Kim Blackwell

Self Isolated Artist

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Joe Szekeres

What’s the old saying for ‘The Hyde House’? It’s worth the drive to Acton. Well, I’ll tell you, for the last two summers, it has been well worth the drive to 4th Line Theatre in Millbrook, Ontario to see some phenomenal surprises at this gem of an outdoor summer theatre. There’s good stuff going on here.

I remember writing the first review for 4th Line the first summer I attended and figuratively kicked myself in the behind why I hadn’t made it out there before. I’m saddened at the fact audiences might not have the opportunity to be there this summer. Sigh.

Managing Artistic Director, Kim Blackwell, is still hopeful there will be a change as the first show is only postponed. I am truly praying the theatre gods will change things for the better. I know it sounds corny, but 4th Line has been one of the highlights of my summer for the last two years, and I’ve always looked forward to it. And the fact that next summer will be the 30th anniversary makes this company’s work even that more special to attend.

Thank you so much, Kim, for having this interview with me via email:

1. How have you been doing during this period of isolation and quarantine? Is your family doing well?
Thanks for asking. I have been ok - no one in our family is sick so that is of course the best possible news. My daughter is doing school remotely and she like waking up at 8:55 am and going downstairs to the den to do school in her PJs. She loves that. My husband is working at home as well, as he works in IT. We miss seeing my parents and my husband’s mom but obviously everyone is being careful about staying at home as much as possible.

As an interesting side note - I had a stress related heart issue in January of this year and now I laugh and say, “I thought my heart attack was going to be the biggest thing to happen in 2020.” :)

We went to Mexico on March 10th and then the entire world went crazy and we had to fly back a week early. The stress of that was quite something. My husband, daughter and I spend days and days just seeing each other. That has been quite a time of getting to know each other all over again. We have all been so busy for several years and running around almost non-stop. This sudden stop has forced us to slow down and cook together, eat together and talk to each other more.

2. Tell me briefly about the shows that were to have been presented this summer at 4th Line. Were any of them in rehearsal or pre-production before the pandemic was declared and everything had to be shut down. Will these shows be a part of the 2021 summer slate?

We have only postponed the first show so far. That show was Alex Poch-Goldin’s ‘The Great Shadow’ which was to be directed by Deb Williams. We have moved this world premiere play into the opening slot for the 2021 summer season - which will be our 30th anniversary season. The Board of Directors will make a decision about the fate of the 2nd show on May 22nd. That is Maja Ardal’s ‘Wishful Seeing’ based on the book of the same title by Janet Kellough.

When the pandemic started to hit in February, we slowed all pre-production work right down to see how things would develop. As such, very little planning had started in terms of designers, etc. We had not gone into rehearsals. For either production

In ‘The Great Shadow’, set in the roaring '20s, the stars of the silver screen are heading to Canada as Trenton, Ont. embarks on a quest to become Hollywood North. Sparks fly in this world première when small-town Ontario residents collide with the Hollywood elites. From Alex Poch-Goldin, the playwright who brought you ‘The Right Road to Pontypool’ and ‘The Bad Luck Bank Robbers’, ‘The Great Shadow’ is a raucous comedy, packed with romance and intrigue in the golden age of film.

‘Wishful Seeing’ tells the story of saddlebag preacher Thaddeus Lewis played by 4th Line founder and creative director Robert Winslow, who stumbles upon a murder mystery on the shores of Rice Lake. It's a historical thriller set in 1853, with a colourful cast of characters set against the backdrop of a rapidly growing pre-Confederation Canada, and reminiscent of the popular television series "Murdoch Mysteries."

3. What has been the most challenging part of the isolation and quarantine for you personally and professionally?

Well, personally, it has been that we bought a house right before the lockdown and are moving to Peterborough in June of this year. And we are preparing to rent out our house in Toronto. This move, after living in Toronto for 20 years, would have been a wild ride in normal situation, now it is so crazy. And my daughter is missing the last 40% of grade eight, she’s been at the same small school for 10 years. She is missing the typical grade eight celebrations. My heart hurts for her.

We miss hugging our parents - my husband and I - I worry about them being so isolated. My mom has Lewy Body dementia and the isolation and lack of mental stimulation is not good for her, especially. My parents are in a retirement residence in Peterborough and the staff are so vigilant about keeping COVID out of their home. So I am deeply grateful for all that they are doing but we really miss seeing them. And with my husband’s mom - she is alone in her home with our dog. Thankfully she has the company, but we miss her and we miss having our dog with us.

Professionally, I am gutted by the loss of the first show of the season and the possibility of losing the entire season. I am sick for all the artists who have lost work. I worry about future of our theatre and theatre in general.

4. What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time of lockdown?

There are lots of meetings around creating multiple different plans and budgets, meetings with staff, board, stakeholders. There is planning and programming decisions to make. We have created some initial online programming including Artist Talks and a reading. We will be developing more online work to keep engaged with audiences. I workout as much as I can. I am binging shows on Netflix, Prime and Crave. The best so far have been ‘Chernobyl’, ‘Once Were Brothers’ and revisiting ‘The Wire’. I am cooking and baking like crazy. I baked bread for the first time in about 20 years. I am trying to meditate and read. And some days I lay on the couch and am terribly sad about it all. I am mourning the many losses…

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 theatre schools?

Oh gosh - I am not sure I’m a good person to give anyone advice. I think we are going to be in this for the long haul. Theatre will be one of the last sectors to come back online during this pandemic. I think patience will be needed. I do think people will come back to the theatre eventually, because we all have an innate need to gather together and share stories and communal experiences.

6. Do you see anything positive coming out of this pandemic?

I think people were in a severe state of burn-out going into the pandemic. I saw people being terribly frazzled and run off their feet. I think the pandemic has allowed people to stop and breath. Of course they have been saddled with many new stresses - financial and job related primarily. Perhaps coming out of this, people will be able to slow down and prioritize their lives and say no to things more often.

7. Do you believe or can you see if the Canadian performing arts scene will somehow be changed or impacted as a result of COVID – 19?

I guess people are getting more savvy at digital interaction and disseminating their work in a digital platform. There is already so much digital work to chose from, it’s amazing. I think the pandemic will reaffirm that we all love the relationship between art and audiences which is at the core of our art practice. And we will be much more sensitive to that innate relationship when we can be together again.

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?

See above - I know that government funders really want us to explore digital platforms for our art, especially in the short-term. And of course we will/are. But in the long term, theatre needs to be experienced live. That is what makes it transformational for audiences and artists alike.

9. As 4th Line Theatre’s Managing Artistic Director, where do you see the future of 4th Line headed as a result of this life changing event for all of us?

Well, that is the $64,000 question isn’t it? I hope we return to a version of normal in the not too distant future. I hope to welcome audiences back to the farm as soon as it is safe. I think we, at 4th Line, are ideally suited to do that earlier than some theatres because we are outdoors, and we can achieve social distancing without much fuss.

I worry about the theatre’s fiscal viability, of course. But I know that when we started the theatre in 1992, we started small and very community based. And if we have to, we can go back to that simplicity. 2021 will be our 30th season and I am trying to imagine that a return to our roots might not be the worst thing that ever happened. When audiences are ready to come back to the farm, we want to ensure we are there to welcome them.

With a respectful 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?

Daughter

2. What is your least favourite word?

Taxes

3. What turns you on?

Funny people

4. What turns you off?

Lack of personal and professional integrity

5. What sound or noise do you love?

It’s a tie between the sound of my daughter’s voice and the roar of an audience’s laughter.

6. What sound or noise bothers you?

Many sounds - I have moderate misophonia - especially candies being unwrapped in the theatre. ;)

7. What is your favourite curse word?

The ‘c’ word 😉

8. What profession, other than your own, would you have liked to attempt?

Criminal law

9. What profession would you not like to do?

Garbage Collector

10. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates?

“ I know, I am surprised as you are!!!”

To learn more about 4th Line Theatre, visit www.4thlinetheatre.on.ca.

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