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The Distancing Diaries: Director Luke Sheppard on Keeping Creative, Hobbies, and Netflix Binges

30 March 2020 by Nick McCarthy
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Luke Sheppard

Welcome to The Distancing Diaries, where we chat with members of the theatre community about how they’re staying creative and inspired in the time of social separation. While we can’t go to a show (for now), we hope that by sharing stories from the field, you’ll find comfort, solace, and maybe a few new ideas of how to pass the time. 

Award-winning director Luke Sheppard, known for his musical smash-hits like “& Juliet,” “The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole,” and “In The Heights,” steps into the spotlight this week to tell us his methods of coping with the West End closing, and how he’s finding his creative spark during these turbulent times.

Read more about his favourite things to do whilst the West End has taken a pause.

How has COVID-19 personally affected you?
Well, “& Juliet” has paused in London, which is a huge deal to all of us involved. That show means so much to us and it’s strange to not have it running every night. Also, I was in New York when Broadway shut down and was meant to be heading to Toronto for “& Juliet” auditions there, but due to the quickly changing situation it was obviously important I came home. My job relies on being in a room with other people so it’s certainly going to be a challenge over the coming period!

What is keeping you inspired during this time?
I’m enjoying all of the self-made content actors are putting out into the  world. Social media has many challenging aspects I think, but in the last few weeks we’ve really seen it come into its own a creative outlet, and that’s refreshing. 

How are you staying creative?
I’m thinking a lot about potential shows for down the line and also spending a lot of time talking to fellow creatives. Apps like Zoom and Houseparty have changed everything. Sometimes there is wine involved. I’m also watching a lot of stuff I’d normally not get to see, certainly on screen but also theatre that’s being streamed. I guess I’m staying creative by being inspired by others?

How are you practicing self-care?
I have a very small balcony and it’s my little escape, so I’ve stocked it full of plants and that keeps me busy! It’s grounding to see nature change, so even if it’s just watching the daffodils fade and the irises take over, I find there’s something therapeutic to that. I’m also speaking to family and friends a lot more (thank goodness for new technology), and my other half and I are pretty good at keeping each other grounded.

What is something (or a few things) great that you’ve watched?
Like many people, I’ve been watching “Tiger King” on Netflix. You watch it and just feel like you couldn’t write something like this. People would say it was just unbelievable, but it’s had me gripped!

What is something that you’ve enjoyed reading (Anything from a book to an article to a tweet)?
I’m currently reading “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s a good book to read in order to remind you that this is a tiny moment in history.

What are you listening to (music, podcasts, audiobook, meditation app)?
I discovered the Switched on Pop podcast series while researching “& Juliet,” and I still love listening to it. They dissect what makes different songs work and it’s fascinating. I’m also listening to the radio a lot as a way to stay in touch with the world without being bombarded with images all the time.

Have you gotten into cooking or baking? What’s something that you’ve enjoyed making, and if you can, can you share the recipe?
I’ve always loved cooking, but what feels different at the moment is the need to plan ahead and actually make the most of what needs using up. Or, going to the shop and making something out of what is left. The result has been some slightly weird and wonderful creations so I won’t inflict the recipes on anyone here, but I’ve enjoyed the trial and error of that. 

How do you think people can support theatre and the arts community and engage with it during this time?
I think it’s great that there is brilliant recorded theatre content out there for free, that’s totally to be commended, but I’d ask audiences to still find ways to support the arts financially too. That might mean buying a ticket for a show in the future, buying an online pass to a concert an actor is hosting, making a donation to a theatre company or joining their membership scheme. Also, when this is over we are going to need to really champion all the amazing shows out there. Audiences can be a big part of that, so get ready to help us spread the word that theatre will survive and be better than ever!