Artists Who Inspire #1: Tia Shearer Bassett

A master at finding joy in the little things and seeing beauty everywhere.

Welcome to the first installment of Artists Who Inspire! During this unprecedented shutdown of live theater, DCMTA will use this space to lift up local theater artists who are finding ways to remain creative and share their craft.

Tia Shearer Bassett. Photo courtesy of the artist.

When I realized that I wanted to focus on the good deeds coming out of this catastrophic turn of events, Tia Shearer Bassett was the first artist whose name came to my mind. Through her work as an actor, a mom, and a creator of theater for very young audiences, Tia is a master at finding joy in the little things and seeing beauty everywhere. When she was diagnosed with cancer in November of 2019, her unflagging optimism in the face of adversity became a source of inspiration to everyone who knew her.

As Tia said in a Facebook post earlier this week, cancer required her to self-quarantine months ago. “This thing that a lot of you are about to do, or newly doing,” she wrote on Sunday, “sequestering at home… I’m a little bit of an expert at that now!”

So without further ado, let’s hear some best practices for living your best artistic life while stuck at home from the indomitable Tia Shearer Bassett.

How has this crazy year impacted your work schedule?

I had already lost work with the wonderful Only Make Believe, and a one-woman TYA show at the Kennedy Center (heartBREAK) because of my intense chemo schedule, but Corona may affect how soon I can go back to working with Only Make Believe, and whether there will still be summer teaching opportunities for me, as chemo will be wrapping up by summer.

Ok, let’s get the negativity out of the way: What’s the worst/hardest thing about being self-quarantined?

Well, I feel like I already had my quarantine period, since I’ve been in treatment since November (and thus, socially isolating either because of feeling poorly or to keep my tanking immune system safe), so now that everyone is joining me in quarantine? This is kind of weirdly fun for me! Minus the scary virus stuff, of course. But over these past months, I think I’ve actually reconnected with my solo self, you know? I LOVE people. So it is nice for me to see that I can include myself in that “people”! It was hard at first to deal with all the new barriers…for me, they were related to chemo’s effect on my body, but there are barriers that come with this Corona quarantine for people, too…but I’ve sort of made friends with the barriers now. Or, frenemies. We agree to disagree but coexist. And with that comes this fun challenge (when I am in the right mood) of finding all the joy you can within your new limits.

Now on to the positive! Share with us one professional achievement that you are proud to have accomplished so far this year.

A play that I helped co-create from home in January, Happy Theater’s Five Spoons, had its world premiere!

Yay! What are some things you have done to remain stimulated at home?

Right now, I am sort of homeschooling my kiddo, but I hope to still find time for the projects that were keeping me happy these past few months: learning songs from the ’90s on ukulele; typing spontaneous tiny plays on my typewriter (I love how hard I have to hit the keys. So satisfying!); super-amateur stop-motion animation (hehe); lettering my original graphic novel, WONDROUS MACHINES!

What have you learned from the months you’ve already spent sequestered at home that could be helpful to other artists who now find themselves stuck at home?

Artists are emotionally brave and mentally resourceful. We are uniquely equipped for quick life adaptations. I am not bringing in my usual money right now, but I’m not broke—I’ve been able to maintain my Patreon page, and I’ve shifted my focus to writing gigs instead of performing for now. Staying home, there are fewer things to spend money on, too. I think artists are among the first people taking a hit right now, but among the luckiest as far as the tools we already have. I don’t know how I would be getting through the scariness of cancer and the many-layered difficulties of chemotherapy if I wasn’t a badass artist with badass artist friends.

You caught my attention through your unflagging positivity. What inspires your positivity when faced with adversity? 

Aw, thanks! Frankly, it helps ME! I apparently get through hard things at least in large part by trying to turn them into entertainment to connect with other people through it all. I’ve known since high school that entertaining was my big vocational love, but I learned from cancer that it is my survival mechanism.

List three other DC-area artists who inspire you and tell us why.

Deb Sivigny. She is currently drawing mythological Japanese guardians every day in little Facebook videos for us all. Because that is the kind of thing she does—anything artistic (across disciplines) that strikes a chord with her.

Patrick Flynn. He writes plays and maintains a podcast and is a father. I don’t know how he does it all while still bringing a gentle energy wherever he goes. He is currently adapting his podcast to quarantine in fun ways, too.

Natasha Mirny. She is truly always creating, whether it’s artistic lesson plans for babies and toddlers, or a children’s shadow puppet show that she created and performs and travels with, or another truly innovative dance/physical theater/meaningfully-interactive show for adults, filling a niche in town that maybe we didn’t even know we were missing.

Thanks, Tia! You rock!

Consider becoming a Tia Shearer Bassett patron! For $3 or $10 per month, you can become a member of Tia’s #TheatreWolf pack and help sustain her creative pursuits.

Tia Shearer is a Maryland-based actor, maker, and mama specializing in physical theater, TYA, TVY (Theatre for the Very Young), and multi-character roles.


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