Al James

The Self-Isolated Artist

IMDB photo by Jon DeLeon

Joe Szekeres

As a practicing Catholic, I’ve always liked the phrase ‘By the Grace of God’. I passionately believe it is through the Almighty’s grace that, sometimes through goodness and sometimes through surprises, our lives have been lovingly and carefully determined for us.

Enter Al James and his family.

Al, his wife Kathy, and their two children Frances and Henry, attend the same Catholic Church I do. The James’s have attended this Church longer than I was. When I started attending several years ago, I noticed there was one little guy who used to peer around his father when the priest entered from the back of the Church. With the biggest smile on his face, this little dude waved to the priest and reached out to touch him. The priest always called him by name and waved back to him.

Other parishioners around me always smiled when they saw this selfless response. I recall asking a person next to me who the little guy was and found out his name was Henry.

Several weeks go by. After church one day, the parish priest was talking to a gentleman and I was waved over. The priest said this man was looking to speak to someone from my school, but Father knew I had an interest in drama. This gentleman who was talking to the priest was Al James.

The priest turned to me and said,

“Joe, you have an interest in drama. I was looking for Mike, but you can answer Al’s question. Joe, this is Al. Al, this is Joe. Talk!”

And the priest immediately left us alone.

In a few seconds of stunned silence, because I don’t believe either of us expected it, I looked at Al. He looked back at me. We both let out a huge laugh. And a wonderful friendship started from that point.

There are many things I respect about Al. His Catholic faith and immediate family are the most important elements in his life. He is a devoted Catholic who also takes his career as an actor very seriously. Over the years we have spoken about the industry and about our communal faith.

1. How have you, Kathy, Frannie and Henry been doing during this time?

Actually, we’re managing quite well during this period. We are fortunate enough to be able to continue working and, for the most part, have not been too affected by this pandemic as far as daily routine is concerned. Obviously having the kids at home during the day has been a big adjustment, but we managed to make the transition in stride.

2. Were you involved in any industry projects when the pandemic struck?

I wasn’t involved in any projects when it occurred.

3. Have there been any personal or professional challenges for all of you during this time?

Personally, I’ve welcomed the time spent at home among my books and guitars and have been enjoying the time spent with the kids, but I’m aware that this has been a trying time for many. The most challenging part of this isolation period for me has been trying to take it one day at a time instead of trying to determine what the near future or distant future may hold in store.

4. What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time?

I’m continuing to work on the creative projects I’ve begun and am also getting in more time for my daily prayer devotions, studies and reading.

5. What advice might you give to other performing artists who have been hit hard by this turn in world events?

I’m not one to be giving out advice, but if I were to add anything to the attempts to help ease or comfort those during these difficult and challenging days, I’d invite my fellow artists to reach out to those who are worse off and stay in touch with them. I’ve been contacted numerous times from fellow colleagues asking how I’m doing and if my family and I are well. It’s brought me a lot of comfort to hear from them, and I’ve also reached out to others as well.

6. Do you see anything positive stemming from COVID-19?

I believe lots of positive things can come from this if we allow them to come. As I mentioned earlier, the need to reach out to those whom I regularly wouldn’t think to contact has shown me that, in future, I don’t need a time of crisis as an excuse to connect or re-connect with others.

7. From your experience, do you see any changes in the Canadian performing arts scene on account of COVID-19?

I don’t know how the industry will be affected, at least not in the long run. Whether any permanent changes will occur may depend on the duration of the general ‘lockdown’.

8. Many artists are turning to streaming/online performances to showcase/highlight/share their work. Any advantages to doing this? Disadvantages? Are you doing or will you be doing any of this?

I’ve had a couple of self tape auditions for voice over gigs and I assume this will continue and most likely increase over time. I think it’s a good idea to be prepared for more ‘at home’ auditions.

9. What is it about performing that you still love which hasn’t been affected by this pandemic?

Live performance on stage is what I love more than any other format. The shared energy and dynamics of performing in front of a live audience has always been my favourite. I love how every performance is different.

As a nod to ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton, here are the ten questions he used to ask his guests:

1. What is your favourite word?

Supernatural

2. What is your least favourite word?

Spiritual

3. What turns you on?

A hint of wit and sarcasm in a woman

4. What turns you off?

A lousy sense of humour

5. What sound or noise do you love the most?

Laughter

6. What sound or noise bothers you when you hear it?

Pop Music

7. What is your favourite curse word?

Motherfucker

8. Other than your current profession, what other profession would you have liked to try?

Writer

9. What other profession could you not see yourself doing?

Politician

10. When you arrive at the Pearly Gates, what do you think God will say to you?

“Not yet”

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