In the Middle of the New Normal

Somehow, it is already halfway through August. Like many, we have been more or less hunkering down since March. We were fortunate enough to finish our run of Big Mama’s Kitchen the last weekend before everything shut down in Mississippi, but for most of us, this season has been the longest period of time in which we have not performed, not held any in person production meetings, nor sat in any real theater spaces. The absence of those things we hold so dear is palpable. Like many, we had grand plans for the summer and high hopes for the fall; all of that had to be shifted to accommodate the new normal.

Instead of hosting Pizza & Plays reading events, improv shows, and rehearsing for new productions, we have been doing Zoom calls and virtual meetings. So much of our craft and who we are is centered around events and in-person gatherings that trying to think beyond those things has been discouraging and challenging to say the least. Despite being “creatives” conditioned to think outside the box, the constant waves of change that the past few months have brought have made these boxes harder to overcome.

Even so, in many ways, being as small of a company as we are has helped us in this time. We are not paying for big dollar items like keeping a space up and running or worrying about payroll. As many of you know, we are made up of a small group of people, all of whom work other jobs and contribute to Hearth & Mantel out of passion and determination to see it succeed rather than for personal gain. Though we would love for it to be our only endeavor, Hearth & Mantel does not currently support us. We are the ones supporting it. These last few months have stretched us and given us an unexpected time of reflection and rebuilding. It seems that we are not the same people we were in January. We are growing and changing as individuals, and therefore as a collective. 

In June, we released a statement to reinstate our purpose and commitment to our community. If you follow us on social media or keep up with this blog, you may have noticed a lack of activity. That is not because we have gone dormant. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Four of our seven core volunteer staff have moved to other parts of the country, three of whom are now pursuing masters degrees. I, Laina, am undergoing a shift in my day job, and several of us, including my husband and co-founder, James, are navigating what it looks like to work in the education sector during a pandemic. Amidst all of that, we have not forgotten our commitment to be helpful and life-giving contributors to the city of Jackson. 

James and I have been participating in an online class on race in America to help us better understand our nation’s complex history and what our role is in making the future a safer, more equal place. We have extensive reading lists to educate ourselves about racial reconciliation and the influential pillars of racial justice, many of whom are from this very state we call home. We are working on several projects to create opportunities for dialogue and thoughtful exploration of the times we are in. Though it sometimes seems impossible, we are looking for and developing ways of practicing theater and community in a time when gathering in person is restricted. You don’t need to hear it from me to know we live in unprecedented times. You already knew that. What I want you to know is that we are here, we miss you, and we are in this together. 

If you’ve journeyed with us this far, thank you. If you’re just joining, welcome. You matter to us. Follow along because we will be sharing exciting things soon!

Laina Kenyon is the Managing Director and Co-Founder of Hearth & Mantel Theatre. She enjoys improv and props construction. When she is not in the theater, she might be found cooking or tending to her plants.


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