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‘Jagged Little Pill’ Star Elizabeth Stanley Is Finding Gratitude and Beauty in Isolation

May 15, 2020 by Suzy Evans
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Elizabeth Stanley in “Jagged Little Pill” on Broadway. (Photographed by Matthew Murphy)

You live, you learn, and Elizabeth Stanley has been learning to find peace and joy in social distancing. Before Broadway shut down, Stanley led the cast of the Alanis Morissette’-scored “Jagged Little Pill” as Mary-Jane, a stressed-out suburban mom struggling with addiction. 

Now, Stanley has left the city with her fiancé and is looking to her life as a working actor as a way to weather this time. 

“Being an actor, I’ve definitely had plenty of times where I’ve been unemployed, and I’ve had to figure out how I get through those days,” she says. “This feels different in many ways because it’s a global thing and it was so unexpected…but this routine is something I’ve done in the past.”

We chatted with Stanley about how she’s staying connected with her friends and family, what she’s been watching, and why she think the message of “Jagged Little Pill” is so relevant in this moment. 

How has this time of social distancing been for you?
My fiancé and I were able to leave the city, and we’re at a house in Maryland that belongs to his family, so I’m really grateful to have a little bit of access to nature and a yard. I feel like within the past week, I finally just surrendered to unknowing of how long this is going to last and I’m able to feel more gratitude for how easy I have it in this moment comparatively. The surrender has also allowed me to let go of constantly questioning, “When are things going to start up again?” We just don’t know, and we just have to wait. So now I’m like, “How am I going to fill this time? What do I want to do every day?” I’ve been trying to wake up and do a yoga practice and meditate and make a list of what I want to do that day. Having the list and being able to organize my time, even if I don’t check everything off, there’s just something about having a little bit of a schedule.

One of the hardest part of being any kind of freelance person — I assume there are lots of person who go through that — it requires a lot of discipline and structure to be productive in that time or even just to stay sane. The days on end of “I could do nothing” or “I could do a lot and it doesn’t matter” — that feeling of time is endless does something weird to your mind and your soul that for me can make me depressed if I’m not careful. 

What was it like when you found out Broadway was shutting down?
There definitely had been a lot of conversations in the days leading up to it. Audiences had been getting smaller. There had been rules instated of absolutely no guests backstage. The energy was strange. It felt weird. The cast was definitely like, “Is it safe for us to be here? What’s going on?” I felt a sense of relief when they were finally able to say Broadway is shut down. And then a great sadness, and then even more sad thinking how naive I was that it would be a couple of weeks that we’d be shut down. That’s been part of the struggle is accepting a really long time for how long it going to take for things to return. It might be longer than we all really want it to be.

How have you been staying in touch with your cast?
We have a cast text thread that people will keep in touch with. Our producers have set up a Friday night happy hour zoom. I don’t know how long it will continue. It’s been a nice way to see people’s faces and check in. I use the Marco Polo app to talk to several people. Facetiming and texting people individually is something I appreciate more. A group thing is hard to truly engage with each other.

How have you been spending your time?
Yeah, it’s been nice. We’e done a couple family game nights via zoom which has been really fun. We did that with my fiancé’s family. I feel like in the midst of chaotic and busy life, I’m not as in touch with my parents as I want to be, so I think it’s been really nice to slow down and be like this is important and I should have been doing this all along. There are friends that I’ve lost touch with — your lives drift apart — and there are a number of people that found each other again during this time. 

Have you been watching anything good?
I had never watched “The West Wing,” and it’s my fiancée’s favorite show, so we just finished season three. I love the podcast The Spark File, which is Susan Blackwell and Laura Camien, because they interview a lot of creative people and they just talk about things they’re curious about and hope it will spark creativity to whoever is listened. 

I’ve been really inspired by discovering new things. Trying some creative artform than I’ve never done before feels more exciting to me than trying to do what I’m used to doing with what feels like a handicap. Why don’t you try baking that weird thing that you’ve never made before? Why don’t you try making a mosaic you’ve never done before?

Have you been making anything interesting?
I’m not saying I’ve done all those things! I baked pretzels. I’ve always loved baking, but I’d never done that before, which was a whole new experience. I’ve always been lazy about learning about recording technology and using all the things that are just on my own laptop, like Garage Band and things like that. This has been a good time to teach myself a little bit more. Educate myself about how to become better at those things, that’s been great. It makes me feel like my parents, I’ve been loving downloading different photo editing apps and video editing apps that’s been a fun toy to play with. I don’t feel guilty about it in this moment. It’s creative for me but it also might be helpful professionally.

Are you focusing at all at staying physically and vocally in shape during this time?
I have been taking a little bit of a break — the first couple of weeks especially. But now I feel like it just feels good to keep my body moving and healthy and strong. I feel like more for me personally I want to keep my body fit while also being gentle to myself during this time. It is strange and it is stressful no matter how much we surrender into it. I’m trying to take care of myself. 

I feel like just the NBA is opening up for players to practice again, I think we’ll have enough warning to really get myself in shape, to get myself back together. Part of my joy and my happiness has been being able to sing and make music. I need to do this for me. One of the ideas I have of ways to use this time is to work on an album ,which has always been a lifelong dream. I’m in the beginning stages of what would I put on that. 

How do you think the message of “Jagged Little Pill” resonates in this time?
I’ve thought about it a lot when we have recorded that group video of the song “You Learn.” I heard the lyrics in a very different way in this moment. We’ve been working on putting something out there with the song “Smiling,” and I’m hearing those lyrics in a way that pertains to this moment rather than the context of the show. I feel really lucky to be a part of something that I think will still feel really timely and what people’s spirits are in the mood to see when we are able to come back together again. As weird and strange as this is, I’ve heard so many people able to express their gratitude for slowing down and spending time with each other. It’s been hard and uncomfortable in a lot of moments, but ultimately, it’s something they’re really grateful for. 

How can people support the arts community and stay connected to theater during this time?
I do feel like there is so much amazing content being put out by people who normally you’d have to spend hundreds of dollars to see them sing in concert. It’s such a nice time to be able to tune in because I do think a lot of times, if something is put together it will raise awareness to a cause. I think everyone feels strapped for cash and strapped about money, but I do feel like if you’er able to give even a very tiny amount, a little bit can go a long way in this moment.