If the coronavirus pandemic hadn’t happened, Haley McGee would just be wrapping up a three-week remount of her excellent solo show The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale at Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre. Instead, the Canadian-born theatre artist is back home in London, UK, where she’s working on a book version of the material (out in early 2021 from Penguin Random House Canada) and taping and editing episodes for a related podcast called The Cost Of Love, which will launch this September.
McGee also helms a self-directed online motivational course called the 14-Day Creative Quarantine Challenge, which she’s run since late March. For a nominal $25 fee, you get daily writing prompts and access to inspiring videos. By the end of two weeks, you should have the start of a creative project finished, and hopefully you’ll know some ways to combat pandemic panic and procrastination.
Why (and when) did you come up with the 14-Day Creative Quarantine Challenge?
I came up with it during the first few days of the UK lockdown. The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale had been cancelled, and many of my artist friends and colleagues were suddenly without work, taking big financial hits, scared and feeling detached from their identities as artists. I wanted to do something that would remedy those things and bring artists together.
Why 14 days?
Because quarantine is a 14-day period. Haha. It seemed cute at the time. Now I think it was a happy accident. Committing to creating daily for two full weeks seems to be helping artists make a lasting shift with their practice.
Have you used similar prompts yourself?
All. The. Time. I give myself small assignments to avoid being overwhelmed. It seems to work for me.
What do you do when you have writer’s block?
I force myself to write every day. I try to do three hours per day minimum. But I’ve had to work up to that. Consistency is vital for me. If I’m stuck with a particular chunk, I work on a different chunk. In dire situations I go for a walk or take a shower, but then I have to log my hours later.
Many of the challenges are writing prompts, but you say they can translate to artists in other mediums. Can you give me an example?
One of the writing-focused prompts is to begin with “I was lying before. The truth is…” Several visual artists have created an image for the lie and then another for the truth. A dancer took the prompt “I live by three principles” and demonstrated her principles through movement. Circus artists, musicians, comedians, puppet makers and screenwriters have all done the challenge. My Aunt Lynda created a collage inspired by each of the prompts.
More than 1,100 people around the world have participated. Have any artists shown you work that came out of the challenge?
Yes! They’ve continued to share their writing, videos and images with me via email and social media. It’s ridiculously exciting and inspiring for me to witness.
There’s a nominal fee, but is it true that some people have donated money for others to take the challenge?
People have been incredibly generous. We have a scholarship fund for artists who simply can’t afford $25 right now.
Many people are finding they can’t focus lately because of the news. What’s your advice for them?
Write about what’s going on in your head, body and heart. Let it be part of your work, rather than resisting it. Ask yourself where fear, rage, futility, frustration, sorrow, boredom, lust or jealousy – whatever you may be feeling – lives inside the piece you’re creating. Fold it in. Allow whatever you’re experiencing be part of your artistic practice rather than a barrier to it. It will make your work more textured and true. And it will matter more to you.
And commit to creating for 10 minutes every day. Put a timer on and create until the timer goes off.