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The Distancing Diaries: ‘Tina’ Star Dawnn Lewis on Weathering Grief and Leaning on Faith

May 1, 2020 by Suzy Evans
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Dawnn Lewis

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. 

Dawnn Lewis moved her life from LA to New York to make her Broadway debut in “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical,” but now she finds herself back on the West Coast as the world weathers the pandemic. We talk with her about where she’s finding her inspiration, how she’s dealing with loss, and why her faith is keeping her strong.

How has COVID-19 personally affected you?
I rented an apartment in Harlem and made the bi-coastal move back to New York, in order to do “Tina.” When the show shut down, I came back to LA to check on my house, with no idea that our estimated four-week break would potentially turn into several months! Unfortunately, I’ve also experienced the passing of eight friends and a family member in the last few weeks — a lot of heart wrenching loss, but I’m committed to focusing on positive things and the blessing of good health and my beautiful friends and family that are still here.

What is keeping you inspired during this time?
It’s my habit to do daily devotions and spend time reading my Bible and listening for what The Lord is guiding me to receive — especially in this topsy turvy time! Observing and finding ways to support those “essential workers,” hat are daily giving so selflessly to care for others, is paramount They are true heroes! Then, I spend time sending encouraging messages to those I know and love or simply call and talk or sing with them. Hearing a person’s voice and the peace it brings to engage and exchange in a conversation is fantastic!! Video calls are great, but sometimes makes me feel pressured to “fluff up,” at least a little, to be on camera!

How are you staying creative?
Being focused on and performing in “Tina” for so long, It honestly took a couple of weeks to mentally adjust to just being “still” and let my body rest. Now, I’m back to writing, composing, and finding ways to still do voiceover work from home and develop my next project. I’m also participating in a few inspirational music videos to hopefully bring some needed joy & laughter.

Check out the video “We’re Still Here” below!

How are you practicing self-care?
I definitely keep to a minimum how much I watch of the perpetual COVID-19 updates, and ride my bike and walk in the neighborhood for fresh air and exercise. I’ve also figured out how to do all kinds of stretches and workouts while watching TV . . . even while on my very comfortable couch!  LOL  Having more time to cook again is also great — keeping take out to a minimum. My skin is also grateful to not have to put makeup on every day! 

What is something great that you’ve watched?
The amount of TV and movies I’ve watched is truly embarrassing! But, there’s so much great content I’ve not seen, being at the theater all the time. Things like: “They Gotta Have Us,” “Little Fires Everywhere,” “Godfather of Harlem,” “Westworld,” “Boomerang,” “The Blacklist,” “This Is Us,” and just about any action/sci-fi/drama/musical flick ever made! I’ve got to admit, “The Masked Singer” has become a real guilty pleasure! The most fun things are the instagram DJ Jam Parties done by D’ Nice or Questlove They have you dancing and grooving for hours!

Dawnn Lewis in “Tina” on Broadway (Photographed by Manuel Harlan)

What is something that you’ve enjoyed reading?
I love reading heartfelt “checking on you” texts from loved ones. I’m in the middle of reading “Becoming” by Michelle Obama and recently finished “London Bridges” by James Patterson, “Lethal Agent” by Vince Flynn, and “Daily Guideposts.”

What are you listening to?
I listen to and did an interview with Questlove for his podcast Questlove Supreme QLS. I also listen to Sinbad’s podcast  BLERD;  The Life & Times Of A Single Angelino by Paige Bryan, DJ D’ Nice Jam Party, and Zoometta’s Poetry Jam.

How are you staying physically and vocally ready to return to your show
I ride my bike, and take walks through the neighborhood. I’ve not really spent much time vocalizing, but have enjoyed singing around the house and the various encouraging videos for fun.

How do you think people can support theater and the arts community and engage with it during this time?
Checking out sites like this one and even looking up YouTube presentations of recorded scenes from various shows, I think is a great way to re-ignite your love of a show, song, or scene from something you may have already seen or have always wanted to see. The SAG-AFTRA Foundation and Actors’ Fund are wonderful organizations that get aid directly to our out of work entertainment community as well as provide their healthcare. Taking time to support a program that supplies meals for your local hospital staff is also hugely appreciated.