It was nice to chat with Jilly Hanson over Zoom this afternoon.
Like many of the artists to whom I’ve spoken, the pandemic and its aftermath sent her into a tailspin; however, she is slowly emerging and doing her best as we all are.
Just hearing some of the things she would like to accomplish in her career made me think she is going to be one busy lady. You’ll see from some of her answers just how committed she is. I admire her tenacity to pursue these goals.
Jilly is also playing the title role in ‘Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” through Theatre New Brunswick. I’ve included information at the conclusion of her profile.
Thank you so much for taking the time, Jilly:
Could you share the names of one teacher and one mentor for whom you are thankful.
A teacher I had in high school, Will Davidson, was my Music teacher and Band Director for all four years of high school. He was really super supportive; the last little bit of high school I was going through a lot of personal stuff, and Will was really understanding. Will is probably one of the only people outside of my immediate family who actually was asking me how I was doing and was interested. That always meant a lot to me. Will was really supportive with me pursuing theatre and the arts for my career. I did my Co-op placement with his class in Grade 12 because I wanted to spend a lot of time absorbing his energy and attitude.
For a mentor, I don’t know if she knows this but I call her my mentor – a professor I had when I went to St. Thomas University, in Fredericton. She was the head of the Drama Department - Ilkay Silk. She is a fantastic human being. She was also really supportive. I didn’t audition for Theatre St. Thomas my first year, but I did second year. We produced Caryl Churchill’s ‘Top Girls’, an intense show. Ilkay took a chance on me and saw something in me, I guess. I had her as a teacher in my third year for a Drama Production class. In my fourth year, I auditioned for a number of schools across America at one time for theatre/performing arts. I was really nervous but she helped me choose monologues and helped workshop them with me.
I’m trying to think positively that we have, fingers crossed, moved forward in dealing with Covid. How have you been able to move forward from these last 18 months on a personal level? How have you been changed or transformed on a personal level?
Hmmm…it hasn’t always been sunshine and daisies for sure especially in the beginning of things.
There were some really dark moments in my brain. It was around early April and there was a televised announcement with the Premier and the Chief Medical Officer in New Brunswick where they announced no more events for the rest of 2020. I thought well there goes my job and any chance of continuing as a performer was really hard to accept as it was just taken away from me.
I did get a chance to sit with myself. Sometimes that wasn’t easy to do but I’ve grown to know myself better as a person and how I navigate the world and what is important to me and what I didn’t need. I’m sure I’m not the only person who felt these dark moments and realizations of the last year and a half.
I turned 29 during the pandemic and I also moved back home. I was living in my high school bedroom that I had stayed at for just a short time in the move between finishing theatre school and moving to Toronto. Not that I didn’t enjoy being at home, but I was thinking that I’m almost 30 and still living at home and was having a retrospective of how far I’ve come, where I want to go and what I value.
The world was changing on a dime so there was a lot of self reflection and self learning about other people, other cultures.
As cheesy and cliched as it sounds, it really was a learning opportunity for me.
No more pandemics ever again. No!!!
I’m very grateful for the technology we had during the pandemic for meetings and read news reports and what’s going on socially.
How have these last eighteen months of the pandemic changed or transformed you as an artist professionally?
The personal and the professional side go hand in hand for me. It was really hard because I was going down this terrible line spiral of “Oh, I’m never going to perform again, there will be not theatre.”
I felt as if I had wasted how many years of studying something that I’m never going to be able to do ever again which obviously was very dramatic of me to think about now (and Jilly has a good laugh about it).
I really came to realize how much theatre and acting mean to me. I said this to a couple of people and it does sound very, very dramatic but I felt as if I had lost somebody; there was this emptiness within my person at the thought of not being able to perform or be on stage again. I had always known that I wanted to be an actor and this is something I’ve always wanted to do, but I guess I hadn’t realized how much it had meant to me.
This is probably the biggest discovery I’ve made about myself. This is what I want to do. This is my life. This means so much. I’ve put so much of myself into studying, learning and performing. It is who I am and not having that opportunity to do it has made me think of “Who am I and what am I supposed to do?”
At the same time, once the libraries were able to be open again, I was able to consume texts and books. We don’t have a huge selection of plays here in New Brunswick in the library, but I was reading a lot and watching movies cementing that this is what I want to do. This is what I love.
I also tried writing out scripts through play writing because why not? I have the time.
What I want to do in a few years time is to start a theatre company in my hometown so I was able to sit with that thought and consider what to do and how, as a producer, do I begin that and where do I want to start. What are the practical aspects to starting and planning out my future.
In your professional opinion, how do you see the global landscape of professional theatre changing, adapting, and morphing as a result of these last 18 months?
Definitely accessibility for sure.
Being able to live stream productions for people who aren’t able to be there in person. Yes, streaming isn’t the same as being in the theatre but at least there is that option for friends and family of artists to watch.
And yes, there were professional performances being streamed from all over the world from The Globe in London, England, the National in England. We wouldn’t get a chance to see these productions in North America. There were operas too. Professional theatre companies were letting the masses see these productions and it was explosive.
Streaming did allow for some artists to be paid. It also allowed some to try watching live theatre for the first time (even though it’s not really live since there is no communal gathering).
I understand where some artists are coming from when they say streamed theatre is not live theatre. As an actor myself, I would prefer to be in person in a communal gathering in a room. Zoom plays do allow us to work with people from all over the world, yes, but it’s definitely it’s not the same as being able to react off your scene partner or to hear responses from the audience. When you’re hearing a Zoom play, you can’t hear any reaction from the audience members.
What intrigues Jilly Hanson post Covid?
Personally, I am really antsy to travel – my best friend lives in England, and I haven’t been able to visit her over there since she moved in 2013. Travel is definitely at the top of my list of things that I’m interested in doing.
I started a little at home baking company last September while I was unemployed to help myself battle the COVID uselessness feeling I was going through. I love to bake and I love sharing my baking with others. One day, I would like to open up a café in my hometown that is also a space for artists and starting this little company felt like a right step in that direction so I’m interested in seeing where that goes. If I’m able to continue doing it in the New Year, or if it’s just a sporadic thing I do on my down time.
And I’m also really itching to read more plays and consume more new works from Canadian playwrights since that’s something I haven’t done a lot of.
As an artist, the fact we’re now allowed to be in rooms together. In October 2020, I was part of Theatre New Brunswick’s online play reading festival which was great but so weird because I’ve never been performing on my computer with people who were in a different time zone than me. It was a great experience and I was glad I was able to have that opportunity, but I’m intrigued now to be back in a room playing off another actor or new actor seeing what works, what doesn’t… the whole process of coming together live.
What frustrates Jilly Hanson post Covid?
Personally, it’s the sheer selfishness and ignorance that have been praised as truth and this weird mindset of individual versus community. I know there is a right of personal opinion but when it gets to a point of where you’re putting other people’s lives in danger, your personal opinion doesn’t really matter. You need to be thinking about the community, the group and not yourself at this point.
As an artist, it’s the same. That’s not to say that actors are the best people but there might or could be artists out there who don’t believe in vaccines.
I’m worried that we did have this huge break as actors. I’m concerned that vastly produced theatre coming out of Covid may or might now produce quality material or it might focus too much on Covid. I’m super glad we’re back in the theatre but I’m hoping that the quality of theatre will not be affected in any way. Yes, we’re taking the time to do the work but we also need to continue to take the time to check in on people as we emerge from the pandemic. The effects of this grand pause are going to be felt for a long time. It’s not going to go away so easily.
Since you are playing the lead, how are rehearsals going for “Miss Bennet – Christmas at Pemberton”? What message do you hope audiences will take away from the production?
The directing and stage management team have been stellar through all the rehearsal process: Ryan G. Hinds as Director, Alex Rioux as Assistant Director, Judy Joe Scheffler as Stage Manager and Patricia Vinluan as Assistant Stage Manager have created a very safe space to try things out and make choices without any judgement or fear.
In early days, Ryan said we’re all rusty on account of this last year and a half so let’s be gentle with ourselves and take things one step at a time. We don’t want to rush into things as we want to make sure we’re doing them right. At this point in the process, Ryan and the team have created a family for us so we have a chill, relaxed environment. I believe the play has been well cast.
Everyone has been quite shocked. We have the entire show blocked and done an entire stumble through. We’re also starting Week 3. We feel things are going really well but we’re feeling as if should we be this far….again it’s a different feeling right now.
We open December 9 in Fredericton, close on the 11th and turn around to drive to St. John on the 12th and do a show in the evening of the 12. I think we have a school performance the next day. It’s creeping up.
The message of the production…hmmm….okay, Ryan likes to check in on us everyday and leaves us with a question. The question asked – “In a word or two, what do you think the word of ‘Miss Bennet’ is?”
I said, “True, because I think at the heart of this play everybody is encouraged to be true to themselves.” Each of the characters goes through an arc of being who they think people want them to be, but they come to terms with who they are without any added pressures. Everyone gets to be their true selves.
Coming out of a pandemic, this truth from ‘Miss Bennet’ seems appropriate for an audience.
Try to answer these in a single sentence. If you need more than one sentence, that’s not a problem. I credit the late James Lipton and “Inside the Actors’ Studio’ for this idea:
If you could say one thing to one of your mentors and teachers who encouraged you to get to this point as an artist, what would it be?
If you could say something to any of the naysayers in your career who didn’t think you would make it as an artist, what would that be?
“Thank you for giving me the wherewithal to prove you wrong.”
What’s your favourite swear word?
What is a word you love to hear yourself say?
What is a word you don’t like to hear yourself say?
With whom would you like to have dinner and discuss the current state of the live Canadian performing arts scene?
Honestly, I’d like to have dinner with anybody in the arts to hear their thoughts and opinions as theirs will probably be different from mine. I like that.
What would you tell your younger personal self with the knowledge and wisdom life experience has now given you?
Don’t give up hope.
With the professional life experience you’ve gained, what would you now tell the upcoming Jilly Hanson from years ago who was just in the throes of beginning a career as a performing artist?
It’s not going to be easy and it’s not maybe going to look how you think it’s going to look, but it will happen.
What is one thing you still wish to accomplish both personally and professionally?
Personally, a difference. I want to make a difference. I want to be able to help create change. I want to be able to help inspire people. I want to be able to be a resource. I want to be able to make a difference in people’s lives in my community outside of the theatre and just do my part.
When all is said and done, I can look back on my life and say, “I was a good partner. I was a good person. I can put a stamp on what my life was, and people can take whatever I leave behind and continue it on.”
Professionally, I would really like to have my own theatre company in my hometown where I’m able to produce and act, do both. I’d like to have a theatre company where I employ both Equity and community actors.
Name one moment in your professional career that you wish you could re-visit again for a short while.
Hmmm…a couple of friends and I started a theatre company in Toronto. We did a production of ‘The Crucible’ and it was a really great learning experience both producing wise and acting wise. It was over too fast.
I’d like to do that one time and have another kick at the can.
What is one thing Jilly Hanson will never take for granted again post Covid?
Just acting in general and having the opportunity to work with other actors communally in the same room.
Would Jilly Hanson do it all again if given the same professional opportunities?
Just because my fellow cast members and I have been talking recently about no arts experiences in theatre school and all that jazz.
Not that I’ve been out of theatre school that long, it’s only been six years. I’ve been reflecting on things and went through a lot of stress ridden and anxiety ridden times. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done – mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally. All of the above.
But I am very glad that I got the opportunity to go to theatre school. I’m very grateful for the people I’ve met, the people I’ve worked with and the content I was able to do which I’ll probably not have the opportunity anywhere else to do.
In theatre school I’ve discovered who I was as a person and as an actor, but I would not go through the stress, the sleepless nights…. That was quite a bit.
To learn more about Theatre New Brunswick and/or to purchase tickets, visit www.tnb.nb.ca. You can also follow at Facebook: @theatrenewbrunswick.