An actor who nurses. A drag queen who teaches. These artists are finding ways to hustle during the COVID-19 outbreak

An actor who nurses. A drag queen who teaches. These artists are finding ways to hustle during the COVID-19 outbreak
It’s a double whammy for performance arts workers as their stage productions shutter and their side-hustle jobs become obsolete in the battle against COVID-19.

“There has been a 100 per cent decline in opera, dance and theatre production in Canada almost overnight,” said Arden R. Ryshpan, executive director of Canadian Actors’ Equity Association. So too has work disappeared in restaurants and bars, retail stores and services, and businesses such as massage therapy.

There are some arts workers, however, whose side hustles have come to the forefront during the health crisis. Others are finding ways to adapt their work to the new normal. Here are six of their stories:

The nurse who acts

Helen Knight has always loved theatre but trained as a nurse because she comes from what she calls a “precarious” background and medical work is dependable. “But as soon as I paid off my student loans from nursing, I took time off and went to theatre school.” Now 39, she’s balanced acting and nursing ever since.

While based in Calgary, she is known to Toronto theatregoers for her performance as Mary, Queen of Scots in Soulpepper’s 2019 production of “The Virgin Trial” and for her autobiographical one-woman show “The Art of Kneading” in the 2019 Toronto Fringe. Since COVID-19 hit, she has started to take on more shifts at the two Calgary hospitals where she works in palliative care, psychiatric crisis intervention and with lung disease patients.

Knight said the brunt of the COVID crisis has yet to hit her workplaces. “April is probably going to be harder than March.” She said she’s privileged to be “working on a medical ward rather than ICU or emergency. We do have patients that we’re screening; all of us are washing our hands a lot more. Even if we don’t have a COVID patient, heaven help me if I accidentally carry it to one of my very vulnerable patients.”
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