Steven Ross LCSW NASM is a Registered Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a private psychotherapy practice in both Toronto, Canada and New York City, NY. Click here for information for online or in-person therapy. He also is an Outer Critics Circle voting member, and writes about theatre, film, and television for Frontmezzjunkies and Times Square Chronicles.
T2C: How are you dealing with home containment?
SR: One morning in mid-March, I woke up in my bedroom in NYC, and thought, well, this is looking pretty bad. I had just flown in about five days prior from Toronto, where I live and work half the week. All my NYC plans had fallen apart, bit by bit (luckily) as the days and hours went by since landing. I had boarded a flight from Toronto on Thursday, March 12th so I could attend a press night to see a Broadway musical, I had a review all ready and written for the Broadway show, Six, ready to post that night after their opening, and I had a full day of psychotherapy appointments scheduled for the Friday. I was also ready to fly that Friday night to London, England, for a five-night holiday seeing six West End shows with my best buddy, and then fly solo to Madrid for a long weekend vacation. Naturally, and fortunately, every aspect of those plans disintegrated. Borders and Broadway theaters announced they were closing while I was on that flight to LGA. I landed to a text from my buddy saying we should probably cancel our UK/EU trip, and all my therapy patients probably should be seen remotely. Little did I know how long that idea was going to last.
So on that Monday, March 16th, with rumors of the Canadian border closings, I altered my plans. I was going to hang out in NYC until my scheduled flight back to Toronto on the 23rd, but that seemed risky. I quickly booked a flight to Toronto for that same afternoon. The flight was cheap and packed to the brim with nervous Canadians. Every cough was greeting with scared stares and whispers, with hand sanitizer being distributed by upset passengers to all those around them. I felt like I was in a scene from a movie, or a flashback episode from “The Handmaid’s Tale,” all of us escaping a nation altering its place in the world. And maybe that was more the truth than not.
But here in Toronto, I feel pretty safe and sound. I self-isolated in a beautiful condo high up in the clouds looking over the pristine Lake Ontario and the closed down island airport that I had flown into just days earlier. I focused on getting my psychotherapy practice that was based in NYC and in Toronto up and running on Zoom and FaceTime. My schedule was pretty full, five days a week, and I had the privacy to dive in completely. I filled those days with work, YouTube exercise and yoga classes (much thanks, yogawithadriene), as well as FaceTime chats with quarantined friends. I had food delivered to my door, cooked healthy dinners and lunches, allowed myself one (or maybe two) bourbon drinks a night, and searched out whatever theatrical event I could find online. I watched, wrote, and waiting for the 20 days I had booked to end.
I watched and I wrote. My theatrical review blog (frontmezzjunkies.com) was filling up daily with commentary on old streamed productions of Sondheim shows and special events from the National Theatre, Stratford Festival, Shakespeare’s Globe, and, oddly enough, Andrew Lloyd Webber. After my 20 days in isolation, I moved back to my buddy’s house in a nice residential neighborhood in Toronto near St. Clair West and Oakwood. From there, I self-isolated, maintaining social distancing when I go running and exercising with resistance bands in the nearby park, but honestly, I stayed mostly in the backyard. I feel nervous outside, but very fortunate. I work a fair bit, read, watch a ton of theatre online, and write about it all for Times Square Chronicles and my own blog. I’m a lucky man, I think. I am surrounded by good people, have lovely dinners with my friend roommates, and feed my passions every day. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty damn good. I can not complain.
T2C: What would you say is the difference of being in self lockdown between NY and TO?
SR: The biggest difference I find is the level of tension I feel when I walk out of my front door. For that one weekend in March when I was in Hell’s Kitchen, I was on my own (my buddy was on holiday in Florida seeing his boyfriend in a musical that quickly got shuttered – he still hasn’t returned to NYC, isolating with his BF’s parents in Arizona), and each time I left the apartment I felt very nervous and stressed. Back then, everything felt scary, but I had to eat, so I went to the grocery store and found what I could to take care of myself for the weekend. The shelves were scarily empty of so many things, the lineups were long, and the stress was high. There was no social distancing happening but it was strangely quiet in the store. I don’t think we knew that we should be staying 6 ft apart while knowing internally that something terrible was coming. I got what I needed and then settled into the lovely (albeit tight) two-bedroom apartment for the duration. There wasn’t anywhere to go anyway, as I knew that restaurants and bars, although still open, were closing up quickly and probably not a good idea. I didn’t see friends and I wasn’t wearing a mask when I went for a Citibike ride to my office to get mail, but I did wipe down the bike. I felt nervous and isolated, and although it was self-imposed, it felt like the thing to do.
The change of heart, from sticking it out until my flight on the 23rd to getting back to Toronto on the 16th, was an obvious one. I had universal healthcare in Canada. If I got sick, I would have one less thing to worry about. American healthcare sucks, and even though I was paying a ton each month for coverage, I still knew that getting sick could set me back thousands of dollars. In Canada, that wouldn’t be an issue. So off I went, with just a few hour’s notice. I left my laundry in the corner shop, not bothering to pick it up before I ran off. So there it sits, waiting for me to return, an idea I continually dream about. I miss that city, sending it love and care every day, and know I will return.
In Toronto, I live with a friend from high school and his roommate. I have a tiny space at the front of the house to myself and feel very lucky. The area doesn’t feel as densely populated as any neighborhood in NYC, and there is a great park close by for runs and workouts. We have a back yard, and an artist studio shed out back with WiFi and a television if we need some space. We make meals and eat together pretty much everyday unless my appointment schedule gets in the way. I feel some tension when I go out the front door, but I remind myself I’m masked, have hand sanitizer in my pocket, and the plan is to not touch anything during my outing. My friend that I have known since Grade 9 loves to go shopping and do laundry (go figure), so I happily oblige. We are well stocked and have private space. I have lots of work, and my theatrical writing and watching to keep me sane. For all this I couldn’t be more thankful.
T2C: What have you been able to accomplish at this time?
SR: I am grateful to be of use. That’s the main thing. Being a psychotherapist feels like such a blessing right now. It gives me strength when I feel I need some for myself and for those I am in session with. There is a focus and a point to my day, which is a blessing. I have been doing lots of online CEU classes, trying to be as mindful as I can to all that is going on, and I talk a fair bit with other therapists in Canada and in the States giving support and camaraderie to one another during these trying times. It’s a lot to absorb, but my community gives me strength.
I’ve seen lots of streamed theatre, and have tried to write as honestly and supportively for all those companies that are stepping up to the plate delivering us something as close to the actual experience as possible. There is so much to take in. I look at my schedule and see that almost every night there is something I’m excited to see and watch, from streamed cabaret shows at 54 Below to filmed theatrical plays from Stratford Festival or the National Theatre that I would never have had the chance to see live and in person. I eat it up like junk food, and feel somewhat satiated by it all. And thankful that these people and the organizations they work for recognize our need, acknowledge the importance of art and theatre to our lives, and find ways to bring it to us so freely and graciously.
T2C: What has this time stopped you from accomplishing?
SR: That’s a hard one to answer, as I feel I’m in a very fortunate position. It has reframed my drive to build my practice in Toronto, and has allowed me to sit back a bit and breath in the abundance that is coming my way. I wanted to dive a bit more into creating a new social life in Toronto, as I only started living and working in both cities in January. But that can wait. It has to, but when this is all over, or at least when the isolation is lightened and lessened, my new social world, I know, will develop once again, and maybe with a better alignment of priorities and focus than before all this happened. One can hope.
I do hope that people change their priorities, from wanting things to needing people. To caring for our environment and taking care of one another, over-worrying only about their personal wealth. I’m hopeful, but not completely convinced as I watch the news. People protesting the shutdown makes me feel sad about our future, and the politics of the States scare me. But I can’t go too deep down that hole. I’ll cross my fingers, and hold on to hope.
T2C: What kind of emotions does this time bring out in you?
SR: Not to sound too optimistic and la-de-da, but I am supremely grateful for my position in the world, and feel fortunate for the work that I have and the space where I live. I miss so many of my friends from around the world and the man that I will always love, who is far away in California. I feel lonely at times, even though I am lucky to have the roommate friends I have and spend time with. I miss touch and intimate affection, but I speak a lot with my guy in California and feel the connection to my family and friends. It is not the same, but it is intimate and it is filled to the brim with love and care. I speak to my family and my friends often, but miss in-person face-to-face contact. I talk and talk all day long, doing therapy sessions five or six days a week on my phone or on Zoom, so I do find it difficult to then pick up the phone or laptop once again and talk some more to friends and such. I’m sick of looking at a computer zoom screen by the end of the day, but I force myself somedays, as I know it will be good for me in the long run.
T2C: If you were to equate this time to a song or song cycle what would it be?
SR: I find that I am far more emotionally connected to some musical songs than before, even the ones I have always loved bring me to tears in an instant. I found myself watching “Slings and Arrows”, a Canadian television series about the love of theatre, and so many moments within made me cry. The musical, Sunday in the Park with George always makes me cry, but the longing for love inside Dot when she sings to George about leaving him (We Do Not Belong Together) destroys me these days so much more. It speaks to me in a way that it never did so strongly before. There are days I need a good cry, and this is one sure way of releasing it.
T2C: What message would you like to give the world right now?
SR: I was saying to a patient the other day, we may not be able to have the incredible experience of sitting in a crowded theatre taking in a live show for a long time coming, but for now, we should be grateful for the gifts we are given. It’s maybe a far off second place, but it’s something. I’m seeing all these shows I was not able to see, and some that I’ve seen before, but I am happy to see again. I get to write about these shows, mixing in my supportive thoughts with my life experiences connected to shows that I am watching, like Sunday in the Park with George and Company. I get to revel in my love and passion for theatre. There is so much being offered, and for that, I am truly grateful, even as I sit worried about what theatre will look like in the future. I can’t worry about that too much right now. I donate and I write about theatre, that’s the thing I can do to help. I have to think about survival today, tomorrow, and this week ahead. The rest, I have to give my impulse to control. I can only do my best to help and support, and cross my fingers that whatever the new normal will look like, I will be able to find joy and passion within it. This is my thing, and I hope everyone finds their own space to feel fortunate and grateful. I read a paragraph about people born in the early 1900s, and all that they went through. I compare and contrast, wondering how they survived world wars, plagues, and the Great Depression. At least my WiFi works.
T2C: What is the first thing you will do when we are no longer self quarantined?
SR: I will meet up with my friends, give them a good hug, and tell them how much they mean to me. I will go to the theatre. I will have intimate dinners with the people I care about. And I’ll plan a trip, to London to see theatre with my best bud, or spend an intimate week on a beach in Cabo or Tulum. I will kiss my friends and the ground I am able to walk on with them. I will make sure everyone knows how grateful I am that they are still around, and I will mourn with my friends over the loved ones, including one of my best friends, that we lost to COVID-19. I will grieve, and I will love what we have. And I will tell every American I know to vote in the fall.
T2C: What are the things that are getting you through this time?
SR: My work, being of use, my friends and roommates, my resistance bands for working out, the backyard, the never-ending supply of streamed theatre, and my passion for writing about it all. I feel lucky to have all of these things at my disposal. And most of all, my family and friends.
T2C: What haven’t we asked you that you would like to say?
SR: The only thing I feel I should add is that I worry a lot about what the future will look like. I know I have no power to control any of it, and I need to focus on today, tomorrow, and the week ahead, but I can’t stop thinking about all the businesses that will struggle to return. Naturally, I first think about the things I love, theatre, bars, restaurants, and all those industries that surround them. I worry about the performers, the artists, the designers, the employees, the press representatives that I’ve had the honor to work with, the bar owners, the restaurateurs, and their employees. I worry about my friends and their lives. What will our world look like? How many of these theatre companies that we love will be able to survive the shuttering? I want them all to come back. So I do what I can. I write about their need. I try to get the word out as much as possible, and I donate what I can. I hope you are doing the same for the industries and the people you care about. This is my list. What is yours?