Andrew Prashad

Moving Forward

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Joe Szekeres

I have seen Andrew Prashad’s name on several entertainment social media sites over the last few months. Once again, it was my friend, Carey, who encouraged me to get in touch with Andrew to learn of his story.
And what an incredible story and conversation I had with him via Zoom.

Andrew gleamed with a loving parental pride every time he spoke about his immediate family, his wife and children. He is a multi disciplined performing artist from being on stage to his work in cinematography and video editing.

Andrew has appeared on stage at the Ed Mirvish Theatre and Young People’s Theatre and a number of others across Canada. He’s also quite the tap dancer as well. I’ve included a link at the end of his profile so you can hear one of his cover songs. Andrew also received a Merritt award for outstanding supporting actor for ‘Cinderella’ at Halifax’s Neptune Theatre.

His one-person show ‘One Step at a Time’ chronicles his life as a parent with a child who has Spina Bifida. Andrew spoke to me about this show near the end of our interview, and this is one I have on my list to see when it is safe to return to the theatre.

Thank you, Andrew, for the conversation:

It has been an exceptionally long six months since we’ve all been in isolation, and now it appears the numbers are edging upward again. How are you feeling about this? Will we ever emerge to some new way of living in your opinion?

A little nervous. As an artist, we’re trying to get back to work. We’re trying to do everything we can to do our part. Things have to do what they do, I guess, and not all of that is helpful to keeping our numbers down.

As a parent, it’s really not great. I had to send my kids to school so having the numbers up is scary. We’re monitoring every day. I’m not happy that the numbers have gone back up, but I’m not surprised by some of the events I’ve seen reported on the news.

Once there is a vaccine, we will emerge to some new way of living. There’s just going to be a whole new battle of getting people to use the vaccine. Should we use the vaccine? Is it safe? How long were the trials? And all those questions that go with it. A lot of people are thinking that once there’s a vaccine that things will get back to normal, but I think we’re being naïve. Anti-maskers was the big hurdle because as soon as the vaccine comes out, there’s going to be a bigger fight, a bigger problem, a bigger conflict.

Once all this gets settled, however long that takes, maybe there will be some kind of normalcy, but who knows?

How have you been faring? How has your immediate family been doing during these last six months?

We’ve been doing surprisingly well. The kids are resilient. During that whole stretch when everything was shut down, we were doing the home schooling and they loved it. My daughters would come down, print off their homework and they’d be ready when I came down, made breakfast and started checking in on their homework.

My wife was still teaching so I pretty much did the kids homework and their schoolwork during the day. When my wife was done teaching, if she finished teaching in time, we’d go out for a walk, or she would take over and I’d go do my work and things I had to get done. The kids handled it well which is great because I’ve been hearing about numbers of kids who did not handle it well. It would have made everything so much harder if my kids weren’t as awesome as they were.

By the time we got the kids to bed, my wife and I were exhausted. We were toast. My son was born was Spina Bifida and he has a physical disability and high needs, but he’s doing really well. He just got his first wheelchair, he’s so excited.

There are some really great things coming for us, but we’ve been managing, hanging on and figuring it out.

As an artist within the performing arts community, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally?

Professionally, one of the most challenging things was losing all of the work and the teaching. It’s funny because I’ve been telling people they have to diversify what they do. I’m an actor, dancer, singer and musician but I’m also a video editor and a music editor. I have a recording studio people come to use. I’m a photographer. I try to diversify my skills which are all based in the arts, so I’m not just an actor. I’m a teacher and choreographer.

When Covid came, it wiped all of it out, it didn’t matter how many different alleys I was in. Everything was shut down. I couldn’t teach. I couldn’t choreograph. Nobody needed video editors; nobody needed photography, nobody needed music, nobody needed anything so there was no work. All our theatre gigs were lost, film and tv shut down, I lost a tv commercial I had just booked. That was really rough along with trying to figure out where money was going to come from.

Luckily, my wife was still working from home, so she still had her pay cheque, but I didn’t have my pay cheque. For a short while, I was on CERB for 4 weeks. Slowly, recital time came in the dance studios. We started teaching online so I taught a few classes online for a few hours a week via Zoom for multiple studios.

I was also doing some private teaching. I got some video editing gigs because the dance studios were still doing recitals, but they couldn’t have the kids in the space. We were doing these virtual recitals so I was editing all of these recitals, but I couldn’t do it during the day because I was helping home school my own kids.

When I put my kids to bed, sometimes I would work until 2 in the morning trying to edit all these dance recitals so these other kids could have them. And then I’d wake up at 6 in the morning and it was to make some breakfast and get ready for school at home all over again.

It was exhausting, but I was able to bring in that little bit of money because I also wasn’t charging full rate because the studios weren’t charging full rates for classes. They didn’t have money to pay for what I would normally charge as an editor. So, it was ‘What can you afford? Ok, let’s make it happen”.

Personally, the most challenging was, or is, finding ME time. My ME time is after bedtime but then I needed to sleep so there was no ME time. There was no US time for my wife and I. It was exhausting.

Were you in preparation, rehearsals, or any planning stages of productions before everything was shut down? What has become of those projects? Will they see the light of day anytime soon?

My one-person show was going to be put up at Neptune Theatre in Halifax. We had a two-week scheduled run there which was really exciting. It’s called ‘One Step at a Time’ and it’s about my family, my son and balancing being a performer and raising a child with special needs and a physical disability. I lost that and it was postponed. Neptune is doing their best, but they don’t know if they’re going to survive.

I also lost the parlay of my show into other theatres. But now, those other theatres have to make room for the shows they had booked because they feel as if they have to owe them a run. Where these other theatres were of the mindset, ‘Oh, we’ll bring you in next season’, I don’t know what will happen because these folks will bump you.

All of those things I’ve been working so hard on to string together have all fallen apart. I had some big auditions I was working on and in final call backs – all of those projects died as well.

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

I’ve been doing everything – husband, dad, teacher, friend. I’m the chef. My wife cooks too but she does more of the dinner stuff.

My wife and I share the cooking, taking care of the kids, taking care of my wife. We both take care of the kids, but I also take care of her. She gets to sleep in, and I’ll handle some stuff for her so she can go and teach. We’re sharing an office. I’ve set up her computer beside mine in my studio, so she has a comfortable place to work.

Teaching online has been cool. Lots of self tapes. Lots of auditions which are coming back. Some bookings. Some voice over gigs. Again, I had two voice over bookings which were awesome. They were both first. One was a first for a video game and I had to go into the studio, and everybody was doing their Covid safety which was great to see. The other one was a voice over for a commercial which I had never done either, but I got to do that from my home in my recording studio which was really, really cool so I did that in between the catheter times for my son at school.

And Theatre Passe Muraille put on a fund raiser. They reached out to me and asked if they could use my show to create a fundraiser. It turned into a much bigger thing than we thought. I thought I was going to host a mini version of my show from my garage studio. And then TPM got the go ahead that I could come into the space.

But since we were in the space, we thought let’s just go full out and all of a sudden, we had four cameras, designing lights and sound with their team, choreographing the cameras. It was huge undertaking that none of us saw coming but it was awesome, lots of fun and everybody at Theatre Passe Muraille were incredible. It was worth it, but it was a lot more work than I thought it was going to be.

Any words of wisdom or advice you might /could give to fellow performers and colleagues? What message would you deliver to recent theatre school graduates who have now been set free into this unknown and uncertainty given the fact live theaters and studios might be closed for 1 ½ - 2 years?

Well, I don’t know if I’m the one to be giving advice but if people wanted to know what I had to say – “Reach out to communities. Stay in touch with people.” I found this really helpful. When the pandemic hit, my wife and I were running out of a specific hand sanitizer we needed to clean our hands first before we catheterize our son. I’m always steps ahead when we’re out if I happen to see the product, so we never run out.

When Covid hit, everywhere was in short supply of hand sanitizer. I put it out on social media that I was looking for this product. I put it out on social media and a lot of people came to our aid so we were good for a few months. I was driving all around southern Ontario for two days picking up what people had to give us.

Other advice: Reach out because you don’t know who might be there to help you. Find time to take care of yourself too. Make sure you’re mentally and physically okay. It’s nice to take a day or take time to rest, to sleep if you need to do that. But make sure you stay physically active because that helps your mind as well. Make sure you’re okay before you can then reach out and take care of those whom you love.

For the theatre grads, and for others – it’s tricky because you want to get out there and make your mark. Since everybody who teaches you or who could teach you is out of work, try to find those teachers who are online and sharpen your skills. I’ll tell you, most of you all aren’t ready to be at an extremely high level coming out of school. It doesn’t mean you’re not going to get work.

There’s a lot of room for growth. School is the preparation for the growth you’ll experience once you’re in the real world. So, it gives you that little bit of time to sharpen your skills. Reach out, barter if you have to do so as I understand that money might be tight in some cases. Read plays. Educate yourself further. Work on those skills that you know you need to sharpen.

For my artists of colour: If you haven’t heard it yet, all of us who are working now have been told at least ten times that we need to be at least two times greater than our white counterpart. You’ve got the time now. Go make sure you’re there. Just because people talk about changes in the industry etc, you can’t change people’s mindset overnight. Those people aren’t going to vanish from the theatre industry. They’re not going to give up their position leading a theatre company. They put out a statement, ok they are statements.

You need to go out there and be able to show them, “No, no, no. I’m that good. You should take a second look at me.” Use this time to get all that done.

Do you see anything positive stemming from Covid 19 and will it leave some lasting impact on the Toronto/Canadian performing arts scene?

I think there are some positives. Just thinking about family. If you’re lucky enough to have people living with you, that time together is a gift.

The fact that everyone was stuck at home with their lives on hold really helped put focus on social changes that need to still happen. We were all able to sit in George Floyd’s death and murder more because there was nothing else to go do and escape it. The population had to choose which side they were going to be on. Some chose one side, and some chose another.

People of colour got a few more allies out of all this and people who thought they were allies realized they could be better allies. There’s a lot more education happening surrounding this issue.

A lot of the artists of colour are speaking out, speaking up and we’re getting a lot of flak for it from different people, sometimes within our own community. That’s a positive. I can’t tell you how many white artists told me, ‘Oh, I had no idea. I didn’t know this was a thing.”

I hope everyone works together to make a more inclusive space. Part of me is excited to see where the industry goes – film, tv, theatre. Part of me is ready to roll my eyes when our new or old allies kind of flake on us. ‘Cause it is going to happen, it’s just how many. That’s the question of how many are going to flake and how many are really here for the real deal and long haul.

Some artists have turned to You Tube and online streaming to showcase their work. What are your comments and thoughts about streaming? Is this something that the actor/theatre may have to utilize going forward into the unknown?

I am right in the middle on all this. It’s right where we are, and we have to adapt.

I love creating work for You Tube and online platforms because it’s something I do. It helps me to flex my video editing skills, my cinematography skills. It helps me grow. But it was always something I was doing while I had theatre/film or tv.

Now, YouTube and online streaming are becoming theatre in a sense and it’s not, but theatres have to adapt. It was weird putting on my show. I think my show was the first that was back in a space with a full team, social distant with masks and no audience.

I’m lucky that I know the show and where an audience might laugh or cry. In my head, I had that and I went full out and imagined the energy that wasn’t there with an audience in front of me. It was draining because I was trying to compensate because the lack of energy with a missing audience was difficult on the Main Stage at TPM. There’s a give and take in energy in live theatre, and that wasn’t there when it was streamed.

I also had to make sure my performance didn’t suffer because the audience wasn’t there even though the crew was there. They weren’t watching me as an audience as they were there to film the production. I had to put more into my performance.

I thought the one performance was successful as Passe Muraille made some money from that one night of streaming and I got a pay cheque, but I only wanted to do it for one night as I didn’t want to kill the show and not tour with it.

If you don’t have those skills of taping yourself, you need to reach out to people who do. A friend of mine is trying to learn video editing and up his game in self editing skills in order to put work out there to be seen. I think we’re being forced into that position.

In the film and television industry, all actors are being forced into being videographers and cinematographers and proper lighting. My self tape game was always good, and my friends didn’t measure up to what I was doing. Now, everyone has to measure up and learn how to self tape. If your self tape doesn’t look good right away that’s a knock against you because somebody else who is auditioning might have a tape that is just as good or better than yours.

There is no payment in streaming and a YouTube presentation right now. EQUITY and ACTRA are in discussion of whose jurisdiction is it when a theatre show becomes digital. The digital space is ACTRA’s space, but EQUITY is trying to make a case that it’s their space because it is a theatre show. I have to side with ACTRA on this one unless someone can educate me further.

This is all tricky, tricky stuff and I don’t know enough about it.

Despite all this fraught tension and confusion, what is it about performing that Covid will never destroy for you?

The idea of sharing part of yourself will never get destroyed no matter how you tell the story. The idea of sharing a story needs to be told will always be important.

Since we’ve started telling stories, we’ve always used different mediums to tell them. Just because we’re losing one of those facets doesn’t mean the story telling and the sharing and the giving will ever stop.
We have to adapt how we do it and that’s my favourite part as a performer.

I love inhabiting a character and experiencing different things, but what I love most about performing is the reaction and the emotion you give and get out of an audience member. One of the most favourite things about doing my show is the diverse audience that it draws. You get the regular theatre goers, but you also get the singers, the actors, the tap dancers, and the dancers. You also get the special needs, high needs and the differently abled and disabled communities.

Those communities (special needs and differentially abled) don’t have a show that represents them in Canada. My show represents them. Right now, my show is not enough but it’s something for the differently abled to see themselves in.

It’s amazing and means so much to me the responses I’ve received from audience members after each performance, and performing my show feeds my soul in knowing I was able to give them that re-assurance, that understanding and these communities are so happy whether it is a large part or a small part of their story being told on a real professional stage in Canada. It doesn’t exist and if people have tried, they’ve done it wrong.

I’m hoping that when people see the attractiveness of parts of my show that they’ll expand on that. I can’t create a work that’s all differently abled artists that’s based on my experience because that’s not my experience; however, perhaps seeing a show about my son’s experience and seeing how well it does, sometimes, leave theatre producers thinking, “You know what? This audience, there’s value in telling these stories.”

And then maybe these stories will get told more because as much as we are fighting for people of colour, we’ve fought so hard and so long for it, but as far as we’ve come the disabled community and differently abled community – they’re decades behind where we are. It’s going to take whatever privilege we can grab we have to pass it on right away, otherwise the disabled and differentially abled community will never catch up. They’ll never make ground. They’ll never have their stories told because our stories don’t cover everybody.

Everybody should be able to see themselves on a stage represented. It’s wild and fulfilling for little brown kids to be watching me on stage, winning Halifax’s Merritt Award, and then watching me sing and dance in a solo moment of a big musical and then knowing it’s not only for white people. Brown people will not be portrayed as a stereotypical immigrant character.

That is my favourite part that Covid will never be able to take away. Seeing the faces on the brown kids knowing that yes, they can do what I can do and can be the lead and can make a difference in the lives of others.

To learn more about Andrew Prashad, visit his website: www.andrewprashad.com.

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