past two months have been such a blessing and I know time with my family is precious and want to cherish every second I can with them.
How are you spending your time during this period?
Nothing too exciting. I try and do a workout every morning that helps me getting moving. I’m no chef, but I have been cooking a lot more or at least helping my parents with the meals. Mom and I also do a walk around the neighborhood every day, which gets our steps in as well as some fresh air. Also, we’ve been trying to find some movies and TV shows to watch and unwind at night. I’ve also been mowing the lawn, which I haven’t done in a while since we don’t have yards in New York City. So that’s been a nice way to pass the time and also feel like you’re being productive.
Are you in contact with your friends and are they primarily performers? How are they coping?
I have been communicating with my friends, some of whom are still in NYC. They’re holding up all right. They’ve told me the city definitely feels different due to the virus. For instance, all the usual busy and touristy parts of the city are like ghost towns now. Also, living spaces there are quite smaller than most everywhere else in the country, so these prolonged stay-at-home orders make them feel a little stir crazy. But, they’re doing what they need to in order to stay safe and healthy. I’ve been connecting with so many people via Zoom as of late. Many people I haven’t seen or communicated with in a while. So even though we’re not physically together, it’s been nice to catch up with so many people in a virtual setting.
Are you doing any kind of virtual performance or have plans to?
I did a little virtual quarantine duet with my friend Elijah singing “Put on a Happy Face” by Dick Van Dyke, which was a lot of fun putting together. I have some concepts and ideas of possible things to share and perform in the future. I hope to get those created and ready to share soon. It’s interesting because for the time being, virtual performances are going to be the new normal for us artists until things have settled down.
Are you taking any kind of online classes?
I have actually. I’ve taken several ballet classes on Zoom, which has been nice. I used to take ballet warm-up class every day on the road last year on the international tour of “An American In Paris”. So, it was great to get some of that old routine back in my life. I also taught a musical theatre masterclass for past, current, and future University of Oklahoma students two weeks ago via Zoom, which was fun but also wild. They were all there learning the dance routine and yet it felt disconnected because the best way to teach on Zoom is if the participants mute their microphones so they can hear the teacher and the music better. So, it was interesting to finally do the teaching instead of taking the class on Zoom.
Did you have any gigs beyond the Encores! show that are now canceled?
Yes, I did. I was scheduled to do a production of “Sound of Music” in Southern California this spring, which is now postponed to Spring 2021. Then, I was going to play Bobby Child in a production of “Crazy for You” in Oregon this summer. That has unfortunately been canceled with no plans to reschedule the production.
What do you think the future holds for the theatre?
I have no doubt that theatre will return… eventually. But, until then, we’re going to be figuring out how the creation and production of theatre is going to evolve. Safety procedures that might not have been considered before now will need to be addressed both for employees as well as audience members. Once we sort out those details and give workers and theatre-goers a sense of safety and that they’re being taken care of, we might have to go on without theatre for the time being. For those in the process of creating new works for theatre, one thing we can do right now is take the developmental phase virtual. We can do Zoom read-throughs of new scripts and creative discussions, which will help keep moving those projects forward during this downtime. And once restrictions have been lifted and safety measures have been solidified, they’ll be steps ahead of where they were had they not done any of that work during this time of shutdowns.
What do you miss the most?
I miss the physical connection theatre provides, not only for the artists, creatives, and crew members, but also with the audience. I love how much variety the arts have given my life. After these many years of working as a professional performer, I’ve gotten to meet so many wonderful and fascinating people. And, with each new group that I luckily get to be a part of, we get to share our talents and perform for audiences night after night who are ready to escape and experience another story by us the storytellers.
Are you glad you are not in New York? Do you miss it?
I’m definitely glad I got out of New York when I did and I’ve gotten all of this precious time with my family that I wouldn’t have gotten had things turned out differently. I’m also so thankful my family and I are safe and healthy when that hasn’t been the case for many people around the country and the world. But I do miss my friends and colleagues who are still there and miss getting together and having fun in the city. I also miss taking dance class at Steps on Broadway or Broadway Dance Center. I hope things settle down sooner rather than later so that we can get back to that.
What is the pandemic teaching you?
You know, it’s interesting. Life as an artist by no means guarantees employment stability. I definitely haven’t been employed every day since moving to NYC, but thankfully I’ve been pretty busy over the years. Now that COVID-19 has put a halt on the industry for the time being, it’s taken away a part of my identity in a sense. And, with nothing down the pipeline, it’s even taken away the search for more auditions. In a way, the pandemic is teaching me who I am without theatre. So, I’m trying to be present and reroute some of that drive and energy I’ve been using on the “what’s next?” part of my life back onto myself. It’ll be an enlightening time, I’m sure.
What is your message to your fellow artists?
First thing I’d like to say is I understand we’re in uncharted territory right now and the future of the arts seems uncertain. But, I have full confidence that it’ll all return in time. Maybe even better than what it was before. Who knows? Only time will tell. But, even before this pandemic, we as artists help brighten the lives of others and we’ll continue to do so. If you want to use this time to stay creative and productive, do it. If you want to spend this time laying low, do it. Maybe use this time to reach out to other artists whom you want to collaborate with someday or pick someone’s brain whom you admire in the business. There’s no wrong answer.
What is your message to the public?
This pandemic is affecting everyone and testing our patience in multiple different ways. But, I’d urge everyone to lean on the side of caution until the numbers have settled down and continue to follow proper safety measures. And, I know everyone has taken a financial hit from this, but for anyone reading this who might have anything to spare, the arts have taken a major hit and seems like it’s pretty low on the priority list when it comes to financial aid from the government. If you have a favorite theatre company, organization, or venue you love, I’d humbly suggest if you have anything to spare to seriously consider donating whatever you can to help the arts. But most importantly, do what you can to stay safe and healthy.