The Self Isolated Artist
I mentioned in earlier profiles there are some artists with whom I would like to sit down and have a beer.
I’m putting University of Southern California Graduate, Los Angeles and Toronto based artist Christopher Bautista on this list as well.
I saw Chris perform in ‘The Negroes are Congregating’ with friends at Theatre Passe Muraille just before the pandemic was declared and all the theatres were shut down. This performance was one that hit me right square in the face when it came to some of the societal issues presented. My friends and I wanted to speak with some of the actors after the talk back as the opportunity was made for audience members.
I approached him and remember asking my question which, I think, probably put him on the spot now that I think of it even more. But my question did not faze him. Instead, Chris was extremely patient with me, took the time to explain, and to help me re-examine the issue from another perspective which was extremely crucial to complete the review.
Thank you for remaining calm and patient, Chris. Before we began our interview, Chris did state for the record he’s had a lot of experience and practice in explaining and remaining levelheaded.
We conducted our interview via Zoom conference call:
It has been over the three-month mark since we’ve all been in isolation, and thankfully we’re starting to emerge slowly. How have you been faring? How has your immediate family been doing during this time?
We are, we’re like low crawling out of our caves, aren’t we? I’ve had a lot of time to focus on self-care. I’ve made my own moisturizer. I’ve done something I imagined I never would have done. (laughs) I ordered raw shea butter and raw jojoba oil and made this concoction. I looked it up on the internet. This is one of the satisfying things I’ve done all of COVID. I have this moisturizing routine. (laughs) I don’t know how many people are interested in hearing about it. (laughs) It’s pretty cool. Us guys, a lot of time, don’t take a lot of time to do that.
A lot of contemplation on this current state of global affairs. It’s given me an opportunity to focus on my physical, spiritual, economic, and mental well being, as well as the well being of people that look like me. It’s given me the opportunity to think about what we prioritize as a global community of brothers and sisters.
I would like to see Canadians and everyone, for that matter, as concerned about dismantling institutional racism as they are for solving and providing solutions for COVID. This includes police brutality, our health care system, housing, economic and political equity, infrastructure and community development and funding, as well as equity for the arts.
We’re talking tech and business sectors. This includes representation, pay, administrative roles that provide equity in terms of position and power. Coverage and representation in the media to include a maximum effort to remove 500 years of both unconscious bias as well as intentional misrepresentation based on colonial and white supremacist ideologies.
This is a lot to unravel, so I have a lot of time to think about these things. Who would have thought the thing that would have put 4000-7000 people on Bloor Street would have been anti-Black racism. It’s a beautiful thing. I’m super grateful for this time. I think we’re living in the best possible time ever in history. Isn’t that amazing? It means we have a responsibility which is huge for the next generation. What we do today is going to lay precedence for the new system that is going to emerge.
My immediate family is doing well. I’ve had some people affected by COVID. I’ve also had some people very unaffected by it. I’ll leave them unnamed but I’m very proud of them as they took a road trip to LA. They were safe when they arrived. For the most part, everybody is having their ups and downs but they’re trying to make the most out of this.
As a performer, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally?
Funny enough, professionally, the most difficult thing has nothing to do with my job. I feel very fortunate to be able to do what I love and what fulfills me spiritually, economically, and artistically. On the other hand, in the matter of a year, I’ve had several people carry out micro and major aggression in terms of race. This includes a show I was working on that was canceled five days away from opening because a very white director accidentally (if there were such a thing) using the ‘n’ bomb during conversation with his almost entirely black cast. This was one of the most difficult things I had to deal with in my professional career that had nothing to do with my job. It shouldn’t have happened.
It has inspired me to really be a champion for putting black people in positions of power within the artistic community which includes the theatre. I’m uninterested in these place holder positions that don’t have any power attached to them. Let’s put people in artistic director roles, on Boards of Directors so that when these situations happen, and they’re going to continue, when they do happen then we have people in positions of power that can handle them correctly to minimize the amount of collateral damage that is put on these performers. We need to learn the most from them without bias, without the sort of automatic denial or worse, suppression.
On a personal level, Joe, I like that you say challenge because that’s how I perceive it. It’s not something that I’m not able to get past because I’ve been able to get past those challenges, both personally as well as professionally. The things I’ve been able to implement in my life have really allowed me to refrain from those situations.
Personally, there are two things: the first, I feel being in my 30s, my entire adult life, I have been screaming what everyone has been listening to and hearing for the last month. This last month, I finally feel as if I’m being listened to and more than that, heard, acknowledged, and responded to. People are really taking this on for action. This has been one of the most challenging things.
The other has been my transition from my decade long stint in the military into the life of an artist. It wasn’t seamless. Although I don’t regret that decision, it’s one I do not have any intention of going back from. I’m happy with the lessons I’ve been able to learn from that time. Some of these lessons affect my professional and personal life – determination and focus on my goals.
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?
I was in the prep process for my role as Prospero in Company of Fools production of ‘The Tempest’ in Ottawa. We were set to start rehearsals on June 1 and to go into production in July. I’ve been very impressed by the company’s handling of the situation. They were very communicative throughout the entire process and I look forward to next summer when we can begin the production of ‘Tempest’ again.
What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time?
Aside from my self-care routine? (laughs) I know you saw me on television last week on Bloor Street when I spoke to the CTV reporter on combatting black racism. I’ve been active in the Black Lives Matter movement, meditation. Exercise. I like playing basketball but a lot of creative projects of my own on the go, along with weekly play readings with my acting teacher and fellow students of The Lighthouse Actors’ Studio. Celebrating Black Lives and cultural contributions through the creation of my series of events called BLVCKFEST. We had our first event on June 7. – Instagram.com/blvckfest.
I’m working on some other exciting things with more details to come.
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 given the fact live theaters and studios might be closed for 1 ½ - 2 years?
Do what you can with what you have. I cannot stress this enough. Stop waiting for someone to hire you for that job. Paint that painting. Make that film. When you focus on resources you do have, the number of resources that you’re able to employ automatically increases. Keep moving, keep going. Momentum is the name of the game.
Build up your content. I’m working on two shows of my own and constantly writing on those as well as developing Blvckfest. Things can stop out there but they can still be going on in here (points to his brain/mind). Don’t get discouraged if that show isn’t going this summer. That show will come back. It always comes back.
Do you see anything positive stemming from COVID 19?
A re-set. The re-set. Who would have thought that COVID 19 would have awakened people to the 500 years of anti-black racism that has been woven into global systems, especially in North America? That’s huge. Now we have an opportunity to learn about that, to dismantle it. The one thing about all people – we’re really smart. We can do this if we really want to do this. That tells me one of two things: We didn’t know, or we didn’t care.
Now that we know, what are we going to do about it? Either we can or we don’t want to because it benefits too many people. At what cost does your comfort come at? At what cost does my comfort come at? Does it come at the cost of the livelihood of some people, at the oppression of some people? In my heart of hearts, I believe we are inherently not only good but great. When we level up in terms of our consciousness, we realize our well being doesn’t have to come at the cost of someone’s oppression. Our pain doesn’t have to be the ammunition for us to put that pain on someone else because that’s when we’re elevating. There is no separation as a global community. If my brother is suffering on another part of the planet, I’m suffering.
Once we begin to look at things like this, we can turn this bad boy around.
Do you think COVID 19 will have some lasting impact on the Canadian/North American performing arts scene?
Absolutely. You look at platforms at Ghostlight.ca, Monologue Slam, what they’ve done for Canada and globally. The Canadian Isolation Film Festival – the people at Mann Casting have put this badboy on. I’ve had the opportunity to do meaningful work with some incredible friends and colleagues.
The fortunate part of this is it is giving artists, theatre-makers and filmmakers the opportunity to innovate, not avoid what we’re dealing with. Zoom allows us to create while social distancing. What are the ways that will weave into the stories that we want to tell? There’s talk about relaunching of ‘The Negroes are Congregating’ that you saw at Passe Muraille virtually (and which was nominated for a Dora). This is long-lasting.
It’s like everything else. It’s a revolutionary time that we’re in and a reflection of the transitional period in which we’re now in. Streaming is an opportunity to increase viewership. Are we going to use traditional forms of storytelling and pretend we’re not in the world we’re in, or are we going to utilize the period in which we find ourselves and find ways to tell the stories?
Some artists have turned to YouTube 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?
I think that depends. Are people paying for that streaming service, then yes, the artist should be paid. We need to re-investigate how we look at streaming across the board, and how artists are to be paid across the board which is one of the tenets of Black Fest. Black Fest is an opportunity to change all this and to put money into artists’ pockets. For 500 years, black people have been under-compensated, and Black Fest is an opportunity to change that. This should be a focus for everyone when we really think about it.
Who would have been able to get through COVID without art? Art provides value to our lives and we need to compensate the people who are giving value to our life.
Despite all this fraught tension and confusion, what is it about performing that COVID will never destroy for you?
The joy, the electricity that I feel when I’m on stage, on set, on a Zoom call with my scene partner. It doesn’t matter if we are inside, if we’re connected in some way, I’m feeling it. It’s been like that for me since the first time I was on stage as a child as Eeyore.
As a respectful acknowledgment to ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton here are the ten questions he used to ask his guests:
What is your favourite word?
What is your least favourite word?
Ooooo – I had an answer before but I’m not going to say that answer. Thanks, Nigel (Shawn Williams)…Ok, my least favourite word…’can’t’
What turns you on?
What turns you off?
What sound or noise do you love?
Djembe drumming – follow Blvckfest on Instagram
What sound or noise bothers you?
What is your favourite curse word?
Motherfucker – it’s a noun: person, place or thing.
What is your least favourite curse word?
Oooooo… the ‘n’ word
Other than your own, what other career profession could you see yourself doing?
Artist, activator, and activist, and that’s about it.
What career choice could you not see yourself doing?
The military. I always say that’s the best role I ever played.
If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates?
“What took you so long? Hurry up! I’m tired of your Grandma Shirley kicking my ass at Scrabble and dominoes. She’s ready for you.” Yeah! That’s it.
https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/the-negroes-are-congregating-zoom-reading-tickets-112565955804 Chris also wants audiences to be aware how artists are to be paid across the board which is one of the tenets of BLVCKFEST. BLVCKFEST is an opportunity to change all this and to put money into artists’ pockets.