Waiting for the Director’s Call: An Actor’s Life during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Story by Ashley Norman

Since starring in her first play at age six, Nashville-based actor Corinne Leidhecker has known exactly what a life spent onstage and on-screen looks like.

The art of performance is her calling, but the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into the life she had always known. With the live theatre industry at a standstill, she has had to re-imagine how her life and career might look as the stage lights remain off.

“Because the pandemic has forced a lot of people to think outside the box, I think especially in the arts, we are going to see a lot of new things,” Leidhecker said. “I think theatre the way we used to see [it] will definitely still exist, but I think there is probably going to be things we have never seen before, like performance spaces or ways to perform, and I am excited to see it.”

Toward the end of 2019, Leidhecker was going on plenty of auditions, some of which were for smaller roles in television shows, and advancing her career in film. She had booked a national commercial and was set to begin filming for ESPN+.

But when a tornado ripped through Nashville, Tennessee, in early March 2020, filming delays were inevitable and her job with ESPN+ was pushed back. The start of the pandemic followed shortly after and postponed filming indefinitely.

“All this momentum I was finally hitting with film in addition to theatre just came to a screeching halt,” she said. “I was bummed, but we did not know how long [the pandemic] was going to last, so I was bummed but not exactly scared yet.”

Leidhecker also performs in musicals and enjoys street theatre. Two of her credited roles include Belle in “Beauty and the Beast” and Amy in “Little Women.” She was beginning to land more roles as a murderer before the pandemic, with such darkness and intensity acting as a striking contrast to her background in ingénues and musicals. She also starred as Neville Longbottom’s mother, which she considers to be her all-time favorite film role, in a “Harry Potter” fan film that was released on YouTube in July 2019.

With her background in musicals also came the opportunity to play various princesses at birthday parties something that she has temporarily stopped due to the pandemic. She was a princess at two birthday parties last summer, but telling children who were excited to see their favorite princess not to hug her and to keep a distance was becoming too uncomfortable.

Leidhecker said last summer was eye-opening to the severity of the pandemic, especially when filming resumed in June and protocols were enforced.

“This [virus] was not going to end, so we were going to find a safe way to do [filming],” she said. “I think that once everyone started accepting a ‘new normal,’ that is when I realized we have to adapt because this is not going away.”

As someone who is active on both stage and screen, Leidhecker can compare the two industries and observe how they are coping with the pandemic. With theatre, she has yet to see it adapt in the way film has. She tends to perform in Nashville theatres that are smaller-scale and intimate, yet there has been little to no change made to conform to COVID-19 guidelines. Theatres have shut down and roles have stopped coming in.

Leidhecker believes the film industry has done a better job than theatre of adapting to the current environment, one example being the continuation of self-tape auditions and the pandemic alteration of self-tape callbacks. Commercial and film roles are still possible to find, but they are not nearly as frequent as they were before the pandemic.

“I remember in April, I had a Zoom meeting with a casting director, and she asked me how I was doing,” she recalled. “I said I am glad I do not only do theatre anymore because at least with film, you can see how it could work [in a pandemic].

“But with theatre, it will come back. Of course it will come back. I think people are hungry for it more. I know I am. Seeing a show, being in a show, anything.”

The pandemic has forced Leidhecker to accept jobs that she would have never imagined herself doing. From hand modeling to the possibility of being an elf on a Santa Claus live phone call, she has reached a point of accepting any job presented to her.

However, she is fortunate because she has been able to continue teaching at-home, private acting classes with children in their backyards, as well as her remote data-entry job. She was laid off from her remote job last March for about two months but has since returned and been busier than ever.

As the pandemic hopefully nears its end, Leidhecker is eager to return to the stage and feel a connection again — with an audience and other actors — that she now fears could be lost.

“I will say, I am hungrier than ever to do theatre, which I would say pre-pandemic, I was 50-50 film-theatre. I like them both,” she said. “There is more money in film, so I naturally was doing more of that. But now I am like ‘get me on stage.’ I miss scene work with another person.”

For now, she will continue dreaming of the day when the stage lights up again and she can play her dream role in the musical “Sunday in the Park with George.”

To contact Lifestyles Editor Ashley Barrientos, email lifestyles@mtsusidelines.com.

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