As we slowly emerge from this worldwide pandemic, it has been fascinating to discover how many artists have found themselves on new paths moving forward and heading into a future unknown to all of us at this time.
Actor, storyteller, writer, creator and teacher Christel Bartelse’s profile shows she has prepared herself to head into this unknown future but she appears to be equipped with what the future might or can possibly bring to her.
Christel discovered theatrical clowning at the age of 21 and honed her skills with some of the top instructors, including Mike Kennard, John Turner (Mump and Smoot), Sue Morrison, Philippe Gaulier, Francing Cote, Andy Massingham, and Caroline Dreaming.
She got her start in comedy with the physical comedy duo, The Burnt Marshmallows (Canadian Comedy Award Nominees). She has also created and written six award-winning solo shows (Chaotica, ONEymoon, Significant Me, All KIDding Aside, The Surprise and Encore!), which have toured across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.
Christel is currently promoting her online Comedy School called Comedy Coop (Home for Hilarious Chix). She is one of the co-founders and an instructor of Physical Comedy. Comedy Coop is a unique training ground for women (including female identifying/non-binary students) to explore their passion for comedy and get their comedic voices heard. This school is the first of its kind in Canada.
For more information, please visit www.comedycoop.ca.
We conducted our conversation via email. Thank you so much for the conversation, Christel:
Since we’ve just celebrated Thanksgiving, tell me about some of the teachers and mentors in your life for whom you are thankful and who brought you to this point in your life as a performing artist.
I’m very grateful for my early drama teachers - Dorothy Leitch in Kitchener at the Beckett School and Mrs. Catherine Carlson, my drama teacher, at Grand River Collegiate. Both these women were great teachers who believed in me and fueled my passion in acting. I’m also grateful to Andy Massingham, who is now a great friend and colleague. I looked up to him in my early days because he is a great physical theatre/comedy performer, teacher and it’s been a delight to work with him over the years on some shows. I believe everyone you me teaches you something in some way.
I’m trying to think positively that we have, fingers crossed, moved forward in our 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?
Now that we’re moving towards all restrictions lifted, it really feels like we’re moving on. The one positive about Covid is that it really forced me to slow down and take some time to reflect.
As an artist, and educator, I was always on the go, always busy, so it was nice to just take a pause and reflect on it all. However, I have been teaching a lot over the last 18 months and it was a great challenge to figure out how to teach physical comedy and clowning over Zoom.
And I really made it work.
It taught me, when faced with a challenge, you find a solution. My husband and I also lived out in the country for a long time with my parents, and I am grateful for all that time I had with them when so many couldn’t see their loved ones. But we did miss the energy of the city.
Now that things are open, it has been exciting to go out again, see friends, go to restaurants, go to shows and perform again. We do love all the stuff the city has to offer and realized how much we missed it. The buzz of the city and people is wonderful. I did a lot of things during the pandemic because I hate being bored. I was actually very busy, so I’m taking more time to applaud what I did, rather than chronically beat myself up, which I’m very good at.
How have these last eighteen months of the pandemic changed or transformed you as an artist professionally?
Just before Covid hit, I was re-writing and re-working my solo show ONEymoon. I had performed it on and off for several years but wanted to give it a full revamp. I was headed to Brighton, and London, UK with the show in May of 2020. That was all cancelled when Covid hit and I lost my mojo for working on the show.
I felt so uninspired to work on something I didn’t know when I would get to do again. That was hard because I always had such a drive to create. But, at the same time, I continued my Storytelling Show online and the silver lining was that I met artists from all over the World I normally wouldn’t have had the chance to meet.
I also started my online comedy school for women, Comedy Coop, with my colleagues because we figured online classes in some capacities are here to stay. I want to help people and bring laughter and joy to those who I can, especially when the World feels so dark.
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 very slowly it’s starting to come back. You are able to go and see a play, and that’s exciting. But it for sure has changed.
Can we ever sit in a packed theatre again and feel fully relaxed? Who knows?
Also, I think theatre companies/productions had to get more creative with virtual shows, pre-filmed productions, and I think some of that will stay - I hope it does in a way since it expands the potential audience for a show beyond geographies. So many people lost work, and some moved on. I think it will be interesting to see the content that is created as well, after we’ve all been through this.
What excites/intrigues/fascinates/interests you post Covid?
I’m excited to get back to creating and performing again; in this new “normal” I hope to be able to tour and travel again, and excited to return to festivals from years past.
I’m excited to go and see shows and movies again in a theatre.
I’m also excited that so many huge Global issues were brought to the forefront and people are taking more care, paying attention, and listening. So, I'm interested to watch the type of work that will be created. The innovation that came from this time. But I’m intrigued to see what will happen. It still feels like everyday there is new information.
Can we get over to the other side?
What disappoints/unnerves/upsets you post Covid?
It’s still disappointing to see people who don’t take the pandemic seriously or are selfish in their views. They don’t care about others, only themselves.
That people are still so mean to others.
I’m still unnerved with the uncertainty of the future. It’s hard to plan anything when you don’t know what will happen in a month from now. Fingers crossed we continue to get through this, but no one knows, especially when you see places such as the UK going in the wrong direction again.
Where do you, the artist, see yourself going next?
For a long time, I’ve been wanting a big change. I still don't know what that means, but the pandemic has taught us you can work from anywhere. Self tapes have allowed this. Classes online etc. So, I'm looking to maybe try out my craft in a new place?
I’m also excited to work on a new Solo show. It’s been a few years since I’ve created one and I’m itching to do this. I’m excited to continue building this online comedy school. I believe it has so much potential. And I’m excited to be back doing “live” storytelling and comedy shows again.
Where do you, the person, see yourself going next?
On a wild adventure. I just need to get over my fear and take a leap of faith. And also see what travel looks like, post pandemic.
Try to answer these in a single sentence. If you need more than one sentence, that’s not a problem. I give credit to the late James Lipton and ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ for this format of questions.
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?
“Thank you. I appreciate you more than you know.”
As a teacher myself, I know how little teachers get thanked. So just a simple thank you for all you did, goes a long way.
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?
“I’m glad I didn’t listen to you. But thank you for pushing me harder.”
When someone thinks I can’t do something, I’ll go out of my way to prove that I can.
What’s your favourite swear word?
What is a word you love to hear yourself say?
What is a word you don’t like to hear yourself say?
What would you tell your younger personal self with the knowledge and wisdom life experience has now given you?
Slow down and trust it will all work out.
With the professional life experience you’ve gained over the years, what would you now tell the upcoming you from years ago who was just in the throes of beginning a career as a performing artist?
Keep going, work hard, believe in yourself and when a door slams in your face, it will only make you work harder. Oh, and also, don’t try to do 500 things all at once. Focus on one thing at a time. (even though I haven’t learned this as my older self yet, ha)
What is one thing you still wish to accomplish both personally and professionally?
Personally, there are so many places I’d still love to travel to. I’ve been grateful for my travels so far, but 2 years without it, I’m dying to get on a Plane. First stop would be Italy.
Professionally, although my first love is live theatre, storytelling and comedy, I really would love to do more film/tv. I’m hungry for this. And love being on set.
Name one moment in your professional career as an artist that you wish you could re-visit again for a short while.
I’d love to go back to my 20’s when I was doing a ton of improv and sketch comedy. I would want to revisit this because there were so many incredible people around who were all just starting out, and we were all having the best time. This was well before anyone had phones, or social media, so we were all just so present with each other, and it really was word of mouth to get people to come and see you.
Would you do it all again if given the same opportunities?
Being in the Arts, as unpredictable and wild as it is, I wouldn't change it. I have amazing stories to tell, I have met so many incredibly talented people and I’ve been able to see and tour the World while doing what I love.
And wow, have I laughed which keeps you vibrant and young.
As far as teaching goes, I have loved watching myself evolve and learn, not only from myself but all my fabulous students.