It was a little project that evolved out of a dad homeschooling his eight-year-old son and building "a list of everything we had to do to keep our heads together", says actor and theatre artist James R.H. Sanders.
Now the short online video they created together, "A Father and Son's Guide to Surviving Isolation", is hitting a chord on social media. Among their fun-filled tips: have dance parties, cook and eat meals together, play as much as you can, and "watch lots of comedy" (Wallace and Gromit, preferably). But the video also includes some tender moments--like remembering to say "I love you", even when you've been locked in the same apartment for weeks.
"At first it started as a little gift to grandparents and friends, and then I was like, 'Wow, we're getting some nice moments here--we should share it with a broader audeince,'" Sanders says. "It was such a wonderful way to bond with my son on a project.
"I was motivated as both a parent and a sudden homeschooler to put something out there that homeschooling isn't just about the curriculum getting done," he stresses, "it's about sharing that passion and that excitement together."
Sanders is a quadriplegic from a spinal cord injury that occurred partway through his theatre training. He's a founder of Realwheels Theatre and he's helped create boundary-pushing works in the field of disability arts, including 2007's seminal Skydive and 2014's provocative Whose Life Is It Anyway?.
His latest project, the Apple TV+ series Home Before Dark, helped get the idea of the video going for him and Max. "That was the first time I got to show my son my work on TV and he was really captivated," Sanders explains. "It wasn't just me--he was really into the story and he wanted to see the script, and he started to write his own--about HVAC systems and elevators and the cats that own and install them. I'm watching these passions develop in him and I'm like, 'Now we've got to make a movie together.'"
Filming the project during lockup required some resourcefulness; the duo used an iPhone 7, "and I used a plastic toy tripod that Max got as a birthday gift," Sanders says. "We knew it was going to be raw--we didn't have lights or anyting--but we knew we were going to be honest with our audience and speak from our hearts."
"A Father and Son's Guide to Surviving Isolation" ended up having its broadcast debut during The Power of Disability Concert, a live Zoom event on www.sidedooraccess.com/ featuring artists with disabilities from across the country. Sanders also directed and hosted the concert. From there, the video has racked up more than 2,000 views on Facebook.
At the very least, the father-son team hope it will encourage a few of them to get through however many more weeks of social distancing we face.
"The key messages in there apply to every part of the day--being active, being connected, and sharing your love," says Sanders, who knows more than a little about overcoming challenges in life. "As a storyteller, I'm always looking at making connections with the community to empower parents, but also empower kids and let them know that it's all right to have fun right now."
And Max's response to the small buzz the video's created online? "He said, 'My heart feels so good right now,'" Sanders relates, "'I feel like I was meant to do this.'"