Many Wittenberg alumni have come up with creative ways to battle boredom during the COVID-19 pandemic. For Laura Kay, Wittenberg class of 2012, her new project is helping her and others combat COVID and encourage self-care.
Kay, who double-majored in history and theatre, grew up in the small town of Circleville, Ohio, before making the leap to the big city, moving to Brooklyn, New York, in the summer of 2013 to attend grad school at the Actors Studio Drama School in New York City. After graduating with an MFA, she is now working as a management assistant for Foresight Theatrical, a Broadway general management company, acting and producing her own work, as well as performing in some films and commercials.
During the recent COVID-19 pandemic, she had to press the pause button on some of her acting and writing aspirations as theatres, productions, and pretty much life went on hold. Yet, for Kay, the pandemic allowed her to dabble in something she has always wanted to do – puppetry. Living alone and now isolated from the real world, she stared at her pink puppet, affectionately named Petunia, sitting on the bookshelf in her studio apartment.
“I’ve been interested in puppetry for a very long time,” said Kay, who has been sheltering-in-place for the last three months, and was recently placed on furlough because Broadway is currently shut down. “I took a Puppetry for TV & Film class in 2018, which is where I got Petunia. Ever since then, I’ve always had an idea in the back of my mind to create a series with her, but I was never really sure what I wanted to do. When I started sheltering-in-place, it all just sort of came together. I had the time, and I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do: I wanted Petunia to teach people about self-care.”
In 2016, Kay was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) after years of struggling with an undiagnosed mental illness, and through experience and researching, she knows a lot about self-care.
“I was at a point in my life where I needed to learn how to manage my mental illness and take care of my mental health,” she said. “I started gathering resources to help myself so I could learn about self-care and how I could make changes in my daily life to manage my illness. Over the course of the past year or two, I took the time to learn about self-care. I read books. I saw a therapist. I started to amass a library of journals and self-care workbooks. When the pandemic hit and many of my friends started losing their jobs and sheltering in place, there was a collective panic. I realized that creating content that focused on self-care in a positive way could potentially help a lot of people. It has definitely helped me and has already helped a lot of others.”
Kay knew back in March that she was going to need to dive into some sort of creative project to keep herself busy. Now happy that she is a packrat, Kay created a set for Petunia and had lots of ideas for her new creation “Petunia’s Playhouse,” a web series about self-care. The first season includes five episodes running approximately seven minutes in length. She released it in May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month. While season two is in the development stage, Kay has plans for releasing fun video content throughout the summer months.
“Petunia’s Playhouse is growing every day, and that excites me,” she said. “My hope is that families will watch the show together and start talking about self-care and working to implement it into their daily lives. The series has been accepted into several film festivals already and is gaining a wider audience, which is amazing! I eventually want to pitch the series, but I think that may have to wait until the industry is back up and running.”
She said that the pandemic shutdown has been wearing on her, but she is happy to be spreading a message of self-care and positivity during a time where she could’ve easily reverted to old behavior.
“I hope others watch the series, heed its message, and find comfort in it or feel inspired to create something. It’s definitely been difficult being in NYC -- I’ve been very careful about going out in public and know many friends and colleagues who are still doing the same,” she added. “I do love that the arts community in NYC. It has really stepped up to create accessible Internet content to bring people joy during this time. A lot of Broadway performers have been doing concerts from their living rooms, holding benefits, and many theatre companies are doing readings of plays via Zoom. I think we all know the healing power of art, and the necessity of art, and everyone here has been so gracious in making art and entertainment more accessible during this time.”
Kay became fascinated with theatre as a youth after seeing a small production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat while on vacation in Canada. She was heavily involved in the theatre at Wittenberg, including both mainstage and in student productions. She also wrote for the Wittenberg Review and Spectrum, was a Writing Center advisor, a history department supplemental instructor, and worked as the student box office manager for the Theatre Department.
“Hands down, the theatre department had a huge impact on me,” said Kay, who currently has a short film in development and is looking forward to a time where she can start auditioning and acting again. “Being a theatre major, taking theatre classes, and being involved in productions really allowed me to explore my passions and decide what I wanted to do with my life after Witt. I also was so lucky to have people like Corwin Georges, Steven Reynolds, Amy Livingstone, and Mike Mattison, who treated me like family. They created a safe environment for me to learn and flourish. I don’t think I would’ve gotten the same nurturing environment somewhere else.
“It was definitely my goal while at Witt to graduate and pursue a career in acting,” she continued. “I’m still very much doing that, and finding success doing so, but I’ve also developed other passions along the way. I’ve learned a lot about theatrical management and administration and have found a lot of fulfillment there. My ultimate career goals are to continue to work in this vibrant industry as an actor and content creator and eventually run my own production company.”
In conjunction with the first season of Petunia’s Playhouse, she offers a website full of self-care activities and mental health resources, designed and self-published a 150-page self-care workbook full of exercises, activities, and journal prompts that are designed to help anyone practice the self-care strategies Petunia teaches in the first season and donating 50% of the proceeds from the journals to the Loveland Foundation Therapy Fund, an organization that provides therapy services to under-served communities, with a special focus on black women and girls.