I thought I had retired from my Persistent Acts series. Then a pandemic happened, and I felt many a creative spark! This installment looks at my very personal sense of home, reviving Persistent Acts after a year-long hiatus, and focuses on one of my favorite creative-action tools, Beautiful Trouble.
Over the course of this pandemic, I’ve been reflecting on my role in the municipal, national, and global theatre ecosystems that I occupy. I am a generative theatre artist – I develop and direct new work out of collaborations and research. I am an arts administrator, managing a marketing department at a performing arts venue in downtown New York City. I am driven to support a culture shift toward a more just and sustainable world, which I get to do as Artistic Producer of The Arctic Cycle.
Over these past few years, my personal theatre work has taken a back seat to my arts administration work, and I’ve been expanding what theatre and the arts in general mean to me. I’ve also been volunteering with Sunrise Movement, supporting young leaders for a Green New Deal (GND), by sharing resonant stories across social media and by phone banking for GND candidates. Galvanized by Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaigns in both the 2016 and 2020 election cycles, I am determined to see GND champions elected to public office this year.
At the beginning of the novel coronavirus pandemic, I felt like my mind, body, and soul were preparing for crisis-mode. Like others across the country, I wanted to prevent the spread. I was like one of those matches in the animated depiction of physical distancing. Then I burnt out. Not because of COVD-19 directly, but mentally and emotionally. My entire nervous system got overwhelmed, similarly to how my laptop overheats and crashes because it hasn’t been replaced in a decade.
What I’ve been experiencing over the past eight weeks or so is all relatively manageable, given that I’ve been able to move and get out of the city that I’ve called home for nearly five years. I had to and got to take a break, thanks to my incredible network of supports – my family and friends. I’ve spent more time outside in these past few weeks, I’ve been making changes to my diet, I’ve been reevaluating my routines. The extended quality time, with people I care about, has been glorious.
Greenway Bridge in Northampton, MA.
I’ve been noticing my tendencies, and reflecting on the more-than-human world. I’ve needed a lot of space in my life to heal – which looks different for me now than it ever has. I’ve stepped back from work and the news, taken screen breaks and social media breaks. Yet, my creativity flourishes; the joy and pride that I take in my collaborations has been a motivating fuel. I’ve been returning to my creative spaces with care – both for myself and my collaborators – as we all negotiate these uncertain times.
I’ve hit a reset, because of my burnout. I’ve been reintegrating mindfulness into each of my senses, including my sense of self. It’s been scary as hell, and hilariously absurd. In addition to nurturing creative collaborations, I’ve been curious about my conceptualizations of home. Home is my apartment in New York City. I don’t have a childhood home to return to, and that’s been the case for the entire time that I’ve lived in New York. So when I needed to take a break from home, where could I go? Where could I take refuge?
In my apartment, I was flourishing. I was consuming some amazing art: The Overstory by Richard Powers, Beyonce’s Homecoming (the documentary-concert and the music), Dear Climate visuals. I was picking up my camera again. I also realized that I needed a huge break from this place I had called home for three years. Thankfully, my partner lives in a safe, welcoming home in Connecticut, about an hour from the city. Even then, it was challenging for me to leave, because I wasn’t going to a home that I grew up in, and frankly, I didn’t feel ready.
I’m so grateful that I have been able to take this break from the city. Fortunately, home is with me, whenever and wherever I need it. In finding my renewed sense of home, I’ve also found joy and solace in Beautiful Trouble, a toolbox for revolution. This project “exists to make nonviolent revolution irresistible by providing an ever-growing suite of strategic tools and trainings that inspire movements for a more just, healthy, and equitable world.”
Earlier this year, I attended the launch of Beautiful Trouble’s Strategy Card Deck, and I’ve been turning to these cards throughout this shelter-in-place time. While I love the deck because of how shareable it is, I have been taking a step back from my activism and advocacy, in order to heal. In order to not burnout again.
I’ve been turning to Beautiful Trouble for perspective during this unprecedented time. I pose questions to the cards in order to better understand the contents of the deck, and how I might put it to use during my current and future creative processes. Using the Strategy Card Deck, I’ve found inspiration. I’ve used the card deck in conversations with friends and creative collaborators, and in turn I’ve found a reinvigorated sense of imagination, vulnerability, and resiliency. Ultimately, I’ve found a supportive structure for my springtime energy.
My Beautiful Trouble Strategy Card Deck, which contains 6 categories (tactics, principles, theories, stories, methodologies, debates) as well as games to play with the deck.
So, yes, I took a break. I’ll be taking more care around my healing needs, which includes organizing my tools as an artist and advocate. I’ll continue to read, explore, and find peace during this already tumultuous time. In addition to Beautiful Trouble, I’ve found particular solace in Adrienne Maree Brown’s Emergent Strategy and in the Dear Artists, #wfh in the time of COVD-19 workbook. When I get overwhelmed, I return to my senses, to what my body is telling me. Recovering from the overwhelm, for me, has started with fresh air – opening a window.
(Top Image: Morning view from my New York City apartment.)
This article is part of the Persistent Acts series which looks at the intersection of performance, climate, and politics. How does hope come to fruition, even in the most dire circumstances? What are tangible alternatives to the oppressive status quo? The series considers questions of this nature to motivate conversations and actions on climate issues that reverberate through politics and theatre.
Julia Levine is a creative collaborator and vegetarian. Originally from St. Louis, Julia is now planted in the New York City downtown theatre realm. As a director, Julia has worked on various projects with companies that consider political and cultural topics, including Theater In Asylum, Honest Accomplice Theatre, Superhero Clubhouse, and Blessed Unrest. She is the Marketing Manager at HERE and is Artistic Producer of The Arctic Cycle. Julia writes and devises with her performance-based initiative, The UPROOT Series, to bring questions of food, climate, and justice into everyday life.