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By John Moore, Senior Arts Journalist
Let’s face it: When the pandemic hit the U.S. in March, we did not put our collective best face forward. The daily shower-and-shave ritual slowly slipped into more of a weekly thing, and then ... why even bother? Eventually, emboldened women started to come and show their true selves on social media (and by that we mean true hair color.)
The fashion trends of 2020? Sweatpants and facemarks, which means that pretty much all of us could reasonably pass for a bank robber ... or a terrorist ... or a serial killer.
Fact: If not for the occasional Zoom appointment that forces us to pay a modicum of attention to our personal appearance, every damn one of us would fit right in on an FBI Most Wanted poster right about now.
But if there has been one good thing about living in isolation, it’s that none of our friends or extended family has to know just how Kaczynski Twinski we've become. (I'm not joking: Just look at my friend Mark, a responsible journalist and educator who at present looks like he might eat you in the wilderness.)
But then there are Susannah and Chloe McLeod, a talented and infectiously positive (in a good way!) married couple who weren’t about to let the pandemic pass without turning it into a creative outlet. Living together in a cozy, 500-square-foot Denver apartment, they decided to turn their stir-craziness into an opportunity to have fun and make people smile in the process. The result is a coffee-table photo book called "Quarantine Week by Week," which is providing readers with some badly needed smiles, and raising money for charity.
When Susannah McLeod graduated from the University of Miami, she moved to New York City and was pursuing a career in musical theatre when she met her future wife. They hit the road together and fell in love with Colorado while making their travel video web series, “Sus & Chlo on the Go.”
Chloe McLeod, a very busy actor on local stages and a Teaching Artist in the Denver Center’s Education department, came up with the initial idea for a quarantine photo series. Her wife happens to be not only an accomplished actor herself (Susannah played Adult Alison in Miners Alley Playhouse’s celebrated musical “Fun Home”) but she’s also one of the busiest professional photographers in town. She’s turned theatrical headshots, production photos, senior portraits and weddings into a thriving independent business called McLeod9 Creative.
The idea: Why not show this inarguably adorable couple in a playful series of “before and after” domestic photos, first showing them at their blissful best … and later at their hilariously quarantined worst? Soon “Quarantine: Week by Weak” was off-and-running, with their dog, Zaxby, often photobombing his way onto the “quaranteam.”
The 35 photo sets are clever and cheeky. For example, one “Week 1” photo shows Chloe looking as cute as anyone ever could while peeing, with a well-planned pyramid of six toilet-paper rolls at the ready by her feet. The “Week 6” snapshot returns to the scene of the toilet to reveal Chloe now to be … well, all out of options. All that remains of that T.P. pyramid is one empty roll and the discarded plastic wrap. Most telling (and funny), Chloe’s wearing pretty much the same thing now that she was six weeks before. Because ... why not?
The set-ups are smartly conceived and executed for maximum satire and snort. That this self-deprecating couple doesn’t at all mind showing themselves in various states of embarrassment only makes it all the more fun. (Disclaimer: These two would have to quarantine for a decade before they would believably join the rest of us on that FBI Most Wanted poster.)
At first, the couple put their pics on Instagram just to give friends and family a smile. But soon they had enough material for their now beautifully realized coffee-table book called, yes, “Quarantine: Week by Weak.” Their work was immediately seen to be of such quality that Westword editor Patty Calhoun, one of the most influential journalists in Colorado history, chose to make the project a coveted cover story – weeks before the self-published book was even back from the printer.
“This amazing book made us so happy, and even a little weepy,” said Heather Hughes, a former Denver actor now living in Gunnison. “It’s gorgeous, and it will proudly live on our coffee table.”
But the biggest reason all this silly playtime grew from an Instagram diversion into a fully realized keepsake was the couple’s earnest desire to raise funds for The Denver Actors Fund, which has made a quarter of a million dollars available to sidelined Colorado theatre artists just since the COVID shutdown began. Beyond recovering some (not even all) of her basic costs, Susannah McLeod has sent all proceeds to the grassroots nonprofit. As of the writing, the effort has generated nearly $5,000 for the non-profit, with fewer than 40 copies remaining.
The McLeods expect their remaining supply to be gone by Christmas. For those still hoping to grab a copy in time for on-time holiday delivery, they encourage you to order by Tuesday, December 15.
The book, and its origin story, also sends an encouraging message to the creative community that the ongoing employment shutdown that has devastated the performing community worldwide does not have to take an artist’s creative (or giving) spirit with it.
“These photos by Susannah McLeod are one of the few things that kept me sane during lockdown,” said former Denver arts journalist Avery Anderson, now living and working in South Florida. “If we have to remember 2020, this is the way to do it. And you support the Denver Actors Fund when you buy one. Everyone wins.”
Before and after photos from 'Quarantine Week by Week' by Susannah McLeod
More about Susannah McLeod
Susannah McLeod, originally from Augusta, Georgia, most recently appeared in "Goodnight Moon" for Denver Center Education, "Life Sucks" with the Aurora Fox; "The Humans" at Curious Theatre; and "Junie B. Jones" and "Seussical" at the Arvada Center. Other credits include "Fun Home" (Miners Alley Playhouse); "Sunday in the Park with George" (Arvada Center); "Red, Hot, & Cole" (Cherry Creek Theatre); and "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" (Creede Repertory Theatre). When Susannah is not on stage, she works behind the scenes as a photographer and videographer through her business, McLeod9 Creative. She graduated from the University of Miami and is the former Video Production Manager at the Open Media Foundation. "I like people. A lot," she said. "And I love trying to capture the essence of the people on the other side of my lens. I think it’s also why I am drawn to acting."
About Chloe McLeod
Chloe McLeod is a professional actor, teaching artist and video editor from Oshkosh, Wisconsin. She has performed on stages across the United States and in film, TV and commercials. Recent credits include "You Can’t Take It With You" (Colorado Shakespeare Festival); "Anna Karenina" and "A Christmas Carol" (DCPA Theatre Company); "This is Modern Art" (DCPA Off-Center); "A Christmas Carol" (Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company); along with shows at the Miners Alley Playhouse, The Edge Theater and the Aurora Fox. She is also a member of Denver Center Education's Shakespeare in the Parking Lot educational tour. She studied videography at DCTV and graduated from the America Musical and Dramatic Academy with a focus on musical theatre.