Actress and jazz singer Gabi Epstein is certainly appreciative of the many opportunities she has had in her twenty-year career
Just like her brother, Jake, whom I saw in his one-man show ‘Boy Falls from Sky’ at the Royal Alexandra last year, Gabi is just as humble as he is.
I saw her perform as Audrey in ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ at the Stratford Festival. I also had the chance to see her perform as part of a tremendous ensemble of artists at London, Ontario’s Grand Theatre, and the production of a heart-warming ‘Home for the Holidays’ which put me in the Christmas spirit.
Just recently Gabi played the office spy Roz in a fantastic ‘9 to 5: The Musical’ at Port Hope’s Capitol Theatre. She’s off now to be part of Barrie Ontario’s Talk is Free Theatre’s ‘Giants in the Sky’ two-week festival this month.
What is ‘Giants in the Sky’ apart from a song title in Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Into the Woods’?
According to Talk is Free Theatre’s website: “Over September 9-11, 2022, and September 16-18, 2022, culture, music, and theatrical performance are bringing rooftops, balconies, and fire escapes of the city of Barrie, Ontario to life, and it’s all free.”
Growing up, Gabi attended The Claude Watson Program in elementary and high school at Earl Haig as a vocal major but also had an interest in the drama program. She then decided to pursue her studies in Music at McGill University and loved living in the city. She holds a Bachelor of Music. At that time, she had put so much work into her music studies that she decided to specialize in that one area and be an expert.
When she returned from Montreal after obtaining her degree, she said she was already a few steps ahead. Gabi went into music knowing she wanted to do theatre. After school, she took some scene study acting classes, but did not attend theatre school nor have any formal acting training through a theatre program. She started auditioning right away and working about one-two years after her graduation. She learned about theatre on the job through osmosis, watching other actors, and very happily stated: “I thrive in rehearsal because that’s my training.”
What a great way to learn about the industry.
There’s that little thing called Covid still out there that the live performing arts scene and industry must still consider. When Covid hit, like all the artists I’ve spoken to, Gabi had some time to think and reflect about who she was if she wasn’t a performing artist.
So, what did she do?
She started self-producing everything from her own cabaret evenings to full productions of shows. Her friend, artist Sara Farb and Gabi self-produced a show called ‘Edges’ that they performed themselves that ended up being a co-production with The Musical Stage Company (but at that time called ACTING UP). Gabi also teaches singing.
If there was a time when there wasn’t a period of work for Gabi (as there wasn’t for many artists during the pandemic) she made work for herself. Over the pandemic, she said she had a newfound confidence that was tested in trying to make a profitable time for herself while continuing to be an artist. She and her husband ventured into online performances and started a company called ‘The New Local’ where they paired up with local restaurants and did a virtual dinner and show which kept them inspired.
How does Gabi see her place in a five-year trajectory of the Canadian artist moving forward slowly?
Whatever that trajectory may be going forward as we all deal with Covid, Gabi says whatever path she takes she will be performing for as long as she can in whatever she can to keep herself open. The reason why she has stayed in this industry is that she has learned to enjoy not really knowing what’s going to happen Whether it be through recording audiobooks, some administration, or teaching singing lessons – she’ll keep herself open. Being in the industry professionally for over twenty years is not a very long time, but long enough to know all of the different opportunities that are presented to her.
What drew Gabi to Talk is Free’s Theatre Festival celebration of ‘Giants in the Sky’ where audiences can look up and there are going to be performances on rooftops in Downtown Barrie. It’s a boundary-pushing extension of the immersive theatre that both Arkady and Talk is Free do so well by expecting theatre in different ways.
Gabi and Arkady Spivak have known each other for many, many years. She finally confided it has been 15 years of involvement with Talk is Free although she was hesitant to state how many years. Her second professional show was performing in ‘Bye, Bye Birdie’ with Talk is Free. Gabi smiled and told me this foray led to “a series of exciting and wild roles that I’ve played with them” and fondly recalled a five-person version of ‘Candide’ directed by Richard Ouzounian where she played a split track in playing Paquette and the old woman. She played the Beggar Woman in ‘Sweeney Todd’ in Toronto which was outstanding on so many levels. Gabi said she just can’t say No to Arkady because she is always inspired by what she called the “wild ideas that come out of Talk is Free and Arkady. The experiences are always going to be fun and will expand my repertoire just a little bit.”
Gabi’s set as part of ‘Giants in the Sky’ is called ‘Broadway Broads’ where she will sing the great songs by women of Broadway – everything from ‘Cabaret’ to ‘Funny Girl’ to ‘Wicked’ and ‘Waitress’. She says: “I’m not quite a Broadway broad, yet. I’ve still a few years ago to be put into that ‘broad’ category but these are songs by women who have inspired me over the years.”
Where does she see herself in that proverbial five-year plan we’ve all had ingrained in our minds? It’s continuing to be open to new opportunities and to learn. She loves not knowing what’s going to happen and for Gabi, that’s what’s exciting about this industry and what keeps her on her toes. It’s not helpful to set goals by the number of roles you’d like to play. She feels lucky that she has had the chance to play a couple of dream roles; however, she’s also aware that if it happens, it happens AND if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.
As we concluded our conversation, I asked Gabi what the one piece of advice is she would give her vocal music students who want to enter the business as she did:
“If you are lucky enough to find the thing that makes you unique and different from everyone else, just focus all your energy on that because that is the one thing no one will be able to do but you…It takes time to figure it out and it’s tough to discover what makes you unique.”
And what’s next for her once ‘Giants in the Sky’ finishes its September festival run?
It has been an extremely busy year for her from ‘Home for the Holidays’ at London’s Grand Theatre last Christmas to just finishing up ‘9 to 5: The Musical’. She now calls this: “an exciting fall/winter where she will be doing several things. Gabi spoke about workshopping a couple of new musicals in which she is involved. She’s recording another audiobook and will have an album release concert in October and several concerts throughout the upcoming months. She will also be completing some educational outreach through Talk is Free.
What she is most proud of at this time is being at home in her own house with her husband where they just celebrated their third-year wedding anniversary.
To learn more about ‘Giants in the Sky’, visit www.tift.ca.