Amy Keating

Looking Ahead

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Joe Szekeres

Amy Keating’s affection for live theatre has not abated at all on account of the pandemic.

If anything, her unabated enthusiasm is so contagious that I caught it and was reaching that same height of missing the theatre crowd. You could read theatre ‘geeks’ in here if you wish because Amy said she loves them and misses them so much.

Me too.

Our recent conversation kept me smiling and laughing throughout the 45-minute interview. There was no pretentious air about her at all, and she made me feel very comfortable during our Zoom call that we even dropped some colourful language as we discussed so much. We were both surprised that time had slipped by so quickly without us even knowing because we had so much to say and to hear.

First time I saw Amy on stage was at the Stratford Festival as Cathleen, the Irish housekeeper, in a hard hitting ‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’. And then to see her in a completely different role in an outrageously bloody good production of ‘Hand to God’ at Toronto’s Coal Mine Theatre.

And finally, Amy’s appearance in ‘The Flick’, at Crow’s Theatre which was the first production I reviewed there. You wanna talk about a show where I did not write any notes down on paper during a jaw dropping three hour running time because I couldn’t avert my eyes from the onstage action, not even for one second.

She is a Toronto-based actor originally hailing from the Prairies. Amy works in both theatre and film and is three-time Dora Mavor Moore nominated actor.

She is a founding member and associate artist of Outside the March with credits: The Flick, Mr. Burns, Passion Play, Mr. Marmalade.

Favourite Film/TV credits: Murdoch Mysteries; Ginny & Georgia; Killjoys; P!GS (short film); SUCCULENT (short film).

Fave theatre credits: Long Day's Journey into Night and Julius Caesar (Stratford Festival); The Glass Menagerie (Grand Theatre); Wormwood (Tarragon Theatre); The Importance of Being Earnest (Capitol Theatre).

Thank you so much, Amy, for adding your voice to the conversation:

It’s a harsh reality that the worldwide pandemic of Covid 19 has changed all of us. Describe how your understanding of the world you know and how your perception and experience have changed on a personal level.

It’s interesting, Joe, to talk about how it has changed on a personal level, but I also want to talk about how it’s also changed on a macro level as my mind has also gone there in reflection.

I feel there’s been a lot of changes and awareness with all of the social justice movements this year. I really do believe and I’m really grateful for the time that we’ve all had to take as the ‘big pause’ allowed us to re-think.

Capitalism’s ideology is, “Go, go, go, make the money, make the money, do the hustle, do the side hustle”. I believe, without this ‘year old pandy’ (as my friend says), we wouldn’t have had the opportunity as we would have been too busy and still too caught up in ourselves to slow down and pay attention to what’s happening in the world.

In terms of my bigger life, and I imagine this is what many of the artists have probably said, the chance to slow down and, of course, I’ve been privileged enough to have a safe house, to have running water, to have a home and TV to watch Netflix on at night. (Amy and I share a quick laugh because I’ve also done the exact same thing.)

But the time to slow down, I’m really, really grateful for it. It’s been refreshing in a way, and I’m both incredibly excited, obviously, but also nervous to go back to that hustle.

I think in this profession too there’s always the feeling, both in a beautiful way and in a sometimes-stressful way, of always having to be somewhere and do something and to be creating, and putting yourself out there, and meeting people. It’s time to slow down, and I’ve learned to say No as I may want to sit down and open a book of poetry one morning and read.

Or maybe I might just want to lie in bed one Saturday morning or walk to the water.

To have that time has been really, really cool.

With live indoor theatre shut for one year plus, with it appearing it may not re-open any time soon, how has your understanding and perception as a professional artist of the live theatre industry been altered and changed?

Joe, I see the precariousness of it all.

I try not to stop and think about it. When I think about the repercussions, I get really worried as an artist. I told my partner, Mitchell, that it’s also possible the year I just spent was a year I would spend in normal times.

You never know that I could have had five plays, five shows back-to-back, a couple of days on set, some workshops OR I could not have had any of these. I could have been working in my three other Jane jobs the whole time or could have had nothing.

As an artist, you’re used to that life in a way anyway. When I think about Crow’s Theatre, Canadian Stage or any of the smaller companies, students who have graduated from theatre school, I worry about all of this.

For the theatre graduates, are we going to lose them because the pandemic may have dried up opportunities?

I’m worried about this precariousness. It’s a profession, it’s a job, it’s a joy, this business but it’s so tenuous sometimes. I hope it’s going to recover because when it does, it’s going to be glorious.

When I saw Stratford’s announcements of outdoor theatre, I gasped with excitement because yes, it’s coming back, get me back, please.

As a professional artist, what are you missing the most about the live theatre industry?

The community.

The everyday play with people. During this time when we’re outside walking on the sidewalk, we see others and yes, we too, we move to the side. It’s our calling as artists to move closer, not just physically but with our hearts, with our breath, with our minds.

I miss that. Trying to lock in and connect. It’s connecting with people and playing with them.

As a professional artist, what is the one thing you will never take for granted again in the live theatre industry when you return to it?
(There was a long pause from Amy as I could sense she wanted to say it right)

It will be the ability of a large group of people, audiences, and creators of a piece to be in the same room together.

Because that’s the magic. That is what we have missed this past year and a bit, especially me with Netflix. (and we too share a quick laugh).

It’s that, and that’s what scary right now is the gathering of big groups of people. Who knew even two years ago we would have said, “You know, next year is going to be really difficult and really dangerous to get over 20 people in a room together.” And I would have said,” No, what are you talking about, that’s my job to do that.”

This also includes the audience too because they will wonder if it’s going to be safe for them. Yes, actors can rehearse outside but is an audience safe to watch you? Every day and every performance I will thankfully say, “Look at all the people who are here, even if it’s five of them.”

We may not be sold out but we’re here, that audience is here, how lucky are we!!!!!!

Describe one element you hope has changed concerning the live theatre industry.

I feel as if this last year plus has forced us to slow down in multiple ways.

I hope that when we get back to working, creating, and playing, we’re also going to slow down. And that, to me, means being able to take care of everyone who is in the room and be able to be present with everyone who is working on the project, everyone who has come together. That means meeting people where they’re at; that means dealing with anti-racist actions and making sure that people are being seen and taken care of.

It must be noted where people are coming from and what they need on any given day.

And if there’s something hurtful in the work, said in rehearsal or in the script that we’re able to (and money is always a thing, Joe, you know) that we’re able to call it IN or OUT first off and then take the time and say, “Hey, this doesn’t work. This isn’t helpful for us. Let’s take the time to do something different, to re-evaluate it and to change it.”

We’ve done this already for the last fifteen, sixteen months outside the theatre. We now must bring this into the theatre. It can only be a good thing for any production if people are being seen, we meet them where they are coming from and to hear them.

Explain what specifically you believe you must still accomplish within the industry.

Oh my God, what a cool question.

One thing – EVERYTHING!!!!! (And again, we had a good laugh)

Oh, Joe, this is the hardest question because I actually do believe it’s everything. Here’s my thesis (and again Amy took some time because I could sense she wanted to say it right and to get it right)
I started doing a bit of film and tv. I just finished my first short film, and I would like to find different ways to work and collaborate with people. So, I’d love to be part of a process or to lead a process that would stretch the container of the three – four-week rehearsal process.

I feel I’d like to work in a playful way. I think I would like to write.

I would like to direct. I directed once before and nearly killed myself, Joe. I was living off coffee and cigarettes and wasn’t sleeping. I want to go back and try it again. I think it would be fun, but I would like to pick the play. It would have to be a play I could see that I would want to do.

Here’s the last thing I’ll say – I want to work in big communities of people. I think a lot of shows are kept small on account of budget. When we did ‘Passion Play’, it was a cast of 12. There were 3 directors. It was very large, and I would love to work in that way again, kind of on an epic scale and do plays that are 5, 10, 12 hours long with five directors and a cast of 20. (and I start smiling and laughing as Amy’s enthusiasm is contagious)

We’ve been at home for the last year and a half doing nothing, and I want to work on a big, big scale.

That’s what I want to do.

Some artists are saying that audiences must be prepared for a tsunami of Covid themed stories in the return to live theatre. Would you elaborate on this statement both as an artist in the theatre, and as an audience member observing the theatre.

Joe, let’s re-phrase this question, okay?

“Am I prepared to participate both as a professional artist and as a theatre goer in the potential tsunami of Covid themed plays and stories when we immediately return to the theatre? I’m going to echo several of the artists whom you have interviewed who have quoted the same thing…”

Fuck, no!!!!!!!!!! (With uproarious laughter from both of us)
Definitely not! I don’t want it!

I actually wonder if down the road, say ten years from now, a Covid play might be interesting. Right now? No, no no…

What I am a fan of now is Black Mirror on Netflix. There’s a cool thing about this show in that it’s not science fiction but more like a drama where it takes the world we live in today and just switches one little thing, just one thing about society. For example, what if in advertising we put a chip in you and see what happens, or your whole social status was based on how many LIKES you received daily.

What I find interesting in this comparison of the show to Covid are the connections to some of the anti-vaxxers, anti- mask individuals. If we take the themes from this time of Covid and explore into a play. I don’t want to see any kind of Covid re-creation, but I do think there’s some interesting things revealed about people and society in general at this time.

Those themes would be interesting to explore OUTSIDE of a Covid backdrop. I don’t want that.

Now, if someone wrote a Covid themed play with me in mind and offered it to me for next year, I might say, “Too soon, too soon.” But if it’s my first theatre job offer in a post Covid world, I might just say, “Yes, please.”

As an artist, what specifically is it about your work that you want future audiences to remember about you?

For me, specifically, this is such a self-reflecting In Memoriam.

I feel the thing for me that makes live theatre so exciting for me and what I want to see in the actors when I watch, and what I want to bring to the stage, is a certain playfulness, aliveness and electricity that makes people feel that this interaction at this moment is new every time.

It’s that kind of work that Outside the March reflects in that it was important that you were here on this night (or, in a matinee, this day) to see this interaction at this moment. This night is different because of you, the audience member, because you’re here.

I’m really leaning into this In Memoriam question, Joe. I trained in Clown. I studied a lot of Clown in school. That’s all about breath, being in the moment, following impulses and listening. It’s not about trying to be funny, but it’s about being open and receptive.

That’s what I aim to do – to be present, to be playful and open with the people I’m creating with on stage, and the people that I work with through rehearsal, and the audience as well.
It’s bringing that magical electrical feeling into the room.

You can follow Amy Keating online at Instagram: @lil_keats.
You can also follow Amy’s first short film account SUCCULENT on Instagram: @succulentthefilm.

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