"The Theatre is a soul-filling act"
A 2015 Toronto Metropolitan University theatre graduate, actor Dan Mousseau is preparing with a big-name cast for the premiere of The Howland Company’s ‘Prodigal’ written and directed by Paolo Santalucia, produced in association with Crow's Theatre. The production opens on Friday, February 24 at Toronto’s Crow’s Theatre.
I’ve also seen some of Dan’s other theatrical work this season. He appeared in ‘A Christmas Carol’ at Campbell House in December 2022 and in ‘Three Sisters’ at Hart House in November 2022. Some of his other work includes the upcoming ‘The Seagull’ for Soulpepper. Other productions at Soulpepper: It’s a Wonderful Life (2016), Innocence Lost (2018) Other Theatre: Perfect Wedding (Thousand Island’s) Film/TV: Frankie Drake Mysteries, Workin’ Moms (CBC), and Tempted By Danger (Lifetime).
About a year after completing his theatre degree, Dan attended the Soulpepper Academy to complete their two-year training program.
“The learning is ongoing”, he candidly stated. “It always is whether you’re in a workshop to help develop a play, develop your own work, or even attend an acting class. I don’t think it ever really stops. It’s a cool career because you’re always growing when it comes to the challenges an actor can do.”
Dan is thrilled to be back to performing in the live theatre even though Covid’s embrace still tightly enwraps the community. During the pandemic, he found it extremely hard to take a step away as he missed what he called the ‘ritualistic’ bonds of connecting with other cast members and ultimately an audience in front who have come to hear and watch a story unfold.
Mousseau calls the theatre ‘a soul-filling act’ (and he doesn’t consider himself religious). He’s feeling hopeful in watching the theatre community return with such renewed energy and a real hunger for people wanting to come back to what it was before. He acknowledges it is a tenuous time for the theatre as there is the business end of it. Audience numbers are starting to climb back up cautiously.
However, there’s a cathartic feeling about being back for Dan. He likens it to a mental health practice as he feels everyone who attends and participates in the theatre needs some kind of release from the strongly felt pandemic restraints. Although there are still cautions in most of the houses where audience members are strongly encouraged to wear masks (and some companies stating masks will be worn), PRODIGAL will have Mask Mandated performances on Tuesdays and Sundays.
Our conversation then swung around to the rehearsal process and preparation for ‘Prodigal’.
“Rehearsals are going so, so very well. I don’t know why I’m so very superstitious (and Dan knocks on the table). It has been such a trip.”
This is the first new play Dan has ever worked on, especially with Paolo as writer and director who Mousseau firmly stated: “has been amazing.” Mousseau has been in awe of Paolo’s endurance for rehearsals, re-writes, and cuts as he has established clear guideposts regarding the story of ‘Prodigal’:
“We’re in really good shape at this point. Paolo has made things feel so tremendously collaborative. I’m very proud of my friend. He’s a creative rocket ship. I'm in the most talented cast. I'm so honoured to be working among these actors. And it's their bravery and work that has made this collaborative spirit of rehearsals so fruitful."
With a cheeky grin and laugh, Mousseau said Paolo better keep hiring him for future gigs:
“I’ll hitch my wagon to his cart if he’ll have me.”
‘Prodigal ‘follows the return home of Edmund Clark (Mousseau), the open-wound eldest son who has been estranged from his family for the last five years. Edmund makes a surprise homecoming with a new acquaintance and everything gets turned upside down. Without giving away too much of the plot, Mousseau added the story centres around this very wealthy, privileged Canadian family with many pivotal turning points in their trajectory. An engagement party night for one of their sons takes place quickly gets thrown off the rails.
Another family is also involved. Mousseau says there’s a microcosm of the interplay of privilege, forgiveness, and (mis)communication that plays into the broader context of the Clark family that just can’t connect, can’t talk as they are so distant. Dan says there’s a great deal of yearning and pain in this distance between the family members in their inability to see each other for the cost of privilege and also those who don’t have that sort of privilege.
“It’s funny as tragedy is,” Dan said with a smile. “Audiences will be laughing one moment and possibly wiping away a tear in the next.”
For Dan, ‘Prodigal’ is such an important play for audiences to see. What’s really important about this play is twofold for him. There’s an important and meaningful conversation for him about the intersectionality between the experience of a queer person in privilege and the reckoning of how society has been built:
“The more we talk about it, the more we see these experiences on stage, the less mystery, the less ignorance, and the less fear there will be. There is also the reality that people have very different experiences. Even two people who identify as queer are going to have two different experiences depending on the context of their lives and their families.”
As an actor, what are some of the messages Dan hopes audiences will take away with them at the end of ‘Prodigal’?
He first jokingly said: “Go to therapy” and we shared a good laugh over that comment.
For Mousseau, ‘Prodigal’ is the story of a family but also the cost of parenting and the ways unchecked trauma can move through a family and affect the community. He would love audiences to think about their relationships with each other in their families and themselves in light of some very difficult questions demanded of us in these last few years as a result of the pandemic.
Dan’s final comment – he hoped audiences would walk away from the theatre and consider there’s more to life than the next paycheque. There are more important things in life than just having a beautiful home. When one lets these things fall to the wayside, there is a cost. ‘Prodigal’ is a story of meeting each other and seeing each other as a community and in community in order to heal.
Performances of ‘Prodigal’ begin February 21 and run until March 12 in the Guloien Theatre at Crow’s Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto. For tickets: crowstheatre.com or call the Box Office at (647) 341-7390 ex. 1010.