Even before I started reviewing for professional theatre, I had the good fortune to see Canadian performer Brenda Robins in many productions of Toronto theatres over the years. I continually like to make reference to Soulpepper’s moving production of Thornton Wilder’s ‘Our Town’ where Brenda performed along with some of Canada’s finest actors. Again, I saw Brenda in a thrilling production of ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ at Toronto’s Canadian Stage Bluma Appel Theatre. She has also appeared in several Canadian television productions including CTV’s ‘Flashpoint’ (one of my top five favourite shows) and CBC’s ‘Heartland’. A bit of online research enlightened me that Brenda has appeared across our country in some fine shows and theatres.
She and her husband, actor Patrick Galligan, live in Toronto. I will profile Patrick in another article shortly:
It appears that after five exceptionally long months, we are slowly, very slowly, emerging to a pre-pandemic lifestyle. Has your daily life and routine along with your immediate family’s life and routine been changed in any manner?
Mostly, I feel as though I’m in the middle of a ‘between gigs’ scenario. As actors, we are lucky in that we are not unused to being out of work from time to time. In the past, we have planned a vacation if we were looking at a stretch of time off. Now, a coffee with a friend, in a park, is a big adventure and something to plan my day around. Small things are taking on more significance.
Were you involved or being considered for any projects before the pandemic was declared and everything was shut down?
Not a one. Just before everything shut down, I had wrapped up several days on a TV gig out west. For that, I’m grateful because it put some extra money in the bank. Earlier in the year I worked on a web series that’s hoping to shoot a second season. I’m not sure when that is going to happen.
Describe the most challenging element or moment of the isolation period for you. Did this element or moment significantly impact how you and your immediate family are living your lives today?
I feel most frustrated for my son who has completed his Master’s degree and, under normal circumstances, would probably be working in his dream career. Now he’s applying for any kind of work he can get – along with thousands of other people.
What were you doing to keep yourself busy during this time of lockdown and isolation from the world of theatre? Since theatres will most likely be shuttered until the spring of 2021, where do you see your interests moving at this time?
I’ve been doing a lot of sewing, gardening and writing: a kind of Bronte sisters’ existence. I’ve collected a lot of vintage fabric over the years and so I’ve been sewing cushions, cushions and more cushions. Couch candy, that I was hoping to sell at our local fall fair. The fair is not happening, and the cushions have taken over a room in our house and there seems to be no end in sight….
Any words of wisdom or sage advice you would give to other performing artists who are concerned about the impact of COVID-19? What about to the new theatre graduates who are just out of school and may have been hit hard? Why is it important for them not to lose sight of their dreams?
That’s a hard one. I think the new graduates might fare well. Hopefully, they still have a burning desire and ambition and this period may prove to be a time of real creativity. I worry more for actors with young families and mortgages. I wish words of wisdom could ease their burdens, but I’m not convinced of that.
It’s going to be a very difficult few months for some people. Sorry – not very sage advice.
Do you see anything positive stemming from this pandemic?
Some very creative new work is going to come out of this period, I’m sure of that. And maybe by the time we get back into our theatres we will have a greater appreciation of the power and potential of live performances.
In your informed opinion, will the Canadian, Broadway and Californian performing arts scene somehow be changed or impacted on account of the coronavirus?
I just hope theatres survive. Time will tell.
What are your thoughts about streaming live productions? As we continue to emerge and find our way back to a new perspective of daily life, will live streaming become part of the performing arts scene in your estimation? Have you been participating, or will you participate in any online streaming productions soon?
I think streaming is a different beast altogether. I’m enjoyed some of the work I’ve seen online, but it’s not the same as the experience one has watching a live performance.
What is it about performing you still love given all the change, the confusion and the drama surrounding our world now?
I look forward to performing again, in a theatre, with an audience. I find gathering in a space with a group of strangers and sharing a communal experience to be very moving.
With a respectful nod to ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton, here are the 10 questions he asked his guests at the conclusion of his interviews:
a. What is your favourite word?
It’s two words actually – ‘Quelle Emboutiellage’ which means ‘What a traffic jam”. It’s such a satisfying sequence of syllables. I like saying it to describe anything extraordinary (another good word)
b. What is your least favourite word?
I’m not sure…I mean, I really don’t have an answer for that.
c. What turns you on?
A really good action movie.
d. What turns you off?
e. What sound or noise do you love?
f. What sound or noise bothers you?
g. What is your favourite curse word?
h. What profession, other than your own, would you have liked to attempt?
If I had the talent, I would have liked to be a visual artist. Large canvases.
i. What profession would you not like to do?
j. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates?
“Head straight through to the left. Your friends and family are waiting.”