A guide to creating smiles during the pandemic

As people are staying home to contain the spreading of COVID-19, many entertainment options have been restricted to activities that can be done at home. Keeping ourselves, and especially children, amused during the pandemic has been quite a challenge.

Two of the most common entertainment options, television and the internet, can provide relaxing moments, but can sometimes increase anxiety, due to their abundant negative news and comments. Some families have found creative ways to combat boredom and to keep their minds healthy. This is the case for the founding artistic director of Realwheels Theatre, James Sanders, and his eight-year-old son, Max. Together they produced a video called A Father and Son’s Guide to Surviving Isolation that went viral (over 2000 hits in just two days). In the Guide, they show how they take care of one another and enjoy completing daily household activities together.

“A fantastic father and son bonding experience”

James Sanders, founding artistic director of Realwheels Theatre. | Photo ct

That’s how Sanders describes the experience of producing the video with Max. But the idea of creating it didn’t come out of the blue. Sanders explains that, earlier the pandemic, Max was watching TV marathons, while Sanders was reading too much news on the internet and finding the bad news “really hard on the spirit.” So, they decided to write a list of everything they could do to improve their physical and mental health, and called it The Survival Guide. That was the start of the project, but they didn’t know it would later become a film.

Sanders acted in an Apple TV series called Home Before Dark, in which he played a schoolteacher. When he and Max watched the series, Max was thrilled by his father’s work, and decided to read the scripts. Because of Max’s enthusiasm and passion for the production process, Sanders decided they should make a movie themselves, but didn’t know what the vehicle would be. Then he was reminded of a project he participated in in 2019, producing “great little movies” to teach kindergarten children about the value of inclusion and accessibility. Sanders looked at The Survival Guide that he and Max had written and realized it would be a great film project for them to work on together. So, they developed the Guide into a script, and filmed the shots, so Max could see the production process, from words on a page, to the final product.

“This was a great moment to teach him the techniques and the tricks. He was really fascinated by it, especially when we would edit the scenes together that night, so he could see how he would look,” Sanders says. “We worked hard on this and had a great time.”

Multi-talented artist and activist

They posted the video on social media to reach family and friends, but the work’s reach was beyond their expectations. Sanders says: “The video quickly had 60 shares on Facebook and reached 6,000 people.” He and Max also received many comments, every one positive, with most of them about the love of father and son.

“We need to share positive stories. In two minutes and eighteen seconds, I guarantee I will put a smile on your face, and possibly a tear in your eye,” says Sanders.

The series and the homemade video are not the only ways we can appreciate Sander’s talent. A quadriplegic himself, he works to raise positive awareness about disability issues, encouraging inclusion and representation. The Power of Disability Concert was a live-streamed event performed by a group of artists, including Sanders. The focus of the project was “to celebrate the power of disability” and “to entertain, to build community and to raise consciousness,” Sanders says. He looks forward to when the pandemic is over, so he can get on with his projects, including producing a script he wrote.

However, Sanders says his most important project is to be the best possible parent he can. “That’s a job I have to take very seriously.” A father, a son and the guide they created bring a little hope and light to help us face the pandemic. In their own words, “with kindness and creativity, we will get through this together.”

A Father and Son’s Guide to Surviving Isolation:



The Power of Disability Concert:


Home Before Dark: