On September 5, Colorado marks the six-month anniversary of the day that Governor Jared Polis revealed that the state had logged its first positive case of COVID-19. Three weeks later, with more than 1,000 cases tallied, Polis issued a stay-at-home order to help stop the spread of the virus, sending hundreds of thousands of households into quarantine.
Photographer Susannah McLeod decided to make the most of her time behind closed doors, creating a satirical photo series that we first profiled back in April. Now, four months (and many rolls of toilet paper) later, Susannah and her wife, Chloe, have just published a book suitable for coffee tables across Colorado, Quarantine Week by Weak, documenting life and love in a time of coronavirus. The contents are hilarious on their own, but the cause makes the tome particularly attractive: All sales are going directly to the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit founded a decade ago as a medical relief agency for those in the theater scene, which has given more than $100,000 in emergency grants since the pandemic began.
On the eve of the September 1 release of Quarantine Week by Weak, we caught up with McLeod — fresh from climbing a mountain on her birthday — to talk about the project.
Westword: What inspired you to do this series?
Susannah McLeod: For that, I have to credit my clever wife, Chloe, who came up with the initial concept. She thought it'd be funny to take some "first week of quarantine versus later in quarantine" photos and post them, side by side. The first set she had in mind involved toilet paper: happy after having stockpiled a Costco-sized portion of rolls and then, weeks later, running out and in crisis because of it. Since I am a photographer and pretty much always down to play, I got out the camera and we executed her TP vision. As we shot that set, the wheels began turning, and we came up with a few more silly concepts we wanted to attempt. After posting the first few and seeing the response, we kept going.
Also, without theater happening because of the COVID shutdown, it was such a gift to have a creative outlet like the series that we were able to work on together while locked inside for weeks on end. And it definitely helped our marriage to have a shared project and focus keeping us sane during that time.
What has the response been to the series?
The response overall has been very positive. Common comments were things like "OMG I needed this today" or "Keep the laughs coming!" It became clear very quickly that people were in need of something that brought a bit of levity in this really challenging time. I also have to give credit to some social media followers for inceptioning the coffee-table book idea, as there were a few comments saying, "Make this a coffee table book and reserve me a copy!" or something along those lines. As soon as we realized we could team up with the Denver Actors Fund to use the book as a fundraiser, the leap from "social media silliness" to "published photo book" was a no-brainer.
What's your relationship to Colorado's theater scene?
We both lived and worked out of New York City for several years, and started to get jaded fairly quickly — yes, even as twenty-somethings at the time. We moved to Denver and were thrilled to find a thriving theater scene when we arrived. Having the opportunity to do quality theater and to live in a place like Colorado is a dream, and this community welcomed us with open arms.
I'm an actor as well as a photographer. Most recently as an actor in town, I was part of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts' production of Goodnight Moon, and another favorite role was as Alison in Miner's Alley's Fun Home. Chloe is also an actor and a part-time DCPA employee, both as a teaching artist and performer. She's been a part of the DCPA's "Shakespeare in the Parking Lot" tour for the last several years.
We're both heartbroken not to be creating theater at the moment, and are devastated for many of our theater families. We hope that all of the theaters we know and love will be able to survive.
What was the biggest surprise you found during quarantine?
Honestly, I was shocked by how political the simple task of mask-wearing became. I struggle to fathom how anyone isn't willing to take a small measure like that to try to keep other people alive. Even before it was proven to be effective, my thought was, "What is the harm in at least trying it if it could keep more people from getting sick?"
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