Editor’s Note: As the pandemic continues, KERA and The Dallas Morning News are working together to document its impact on the North Texas arts and culture scene. Julianna Morano from News talks to three Dallas artists about how their work has evolved since the COVID hit. It is the first of the series.
More than 18 months after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, some artists have realized that their work has changed for good.
This is not all a bad thing.
For three local artists, closures and virtual events resulted in a loss of connection. At the same time, they say they have found new clarity in their purpose as artists and performers.
And each has found ways to continue to bring light and joy to the world.
This story focuses on Sydney Plant, an improv comedian and storyteller from Dallas. After the pandemic suspended live broadcasts that she considered her life’s work, she recognized that creativity is her form of self-empowerment. So she found a new source of expression.
In the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing the artistic journeys of poet Gabby Elvessie and multimedia artist Nitashia Johnson through the pandemic.
How the closure took Plant’s joy
In March 2020, Plant was on top of the world.
Women of Candor, her live show highlighting the stories of African American women, got off to an energizing start. She had several additional shows at the Stomping Ground Comedy Theater in Dallas and enough material for a spin-off podcast.
Then COVID-19 hit, and she saw sites all around Texas and the nation shut down.
She started working her day job as an executive director in a home hospital. And she could no longer train and rehearse with the women on her show who, weeks earlier, were running backstage laughing or crying with her at the end of a touching performance.
“Women of candor was born following the word joy,” Plant says. “In many ways, losing Women of Candor to the pandemic has taken my joy away. “
Creativity is what keeps Plant, 46, going forward. She describes it as her “personal care” regimen. So she turned to a new outlet to continue raising the voice of black women: a line of t-shirts.
Unlimited t-shirts for black women
Her online store is called BlackWomenUnlimited.Shop, where she sells a range of graphic t-shirts. Shirts range from empowering to satirical.
One of the line’s “Emancipation” collection reads “Citizen Ship” and is associated with the image of a slave ship, commenting on the heavy history of black Americans becoming citizens through slavery.
Another – in the “From the Culture” collection – is a “nod and a nod” to the movie poster and the title of Boyz N the Hood. The “Girlz N the Hoodz” shirt shows two black women sitting under a hairdryer in a living room.
“We talk a lot about the barbershop for black men, but about the barbershop and the barber [are] is also part of this world, ”Plant says.
All of the t-shirts amplify the voices of black women in a way that isn’t “filtered out to anyone else” – channeling the spirit of the Plant’s Women of Candor shows.
Plant is concentrating on her t-shirts until she can return to live shows. She’s hoping to start another spin-off podcast, as she wants the shirts to be conversation starters. She hopes the podcast is a platform for having these conversations with people who interact with her shirts.
“If we run out of cotton [and] we can’t make shirts anymore, i will reinvent to honor the voices, legacy and future of black women, ”Plant said. “My mission will always be the same.
A version of the Sydney Plant interview broadcast on KERA-FM (90.1). This story also appears on artandseek.org and will be published in the Arts & Life section on September 26th.