We Spoke To The Impassioned Performance Artist Who's Dancing His Way Through Pandemic Pressures

Photo: Corey Wadden
We Spoke To The Impassioned Performance Artist Who's Dancing His Way Through Pandemic Pressures

We might already be one year into living with COVID-19, but the long-term effects of the pandemic are just beginning.

While many have been fortunate enough to evade the virus itself, the mental health impacts of lockdown regulations and COVID restrictions have been indiscriminate.

Emergency mental health hotlines have reported a 1,000 percent increase in calls and online therapy platforms saw a 65 percent jump in clients in the first 3 months of the pandemic alone. All signs point to an increased sense of isolation, anxiety, and depression since the beginning of the pandemic.

Not only are many struggling to find meaningful ways to cope with this, the rules in place that have prevented us from being physically close to people also wreak havoc on our sense of emotional connection with others.

And while we are most definitely not out of the woods yet, finding alternative ways to relate to others and make sense of this challenging time can be immensely cathartic.

It was this motive that pushed Corey Wadden, a Canadian actor, and performance artist, to translate his internalized frustrations into something emotive and expressive for himself and others.

His dance film, titled Lockdown, was inspired by diary entries he wrote during Vancouver’s state of emergency orders.

YourTango chatted exclusively to Corey Wadden about how dance has helped him, and others, get through this taxing time.

Like many of us, Wadden grappled with a range of intense emotions during the early months of the pandemic.

He documented a lot of these in his diary entries and whenever he took the time to reflect on his entries, he was struck by how tumultuous the pandemic had been, “I've never experienced such a rollercoaster of emotions and uncertainty in my life,” he says.

He shared with us some of his diary entries. On Jan. 26 2020 he writes about hearing of COVID-19 for the first time saying, “No one seems to think it’s worth worrying about, I’m not an alarmist.”

But by April he writes, “I feel like my mind is cascading and crashing into endlessly deep recesses of fearful imagination."

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The diary captures just how mentally exhausting the pandemic has been for many. Wadden also joined the many millions of Americans whose source of income was halted by the pandemic.

“I was in the middle of working on a Netflix show and we shut down virtually overnight,” he says.

“For six months, there was nothing. Not a single production shooting. I had growing doubts that the industry would ever return to the way it was and, for the first time in my life, I started considering other options for work.”

With the impacts of lockdown weighing on him at an increasingly overwhelming capacity, Wadden had a moment of inspiration.

He recalls driving home one night, seeing people in a car next to him wearing face masks, realizing he was still wearing his inside his own car, and thinking, “How did we get here?”

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Rather than let the fears and uncertainty of the situation consume him entirely, he decided to create a dance film inspired by the circumstance.

“I had no control over what was happening, what would happen in the foreseeable future and I needed an outlet, or I was going to become severely depressed,” he reveals to us.

This isn’t the first time Wadden used dance to deal with periods of intense emotion. “Things like acting, dance, and performance art have saved me more than once in the past,” he says.

In 2016, Wadden and his ex of 5 years choreographed a piece together that captured the turmoil of their breakup. “It provided an opportunity for us to work together on something in a collaborative way and end on a positive note,” he says.

His Lockdown film proved to do the same. “I thought if I could re-enact the course of events of 2020 and how they felt for me personally through acting and dance that I could sort of shed that skin I lived in,” Wadden says.

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In addressing and confronting this, Wadden found catharsis through his art.

“Working on the piece felt like revisiting a traumatic memory,” he says, “It was painful — especially piecing together all of the news clips. But, like therapy, it felt necessary to explore in order to heal.”

Creative outlets can feel lacking at the best of times, but with so little stimulation and access to resources, artists, actors, and choreographers are struggling more than ever to find meaningful ways to communicate their work.

“Expressing myself through art is the only way I know of dealing with the people, places, and events that have shaped my life,” Wadden says, acknowledging that without art he would have found it impossible to cope. “It’s everything to me, more so during a time like this than ever.”

But it is not just creating art that helps with overwhelming feelings of anxiety and depression during a time like this. Consuming art is just as powerful.

Watching Wadden’s dance film feels like observing your own emotions grapple with loneliness and worry over the endless devasting news cycles. And even though you’re still watching it through a screen away, isolated from others, it has a powerful way of making you feel less alone.

Wadden wants viewers to connect with his work and start having more open conversations about how stay-at-home orders are impacting their mental health, and perhaps most importantly, he wants others to feel inspired to find their own outlets.

“I hope that it gives voice to people’s frustrations and anxieties,” he says, “I hope it encourages people to express themselves in whatever way makes them feel better.”

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Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment.