According to the Vision 2021 short film on the Eclipse Theatre website, Artistic Director Andrew Seok calls himself a filmmaker, composer, and theatre creator. He completed his training with some private teachers, Boston’s Berklee College of Music, and York University’s Music Programme. He also completed studies at the Royal Conservatory for Classical Composition and Orchestration. His bio on the company’s website is extensive.
Quite an impressive resume, I must say.
When he realized there weren’t a lot of opportunities for Asian actors in theatre or film, Seok began to create those opportunities for himself. He’s never held a 9-5 job, never worked steadily in an office nor receive a regular pay cheque. But he has always considered himself an artist in every way after a trusted friend once told him, “What’s the point of making art, ever?” when he experienced doubts about any of his musical works finding a life of their own after any original premieres.
I truly respect Seok’s candour in stating his vision is to make art as he moves forward in his career post-pandemic. He recalled being part of a music collective years ago where those involved were trying to start a record label.
Andrew asked: “Why are we doing this?” and the initial response was to make money, but Seok pointed out there were far better ways to do so than starting a music label since none of them is getting rich from it, and very few will achieve that level of coveted success; ergo, the reason for the shift in doing art for the love of it.
Seok recognizes how difficult it is in any business setting to find individuals with whom one clicks, but as he states about Eclipse’s Artistic Producer Chilina Kennedy: “I was very, very lucky to find someone like her who is a new working relationship for me.” Currently, she appears in the Broadway company of ‘Paradise Square’, but the two are constantly speaking on the phone all the time regarding artistic issues related to Eclipse.”
What is one thing this two-year pause has made Andrew realize about himself personally and professionally?
He had a chuckle at first before stating this was a loaded question. For himself, Seok realizes he must create as it is a huge part of his identity. Whether it’s building wooden furniture, woodworking, graphic design, or writing short stories, there must be an end product no matter what. It is this end product which shows the thought, the creativity and the passion from whence it came. Andrew felt lost during Covid when he couldn’t maintain this structure for himself.
Professionally, (and he realizes this personally), because the theatre industry took a huge nosedive during Covid, Seok re-evaluated his relationship with the business side of things, how much money can be earned, what will the reviews be like and will there be enough money to do something after. Instead, he now focuses on appreciating the work and the journey of it rather than the financial outcome or the ‘success of things’; if he placed passion into it and his wholehearted energy and creativity into it, then that is the reward in that endeavour.
With an industry that’s crippled, what else do you have?
Some sage advice here for actors and artists who may still be experiencing a forlorn sense of loss.
Our conversation then turned to Seok’s upcoming project ‘Til Then and why audiences need to see this production. When he became Artistic Director for Eclipse, Andrew and Chilina had a sit-down and had a frank conversation. If they wanted to make money, they should stage ‘Mamma Mia’ or ‘Phantom of the Opera’.
Both Seok and Kennedy agreed passionately they wanted to foster and develop Canadian new musicals and help put the country’s artists on the world stage. If this vision failed, crashed, and burned to the ground, at least the two of them could hold their heads high and say they did this because it was important to them rather than produce big blockbuster shows.
Eclipse is starting a new Canadian Musical Works Festival where there will be a reading of new Canadian musicals. For Andrew, a big launch was necessary. He thought it would be great to get all of these amazing Canadian theatre musical writers and songwriters from across the country in celebration to tell about their experience of this time of the Great Pause from Covid these last two years. If these songs can be moulded together to create a show, it would the ultimate celebration of the Canadian music theatre scene in this pandemic time when the industry has been crippled.
“There’s no one writer to write everything we’ve been through. There are too many stories, too many angles, too many perspectives of what we’ve been through. Let’s get as many artists as we can. So we got 24 writers – some paired up. They were given the question WHAT DID THIS TIME MEAN TO YOU?”
Seok smiled as he recalled these artists saying: “What do you want us to write about?”
He replied: “Whatever you think you need to write about now.”
The only stipulation he made clear: “Let’s try not to make this a super depressing show.”
The work he received from these artists ranges in all the emotions with the ups and downs and the universal effects of everything we’ve all endured.
Andrew remained a tad coy in explaining further why audiences should see the show. He did add though, that a really cool thing happens whereby there are moments where we will watch the show, and where we will be invested in what we are watching:
“It’s a show about us, and in the trailer, (that you can see on the website) this is all of our story presented here by Canadian musical theatre icons and songwriters from Canada. This was our dream and we achieved it so we’re hoping audiences will come to see it.”
As we concluded our conversation, I recalled a line from the VISION 2021 short film on the Eclipse website:
“Let us find a way to dream again.”
What is Andrew Seok’s newest dream once ‘Til Then concludes July 20?
We shared a good laugh when he replied: “How do I say this without getting in trouble?”
A pause where he thought momentarily and then:
“I want Canadian artists to be spotlit on the world stage, for sure. If I as an Artistic Director of a Canadian theatre company can help that, I absolutely want to.”
A noble and heartfelt intention, indeed, but, for Andrew, the arts and entertainment world has started to veer on a course in a certain direction. He’s not saying it’s a bad direction, but Andrew would really love for more non-regular theatre-going public to see more theatre than just going to see shows like ‘Les Mis’ or ‘Hamilton’.
Andrew has many friends who are not in the industry and who have no idea of what’s out there. Yes, they’ve heard things by word of mouth and that’s all they know. He wants to be able to show his friends it’s time ‘to broaden the buffet’ for the general public to see.
Andrew’s dream going forward for himself and Eclipse? Hopefully trying to bring more theatre to the masses and have it being appreciated by more than just a small niche group. There’s more to theatre than just the ritz and razzle-dazzle stuff. He likes it, but that’s not the kind of stuff Andrew writes. He hopes people will come to see stuff not part of their wheelhouse.
‘Til Then’ runs July 17-20 at the Berkeley Event Church, 315 Queen Street East in Toronto. For tickets: http://www.eztix.co/ezkiosk/en/1784250.
To learn more about Eclipse Theatre: www.eclipsetheatre.ca.