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Post ‘Full Monty,’ actor Kristen Wilson finds new purpose sewing COVID-19 face masks


Kristen Wilson was performing in Terrence McNally’s The Full Monty when the pandemic forced the early closure of the New Phoenix show.

“We literally found out that our show was closing early about an hour before the start of our 3:00 p.m. matinee.”

That was on Sunday, March 14.

“We all gathered on stage and kind of cried it out. We called and let our family and friends know Full Monty was closing so that they could come. It was a special show.”

To a person, the cast knew it was the right call. It would have been irresponsible, even unconscionable, to expose themselves and audiences to exposure – and all the people they would have gone on to unknowingly infect.

But that knowledge didn’t blunt the heartbreak associated with being deprived of the opportunity to share McNally’s uplifting story with four more enthusiastic, fun-loving audiences, to speak his words, sing David Yazbek’s score, perform Brenda Kensler’s carefully-wrought choreography.

Even though they had an hour to come to terms with the fact that they were about to perform their final show, the realization only partially lessened the dull anxiety, the pervasive unease that results from leaving something important unfinished. Psychologists call it The Zeigarnik Effect. It seems that our brains are hardwired to fret and fume over those things for which we can’t achieve closure.

“The cast of Full Monty was a close-knit group,” says Kristen. “You figure, during rehearsals and especially during tech week we spend more time with our cast mates than we do with our family or spend at home. So before a show opens, you become extremely close. Then suddenly, that’s taken away. We’re all staying in touch through Facebook and Messenger. Just trying to keep track of each other the best that we can.”

And Wilson and the rest of the Full Monty cast did get to collaborate on a virtual fundraiser for New Phoenix Theatre.

“That was nice because we all got to be creative.”

In the days following Full Monty’s closure, Kristen stayed at home, tried to maintain a positive outlook and avidly watched Rachel Burttram and Brendan Powers in their Tiny Theatre productions. And she did a little crafting and sewing.

Then a sense of purpose came a calling on the inveterate costume designer. Now she’s busy sewing face masks to donate, trying to figure out how to get much-needed elastic or find some other substitute to tie the coverings in place.

But sewing is a meditative process, and Kristen still has plenty of time to worry about the solvency of New Phoenix and all the other theaters in Southwest.

“It’s very scary. A lot of theaters operate on a thin budget, and to lose multiple shows is devastating. Some theaters pay for their next show with the revenue they bring in from the current show.”

But she’s optimistic that if the theater companies can tough it out for the next two or three months, there could be an even greater demand for live performance offerings.

“I definitely think that people are going to be looking for something that is fairly reasonable that they can go out and do as a family when this is over. And people are so supportive of the arts and theater. People are really enjoying the virtual offerings like monologues, livestreamed performance and virtual galas. This may create a desire in them to see a live performance or the person they’ve been following virtually when some semblance of normalcy to our lives.”

Although life under COVID-19 is difficult – Kristen was between jobs when the pandemic struck and unable to seek new employment under the circumstances – she sees one good thing coming from the quarantines and need to stay isolated in our homes.

“People are coming to the realization that we need the arts in these dark times to uplift us. I think a lot of people are actually figuring out how important the arts are in our lives and how much we need and enjoy them. We all miss contact and being around people. When this is all over, I think everyone will go out of their way to help [art galleries, museums and theaters] rebound.”

April 5, 2020.


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