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Chilina Kennedy

Moving Forward

(from Chilina's Twitter account)

Joe Szekeres

Chilina Kennedy certainly has a lot going on in her life right now as you will see from her answers below.

With a five-year-old son who is the pride and joy in her life right now, I am grateful she was able to take a few minutes from her schedule to check in with me as she moves forward into a new way of living.

Along with her work as one of the Co-Artistic producers of Eclipse Theatre, Chilina is a top-notch and dynamic performer. I’ve seen her work as Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ, Superstar at The Stratford Festival. I hadn’t heard the music from ‘The Band’s Visit’ so when I attended the opening night performance through the Mirvish series I wasn’t sure what to expect. I did like the story, and one of the reasons why was her performance.

The one role I will always remember her was in ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Story’. I had taken m sister as my guest when I reviewed the opening night production. My sister, Kathy, even remarked how I put my pen down as I didn’t want to write any notes but simply enjoy what was presented before me.

It was glorious. Thank you again, Chilina, for taking the time from your schedule:

It appears that after five exceptionally long months we are slowly, very slowly, emerging to a pre-pandemic lifestyle. How has your daily life and routine along with your family’s life and routine been changed?

Well, it’s interesting that you asked me at this point because I’m in quarantine with my five-year-old son. I didn’t want to lose our green cards so we had to go back to the US for three nights just for the while we re-applied for the entry permits so we could stay in Canada for the next two years.

Once you come back, you have to quarantine and they’re very strict about it as they should be. It’s been very interesting. He still continues with at home learning. He had a drum lesson this morning and we’re about to go into a home school situation with three or four other kids. We’re going to take turns as each family is going to teach on a different day.

It’s been fascinating, but unfortunately for people in our business there has been virtually a 100% unemployment rate in the terms of performing artists at least. People are able to continue doing all other sorts of things which is great, but at least in terms of the performing arts film and tv are starting to come back and that’s been great as I’ve had lots of auditions for that kind of stuff. But everybody job that I had has been cancelled which is disappointing.

Were you involved or being considered for any projects before everything was shut down?

I was supposed to be playing Fantine in ‘Les Miserables’ right now. That’s a disappointment as I’ve always wanted to play that role, and I figured it was my opportunity to do that role now. I don’t know if I’ll get that chance to do it again. I just had a fitting for it when the pandemic hit.

A lot of things are now shooting in Canada so they’re looking to fill a lot of Canadian quotas, the American companies are, and there are a lot of Canadian companies that are too. That’s good news plus the online concerts.

What has been the most challenging element or moment of the isolation period for you.
Solitude is not something I’m afraid of even with my five-year-old son. I quite like it. I like the peace of mind it brings. It’s a positive thing really.

The hardest part for me initially was not seeing my parents for the first couple of months until we decided to bubble with them. It was tricky because we came from New York, so we were really worried that we were carriers of the virus. The last thing I wanted to do was to spread it to anybody, particularly my aging parents. That was hard with the panic of what to do.

And the panic of what to do with my apartment in New York. That still remains a challenge but at least I’ve got somebody in there right now. Life as we know has kind of died. It’s a bit tricky because I’m never going back to that apartment in New York as I’m going to let it go.

Everything has just changed. I don’t know if Broadway will ever be the same again. In some ways, that’s a good thing because we’re learning a lot of lessons in this time.

It’s challenging, that’s for sure.

I agree with the comment that Lucie Arnaz also made about Broadway not coming back until the fall of 2021. I think it will be at least that. People are very creative and there are lots of interesting ways of getting around things. As you know, I’m the Co-Artistic Producer of Eclipse Theatre here in Toronto along with a bunch of other people. The company is trying to follow suit and do some of the things we want to do at a distance, but it’s challenging. Our systems have not really been tested yet, so we don’t know yet what we’re doing.

What had you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time of lockdown?

To be honest with you, there has been a lot to do, running the household and keeping my five-year-old entertained. I want to make sure he’s stimulated so we have a lot of projects happening. I’ve been re-doing my basement, cooking a lot, and I’ve had tons of auditions which has been great for film and tv so that’s been helping me to get my chops back up.

We’ve been setting up an Education Department at Eclipse which has been great. There have been some online classes and I’ve been teaching a little bit.

Most importantly, I’ve been remembering how to relax, gardening and doing things like that.

I’ve also been trying to open my eyes and educate myself on what’s been going on in the world.

Any words of wisdom or sage advice you would give to other performing artists who are concerned about the impact of Covid-19? What advice would you give to new theatre graduates about this time?
Oh, that’s a very good question. In fact, I’ve just offered some words to artists at York University who are about to start school next week.

My advice, and you can take it with a grain of salt, “I hope that people don’t feel discouraged.” I know it’s a challenging time but theatre is going to survive, it’s never going to die. We’ve been through wars, through pandemics and all sorts of things and theatre has always survived. I think it’s going to look a little different on the other side, but I think we’re going to get through it so I hope the next generation of artists are training as hard as ever because they’ve got to be ready when we ARE ready to come back.

This is a pause button and an opportunity to reflect. It’s a time of great change so if we can learn something from this time and move forward with new voices and new stories and exciting material coming out of this time, we’ll be all the better for it and have a stronger arts community.

A lot of the great artists wrote their masterpieces during times of great suffering and trial – ‘King Lear’ was supposedly written during the Great Plague.

Do you see anything positive stemming from this pandemic?

If we take the bull by the horns, I see a lot of positive change. I also see a lot of possibilities to revert back to the way we were, and I don’t think that’s a very good solution. There’s a lot of push and pull – there are a lot of people who do want lasting change, and I think there are a lot of people who have a stake in the way things used to be and want things to go back to the way they were.

And I understand both as there is a comfort and familiarity in going back to the old ways. We’ve got to strive ahead in a much better fashion than we were before. I feel encouraged for the environment, for diversity in representation.

In your opinion, can you see Broadway, the Toronto, regional and North American professional performing arts scene somehow being changed on account of the coronavirus?

I sure hope there is diversity in representation with the BIPOC voices and communities. I hope there is a lot of change. I think there should be change. There should be more listening happening, much more diversity and inclusion in terms of stories that we’re telling, and who’s telling, and who’s creating them and the way we collaborate.

I think we have this great opportunity to enter a new phase of how we create art and how we tell it.

What are your thoughts about streaming of live productions? Will it become part of the performing arts scene in your opinion? Have you participated or will you participate in any online streaming soon?

Well, I’m probably going to misquote somebody. I’ve heard somebody say there is a name for acting on camera and it’s called film and tv. I don’t think live performance is meant to be Zoomed. It’s weird.

Frankly, I’m not a huge fan but if that’s all we have well I think we’ll find creative ways to present it in a fresh capacity.

To be honest, isn’t there a term – I think we’re all getting a bit Zoomed out? People are just aching to be back together again in the theatre. There’s something about gathering that is so unique to what we do for a living, breathing the same air, and the heart beating at the same time as we wait for the production to begin. Indeed, it’s a shared experience. It’s so important and those live emotions that are shared with each other do not exist through a screen. It’s only a percentage of the experience.

Obviously, artists have to be compensated appropriately if streaming is the only possible option if any kind of profit is made.

Despite all the change, the confusion and drama surrounding this time of re-emergence and recovery, what is about performing you still love?

I love creating new work as that is probably my greatest love. One of the things I have been continuing to work on is a new musical that I’ve written with Eric Holmes who’s one of the writers on ‘The Good Fight’. He was one of the writers on ‘Smash’. He’s a fantastic guy, very talented and he and I have been working on this new musical for a couple of years. We’ve been continuing to bash away at it.

It’s wonderful because I do have a piano in my house, guitars and ukuleles and all sorts of instruments around the house. My son and I make music together. I continue writing my show. There are ways to keep at it.

I was sitting in an outdoor gathering with a bunch of wonderful women, friends of mine and colleagues and we were all sitting at a distance around this fire. We were talking about singing, not for the pay cheque, but just for the fact we love to sing and that’s something I think so many of us have forgotten.

Now this chance, this quiet opportunity has made many of us so aware that we miss singing simply for the joy of it. We started singing in this circle with all of us getting involved not because we were getting paid or people were watching, no job at stake.

It was just for the simple fact we love it. We were just feeling that live vibration in that space and right in that particular moment, in that outdoor space. And I think that to me, “Oh, wow”, I think back to when I was a kid just starting out.

And it’s the whole reason why I do what I do. That’s why I love it.

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