A year ago, I had reviewed an outstanding production of what many in Toronto were calling ‘not to be missed’.
Toronto’s Crows Theatre had staged Annie Baker’s ‘The Flick’ terrifically directed by Mitchell Cushman. I had never seen this production, but word on the street and from what I had researched online indicated this play was something that would be remembered for a long time.
And to this day, I can still recall that specific production, that awesome set design, and the three powerhouse performers who literally took my breath away as I watched with keen fascination. One of those dynamos on stage for his debut professional performance was Durae McFarlane, and he is one we should all keep an eye on when it is safe to return to the theatre. Mr. McFarlane’s performance was stellar.
Durae is an actor and writer originally from Mississauga, Ontario. He is a recent graduate of the University of Windsor’s BFA Program and also trained with Canada’s National Voice Intensive.
We conducted our interview via email. Thank you for the conversation, Durae:
It has been an exceptionally long seven months since we’ve all been in isolation, and now it appears 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?
To be honest it is what I expected. There were always talks about a second wave and so the numbers raising is not surprising. What is a bit surprising is the way it is being handled by the government (at least in Ontario where I am). It is less than ideal. There was also a part of me that was holding on for some sort of miracle that things would continue to get better and that life would somehow resemble what it used to be in some ways, but that is more idealistic than anything.
I think this is going to be our new way of living for a long time. Wearing masks, always washing our hands (which should have always been a thing), and social distancing. Now if we will ever not have to do these things, I’m not sure.
I think at the beginning of the pandemic, I just thought that we just need a vaccine and then things will resume how they use to be. But, I don’t believe that anymore. I’m not super informed about what the release of the vaccine would look like, but after witnessing how many people are against even wearing a mask, I’m sure there will be a group of people who will be against getting a vaccine altogether. And I’m sure that will make things complicated.
How have you been faring? How has your immediate family been doing during these last seven months?
I’m been doing okay all things considering. I really spend a lot of the first couple of weeks watching tv shows and movies and distracting myself from what was happening because it was just too much information and stimulus all the time. I also stopped going on social media and listening to the news for a bit, which was new for me (not constantly going on my phone to go on Facebook or Instagram). And now I limit the amount of time I spend on social media.
My family is doing good. I was staying with my grandmother when the pandemic first started, and she is doing good. She wasn’t really stressed or anything but was cautious and was always updated with what was going on, which was the complete opposite of what I was doing. So, if I wanted to know something, I would just talk to her about it. My mom works in a nursing home, so it was stressful for a bit, but she has thankfully been safe and everyone else has been working from home.
As an artist within the performing arts community, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally?
The most challenging thing for me at the start of the pandemic, was that I was feeling really great after coming out of The Flick and, as that was my debut, I was really looking forward to capitalizing on that. But then I couldn’t audition for any theatre things. But I think people will remember things and roles that had an impact on them, and I think I will be okay.
Personally, I really hated not having something to do, or something to work on. I’m someone who is always looking for a way to continue to grow and get better both as a person and as an artist. So, having so much time and not knowing what to do with it was challenging. There was the possibility of doing online things, but I also couldn’t afford to do a lot of the things I wanted to do. But then I found myself writing a lot which was something that I have been interested in but wasn’t necessarily my focus.
But that’s kind of all I’ve been doing is writing and every couple of weeks it’s like there’s a new idea for a play or screenplay that comes to me. Way more ideas than I’m capable of writing.
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 wasn’t in preparations or rehearsal for anything, I was just working a part time job in the food industry, so I was kind of grateful at the time for things to close because I was staying with my grandmother and I was very concerned about continuing to work while it started to seem more and more unsafe to do so.
What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time?
A couple of friends and I started this sort of web series back in the middle of March just as a way to stay creative, have some fun, and just have something to do. But that took a pause in June. And as we all started to go back to work, we haven’t continued it and don’t know if it will continue, but it was a good thing for me to do at the time.
I also started meditating which has been such a great practice for me to start. It has really helped me feel less anxious in my day to day life and helped to bring awareness to my habitual thinking patterns and allowed me to tune in to what isn’t helpful to me. I’ve also been reading a lot and writing.
I’m part of the Cahoots Theatre’s Hot House Lift Off Unit where I’m with a bunch of incredible artists as we all are writing our own plays. We’ve been meeting on Zoom pretty much since the beginning of the pandemic, and it’s been wonderful to have that space to chat with them all about all things theatre.
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 theatres and studios might be closed for 1 ½ - 2 years?
Being such a new artist to this industry myself, I don’t think I’m in any position to give any advice to anyone, but I would just say to find the joy in whatever it is you’re doing. I think the world can seem very dark, so it’s important to find purposeful moments of joy when you can.
Do you see anything positive stemming from Covid 19?
Yes. I think because everyone was home and not doing much, it allowed certain people who maybe have not paid attention to issues of racial justice to really start listening once the murder of George Floyd was all over social media and the details of the murder of Breonna Taylor started to circulate the internet as well. It caused people to mobilize and fight the systems in place that are hurting BIPOC in a way that I haven’t seen happen before.
I think being stuck at home forced people to really have to reflect about who they think they are vs who they actually are and made some of those people go “oh maybe I’m not doing things I need to be doing to align my idea of myself with the actions I take.” And I hope that now that a lot more people are back to work, it doesn’t also mean they go back to their old habits of not really caring or doing anything about these issues.
It also allowed BIPOC people to feel more empowered to speak up and not let things slide by. I think we’ve been hearing people speak that haven’t simply been given the platform or space to speak about the issues they're facing and what people can do to help change things. I think I’m seeing a lot more space be given to those voices and that’s been something long overdue, but great to see.
Do you think Covid 19 will have some lasting impact on the Toronto/Canadian/North American performing arts scene?
I hope with the sort of wake up with the racial inequities of the world, theatre will be more conscious of what it means to be an equitable space for all people. It really goes beyond just saying a bunch of nice things but implementing things in how they run their theatre companies and who makes up theatre companies.
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 if it works for the artist, do it! If it helps them stay enriched in some way, absolutely go for it. It’s something that I did for a little while and it definitely helped me feel more connected to other people and performing. I think at least for now, theatres have to utilize it in some ways. Some theatres have been. Sometimes I think it works great and sometimes I think it doesn’t, but it’s definitely new territory that places are learning to navigate and it’s not always going to be perfect and that’s okay.
Despite all this fraught tension and confusion, what is it about performing that Covid will never destroy for you?
Covid could never destroy the need for stories. During this time a lot of people turned to their computers/TVs to watch shows or movies or listen to music or read books. The need for stories will always be present to either distract people from their current situation for a little while or to illuminate something about themselves or the world. I think the need for stories will always be present and thus the need for storytellers. The way in which we tell stories and the medium we use may change and adapt but there will always be a need to
Visit Durae’s Instagram: @duraemcfarlane