Self Isolated Artist
Over the years while working as a full-time teacher, I’ve travelled to Montreal to visit relatives and friends in the summer, (et parler francais aussi). I’ve only attended The Centaur Theatre sadly just once as the theatre was usually closed for July and August. Since I’ve been reviewing for On Stage Blog, I made it a point to get in touch with The Centaur again as I was receiving word there was ‘good stuff’ going on, and I wanted to check it out since my retirement from teaching.
I must credit a lot of the ‘good stuff’ going on for the last two seasons to Artistic Director, Eda Holmes, and her vision for the theatre.
From 2010-2017, Ms. Holmes was Artistic Director of Ontario’s Shaw Festival. Her curriculum vitae reveals extensive professional experience she has had across Canada. Her training at rather prestigious ballet schools in New York City, San Francisco and Houston, Texas plus her training at Montreal’s National Theatre School in Directing are quite impressive. When I attended opening night productions to review the last two seasons, Ms. Holmes eloquently opened each performance with a warm welcome to guests and patrons. I thought to myself here was a lady who genuinely cared about The Centaur and wants it to be a leading spot for theatrical creativity.
During this pandemic lockdown, Ms. Holmes still wanted to ensure audiences and patrons do not lose sight of the artistic and creative force of The Centaur. There are Saturday Salons where guests can listen to individual discussions. On Saturday May 23, the Salon features Playwright’s Workshop Montreal with Emma Tibaldo and Jesse Stong about our Queer Reading Series. On May 30, Eda’s guest will be Centaur’s former Artistic and Executive Director, Roy Surette. Roy is now Touchstone Theatre’s Artistic Director in Vancouver. We’re all looking forward for Eda and Roy to talk about their love for Centaur. The last Saturday Salon will be held June 6 with Imago Theatre’s Artistic and Executive Director Micheline Chevrier. Montreal’s Imago Theatre is a catalyst for conversation, an advocate for equal representation and a hub for stories about unstoppable women.
Ms. Holmes and I conducted our interview via email:
1. How have you been doing during this period of isolation and quarantine? Is your family doing well?
I feel really fortunate that I am home and well with my husband Tim Southam. Even though Montreal is a real hotspot of the pandemic we are lucky to live near the mountain where we can be out in nature a bit without having to go very far. For the first two weeks of the whole thing Tim had just returned from LA so he had to self-isolate and I was in Niagara-on-the-lake where we were supposed to start rehearsals for The Devil’s Disciple - which we ended up doing entirely via Zoom. I was able to come back to Montreal after 2 weeks and that felt really good. Now if it would just get a bit warmer outside, I would feel really hopeful!
2. I know that ‘Fences’ was shut down at The Centaur when the pandemic was declared, and everything began to be locked tightly. How long was the production in rehearsal? How far was it from premiere? Will ‘Fences’ become part of any future slate at Centaur?
Fences was supposed to start rehearsals 3 days after we closed the theatre on March 13th. At that point, the set was built and waiting in the theatre to be set up on the stage, the costume and set designer Rachel Forbes was in town and the costumes were just getting started. We had a video shoot planned for the first day of rehearsal as well to create a trailer for the show and the posters had just started going up inside and outside of the building. Since we didn’t really know the scope or scale of the situation yet, we decided together with our co-producers at Black Theatre Workshop to delay the start of rehearsals for one month in the hopes that things would calm down enough to make it possible to do the show a month later - how naive we were!
By the end of March it was clear that nothing that involved people gathering was going to be possible for quite a while so we paid the creative team and the actors their cancellation fees and postponed the show indefinitely. Quincy Armorer the AD at Black Theatre Workshop (who was also going to play Troy Maxson in the production) and I committed to finding a way to make the production happen with this cast and creative team in the future even if it meant waiting 2 years. It was initially sort of stunning but eventually the numbness gave way to real sadness.
3. What has been the most challenging part of the isolation and quarantine for you personally and professionally?
I think that the two most challenging things have been 1) trying to figure out how best to support the artists and core staff at Centaur as we navigate the upheaval of cancelling shows and finding ways to be authentically “online” in the short term, and 2) the fact that I did not get to have any creative time with all the artists that I was looking forward to being in a room with working on my show at Shaw. That said, the thing that has gotten me through has been the people both at Centaur and at Shaw - everyone has been so inspiring and supportive of one another it confirms that the theatre is the best family in the world.
4. What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time of lockdown?
Every day feels like a week and every week feels like a year. For me the thing that is kind of surreal is the fact that even though everything has supposedly stopped, nothing seems to have stopped for me.
I was rehearsing with the Shaw actors until May 10th by Zoom and at Centaur I have been planning and replanning how to keep the theatre creatively alive while we wait to see what is possible - something that changes almost hourly. I am hoping that it will all calm down soon and I will be able to at least read a bit, listen to music and spend some quiet time thinking, cooking and watching the Spring come alive. I might even dance a bit!
5. What advice would you give to other performing artists who are concerned about the impact of COVID-19? What words of advice would you give to the new graduates emerging from the National Theatre School?
Even though no one knows how long this extraordinary situation (where we are not able to gather in public) will last - I know that it won’t last forever and when it is over the need to share our stories and make each other laugh and sing and think will be immense. The thing that has been most impressive has been the way all the artists I know have simply taken what is in front of them in this crisis and looked to make something of it. It might be bread for everyone they know, it might be a new song or a series of photographs or paintings or it might even be a commitment to get back to the basics of their own lives without the crazy race that a life in the arts usually entails, but every one of them seems to be saying “What is in front of me right this minute and what can I do with it.” So I guess my advice is the same as I would give an actor in a play - be in the moment and listen - that is the only way that I know to bring the full force of your own ability to the table with real authenticity.
6. Do you see anything positive coming out of this pandemic?
I can only speak for myself on this one but I know that this crazy time has reminded me that you have to work with what you have and not lament what you don’t if you want to find a creative way forward. We can’t try to remake the world in its old image once this over - that would be a tragic waste of the immense toll the pandemic has taken.
Never before, in my lifetime at least, has there been a single event that has impacted people around the world the way this virus has. We can’t help but be affected by that. It may not all be positive - we are human after all - but it will change all of us and hopefully it will give us the courage to make choices politically and collectively that will provide a better future than the one we were heading toward before we were all sent home.
7. Do you believe or can you see if the Quebec and Canadian performing arts scene will somehow be changed or impacted as a result of COVID – 19?
It can’t help but be changed in both good ways and sad ways. I know that some companies will find it hard to survive or certain projects which were absolutely perfect before this crisis may fall away because the world will be so different afterward they are no longer as relevant.
But the performing arts in Canada in general and Quebec in particular is full of intensely driven creative people who will be pushing at the gate to come forward and take on the new world and wrestle with what it all means. And the fact that Canada as a nation provides real effective public support for the arts at every level of government means that we have the best chance of coming out of this crisis ready to work.
8. Many artists are turning to streaming/online performances to showcase/highlight/share their work. What are your thoughts and comments about this? Are there any advantages or disadvantages? Will streaming/online/ You Tube performances be part of a ‘new normal’ for the live theatre/performing arts scene?
The thing that we all crave in the performing arts is the experience of being personally in the room with something extraordinary - a brilliant performance or a perfectly cast audience that hangs on every word or note or step with the performers. It happens in real time with each person on either side of the footlights making a million choices in 3-dimensional real time together. The online world cannot reproduce that real time impact we have on each other in the room. Also we are all very sophisticated consumers of recorded media which at its best is the result of a very selective creative process that results in an intensely edited 2 dimensional final product.
So I think that the theatre needs time to find authentic ways to create for an online platform - simply filming performances and broadcasting them will only work some of the time and only when the performance lends itself in some way to that selective edited final product. Painters have been playing with the surface of the canvas and all artists toy with the desire for or avoidance of verisimilitude all the time. It has always led the arts to innovate. I am sure that will happen during this period while we are not able to be in a room together - but it will never replace being in the room together.
9. As the Centaur’s Artistic Director, where do you see the future of Centaur headed as a result of this life changing event for all of us?
I want to see Centaur continue down the path we were building toward becoming the theatre for all Montrealers. This city has changed so much in the past 10 years. The old notion of two solitudes is being dissolved by a young generation of artists who speak at least 2 languages, come from a variety of backgrounds and who have a wide range of influences. It makes the work that comes from here completely unique and I want to put Centaur at the centre of that creative energy and offer our audience the highest quality and most relevant theatre in the world - as soon as we can make theatre again!
As a nod to ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton, here are the 10 questions he asked his guests at the conclusion of his interviews:
1. What is your favourite word?
2. What is your least favourite word?
3. What turns you on?
4. What turns you off?
5. What sound or noise do you love?
A purring cat
6. What sound or noise bothers you?
Music at the wrong volume.
7. What is your favourite curse word?
It is unrepeatable.
8. What profession, other than your own, would you have liked to attempt?
9. What profession would you not like to do?
10. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates?
To read and learn more about Montreal’s Centaur Theatre, visit www.centaurtheatre.com.