As the temporary shutdown of Broadway and theatres around the world continues, Playbill is reaching out to some of our favorite artists to see how they are coping with the self-isolation on a daily basis, both physically and creatively.
The series continues with Dawnn Lewis, the accomplished actor, writer, and composer who is making her Broadway debut this season as Zelma in Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. Lewis, who may be best known for playing Jaleesa Vinson-Taylor on NBC's A Different World, has also been seen on stage in the City Center production of The Wiz, the original cast of Sister Act, the national tour of Tap Dance Kid, and Intimate Apparel. Among her numerous other screen credits are roles in Veronica Mars, The Boys, Major Crimes, This Is Us, and iZombie. Lewis is also the winner of three BMI Film & TV Awards and has received BMI, ASCAP, Grammy, and NAACP Image Awards. She is also very active in the voiceover world.
What is your typical day like now?
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! 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 make me feel pressured to “fluff up,” at least a little, to be on camera! I definitely keep to a minimum how much I watch of the perpetual COVID-19 updates, 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! Having more time to cook again is also great—keeping takeout to a minimum. My skin is also grateful to not put makeup on everyday!
The key is to put energy and effort into not staying isolated and alone. That’s what I would suggest to anyone—find positive and 'peace giving' things to focus on.
What book/TV show/podcast/film should everyone take the time to consume during this period?
The amount of TV/movies I’ve watched is truly embarrassing! But, there’s so much great content I’ve not seen, being at the theatre all the time. Things like They've Gotta Have Us, Little Fires Everywhere, Godfather of Harlem, Westworld, Boomerang, The Blacklist, This Is Us, The Masked Singer, Altered Carbon, and just about any action/sci-fi/drama/musical flick ever made! The most fun things are the Instagram DJ jam parties done by D-Nice or QuestLove! They have you dancing and grooving for hours! I love reading heartfelt “checking on you” texts from loved ones. I’m in the middle of reading Becoming Michelle Obama and recently finished London Bridges by James Patterson, Lethal Agent by Vince Flynn, and Daily Guideposts. I listen to and did an interview with QuestLove for his podcast QuestLove Supreme “QLS." I also listen to Sinbad’s podcast Blerd Empire, Life & Times of a Single Angeleno by Paige Bryan, and Zoometta’s Poetry Jam.
What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation?
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 L.A. to check on my house, with no idea that our estimated four-week break would potentially turn into several months on my own! Unfortunately, I’ve also experienced the passing of nine friends and a family member in the last few weeks. One of which was someone I’ve known since college who felt so hopeless and desperate that he committed suicide. It’s been 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. Although we’re “physically” separated, it shouldn’t stop you from reaching out and connecting to others by phone, text, email—send flowers, be creative! The key is to put energy and effort into not staying isolated and alone. That’s what I would suggest to anyone—find positive and “peace giving” things to focus on. Sometimes that’s easier said than done, but I believe it’s crucial at this time. Also, find reasons to laugh! There are some really hysterical photos and content floating around social media right now—you probably have a a few of your own! Pull them out, share them . . . . and smile . . . . and laugh.
How are you keeping your creative juices flowing?
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 letting my body rest. Now, I’m back to writing, composing, and improving my piano playing skills. (Now that my piano’s been tuned, things sound much better!) I’m grateful to the producers of a few of the animated series that I work on, that have found ways for me to still record and do voiceover work from home—by sending me makeshift vocal booths and state-of-the art mics and equipment! I’m also developing my next projects: a TV series and other creative writing pieces. I’ve been enjoying participating in a few inspirational music videos to hopefully bring some needed joy and laughter.
Are you working on any theatrical projects during this time?
I’m participating in a few Zoom staged readings of plays that are in the works right now. I’ll be able to say more about them when things are further down the line and finalized.