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It took me many weeks online to get Stratford resident Jonathan Goad and pin him down for an interview. I was so pleased and grateful when he thanked me in an email for not giving up on him since his schedule was an extremely busy one when the pandemic hit, and life changed for all of us.
I’ve tremendous respect for Jonathan’s work at the Festival and remember his extraordinary performance as Atticus Finch in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ which left me in tears at the standing ovation. Jonathan also directed another personal favourite of mine at the Festival, Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’, whose message is still connected to our world today.
Jonathan also appeared on one of my favourite CBC shows ‘Republic of Doyle’ as Jake Doyle’s (Allan Hawco) wayward brother, Christian, who returns home.
It was also nice to learn that Jonathan attended Bowmanville High School and knows about the Durham Region and the fact his parents attended local community theatre productions in Durham.
We conducted our interview via Zoom. Thank you again, Jonathan, for taking time to chat with me as we all move forward in this pandemic:
It has been an exceptionally long eight months since the pandemic began, and now 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?
Well, I mean (and then there was a somewhat nervous laugh) I’d have to be half crazy to say that there’s anything about it that I like, ya know, in terms of disease and disease progress. I’m not entirely surprised and I don’t think anyone else is. We were warned of the second wave.
I think we did a pretty impressive job in Ontario in getting things essentially in a much better place in the summer but clearly this second wave is a doozy. What it requires of us is an even greater fortitude and bearing down and being brave and doing what we have to do, at best, mitigate and contain to the best of our abilities this virus.
To be succinct, it’s not good news but at the same time it’s also not necessarily unexpected. And what I’m hoping is that maybe around 1,000 we can start to see the precipice of this hill and get on the other side of this wave and maybe, somehow, stymie a third wave. I’m definitely an optimist about our prospects for ultimately beating this thing. I think science minds all over the world, despite not always being helped by some of the political bodies out there, some of the greatest minds are working on it because they all care about humanity.
I think humanity cares about the majority of humanity so that energy alone will ultimately prevail in this thing.
For awhile I was checking the numbers every day just out of my own fascination and to make good personal and community decisions and those for family as well. I wasn’t obsessive about it, but I was checking because I was trying to see how this thing was shaping up. Now I find I’m doing that less and what I’m checking on is vaccine progress and therapy progress, and just checking on how people are finding ways creatively to continue to live and feel like there is life. I’m more focused on these things.
It’s a weird way to use the term ‘happy medium’ but we’re probably not going to get a vaccine as quickly as they thought. I don’t think it’s going to be nearly as long as the initial prospects were when people were talking about a vaccine taking 5-10 years. Miracles are happening in the science field. Now, does that mean spring? Summer? Fall? 2022? I don’t really know, but I do feel we will get back to a new but utterly to a normal that won’t feel like we’ve had to cash in on everything we’ve believed in and savoured about life and freedom.
I’m always an optimist, almost a foolish optimist but not a naïve one as I believe it’s always worthwhile going now we’re going to fix this sooner than you think. With the right will and energy, miracles happen.
How have you been faring? How has your immediate family been doing during these last eight months?
All things considered, pretty good. We’re lucky we live in Stratford as it has been a little bit of a bubble in that we haven’t had the same sort of evidence of the disease in the community. That said, from what I’ve experienced, and I’ve been out in the community since this thing began, people take it quite seriously which is really good.
Generally speaking, people are pretty adherent to masks here in Stratford and care about each other in the community. There was a part of me that was concerned about impact on the kids because kids are antithetical to the nature of this virus. Kids beautifully embrace each other at close distances. Kids don’t wear masks literally and figuratively as they are open souls and so the idea of mask wearing and fearing the person standing across from you is antithetical to how kids embrace life, I think.
That said, kids are pretty cool and pragmatic and can find fun in anything if you help them. Kids have made a thing about being pretty smart in wearing masks, hand washing, social distancing and even about protecting one another. Kids care and that’s a really inspiring thing.
My own kids have been pretty good. They have moments where they quite rightly express they can’t have the birthday they wanted or that they can’t do this and that’s to be expected. For the most part, my kids and all the kids around them have been amazingly brave and got on with the business of living.
As an artist within the performing arts community, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally?
(Jonathan paused and thought a great deal before responding) I’m definitely a mid career artist and I’ve had a lot of great fortune. I’ve been utterly blessed in this profession. If anything, I haven’t felt sorry for myself. I don’t mean to say that like I have such nobility, as I’m just fine. I’ve mourned for the loss of some personal projects, maybe. More so I feel like I’m at a stage in my career that I’ve had an opportunity to do a lot of things. I’ve a lot more I like to do.
The hardest thing has been to watch other artists around me, some friends, and even just young artists I know simply through their work get stopped as they have. This immediate shutdown of our industry which was quick and severe can be difficult especially when you’re an artist that is just emerging, an artist that is about to do their first big part in a play. Some artists I was working with just landed their first contract and first season at the Stratford Festival in one of the musicals. That has been one of the hardest things to watch that.
Ultimately you can offer words as a balm but what you really can’t do is much about it at the moment. The reality is so evident. In the world of the theatre it’s impossible to deal with as there is no simple or easy fix for the situation. Theatre is more vulnerable to this particular thing than anything else. I’ve been on a film set a couple of times in this pandemic. There are big adjustments, it’s not perfect and even that industry is working at a quarter of what it was, but it is crawling back. It’s quite possible with the calculated risk in television and film is lower.
But theatre is the quintessential communal artistic endeavour. It thrives on its aliveness and certain forms of close proximity.
All that to say, the hardest thing is to think of friends, colleagues, and particularly young people on the crest of their first big show or any part and everything stopped. I find it hard to decide what to say about it.
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?
We were three weeks into rehearsal for ‘Spamalot’. Just from the way it worked out in terms of scheduling, I was only doing ‘Spamalot’. While it was a wild, vigorous, challenging, and hilarious rehearsal process, once I opened ‘Spamalot’ I was going to have a pretty sweet summer. We would have done four shows a week and a show that is about as ludicrous as they come and is designed 100% to ensure that we never take ourselves too seriously in this life. It was a real gift on so many fronts. We had just staged a great deal of one of the massive, massive numbers where they go back to Camelot for debauchery.
I was to play King Arthur.
I have no idea what the Festival’s plans are regarding a future staging of ‘Spamalot’ or any of the productions. I’m sure the Festival is spending a portion of their days coming up with a series of contingency plans based on how things roll out, how we navigate this crisis.
I don’t know. My feeling is that the Festival is committed for many reasons to do everything they had planned this year at some point in the future. That rollout will probably be over the next number of years. Whether ‘Spamalot’ makes the cut or not, I’m not sure. It all depends on the theatre they plan to open.
The challenge for Stratford is that they were on probably five, six or seven of their major shows they were probably 80% or more built. They invested all that time and money up front and, of course, there is no return until people are in seats, so it was a bit of a perfect or terrible storm (as you might say) for the Festival. On that level, they are committed to doing these things because they have the beautiful sets, the costumes, the props designed. If next year, the Festival only opens two of its theatres the shows in those theatres last year might be the only ones they would consider. Even then they might not be the right fit or reduced company sizes.
I feel they might make an outdoor space next year and ‘Spamalot’ could certainly work outdoors. I think it’s a great initiative if they consider doing some outdoor theatre. I directed a show this summer, a one woman show, that was part of a small festival here in Stratford. When I first saw outdoor theatre, that’s what I think really inspired me to go into the theatre. Certainly, particularly, in sort of a Shakespeare bend.
The fundamental beauty that happens in an outdoor setting when a group of people is telling a story to another group of people is almost second to none. Of course, I love indoor theatre as well as there are some challenges to outdoor theatre that you wish weren’t there. In the end, outdoor theatre is not a compromise. It’s not some sort of lesser form, it’s actually the roots of what we do and maybe the roots of why we do it.
What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time?
I’m crazy about building. I’ve got a whole series of projects that I was finishing up. I’d always promise the girls I’d build them a playhouse in the back, and it became an ethic project.
Home building projects, many of which have been started, are much closer to their completion. Spending as much time with my family as I could which is always been my priority and now there’s no way around it. In many ways, the challenge of parenting hasn’t got any easier. You may have more time on your hands, but you have to be more creative in how you deal with things.
I directed a play in the summer and helped out in any way I could with this ‘Here For Now’ Theatre, a local young woman started with a couple of friends and it ended up being a real success. They worked hand in hand with the local health unit, all outdoors in a safe endeavour and environment, tiny cast ( 1 person show). A local improv group also did one of their shows.
What was inspiring and illuminating was the hunger that people were craving for this experience. The numbers are humble compared to the Festival but a ton of people came out with their love and generosity and their hearts to see the shows.
This fall I’ve been auditioning for film and tv. I’ve had a couple of voice over stuff and just recently I’ve returned to set for a couple of episodes of things, so yeah, no shortage of busy.
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 theaters and studios might be closed for 1 ½ - 2 years?
I don’t know if it is sage, but I don’t think my advice would change from what I would tell a group five years ago or five in the future, and that is ‘To Keep At It’ Never stop dreaming. We will come through this and the optimist in me says we will come through stronger, more resilient with a greater sort of passion in our hearts, maybe a greater passion for the grand project of humanity.
If there’s a definitive in this, it’s the fact we are all in this together. The enemy is no longer each other; I say that with condition as not everyone is on board with that. But I do feel what this brings home is that truly we are all in this together. It took me a long time to come round to living a life in the arts. I had incredibly supportive parents, but I grew up in a small class working town (Bowmanville) and it took me a long time for me to say that performance is my job. This is a legitimate thing to do with my life.
If anything, this pandemic has re-affirmed for me the value of artists in society and that we’re in this rare position of your job requires utter vulnerability, and at the same time resilience.
Never forget as an artist that vulnerability is at the core of your being, your willingness to share, to be open, to pursue personal and societal truths. These are the things to define an artist. And so, what I would say to young people or any artist (and I certainly say this to myself), ‘Keep going. Keep moving forward. If you feel as if you are about to give up reach out to another artist friend and talk to them, or any friend. This is temporary, but how long is temporary? I would never be so bold as to say. We emerge from this as artists stronger and more resilient and as society and focusing on bigger and more eternal truths.”
Do you see anything positive stemming from Covid 19?
I sort of have a belief and speak directly about the work in the theater because I’m part of The Company Theatre in Toronto, our work with that is all about incubation. Incubation is happening all over the place. It always does happen, but it’s happening in a profound way. Crows Theatre has a number of initiatives in that same regard.
Theatres everywhere are going, “Ok, we can’t perform”, but they can still do things, we can think, reach out, we can write, collaborate, share. The collaborations are happening everywhere. People are sowing seeds in the field. That’s a real positive.
When you realize you can’t make money at this time, you’re reminded of the essence of theatre anyway in that it’s not really a commercial venture. We scratch out livings from it, but in the end there’s something much bigger, much more profound about what it’s like to pursue a life in the theatre. And no one goes into the theatre for money away (and Jonathan and I share a good laugh over that statement). If they do, then I’ve got some swampland to sell them.
Ya, there are the Andrew Lloyd Webbers out there, but even ALW probably didn’t even know he would be Sir ALW. And to his credit he believes in making theatre all the time and he gives a lot of people jobs.
We don’t get rich from this thing, but hopefully not to sound too cliched, we hopefully become spiritually rich and enriched where we live a life of meaning.
Do you think Covid 19 will have some lasting impact on the Toronto/Canadian/North American performing arts scene?
On a bigger sense of things, for those of us who have lost work overnight and find ourselves faced daily with the notion that our career is on hold, we inevitably will find make work projects but we will still be busy with other things.
This pause on a grander scale does offer time for reflection which is very important in a job where you are essentially and always on the hustle. Theatre is a hustle.
I think most artists probably have had a moment or numerous moments to reflect on the bigger questions on why we do this job of performing and the life you want to make. There’s real value in that and you come out of that more informed, more involved person. There are great gifts in that.
Even just gratitude that is something that I’ve made a point of focusing on is what to be thankful for daily, and that’s not easy. That’s an evolving process.
In my experience I’ve been around hard workers all my life. I worked on farms when I was younger. But it is in the theatre industry where you find the hard workers. That’s not to say they’re the hardest workers but they are out there working hard. The hustle can put you in a frame of mind where you never take a moment to just breathe it all in and think about why you do the things you do.
This time is a gift in that way. I do feel no matter how difficult this has been, there’s nothing more difficult than being in the ground. That’s something I have to remind myself constantly of each day. I may have lost some work and having had to make some hard choices and we’re all in this boat to varying degrees. At the same time, we have enough examples of people who have had a much harder go in this pandemic for the obvious reasons. We owe it to them to keep our own dreams alive and contribute to as little spread of this disease as possible until we find a really good way through it.
Some artists have turned to You Tube 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?
As this pandemic becomes prolonged and the restrictions around performing for each other inside spaces clearly is something that’s not going to happen tomorrow, the initial nature of online work was a way to keep the ghost light on as Graham Abbey’s initiative is.
Some of those efforts were around whether it was the Festival putting up the series of plays or even people getting together and do readings, it was a way of getting together and keeping spirits up.
I feel that no matter what level kind of technical savvy online streaming comes to or fantastically filmed versions of theatrical performances that I really enjoy watching, them, they are nothing compared to the real thing. They are a different thing
I’m thrilled that they’re out there, but I don’t see them as a viable alternative, maybe as a complementary to live theatre. But I don’t think they are the future of theatre by any means. I just think because they become something else. And so, that said, live streaming is a great way of reminding us about theatre, but it is not THE THEATRE.
Despite all this fraught tension, confusion and drama surrounding the pandemic, what is it about performing that Covid will never destroy for you?
Well, if anything, Covid has affirmed for me the need and the desire for us as humans to tell stories, to share our stories. The roots of lighting the fire and having some food, we’re around the fire and tell a story.
It’s an essential behaviour to communicate and share. That can take a lot of forms as theatre is a profound form for me as is film and tv. Theatre is so raw in its essence. Covid doesn’t take that away.
What we really want is that human contact and the sharing of feeling and story is as essential as virtually anything. Covid just forces the artist to re-affirm that for themselves and to dig even deeper into their soul for the day when we can commune in a freer capacity again.