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The Distancing Diaries: ‘The Lion King’s’ Janique Charles on New Routines, Goals, and Guilty Pleasures

7 April 2020 by Nick McCarthy
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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. 

Currently starring as Nala in Disney’s “The Lion King’ in the West End, Janique Charles shares how she is currently coping with the closure of the West End. From maintaining a healthy daily routine, to binging on Disney+ (we can relate to this), the star gives us an insight into what she’s currently up to.

How has COVID-19 personally affected you?
The joy, the rush, adrenaline, and the sense of purpose I get from being in the theatre, performing in front of thousands of people overnight on stage is missing.  However, I know that social distancing is the sacrifice we must make. I’ve also had to sacrifice going home to my country to see my mother, whom I miss tremendously.  I feel not only for my family’s welfare in Trinidad and Tobago, and Spain, one of the hardest hit European nations, but for my friends abroad and the thousands of families who are grieving their loved ones. It’s an emotionally and mentally demanding time. 

What is keeping you inspired during this time?
Hope and my faith that we will overcome, this keeps me going. Through the Bubonic plague, Ebola, SARS, and other major health tragedies, people have historically overcome; it’s in our nature to do so. I also believe that one day I will be in my mother’s embrace again. I’ve had to redesign my daily routines to keep my goals in sight and my mind active. Whether things return to normal or they don’t, artists like myself are adaptive creatures. My biggest dream is to have a successful acting career, through film, television, and theatre, and positively influence as many people on the planet with my music. That has not changed. 

How are you staying creative?
One of the biggest blows for me during the lockdown is having the gym’s closed. Anyone who knows me, knows that the gym is my second home. HIIT, calisthenics, and bodyweight workouts are great, but I experience the greatest thrill being able to lift beyond twice my weight in a Romanian deadlift. I love the stress and the results on my physique so it’s forced me to come up with different ways to work out at home. Who knew you could use a broomstick as a barbell, stuffed rucksacks as plates, and putting yourself between a large thera-band and packed suitcase is the perfect substitute for a leg press? Checkout my page @janique_official if you don’t believe me!

I am also writing more music, finishing my novel, expanding my singing repertoire, and learning Spanish. It helps to sing in Spanish. I’m really falling in love with Rosalia’s music

How are you practicing self-care?
By talking. All this time away from my routine, work, worrying about my family, my job is mentally and emotionally taxing and has the tendency to unearth the stresses you would usually bury underneath a busy schedule. Talking to my boyfriend, my family, reaching out to my friends, checking up on everyone and allowing them to check up on me is the kind of therapy that I need and thankfully I am getting. 

What is something (or a few things) great that you’ve watched?
I’ve been plugged into Disney + (how could I not?) and for an entire day I binge watched ‘That’s So Raven’, one of my favourite Disney Channel shows growing up! I also watched a movie called ‘Limitless’ starring Bradley Cooper. It’s a bit sci-fi, but what it reminded me is that we have the capacity though our minds to do and be anything we want which is so liberating. 

What is something that you’ve enjoyed reading?
I am studying Business at the University of London at the moment and I was reading a bit about climate engineering or geo-engineering when I came across Solar Radiation Management or SRM. The fact that scientists think that we can reflect some of the sun’s rays back into space in order to reduce the amount that contributes to global warming blew my mind. How would they do it? How much would it cost? Are companies already doing it? Where? 

What are you listening to?
I listen to “I am” affirmations every morning and loads of different motivational speeches on YouTube. Anything from Tony Robbins to Eric Thomas, even Denzel Washington and Oprah. I also tune into TD Jakes for service and Donnie McClurkin’s “The Journey (Live)” album is my go to for an energising praise and worship session.

Have you gotten into cooking or baking? What’s something that you’ve enjoyed making, and if you can, can you share the recipe?
A guilty pleasure of mine is roasted nuts. I go nutty for nuts, after all it’s one of the few things I can enjoy as I’m cutting out processed food, meat, and dairy. At first I followed a recipe I found online but I’ve tweaked it as follows:

  • Preheat your oven to 170C (fan)
  • Pour your favourite raw nuts (mine are cashews, almonds, peanuts, pine nuts), seeds (pumpkin, sesame) into a baking dish
  • Coat the nuts with coconut oil or olive oil
  • Drizzle honey, paprika, salt, black pepper, chilli powder, thyme, rosemary over the nuts. How much? Go with God
  • Mix everything together until evenly distributed
  • Bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until you feel but keep an eye on it because if you leave it in any longer the nuts will start to burn
  • Remove the nuts from the baking dish and transfer to a storage container
  • Allow to cool
  • Enjoy!

How are you staying physically and vocally ready to return to the show?
I run at least three kilometers every day in the park and around my neighbourhood followed by some sprint training with my boyfriend who is a sprinter. It helps to maximise airflow and push my cardiovascular system. Then I return home and stretch, do abs, alternate legs and upper body workouts each day. It takes me about two hours to do a full workout in the morning/mid-afternoon. Every other evening I will learn a dance routine online. For my vocals, I sing every day starting with a 20-minute physical stretch and vocal warm up, then my main songs from the show, then any songs I want to include in my repertoire. Also very important for me is singing whilst exercising. Many times in musical theatre you find people doing both. It’s no easy feat!

How do you think people can support theatre and the arts community and engage with it during this time?
I think that for one, people can hold on to their tickets for beyond the lockdown period. I believe and have faith that we will return to entertain the masses and no one should be without a ticket! 

Many shows are focusing their efforts on using digital and social media to connect with people, sharing interesting facts about the show and really creative ways to deliver related content. Every organisation has an online presence these days; our shows are no different. Audiences can keep connected on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. The arts are an integral part to our existence as human beings. We entertain, inspire, provoke thought and imagination, and at a challenging time like this it provides us with comfort and hope. Whatever good thing we produce, people will consume. We need it to survive, I need it.