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The Distancing Diaries: Petrina Bromley On Hoarding Instruments and Supporting Local Musicians

April 2, 2020 by Suzy Evans
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Petrina Bromley in “Come From Away”

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. 

“Come From Away” tells the story of how Newfoundland opened its arms to many stranded airplane passengers in the face of a national tragedy on September 11. 2001, and now original cast member Petrina Bromley is sheltering in her native home Newfoundland. 

“Like mostly everyone on Earth right now it has put my life on hold in a lot of ways,” she says. “We’re all living in an alternate universe for an indefinite period of time.”

While coming together is discouraged during this time, Bromley shares with us how her Newfoundland community spirit is helping her weather the storm, by leaning into music and the arts. 

What is keeping you inspired during this time?
Honestly, friends and family are keeping me inspired. We have a couple of text threads going within the “Come From Away” Broadway family and someone checks in almost hourly to see how everyone else is holding up.And social media (believe it or not) has been a real bright spot. There have been so many people leaping on to the web with live performances and request videos, and in Canada they just did a 24-hour YouTube telethon to benefit The Actors Fund Of Canada. It was a livestream with guests from across the country: artistic directors and artists showcasing what they had been working on when the stop work call came down. And though it’s sad to know that these pieces of art are back on a shelf for now, at the same time it’s so inspiring to see how much beautiful, unique and heartfelt work is being created. There is so much connection right now.

Chris Hadfield, a retired Canadian astronaut who was Commander of the International Space Station, said now is the best time in history to be isolated because we are so connected by technology. And I couldn’t agree more.

Sondheim said it best, “No one is alone, truly.”

How are you staying creative?
I am an instrument hoarder. Haha. So I have a bunch of instruments that I’ve picked up over the years and always said, I’ll get to that someday. Well this is the day! Haha. I’ve been playing my bodhràn and I have a small piano accordion and a wood flute I borrowed from our whistle guru, Ben Power. I have a guitar, a fiddle with no strings (ha!) and an autoharp as well. Oh, and a piano that I play regularly. So if I actually devoted an hour a day to playing each of those I’d be a virtuoso by the time this is over.

How are you practicing self-care?
It’s a crucial time for preserving your mental health. I am able to be out with my dogs — I have a yard. I’m also avoiding the news. Not completely because I think that would be irresponsible, but I don’t just sit in front of it all day letting it drown me in despair. I give myself a supper hour news cast.

I’m avoiding negativity. If I see a post or a thread that makes me angry I just move away from it. People yelling into the void right now are not what I personally need to get by.

I’m checking in with as many people as I can just to say hello and let others know that people are thinking about them.

And I have been following an intermittent fasting regimen for a long time now. It keeps me away from just eating and drinking my way through this. Haha. I fast for 16 hours and eat over an 8 hour period. It really just makes me not spend the evening sitting on the couch streaming movies and snacking!

“Come From Away”

What have you been watching?
“The Outsider,” “The Stranger,” “Prodigal Son” — because I love Michael Sheen!! And “Avenue 5,” which is just brilliant and SO appropriate for this time. It’s about a space cruise ship which gets basically stuck in space. It’s written and created by Armando Iannucci (“Veep”). Hugh Laurie and Rebecca Front are hilarious in it. Josh Gad, Zach Woods, Suzy Nakamura, Himesh Patel, Ethan Phillips. It’s loaded with great actors. And “Star Trek: Picard” because I’m a nerd.

What is something that you’ve enjoyed reading?
I’m a Neil Gaiman fan so I just read “The Ocean At The End Of The Lane.” Beautiful and magical and a story you can lose yourself in.

What are you listening to?
I’m a very late adopter of Spotify — mostly because I have a lot of musician friends who I like to support by buying their albums!! But I’ve had enough time with Spotify now to ‘heart’ enough songs that the app has finally figured out my taste. Haha. So I put on Spotify and it plays things I like.

Also some local musicians and friends here from Newfoundland, Sean Panting who just put out a fantastic new album (The Simple Machines) and Tim Baker (Hey Rosetta) who’s latest album, “Forever Overhead,” has been on near constant repeat in my iTunes. The Once — Time Enough and Mark Bragg — Winter. All quality tunes from great people.

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’m vegan which makes me a near unicorn in Newfoundland. So I took  traditional pea soup and jazzed it up with a green curry flavour! It’s usually made with pork or salt beef so I replaced that flavour with curry. And broccoli.

How are you staying physically and vocally ready to return to your show?
I’m playing and singing at home. Just to keep making noise. Even if it’s just warmups and nonsense songs.

How do you think people can support theater and the arts community and engage with it during this time?
This is an incredible opportunity to watch, read, listen and seek out new art! We always say, I wish I had more time. Now we do. And we can be selective about how we use it. Art builds community. I think what we like about art, music, and theatre is that we recognize ourselves in it and it gives us a sense of belonging. What we often like most about a story is that we see something or someone in it that makes us feel less alone. They are like us. They think like us. Therefore we belong. That is more important now that ever.

There are people donating the cost of tickets they had bought back to the company. There are organizations to donate to like Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. And that is of great value but not everyone can do that. I think a great thing to do is to spend some time discovering (online) the places and companies in your area that are creators so that when this comes to an end you can go out and support them. There are likely galleries and small theatres and bookstores in your greater neighbourhood that you don’t realize are there. So maybe make a promise to yourself to go to them when they reopen.