Theatre Conversation in a Covid World
I was extending an invitation to Andrew to participate in this series through Messenger. Instead of writing one long bubble, I was dividing it into smaller bubbles. I hadn’t even got through the second bubble where I was going to send him some samples of the profiles, and Andrew quickly responded by saying he would LOVE to participate. We conducted our interview via email. Thanks, Andrew, for such a quick response.
I’ve seen his work on stage several times at the Stratford Festival in ‘Macbeth’ and ‘Amadeus’, ‘Pinocchio’ at Young People’s Theatre and ‘Hamlet’ at Soulpepper. Andrew’s theatre writing credits include: Riot, Factory Theatre, 1995, directed by Layne Coleman. (1996 Chalmers Award for Best New Play). It has since been performed in Ottawa, Montreal, and Halifax. Oui, Factory Theatre, 1998. Wilbur County Blues, Blyth Festival, 1998. A Common Man's Guide to Loving Women, jointly produced by Canadian Stage and the National Arts Centre, 1999, and has since been performed in Montreal, Ottawa, Halifax, and Vancouver. The Lady Smith, Passe Muraille 2000, also remounted in Montreal. The Real McCoy, Factory Theatre 2007, 2008, and has since been performed in Ottawa and mounted in St. Louis in 2011. And finally, Toronto the Good, Factory Theatre 2009 was nominated for a Dora award for Best New Play.
When I asked him where he had completed his training, Andrew wrote the following to include in his profile:
“I was not accepted at any [theatre] school I applied to. One school told me that I don't have what it takes to be a professional actor. At first, I was truly crushed that I didn't get in but after hearing the experiences of other black actors at theatre schools in the 80's I soon realized that I would never accept the way that they would treat me, and that I would have dropped out of the school and become an actor anyway. Some universities and colleges in Canada still struggle with racism. The solution is hiring a diverse faculty and accepting diverse students. I teach at the Toronto Film School and we have a diverse student body and a diverse faculty. Our students literally come from all over the world. The Director of Operations is an Asian woman, Annie John. She’s amazing. We have teachers who are South Asian, Asian, African Canadian, you name it. I LOVE it there. If you are a person of colour and are looking for a place to study film and theatre acting, I would suggest studying at the Toronto Film School.”
Thank you for adding your voice to the discussion, Andrew:
The doors to Toronto live theatre have been shut for over a year now with no possible date of re-opening soon. How have you been faring during this time? Your immediate family?
I’ve been busier than ever. Writing, applying for grants, teaching. My wife works for a grocery store chain, so she has been busy as well. It’s been really challenging for my daughters. Really challenging.
How have you been spending your time since the theatre industry has been locked up tight as a drum?
I wrote a play for the Tarragon Theatre, and I am in a Musical Theatre workshop with the Musical Stage company. And I just did a movie with Jennie Garth called ‘Left For Dead’. I’m doing a reading of a Norm Foster play next month. And I’m doing research on a play about AI and racial and gender bias. Learning about how an AI company that sells facial recognition software to police forces all over the world was run by a white supremacist. So not much really.
The late Hal Prince described the theatre as an escape for him. Would you say that Covid has been an escape for you, or would you describe this near year long absence from the theatre as something else?
There is no escape. Remember, Shakespeare worked through the Black Plague. Some of his best plays were written during that time.
I’ve interviewed a few artists several months ago who said that the theatre industry will probably be shut down and not go full head on until at least 2022. There may be pockets of outdoor theatre where safety protocols are in place. What are your comments about this? Do you think you and your colleagues/fellow artists will not return until 2022?
That’s the plan. No theatre till 2022. And that’s even after everyone gets the vaccine. It’s killing me. Oh. Perhaps that was not the best choice of phrase.
I had a discussion recently with an Equity actor who said that yes theatre should not only entertain but, more importantly, it should transform both the actor and the audience. How has Covid transformed you in your understanding of the theatre and where it is headed in a post Covid world?
I always suspected that you could do theatre over the internet. Covid 19 has proven my hypothesis.
The late Zoe Caldwell spoke about how actors should feel danger in the work. It’s a solid and swell thing to have if the actor/artist and the audience both feel it. Would you agree with Ms. Caldwell? Have you ever felt danger during this time of Covid and do you believe it will somehow influence your work when you return to the theatre?
I feel true danger going to the pharmacy to buy medicine, or the grocery store, or the bank. True danger. It makes me put on a mask and rub my hands with antiseptic. Theatrical danger is actually just a fear of being uncomfortable. That’s not true-life threatening danger. And I LOVE making people uncomfortable in the theatre.
The late scenic designer Ming Cho Lee spoke about great art opening doors and making us feel more sensitive. Has this time of Covid made you sensitive to our world and has it made some impact on your life in such a way that you will bring this back with you to the theatre?
I’ve always been too sensitive. Painfully so. Hopefully, I will be less sensitive when all this is done.
Again, the late Hal Prince spoke of the fact that theatre should trigger curiosity in the actor/artist and the audience. Has Covid sparked any curiosity in you about something during this time? Has this time away from the theatre sparked further curiosity for you when you return to this art form?
Absolutely. I get curious about something and then I write a play about it. And one day you’ll see productions of all the things I’ve been curious about.