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By The Editors
Disnie Sebastien is an artist from the beautiful island of Dominica in the Eastern Caribbean, now based in New York City. A Jane of all trades, she dabbles in many aspects of art, from acting and directing to video editing and house managing. Disnie has a B.F.A in Multimedia Performing Arts from Lehman College-CUNY in the Bronx. She has been fortunate to work with influential people in the entertainment industry, such as Trezana Beverly, Tony Award-winner, and George Lefferts, an executive producer for NBC & ABC. Recent credits include Google, Condé Nast, and Urban Stages’ Tourist Traps Theater festival. She hopes to continue to excel in her craft and touch lives through her artistry.
We asked Disnie, who stars in our poetry film "Butterflies" (and has appeared in a few other Quail Bell video projects!), some questions about what it's like to be a NYC artist for stage and screen, before and during the pandemic. Here's what she had to say:
What projects were you working on shortly before or during the early days of NYC’s shutdown for COVID-19?
I was constantly auditioning for every role that I felt I was suitable for. This meant hundreds of auditions, which kept me quite busy. I was really looking forward to 2020 as the year that my acting career would be boosted. The pandemic has truly changed the trajectory of arts as we know it. Just before the pandemic, I had secured a starring role in a play that would have ran in April and May 2020 at the People’s Improv Theater (PIT). Rehearsals were going well and we had a stellar all-women cast and crew. Shortly after, we heard that Broadway had been shut down which meant that small theaters and other projects inevitably followed.
I had also finished filming a new show for Condé Nast called, "30 People Play." I had worked with them previously, so I was delighted to be back on set with them. The show was a mixture of reality and improv. This is the best way I can describe it. Filming the show was an incredible experience. Condé Nast is always on top of their media game as a leading company. No pun intended! The director put me through a series of challenges to see my reactions while playing some of the classic Mario video games and more.
Many artists of all stripes have spent quarantine reminiscing about their favorite pre-pandemic projects and events. What are some of yours?
Initially, I viewed the quarantine as a setback for my acting career. The pre-pandemic era had been a productive and busy one for me. Working with Quail Bell Magazine was a highlight of my acting career. A distinct high point was when we did the film "Butterflies," written by Teri Elam. The film focuses on some of the struggles black girls face at school and seeing themselves negatively portrayed in mass media. I loved working with director, [Quail Bell Press & Productions founder] Christine Sloan Stoddard, who allowed for much creative expression in this exceptional project.
Even though we filmed "Butterflies" a while ago [in February], the film still rings and speaks volumes, given the current climate with the Black Lives Matter Movement. This is a true testimony that change is needed! The film will never grow old to me.
What are some of the ways you’ve kept occupied during quarantine? What professional things have you accomplished? What things have you done for the sake of your happiness and mental health?
Keeping occupied during quarantine actually worked in my favor. As a Scorpio, I am driven to succeed and be occupied. My career matters to me. It has been my dream since childhood.
I chose to use the quarantine period to upgrade my natural ability to dance. I looked at videos and practiced the dances that suited my preferred style. I have a new Instagram account dedicated just for that and also other creative videos. I have found this to be a wonderful way to express myself and tap into more aspects of Disnie.
My new Instagram is @disnietime which is dedicated for dance, entertainment and a little bit of everything. My personal Instagram is @disniems which I have been continuing to build.
In terms of acting during quarantine, I have been involved in Zoom play readings, which sadly is the closest thing we have to real Theater at the moment. We can’t be on stage currently, however artists all around the world are working to keep the arts alive by bringing plays to audiences virtually from their homes. I have also shot movie scenes from home, too, which was different, but this can actually work quite well depending on the type of scene being shot. It’s an interesting platform.
How do you think the COVID-19 pandemic has forced artists to innovate? What are some creative or professional changes you’ve made or are in the process of making?
During this pandemic, if one wants to continue to grow as an artist, one must think outside of the box. If I have to film a Zoom scene, for example, it’s all on me to get it right. You have to be your own makeup artist, director, camera, sound, and lighting person. There is no longer a crew of 30 people to help an actor with these tasks. I have always made it a point of duty to be multi-skilled because you just never know when your array of skills will be needed. Also, being multi-faceted can create opportunities for an artist. If you’re an actor, that is great, but if you are an actor who can also edit videos on professional software and write a script, imagine how many doors this could open for you. Creativity isn’t lost during the pandemic. It’s more a matter of how to channel it to the right places given the new changes.
How are you maintaining your hope for the future as an actor right now?
I definitely keep positive and realistic. Nothing lasts forever. I know the pandemic can be a frustrating setback especially for us artists who are told that art is not essential. I’m pretty sure it would have been horrendous being stuck in the house for four months with no music, TV, or Netflix. It’s the artists who have created these moments we can now hold dear during the quarantine. I believe this pandemic will pass. When? I don’t know.
I recently got signed onto a couple of exciting projects for the future, so that helps me feel extremely motivated because I have amazing projects to look forward to. There is hope! I’m already formulating my ideas and rehearsing during the quarantine. As long as I am working on something artistic, I feel joy.
How do you think the COVID-19 pandemic will impact the future of theatre? Even if we get to a point where coming together for live theatre is considered safe again?
I do want to be optimistic for the future of theatre in America. But, to be pragmatic, COVID-19 has left fear, sorrow, and uncertainty. I believe in the resilience of our people and the passion of those like myself who chose theatre as a career and a way to impact lives.
Theatre is a highly collaborative field. However, for the future, I think it will mean smaller productions and cutting down on the amount of people working on a particular project. A 50-crew production might end up being a 15-crew production. Production and theater companies might start taking a look at how scripts and performances can be changed to promote social distancing. This may work well if the show is a one-man/woman show. However, this might be more challenging especially if there are intimate scenes between performers and actors. Maybe there will be rapid testing at production sites. Who knows? Ultimately, it is really up to each of us to take extra precautions every day and to not let our guard down even when statistics show that there is improvement.
What kind of projects do you dream of making under this “new normal”?
I am thankful for the field of acting being broad enough to offer opportunities under this “new normal.” Since much of the arts is now virtual, I am focusing on promoting myself online.
My dream projects include:
- Recording voiceovers, which would include material that I have written but never released before.
-Holding Zoom plays for scripts I have written.
-Continuing to make dance and entertainment videos which have brought joy to many people who view them. I am particularly touched when children try to emulate my dances.
-I also want to teach and coach new actors and hold the lessons virtually, since I truly enjoy helping others.
The projects I have mentioned can easily be done at home or safely with social distancing. I am definitely going to continue working on my artistic journey no matter what!
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