Augh!!!!!! I nearly ran out of time on the Zoom clock in chatting with artist Brad Hodder as there was so much I still wanted to ask him.
Brad proudly talked about how his parents supported him and didn’t mind when he chose to pursue theatre professionally. He also had teachers in junior high and high school who encouraged him to pursue a path in the arts. He called himself really lucky and is very fortunate in his life that he met people along the way who helped him to this point in his career.
Just looking at his resumé, I’ve seen several his performances at Stratford: ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, ‘Julius Caesar’, ‘An Ideal Husband’ were just three.
Brad also was Assistant Director on two productions that were quite good: Groundling Theatre’s production of ‘King Lear’ and the Stratford Festival’s production of ‘The Crucible’.
Brad has two upcoming productions at Mirvish this season that I am keen to see. In November, he is directing the musical ‘No Change in the Weather’ which opens at the CAA Theatre on Yonge Street November 19, 2021. And he will play Draco Malfoy in the all Canadian production of ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ when it opens at the CAA Ed Mirvish Theatre on May 31, 2022.
Brad and I conducted our conversation via Zoom. Thank you so much for your time:
Since we’ve just celebrated Thanksgiving, tell me one teacher and one mentor in your life for whom you are thankful that brought you to this point in your life as a performing artist.
Well, two of the same. I had a teacher in theatre school at the University of Alberta, my first year Acting Teacher, was a guy named Charlie Tomlinson. Big connections.
Charlie’s family is originally from England, but he’s also lived in Newfoundland. Charlie’s father was at the Med School. Charlie was involved in the early days of CODCO here in the province in the 70s and 80s. I’d never met him before here in Newfoundland until I got to the University of Alberta. He had a profound influence on me, and we started a theatre company together here in Newfoundland that ran for ten years before I moved up to Ontario when I got into the Stratford Festival where I spent eight seasons.
The other is Martha Henry who brought me to Stratford as part of the Birmingham Conservatory. I auditioned for Martha here in St. John’s when they were doing a national tour from the festival, and Charlie’s name was all over my resumé. When Martha was the Artistic Director of the Grand Theatre in London, Ontario, Charlie ran the Second Space there. They had quite a strong friendship and he definitely put in a good word for me.
So, Charlie was a strong teacher and Martha became a real champion for me and a real mentor. I learned a lot from her. I ran the Langham Program at Stratford under her as well. She cast me in the lead in ‘She Stoops to Conquer’ and gave me opportunities. I got to assist Robin Philips simply because of Martha before he passed away. I was his assistant on ‘Twelfth Night’ that he was directing. I spent six intense theatre weeks with Robin, but he too had a profound influence on me.
I’m trying to think positively that we have, fingers crossed, moved forward in dealing with Covid. How have you been able to move forward from these last 18 eighteen months on a personal level? How have you been changed or transformed on a personal level?
Well, we moved home to Newfoundland. I have a 12-year-old and a 9-year-old. We were living in Stratford and getting ready to move to Toronto for ‘Harry Potter’.
When everything started happening, we made at the time a complicated decision to move back home to Newfoundland not knowing what’s going to happen. In hindsight it’s the best thing we ever did. That changed me that I’ve been home for nearly two years now with my family, my parents, my kids’ cousins, that kind of family time and recognizing (I know it sounds so clichéd, but everyone is so busy and things were happening so fast). Then when we didn’t have to be so busy and so fast, there was the reality that for all those opportunities I had in Stratford, I became Dad too. I was working six days a week in Stratford. I missed getting to go home in the summertime because I was at the Festival working. The kids and my partner would go home every summer for a month or six weeks but I couldn’t. Even at Christmas time, they could go home but I couldn’t because I started working at Groundling Theatre and we’d rehearse over the Christmas break. My time home at Christmas in Newfoundland was short, and my time home in the summer was non-existent.
The silver lining during this time for me is being with my family, my kids, and my time to re-connect with Newfoundland which, I’m sure, Joe, you’ve heard from anybody that a connection with Newfoundland is a special place. It’s where work takes me away, but if it wasn’t for that I’m very happy in Newfoundland and it’s a great place to be.
I have been transformed these last eighteen months. We were all on hamster wheels, and then all of a sudden, the hamster wheel stopped, and I started baking. I became one of those pandemic bakers and seeing what else I can do with sour dough discard, and how to laminate pastry. I’ve been running a lot. It’s been a good time.
How have these last eighteen months of the pandemic changed or transformed you as an artist professionally?
The art that comes out of Newfoundland, and the history of our art here is very different from anywhere else in Canada. The idea of a national theatre in Canada I’ve always found to be a little silly because each region is so large, and each region has such a different relationship with theatre history. The cultural icons from each region of Canada are different. The idea of a national theatre in Canada is a topic for another conversation.
I’ve been very lucky. Very few people move to Newfoundland for work. There’s a company here called Terra Bruce that’s producing ‘No Change in the Weather’ that I’ll talk about shortly. Terra Bruce was doing a web series so I did a web series with them for a few months in the winter. Terra Bruce has a resident company so they’ve kept about 30 to 40 artists employed during the pandemic and paying them a weekly wage.
We’ve got a building here where we’ve been rehearsing ‘No Change’.
I also started a Chekhov reading group online with actors at the beginning of the pandemic and we’d meet once a week to reach each of the Chekhov plays, one act at a time. I led that until I ran away from all things online because it was feeding me the same way as live theatre and shows do.
There’s been lots of work in Newfoundland, so I’ve come home. I’m working on this production of ‘No Change’ with people I went to high school with; we started out together in going to the theatre and making theatre together. Even though I lost touch with them, I’ve been reunited with them. My sister is doing the costume design for ‘No Change’.
I did a movie here. I did a short horror film with my 12-year-old kid where I got to play the killer. I’ve never had the opportunity before.
Professionally, I’ve been able to keep food on the table and the family supported. The dog (a rescue dog) gets really expensive dog food to help in digestion (and Brad and I share a laugh over this). I’m aware that so many of my friends have had to pivot and that has been big for them.
For me, the biggest change was to leave Ontario with my family, but work wise I’ve been very, very fortunate and it’s not lost on me how lucky I am.
It’s been nice to reconnect professionally with so many people here who I cut my teeth with. Getting to work with these people again has been a real, wonderful gift.
In your opinion, do you see the global landscape of the professional Canadian live theatre scene changing at all as a result of these last 18 months?
I think so. I think it has to. We’re already seeing it in the way we’ve been working here. For ‘No Change’, we’re rehearsing in mask; we’re singing in mask, and that in of itself has been a bit of a game changer.
The way we build our rehearsal days, especially working on a musical, we’re building in there has to be time in the day for the room to air out. We can sing for 15 minutes out of the hour without masks on. Practical things have changed.
Our rehearsal week has changed. We’re doing five days now instead of six days for this contract. We’re seeing what’s possible and how much time we have together.
The rehearsal hall, to me, has to be a place where you can try lots of stuff. It’s safe and respectful. I love parameters and that’s a good thing, but some of these parameters that Covid has put us into can dull the creative impulse. So finding a way to create in these parameters is a challenge. I like the challenge of putting on a musical during this time.
I’m really curious to the many social things that have been happening around us. What are the plays that will be here when we are fully back? Are we going to see a bunch of pandemic theatre? What’s going on with equality, and diversity and racialization in so many ways and how that informs our theatre.
With theatre do we want to reflect back to audiences the way the world is OR the way the world could be? I don’t know where we go now because the world the way it now is might not be the way the world is going to be. But the world that it could be? It could be so many different things when coming out of pandemic and how difficult it is to get a positive message going globally.
Theatre should be responding to the way the world is going around it. It should be for the people. I’m always weary of truth onstage, but LIFE, we want to see LIFE on stage. I still think I’m two years away of realizing how my life has changed right now. It’s emotional during rehearsals right now.
In this long-winded answer, Joe, I hope the theatre is very different in a lot of ways in that it reflects all the things we want it to reflect. I was drawn to the theatre; it made a lot of sense to me so I hope we don’t lose that sense of safe space.
Maybe we’re trying to open it up a lot more?
How are rehearsals going for NO CHANGE IN THE WEATHER? What drew you to want to direct the story? Tell me about the characters and the artists playing them? How has this experience enriched you as an artist? What do you hope audiences will take away from NO CHANGE IN THE WEATHER?
As director it’s a challenge. This is a show that they’ve had for a few years. It’s gone through a couple of incarnations and had a lot of work done on it. I was part of very little of it.
I was going to be in the cast because I was a member of the resident company of this show. One day out of the blue I got a phone call asking if I would be interested in directing ‘No Change’.
Before I moved to Stratford, I was doing a lot of directing than acting here in Newfoundland. When I was at Stratford, I was an actor and did the acting thing. But I have an interest in directing so I did the Langham thing towards the end of my time at Stratford. I started a small theatre company with Steve Ross. We would do late night one acts in the Art Gallery at Stratford, a midnight showing of a one act play for just a small, invited audience every night.
I love directing. My insecurities as an actor leave me when I’m directing. When I think of a play, I never think of the part I want to play but the play I want to do. I often think I get hired as an actor, I love acting, but if someone told me tomorrow that I’m not going to be acting anymore, I’d be okay.
I’m really curious and hungry about directing. I’m good at it and I want to do it. I enjoy it and I feel comfortable with it. It’s all positive stuff in directing.
For me, this was an opportunity. I’m used to directing a couple of actors and no technical support, just to get a good play with a couple of good actors and tour it around. I love rehearsing. One of my goals as a director is how can we bring rehearsal on to the stage? How can we keep this living, breathing, thing of a play alive? Different directors approach that in different ways, and I’m still trying to figure that out.
‘No Change in the Weather’ has been a playground for me with this company that has such wonderful resources and support for its artists. The bells and whistles are here, and I was able to get the company of actors that I was really excited about.
In its earlier form, ‘No Change’ was more sentimental and dramatic of a Newfoundland story. One of the things I wanted to do with Steve Cochrane’s adaptation of the story was turn it more towards a comedy and make it more of a farce. I just thought there was more strength in the story the adaptation wanted to tell. I thought the play is a lot funnier that people initially thought it was.
Terra Bruce agreed to me wanting to work with the adaptor of the play and to be in control of the cast I wanted, and they were agreeable to that. I’ve a design team that complements the production extremely well.
I feel like we’ve got really good people involved.
One of the best things I’ve learned as a director is not working alone, but they have their people, they have a team. There was a sense years ago of the director as tyrant, the boss, the all knowing. I don’t run into that – the directors who excite me the most are very collaborative. The director needs the actor to help tell the story as opposed to the director who tells the actor how to tell the story.
This process is almost like working on a new play. Getting these actors together and getting them to help me figure out the story – I love that process. I could stay in the rehearsal hall forever. For better or for worse, I’ve never directed a musical so this was just one of those things that is scary, but I should do it. There are lot of people involved whom I respect and I love, and I want to spend time with.
It was something I got excited about – the challenge of it. There’s an ensemble resident company of actors here that I did this web series with This group of actors has been together for a year. Outside of theatre school, sometimes at the Festival, you get to work with one group of actors for 8 months to a year. It’s so rare when that happens.
When you’ve got that group of people that I had here for a year, and now I get to create a play with them and complement them but filling out the company with other artists, but at the core there is this group of artists here that is of such value to me. ‘No Change’ is a real ensemble piece and it makes it hard to rehearse. Pretty much everyone is on deck the whole time so I can’t rehearse a small group if a dance rehearsal has been called.
It’s not always easy, but this is a strong company and they’ve got a leg up since they’ve been together for a year, and I’m just fortunate they’ve accepted me as a director.
The collaboration is there, the history is there. It makes the challenge easier but a lot more attractive.
I hope audiences will leave ‘No Change in the Weather’ with having a laugh. It’s a comedy in the tradition of CODCO, even ‘Kids in the Hall’. Steve Cochrane who has done the adaptation has had a long history with sketch comedy. There’s a lot of Newfoundland music.
There’s a political story at the heart of ‘No Change’ and the high drama surrounding The Churchill Falls blunder.
Walter Schroeder, Executive Producer of Terra Bruce, fell in love with Newfoundland music and is passionate about the province and its artists. He is involved with the music he wants in the show, plus the story and politics he wants. There’s been a pretty collaborative and effective way of working with him.
I hope the audience will see ‘No Change’ as a Newfoundland comedy but not the plaid shirt and rubber boots. A lot of Newfoundland jokes are old and have been told a lot. Like so many cultural stereotypes these jokes become stereotypes of themselves. We play with this and flirt with it but we’re trying to be aware this production is a Newfoundland comedy; a Newfoundland musical being created in 2021 and not relying on the Newfoundland tropes from 40 years ago.
What intrigues Brad Hodder post Covid?
Chekhov really intrigues me, and I want to direct. Obviously ‘Harry Potter’ is intriguing me at Mirvish and I’m looking forward to getting going on it.
I’m really intrigued about what the next ten years will be like for my kids. I know that sounds cheesy, but I’m really curious about coming out of this pandemic and everything and what the next ten years will be like.
Try to answer these in a single sentence. If you need more than one sentence, that’s not a problem. I credit the late James Lipton and “Inside the Actors’ Studio’ for this idea:
If you could say one thing to one of your mentors or favourite teachers who encouraged you to get to this point as an artist, what would it be?
If you could say something to any of the naysayers in your career who didn’t think you would make it as an artist, what would that be?
Thank you (Brad says with a quick laugh and smile)
What’s your favourite swear word?
Fuck, but I’m told what I usually say is ‘Shitballs’.
What is a word you love to hear yourself say?
What is a word you don’t like to hear yourself say?
Patronize because I never know which way to say it.
What would you tell your younger personal self with the knowledge and wisdom life experience has now given you?
You are enough.
With the professional life experience you’ve gained over the years, what would you now tell the upcoming Brad Hodder from years ago who was just in the throes of beginning a career as a performing artist?
Be patient and take your time.
What is one thing you still wish to accomplish both personally and professionally?
Professionally, I want to direct all of the Chekhov plays. It used to be the Shakespeare history plays but after so much Shakespeare, I now want to hang out with Chekhov.
Personally, I want to have really good, good adult children. That’s something I keep coming back to. I just want to make sure they’re okay, and they’re making other people okay, and that they’re a force of good in the world. I aspire to give them love and hope each day, and I hope they will do the same to others around them.
Name one moment in your professional career as an artist that you wish you could re-visit again for a short while.
Playing Edmund in ‘King Lear’ at Stratford because I never feel like I got it.
What is one thing Brad Hodder will never take for granted again post Covid?
My family or my work and TIME.
Would Brad Hodder do it all again if given the same opportunities?
Yah, unfortunately (and Brad has a good laugh) I wish, Joe, I wanted to be an action movie star and I honestly think if I wanted something like that I could be rich and famous.
I’ve always to do theatre in a small black box.
To learn more about ‘No Change in the Weather’ in November, please visit www.nochangeintheweather.com. Brad will appear next year in ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ at Mirvish in May 2022. To learn more visit www.mirvish.com.