Chalk one up for Durham Region. I had no idea performing artist Chick Reid lived and grew up in Ajax, Ontario, and knows many of the same spots that I do in Durham Region.
Chick completed her theatre training at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.
Other selected theatre credits for her include Stratford Shakespeare Festival (Matchmaker, Cymbeline, Grapes of Wrath, Little Years, Comedy of Errors, Ideal Husband, Noises Off, No Exit, Troilus and Cressida, Much Ado About Nothing, High Gravel Blind, Eternal Hydra, Merry Wives of Windsor, Country Wife among others); Theatre Plus Toronto (Abundance, Holiday, Hamlet, Burn This, Scapino, Marriage of Figaro, Crimes of the Heart, Dora nominee); Shaw Festival (The Woman, Cavalcade, Peter Pan, Marathon 33, War and Peace); Neptune Theatre (The Goat); MTC (Steel Magnolias, The Sisters Rosenzweig); Grand Theatre (Helen’s Necklace); Actors’ Theater of Louisville (Heartbreak House, Anton in Show Business); Broadway (Much Ado About Nothing). She is a recipient of the Tyrone Guthrie award.
What an extremely enjoyable and delightful chat I had with her via Zoom. Chick has been teaching at Queen’s University in the Drama Department for 16 years. She and her husband, Tom McCamus, live in Northumberland County where they raise Nova Scotia Duck tolling retrievers.
Thank you so much for being a part of the conversation about theatre in a post Covid world, Chick:
It has been an exceptionally long eight months since the pandemic began, and now 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?
I’m feeling, in spite of everything, I’m feeling hopeful. I’m not getting anxious about it like I’m not hoping it’s going to happen in two weeks or even two months. But I’m feeling hopeful that there will be a vaccine and it will be effective. I’m really hopeful that the long-term effects of this on people’s home lives, finances, work situations, doesn’t go on for ages and ages and ages. I don’t have an end date in my brain, but I hope the long-term effects of this aren’t too horrible for so many people that stand to lose jobs, who have lost jobs, stand to lose homes.
If I think about all this too much, I get on the despair bus, but I’m hopeful it will get sorted. But I’m also really hopeful that people will do what they’re being asked to do to help. I don’t think the vaccine is the answer in the meantime. We have to look after ourselves and look after each other, right?
Emerging to some new way of living is further ahead in the distance to tell you the truth. I’m not so disappointed in some of the changes that have come about, that have had to come about because of Covid. It pleases me to see people really looking out for people. Maybe I’m more aware of it now because of this pickle that we’re all in together.
I like the enforced quiet time that I think we all, everybody, in every walk of society, creates and needs. We rarely can give ourselves that. When quiet time becomes a luxury, there’s something not very right. I would like that to continue for everybody. There are some people who don’t have quiet time right now because they’re scrambling at three jobs when they had one good one, and now they may have three part time jobs, especially in our profession and the ‘in between’ times.
I like planning when I go into town as it makes us all a little more mindful.
You mentioned about Lucie Arnaz and how she said that perhaps we may not be back until at least 2022. On many levels, I bet she’s right. There are a lot of things that won’t be back in the form that we know of them right now. It might be a new form but the way we knew them in our profession, I have hope for it, of course, because it’s so necessary for everybody that we can get back to listen and tell stories.
How have you been faring? How has your immediate family been doing during these last eight months?
I have to say that I think I’ve been faring pretty well, actually. I’m a lucky one that I share my life with Tom (McCamus) so I haven’t been alone. I feel so lucky to be at home. We have a little log cabin just north of here and we rarely get a chance to use it when we’re working so we’ve had a chance to have a good couple of meaningful lake time opportunities. That was great.
Emotionally, it sometimes hits me. What makes me upset (and it’s not what we’re going through now) is the thought when we get back into the rehearsal hall and a room full of people that we love. That makes me a bit weepy. I don’t pine for it but it’s going to be so momentous for everybody, don’t you think? I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s going to be like when we make that first entrance on to the stage when it’s safe to return to the theatre. It makes me tear up. It’s going to be overwhelming. Will we even get through that first performance? That’s okay, at least we’ll all be in the same damn room. (Chick laughs and so do I)
I miss my immediate family. That has been hard on me, I have to say. I have four siblings under me. They’re all married and have children and grand children and we’re a pretty tight family. So I miss that. This year, I was supposed to host Christmas, my whole family, and every other year is the in-law family celebration.
Christmas was meant to be here this year and I was supposed to have a house full of 30 people from toddlers to older people. Obviously, that won’t be happening this year, and I’m going to miss that.
My immediate family are all healthy and everyone is behaving. My siblings have children and grandchildren and that’s their bubble so they’re not losing contact with their family. We definitely miss each other as siblings but they’re all well. One sister moved back to Scotland a year ago and I was going to see her there after my semester, so that bothers me I can’t go and see her. Two of my other siblings are recently retired and they’re doing fine.
As an artist within the performing arts community, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally?
I think they’re tied for me. I’m sorry that we didn’t get to do the plays we were supposed to do this summer. We were all looking forward to it.
Personally, I miss my friends so much. I have dear friends at Stratford that I won’t be able to go see perform that I would have done had I been at Shaw. And I have dear friends at Shaw – these are people whom I love seeing every day and love spending time with them. We’ve had a couple of Zoom calls when them, cocktail Zoom calls which is lovely. Everybody gets so busy with nothing to do, isn’t that weird?
I miss going to work and seeing my people. When I was asked to teach my acting courses online at Queen’s University, I thought, “Uhhhh, okay, I’ll bite and put my hand up and see what I can do.” I asked for permission to go and teach from my studio so that I can go to work every Monday. And they gave it to me. So, all the protocols are in place at the Isabel Bader Performing Arts Centre.
I’m teaching live on Zoom from my studio. I drive to Kingston, so I really like that. It makes me feel as if I’m actually doing my job.
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?
It was Monday March 16. Tom and I were in the same play, ‘The Devil’s Disciple’ at Shaw. It was our first day of rehearsal. We drove down to Niagara on Sunday, unpacked, left the dogs here for the week with our friend who looks after them. We just packed a week’s worth of clothing as we knew we would be back.
We went to rehearsal March 16 at 10:00 am, walked out of the theatre at 11:15 am, and we haven’t been back. So, I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to do those plays, but I have every hope we will get a chance to do them. The plan is to go ahead with these productions next summer. That’s hopeful given everything else that people are still moving forward. I think that’s fantastic and that makes me happy.
Although we were sent home that day and everything closed, we carried on because there was insurance through Shaw. We carried on rehearsing ‘Devil’s Disciple’ and Tom and I started rehearsals for the second show that we would have performed at Shaw just this past summer. Tom was to perform in ‘Desire Under the Elms’, and I was to perform in ‘Sherlock Holmes: The Raven’s Curse’. We continued in rehearsal for all four of these plays online until May 12.
What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time?
Tom and I have been raising puppies. They’re due to go to their new homes in the next week or so. I’ve been teaching at Queen’s University in the Drama Department and this is my 16th year. My semester was over in a couple of weeks.
But I go right into elf mode. As soon as those puppies are gone, and yes, I’ll shed a tear as I always do, but I’m right back and ripping open the boxes for those Christmas decorations.
I love reading murder mysteries and having a cup of tea if I’m looking for lovely entertainment.
But you know what, our deal when we get up here every morning. We deal with the dogs. Tom does his thing. I do my cryptic. And then both of us read for half an hour and then our day starts because we know we won’t be able to sit down again until the end of the day. I love reading. And that’s our routine around here.
But when I’m on contract and start rehearsals, I don’t read a book for the whole season. It’s as if my brain tells me that I’ve got too much else to fit in there and there’s no room for a book right now. I think I read two books throughout the entire pandemic. Isn’t that weird? It’s like I’m in a work mode and I can’t pick up a book in the morning.
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?
To my students I just keep telling them to go forward because there is somewhere for them to go. They can go forward. It may be a glitch, but everyone is in the same boat. No one is going to be left behind. My students are worried about graduating because they’re meant to graduate this year. And I tell them, “And what if you don’t? It’s okay as others are also in the same boat as you. Literally, you’ve got your whole life in front of you.”
For younger actors, I tell them to just hang in. You’ve got it all in front of you. This isn’t going to disappear for you.
The older actors, I find, they’re in a real pickle because such maturity comes to you at this age as an actor. You’re so ready and you’ve just got to hang on to it. Find something in the interim that makes you happy.
I really do believe it will come back. You have to go forward as if there is somewhere to go.
Do you see anything positive stemming from Covid 19?
I think if people can hold on to those moments of quiet. Hold on to those moments of “I’m not going to look at the clock today.” I’m going to go through my day, hour by hour as it unfolds.
I think there’s something positive about this notion if they are in a position to do this. It’s easy to become unaware of a bigger picture when you’re in a rabbit hole of whatever your job is. It’s hard to easy lose sight of this bigger picture and become unaware, and I think for a lot of people this has reminded us that we are part of something really, really big.
And that’s a good thing. I hope we stay aware of the world that Covid has made us become.
Do you think Covid 19 will have some lasting impact on the Toronto/Canadian/North American performing arts scene?
It’s going to change the way we look at being in those big places with those numbers especially if you’re at the Festival in Stratford where it’s 18+, 11+ at the Avon, and 8+ at the Festival theatre in Shaw.
I don’t think it’s going to be once everyone gets the vaccine, okay now it’s time to cram together again. I don’t know what they are yet, but Covid will bring a lot of artistic opportunities that are going to crop up because we have to do it a different way. That will be an encouraging way to look at things that we haven’t looked at in the same way in the past.
It’s going to take a long time for it to be what it was, if it ever will be what it was.
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?
You know what, I think those artists that want to stay creative in their chosen field and have the technical skills to tell a story online, I think it’s fabulous for them. It’s not a route I would take because I probably wouldn’t be very good at it frankly.
I think these artists who are providing an opportunity for people who are hungry for a creative experience and be part of it are providing a great service. If they can find a way to be compensated for that service that’s even better. I don’t know how these online and YouTube projects and compensation work.
I think it was great Stratford aired those projects at the beginning of the pandemic. We were compensated for them at the time and that’s what we signed on to and that’s what was meant to be done. In the early days of the pandemic, Shaw provided online cabarets for their patrons and that was lots of fun.
There are questions that need to be addressed concerning compensation both from Equity and ACTRA standards. Tom and I were going to be a part of The Foster Festival in St. Catherines. I love Norm Foster’s work as it makes me howl. We were lucky enough to be chosen as part of 12 married couples and we were each going to be sent to different restaurants in parts of the city in the Niagara Region and read this play called ‘The Christmas Tree’. The play is hilariously funny and Tom and I can’t even get through it without losing it through laughter.
It was going to be safe in each of the restaurants as per protocol standards. Tickets were being sold for a dinner and show. It was an Equity contract since Shaw is an Equity company. We were going to rehearse online, show up, do the safe social distance dinner and play thing and leave. Two weeks ago the decision was made to cancel it, and rightly so since the numbers are up.
What they’re going to do now is we’re still going to rehearse online and it’s going to be recorded so people can buy tickets to see the recording. So now, it’s not really an Equity issue but an ACTRA issue since we’re being recorded. I’m just going to go do it since I’m a member of ACTRA.
If I’m told it’s allowable, I’m just going to go ahead and do it.
Despite all this drama, tension and confusion, what is it about the art of performance that Covid will never destroy for you?
My love of it. (I can see tears welling in Chick’s eyes on the screen as I truly believe her). I never get tired of being in the same room with a bunch of people who are all there for the same reason. They’re there to tell the story and together in that big, beautiful room and my love of performing in telling a story will never go away for me.