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The Distancing Diaries: Jessie Mueller Is Turning to Cooking, Harry Potter, and Dolly Parton

March 26, 2020 by Suzy Evans
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Jessie Mueller

Welcome to The Distancing Diaries, where we chat with members of the theater 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. 

Tony Award winner Jessie Mueller, known for her leading turns in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” “Waitress,” and “Carousel,” had just started previews for her first play on Broadway, “The Minutes,” when the theaters were ordered to shut down to slow the spread of coronavirus. But she takes comfort knowing that this is something that is having an impact on everyone.

“That’s the wild and maybe beautiful thing about it,” she says. “We’re all being asked to slow down, take care, be aware, and work as a collective.”

Mueller shared with us how she’s spending her time (lots of cooking) and some of her favorite recent reads and binges. 

“This is all really strange and sometimes scary and most of all unprecedented,” she adds. “I’ve never been good with the unknown. For me, this is a big lesson in patience.”

Read more about how she’s spending her time below!

What is keeping you inspired during this time? Is there anything specific that you’re turning to for inspiration?
Can’t say I’ve been particularly creative! But I’m also coming to peace with that. It’s ok to slow and pause and listen instead of make and produce. I’ve definitely been cooking more and remembering that’s a creative outlet I love. 

What is something (or a few things) great that you’ve watched?
McMillions” [on HBO], “Outlander” [on Starz]. I miiiiiight be considering rewatching the whole series of “Downton Abbey.” “Jamestown,” and Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert’s Late Night Home Editions.

What is something that you’ve enjoyed reading?
I’ve been rereading “Harry Potter”! And a wonderful book called “The Queens of Animation” by Nathalia Holt, about the women working for Disney Animation during its early years.

What are you listening to?
If you haven’t listened to the podcast “Dolly Parton’s America” yet, do it! We’ve also been thinking about picking some old radio shows and listening to them at night (like “Bob and Ray,” available on iTunes.) Meg Toohey’s album “Butch” is also on heavy rotation and available on iTunes and Spotify. It’s killer.

Have you gotten into cooking or baking? What’s something that you’ve enjoyed making, and if you can, can you share the recipe?
Yes, I haven’t cooked or baked this much in years! I’m loving it, trying different gluten-free baking recipes and making lots of soups. For anyone with a gluten intolerance, I love Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 Baking Flour.  It’s an awesome blend that has xantham gum in the mix, so it’s super easy to use and I’ve had great results.  

Here are some of her recent recipes:
Gluten-free White Sandwich Bread
Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

How are you staying physically and vocally ready to return to your show?
It’s hard! Most gyms are closed, and I’ve not been moving as much as I normally do. But there are lots of great videos online for yoga and things to stay active and sweat those toxins and crappy feelings out! But I’ve noticed I’m feeling better in a lot of ways because I’m cooking for myself and know exactly what I’m putting into my body. I’m also getting more sleep.  

Jessie Mueller, Armie Hammer, K. Todd Freeman, and Sally Murphy in “The Minutes.” (Photographed by Michael Brosilow)

How do you think people can support theater and the arts community and engage with it during this time?
Look, everyone is facing some very real financial realities right now. If you can give, great, if not, think about how you can exercise what the arts do best: reach out and be empathetic (from a safe social distance, of course). Be there for the people you love. Listen. Stream! The artists you watch and listen to receive that love (and sometimes even payment!)

If you’re looking to give, especially to the theatrical community: The Actor’s Fund helps all theatrical artists in times of crisis. Check out Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley’s live concert broadcasts Stars in the House to benefit this awesome cause! Not only do you get to hear some awesome music while most of us are on hiatus, but you just might get a look at your favorite stars’ throw pillows and pets!

Season of Concern is Chicago’s version (my hometown!) of Broadway Cares that funds their local theatrical community.

Rosie’s Theatre Kids is my favorite Arts Ed organization right here in NYC!  Programs like this need our help right now to keep kids inspired, connected and safe!