The world comes together in times of crisis. People look after each other. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that, because the most divisive voices are often the loudest. And I think that if we work to get arts providers and companies working as quickly and safely as possible, we can help the mental health aspect of it. I think most people that start working on grassroots nonprofit initiatives are optimists. Realists, because we make a plan, but optimists, because we truly believe that if we work hard enough, and care hard enough, the change will happen.
As part of my series about people who stepped up to make a difference during the COVID19 Pandemic, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lulu Picart. Lulu Picart is an actor, director, and podcaster. After graduating with a Bachelor’s in Political Science from Stetson University and getting a Master’s concentrating in Leadership Studies at the University of South Florida, she quickly realized her passion was for telling stories and understanding connections, whether they center around nations or people. She continues to study and speak on leadership for creatives. Her theatre and performing career have taken her around the world. She was featured in the touring Broadway production of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella and has worked extensively in New York City and regional theatre. In 2018 with Alison Burns, she began a comedy podcast about imaginary luxury travel, 10K Dollar Day, which has since expanded to nine episodes per week, with a daily community check-in and slice-of-life interviews. As a podcaster, she has performed throughout the country and often speaks at podcasting conferences and summits. She will be seen in the upcoming A.R.T. and Broadway (Roundabout) revival and touring production of 1776.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Lulu and other displaced theater artists created #thankyoufive, an organization created to raise money to purchase and distribute food for the frontline healthcare workers in New York City. They work with local restaurants and coffee shops (even while closed) to keep the medical teams fueled and fed. A system of volunteers helps with coordination, fundraising, and on-the-ground deliveries.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how and where you grew up?
I grew up on Air Force bases all over the world. My family comes from a long and expansive line of military service people, and we moved quite often during my childhood. Eventually, we settled in Florida, where I attended high school, college, and grad school. I proudly claim Orlando as my hometown.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
In the last few years, two books have made me pause in the middle of reading them to catch my breath. The Paper Menagerie and other stories by Ken Liu is thought-provoking, eloquent, and layered with the complexities of life and consciousness. His words are chosen perfectly and precisely. The second book is The Porpoise by Mark Haddon, in which you can find worlds in each paragraph. All of your senses are plunged into the joy of imagination while reading that book.
I realize those two books are fiction — and full of metaphors — but sometimes, the beauty of something created simply for joy or thought or reflection can remind you of what’s worth protecting or fighting for in this world. The capacity for different perspectives, the humanity behind grappling with tough questions, the transference of the author’s thought to paper to reader’s thought — all of that is a kind of magic. And it connects us, even with strangers. It’s a shared internal experience that creates a secret common reference within us. That’s something that art does, sometimes overtly, sometimes quietly.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
When I was little, my mother used to say, “Look with your eyes, not with your mouth.” She’d say it when we had misplaced something because as a kid, your first instinct is often to ask an adult where something is before you had actually looked for it. Now as an adult, it reminds me to self-educate and to try to listen more than I speak.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?
A few weeks into the pandemic, we saw a Facebook post from a friend, an ER doctor in Harlem, with a request for food or coffee. The multiple layers of the pandemic had an unanticipated side effect: the health care workers in New York City were finding it increasingly difficult to find food during their shifts due to restaurants closing down. At the same time, restaurant owners had severely limited income and were finding it nearly impossible to keep their businesses open.
We realized we could help make these connections happen. Our industry — theatre, and entertainment — was at a standstill, and we had skills at our disposal that were in need. Stage managers and production managers contacted restaurant owners (starting with some that usually cater to Broadway functions). Performers assisted with marketing and getting the word out. Producers, directors, and designers helped make the deliveries. Through #thankyoufive, we have found a way to connect the arts community through collective action.
“Thank you, five” is a phrase well known in the theater. When it’s time to get back to work, the stage manager will call “five minutes,” and the members of the company all respond with, “thank you, five!” It means “I hear you,” “I respect you,” and “I’ll be ready to get to work.” It puts us all on the same page. Calling our foundation #thankyoufive is a tribute to the stage and production managers that helped get this organization off the ground.
In your opinion, what does it mean to be a hero?
A hero cares outside of themselves, even when caring is hard and difficult. They stand up for the right thing, even when it’s inconvenient. They continue even when it’s scary. They find motivation within themselves.
In your opinion or experience, what are “5 characteristics of a hero? Please share a story or example for each.
A hero is brave when it counts.
A hero realizes and embraces that they can make a difference.
A hero is passionate.
A hero works through obstacles and creates ways to solve problems.
A hero is motivated by cause, not applause.
If heroism is rooted in doing something difficult, scary, or even self-sacrificing, what do you think drives some people — ordinary people — to become heroes?
I think you can distill it down to love and commitment to something bigger than themselves.
What was the specific catalyst for you or your organization to take heroic action? At what point did you personally decide that heroic action needed to be taken?
The Facebook post from Dr. Raj Jasiwal, Associate Chief of Emergency at Metropolitan Health Center in Harlem, really struck me. I knew the wards were overrun and that the health teams were working long shifts, but it hadn’t occurred to me that they also had to take time to source food every day. In a city (and a world) where we have become so used to instant, convenient access, this was a game-changer, especially as the restaurants started to experience such distress and grocery slots were hard to come by. There were lots of drives for personal protective equipment and addressing other needs, but specific funds for food and coffee were few and far between.
Also — I felt helpless, which I am sure many other people were experiencing. Because I had lost all my employment because of the pandemic, I couldn’t contribute money. But I could contribute time and organization, and I could mobilize my circle and my audience.
Who are your heroes, or who do you see as heroes today?
One of our first volunteers, Laurie Brown Kindred, is a hero. I’ve had the honor of being friends with her for years, and I have always seen her be the first to step in for anyone in need. She fiercely safeguards her community of friends and her neighborhood (West Harlem). Even in the midst of a cancer diagnosis resurfacing, she’s still working to amplify causes and voices that can change the world. She’s my everyday hero, Every Day.
Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in the world today. What specifically frightened or frightens you most about the pandemic?
The global loss of life is the primary distress. And because we’re isolated and at home, I don’t think we can fully recognize what that means and what it really looks like. The mental health of grieving while in isolation is something I think we really need to monitor and support. Of course, since I come from the arts industry, the inability to gather and work has severe financial and personal fallout, as well. It’s a frightening and uncertain time.
Despite that, what gives you hope for the future? Can you explain?
The world comes together in times of crisis. People look after each other. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that, because the most divisive voices are often the loudest. And I think that if we work to get arts providers and companies working as quickly and safely as possible, we can help the mental health aspect of it.
I think most people that start working on grassroots nonprofit initiatives are optimists. Realists, because we make a plan, but optimists, because we truly believe that if we work hard enough, and care hard enough, the change will happen.
What has inspired you the most about the behavior of people during the pandemic, and what behaviors do you find most disappointing?
I have been heartened by seeing people check on their communities, realizing that socialization isn’t just a luxury — for some, it’s a necessity. I am inspired by people who have stayed home and used this time to recharge (in both productive and also restful ways).
However, I have also seen people not able to expand their narrow circle of importance, which saddens me in a profound way. The emphasis on convenience over compassion is difficult to understand.
As someone who lost the entire year of upcoming work in 24 hours, I understand the panic of financial loss. But savings can be rebuilt. Lost lives cannot.
Has this crisis caused you to reassess your view of the world or of society? We would love to hear what you mean.
In a very specific way, I have become increasingly aware of the differences between well-funded and struggling hospitals and what communities they serve. I assumed that doctors were set, and they would never be in “need.” The pandemic has exposed how much trouble certain hospitals have had trying to get personal protective equipment and food. We need to find ways to support those hospitals and appreciate the health professionals that choose to serve these communities.
I also have had to seriously examine my relationship with the arts and its function in society. At the beginning of the self-isolation period, it really was escapist entertainment that was getting me through. And as someone whose main platform is comedy, it can be hard to figure out where that fits when the world is hurting and focusing on important issues. However, creating escapism has its own value, and allowing for release has its own value. Seeing people take refuge and restore using music and art and streaming performances have revitalized my belief that they are essential in good times and in bad.
What permanent societal changes would you like to see come out of this crisis?
As the majority of the world decided to stay home to save lives, I was incredibly inspired by people putting others before themselves. I hope that idea keeps growing and expanding.
I also would like the quality of elder care in this country to become more important, both institutionally and within the family dynamic.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Consciously creating a positive impact connects you to your community in deep and effective ways. We automatically have an impact when we interact with people and places. You can choose to make that a positive one. Helping comes in all forms, from donating, volunteering time, joining social media campaigns, and political activism. Plus, you begin to build a network of like-minded people, all signing up to be helpers. It can enrich your life in ways you don’t expect.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
It’s simple. At my podcast 10K Dollar Day, we call it “what’s your happy.” I know the world can be tough, and ugly, and heartbreaking. But I also know the world can be buoyant, and beautiful, and inspiring. It can happen in really big ways, but most of the time, the way the world shows you its best parts in little spurts. Learning to key into those “happies” can mobilize you through very difficult fights and times.
This is not a superficial, happy-go-lucky movement. It’s a conscious decision to recognize what’s going right in order to continue working on what’s going wrong.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
100% Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. First of all, I will watch any of his movies, any time. I don’t even need to see a trailer. But besides the fact that I enjoy him so much as an actor, he is a master of reinvention. He’s a great example of confidently following your heart and adjusting what you do while constantly evaluating how best to use your platform. He founded a charity in 2006 that helps children with illnesses, disorders, and disabilities empower themselves and often helps with relief efforts. And in addition to all that, he started a tequila label. I hope he brings some to lunch.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can follow us at @thankyoufivenyc on Twitter and Instagram, and please check out our website at www.thankyoufivenyc.org.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!