By Naiia Lajoie
In the time BCV (Before CoVid-19), I held many titles: actor, automotive product specialist, traveling host, journalist, professional underwater performer, and children‟s entertainer. Work was consistent, paychecks were plentiful, and I was hardly home. When the Coronavirus hit, only one of those jobs remained. The entertainment industry went dark, travel ceased, my publications went on hiatus, and all of Southern California held onto their nest eggs tightly; uncertain of when their next paycheck would be received. Death tolls became a part of daily vernacular, and even the whimsy of realistic mermaids – a specialty act provided by Sheroes Entertainment – could not keep morale afloat.
While the realm of princess party companies faced the threat of having to shutter the castle doors of their small businesses forever, we at Sheroes scrambled to come up with a solution – one that not only benefitted our pod, but also the wellbeing of those in the community. Upon realizing that the school districts of Los Angeles Country were not likely to resume their 2019-2020 school years, resulting in an influx of homeschooled kids for the duration of the semester, we sought to alleviate some of the stress the children are undoubtedly experiencing along with lessening the burden on their parents who are also displaced from their offices.
In addition to being American Red Cross-certified lifeguards with First Aid, CPR, and AED (Automated External Defibrillator) training, the Sheroes Entertainment, LLC makes it mandatory for all of its performers to be mandated reporters. Some staff members possess special needs educational outreach training for children & autism, while others like me have Mental Health First Aid training. At a time when everyone is concerned with contracting the disease and is staying “Safer At Home” because of it, it is equally important to check-in on those quarantining in order to mitigate the mental ramifications of social distancing.
In light of the stay-at-home order, I brainstormed with my boss – Sheroes Entertainment owner & founder Virginia Hankins – and developed a slew of digital offerings. I came up with a curriculum centered on the princess characters we all know and love that also showcased my individual talents. As an avid reader I enjoy reading aloud, I sing, I dance, love crafting, and also speak four languages (English, French, and two Filipino dialects). In doing all of these things I have the opportunity to keep my skillset fresh while also entertaining and educating others.
We call our newly formed service “Online Digital Playcare”, which we describe on our website as: “Sheroes Entertainment‟s new online virtual parties and “playcare” options. [They] are designed for working parents and guardians just like you who want to make the day a bit better, brighter, and more hopeful for the future. Our caring entertainers will devote their time to your family in these special virtual visits so that you can take a moment to breathe, to have time to focus on that important call from work, or just sit back and give your child a special memory that will make them smile” (“Online Parties”. Sheroes Entertainment LLC. https://www.sheroesentertainment.com.)
During these times of uncertainty where society is questioning the motives of their local and federal governments – whether the emphasis is put on individual health and financial aid, or restoring the economy by bolstering big businesses – we are no stranger to experiencing a loss in revenue. Despite this, the team chooses to “just keep swimming” by adapting. The ability to adapt – not just as individuals, but as a company – is paramount to our survival in this crisis. This inadvertent hard stop has allowed us to reflect inward in order to grow outwardly, and the face of our business is evolving as a result; for the better.
On a personal level, my brainspace and physical space have evolved, given I have had to alter my surroundings in order to accommodate what has become my at-home workplace. Armed with a laptop, high-speed Internet connection, and Zoom account, my livingroom has morphed into a filming studio that my husband and I are constantly having to dress based on the next project or appointment. As Moana, the Polynesian protagonist of Disney‟s animated feature with the same name, my couch has become “Motonui” – the ficticous island where she resides – accentuated by a surfboard in the background (given beaches are closed and we are unable to paddle out).
When I am not engrossed in character on Zoom meet-and-greets, I am still flexing my acting muscles by shooting and submitting self-taped auditions with the aid of my husband. He is a set lighting technician (IASTE Local 728) who is also experiencing a work stoppage. So in order to keep his skills exercised, he has been lighting my self-tapes, going so far as to rig a neutral-colored background out of an old blue bed sheet with two flimsy light stands. He has even invented two homemade lights out of household objects (to couple with my ring light) in order to provide a three-point lighting system. One is a shoebox-turned-softbox lined with LED ribbon topped with an egg crate grid made out of cardboard, while the other is a light bulb in a retooled juice pitcher covered in an absurd amount of gaffer tape. Again, adaptability is key.
Thus far the reception to the move-to- online has been positive and relatively seamless. One benefit of existing in a technologically advanced world is that the tech savviness possessed by our youth is unparalleled. It is a fascinating anthropological study to see how a shared traumatic event such as a global pandemic where we are unable to go outside and be together can actually unify people. Social media has become more of a health PSA, call to action, and even a medium where we can learn from industry professionals via Instagram Live rather than a mere timewaster.
Ultimately, being cloistered at home has given me the opportunity to contribute in my unique way to the in-this-togetherness.