Friday, May 29, 2020


Jamie Michael Parnell
by Gil Benbrook

Our series of "Quarantine" interviews, which focus on individuals involved in the Phoenix theatre community and their reaction to Arizona's stay at home mandate, continues today with a conversation with Valley actor Jamie Michael Parnell, who has appeared in close to two dozen shows at Arizona Broadway Theatre as well as in shows at theatres across the country.

COVID-19 has affected us all in many ways. The theatre community has been harshly impacted with show closures and postponements. We hope this series of daily interviews will be a way to provide some personal insight to what people are doing during this period of time while highlighting familiar individuals from the theatre community in town.

Was there a show you were in or involved with or preparing for when the stay at home order started?  

Parnell: "Yes!  I had just finished my second to last week of La Cage Aux Folles with Arizona Broadway Theatre.  We had been running in Peoria since January and at the beginning of March, moved to the Herberger Theatre Center downtown.  We were lucky, as we had a nice long run... which is far more than a lot of my friends and colleagues got with their productions.  I was just about to start rehearsals for Rocky Horror at Phoenix Theatre.  That has been postponed until the fall.  I was disappointed, naturally, but understood the reasoning completely.  And, now, it is nice to have something so exciting to look forward to. "

How have you been personally impacted by our current situation?

"Well, the most evident impact has been the loss of income.  However, it's interesting.  I know many people who worked typical hourly or salary positions (non-contract work, like most actors) and I can't imagine how they feel.  As actors, we are conditioned to always expect to not have a job at some point.  Or at least, we are conditioned to accept that it is a possibility.  So, in that way, I feel almost better prepared mentally than many of my neighbors.  It is difficult for me to adjust, but I've had practice, in some ways, of being in this position before.  Some people were blindsided by something that they probably never really considered."

How has your daily routine changed?

"Ha! Typically, I don't go to bed, whilst in a production, until at least midnight.  By the time we are finished with the show, it can take some time to wind down and settle enough to be ready for sleep.  Now? 9:30 hits and I'm like "well.... looks like it's time to start getting ready for bed. See you all in the morning!" Never in my LIFE have I gone to bed early.  I've always been a night owl.  Now I can hardly keep my eyes open past 11.  The day after we lost our job we were scheduled to move into our new apartment, so... really everything in our life was new at first.  New routine, new wealth of free time, new home.  It was a blessing to be able to settle in as completely as we did.  However, learning to workout at home has been a challenge.  Never thought I would be the person to say it, but... I miss the gym!"

Jamie Michael Parnell in La Cage aux Folles
Arizona Broadway Theatre
photo by Scott Samplin
What do you feel will be different when theater restarts?

"Many things.  Some of which I probably can't begin to imagine.  But the one I feel will be the most profound is gratitude.  By being able to create we are going to remember how profoundly lucky we are to be creating.  And I think audiences are going to be grateful for the escape.  Theatre-goers are an enthusiastic group.  And I can't WAIT for us to be together again.  It can be easy to lose sight of the beauty of what you have when you are in the middle of it.  Can't see the forest for the trees and all that.  But we've ALL stepped back and we've ALL felt the loss.  This has been difficult, but I also see it as an opportunity to realign ourselves with our desires and our love.  It's going to make better art."

When do you think that’ll happen?

"Hmm... that is difficult to say.  I, truly, would be remiss to give an answer, as I am not in a position to make those decisions.  I know that there is a great deal of information out there and that every day that information is changing and growing.  Different people and different organizations have their own unique needs, and their choices are not going to be easy.  They will never please everyone.  I think I will decline to answer this one because I fear my words might add to the noise.  However, I do want those people who do have to make the decisions know that they're supported in what they choose and I am certain their choices were not made without great care."

What have you been doing to stay creative during this time?

"So many crafts!!  As I said, we moved into our new place the day after we lost our job, so I've been able to scratch my home-improvement itch!  It's really been great.  I read, I crochet, I build furniture, I have been cooking like crazy. AND I finally have a space to grow plants, which is something I have missed for many years.  When it comes to creative outlets, I've yet to not be able to find one.  And above all else... I never stop singing.  Virtual cabarets have been a real boon for me as of late.  They still allow us performers to stay connected and to share what we feel.  They've been a big help.  "

Any binge tv shows you’ve watched?

"EVERYTHING.  The era of television that we are currently living in is simply SUBLIME.  Breathtaking performances are everywhere and the artistry is just so fine.  I LOVE Ozark... get ready to feel things.  Also, Little Fires Everywhere.  Reese Witherspoon has been producing some amazing work the past few years, and this is no exception.  Big Little Lies... watched both seasons again. "

Any new hobbies you’ve taken on?

"I did a small embroidery project, which was fun.  I am far from professional, but I enjoyed the process.  I am now looking at weaving.  It's something both my fiancĂ© Stephen Hohendorf and I want to try. "

Jamie Michael Parnell in Show Boat
Arizona Broadway Theatre
photo by Scott Samplin
How has this experience changed you?  

"This isn't something I share readily or openly very often, but I feel it is important.  In years and times past I have been faced with periods of isolation more than once.  Whether or not those periods were self-imposed or a product of the state of the world is immaterial.  Previously the isolation and separation from my community were met with depression (granted it was also a product of depression) and substance abuse.  I entered this period of isolation as a different person; someone who is not tethered to depression and someone who is no longer a slave to alcohol.  This period of isolation has been met with, for the most part, healthy attitudes and expectations and a great deal more grace and mindfulness. I've, luckily, somehow been able to move past those darker parts and have grown on top of them.  Again, not something I share with everyone, as admitting such things comes with a certain amount of risk.  But... if this pandemic has taught me anything it's that risk is all around us at all times.  And, you never know if you will have the chance to tell your truth again.  Nothing is certain.  So, in that way, it's made me braver.  I think some of that comes from the fact that I am now, in a healthy way, living in a situation that would have damaged my younger self.  I find myself seeking hope more, where older versions of myself would have just found doom.  I don't think this experience created that change in me, but it certainly strengthened it and allowed me to contemplate it more fully."

What is the one thing you’re most looking forward to when the stay at home order is lifted?

"Going to the gym.  I mean, I love restaurants and movies and friends... but it's HOT outside and that is making my workouts a lot less enjoyable! I need some A/C!  "

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