It has only been a few days when I discovered that a former student of mine from many years ago, Kyle Brown, has been cast in the Toronto company of ‘Come from Away.’ The current Toronto cast had been performing ‘Welcome to the Rock’ from their various homes. I was looking at each of the cast members and was elated to recognize Kyle in the company.
After studying Music and Biblical Theology at Gateway College in St. Louis, MO, Kyle practiced church ministry in music and youth leadership. Eventually, he learned this was not his path and returned to Canada where he began performing while taking private lessons in singing, dancing and acting.
Kyle only had four rehearsals into the production before the pandemic shut down all the theatres. His first appearance in the Toronto company was to have been April 9. Well, Kyle, when the all-clear is given and you are in the company, I will be out to see your performance.
It appears that after five exceptionally long months, we are slowly, very slowly, emerging to a pre-pandemic lifestyle. Has your daily life and routine along with your immediate family’s life and routine been changed in any manner?
Well, first of all, we’re going outside more. It’s kind of like coming out of the cave if you will. We all are. It’s very nice whether you’re distanced meeting with people for a gathering. It’s a really nice feeling to see other people.
On top of that, I’ve recently picked up a few restaurant shifts. I know an owner of a restaurant and was lucky enough that he was kind enough to offer me some work especially with the uncertainty of CERB ending.
Were you involved or being considered for any projects before everything was shut down?
My focus at that time when everything shut down five months ago was just on ‘Come from Away’. I was just really trying to get my brain wrapped around the entire production. It is a hefty show to put on in terms of just everything that is happening on stage. There are twelve actors on a stage for nearly the entire show. There are a lot of quick changes and a lot of transitions, not intense but very subtle and specific choreography. A lot of things to pick up on, and I had six weeks to do it as I was to have put in the show April 9.
This whole process has been an interesting game of guessing and being wrong. I don’t guess anymore. You realize pretty quickly that at some point we have no clue when we will be back. Something in my gut is telling me maybe in Spring 2021 just because it marks a year since we were shut down. There’s no evidence for that, it’s just my gut feeling. I’m not basing that on anything. It all depends on whether there is a vaccine.
Some of the theatre companies have big choices to make and the government allows people, what’s feasible for a production, safety precautions for the actors and the audience, and everyone involved. It’s a tricky thing to maneuver. I don’t envy anyone who has to make these decisions because it’s very tough.
Describe the most challenging element or moment of the isolation period for you.
Probably the very beginning was just the uncertainty. And I think throughout this whole thing is the uncertainty. It’s just a lesson for us all, we don’t know anything in life at the end of the day. But not knowing, for example, as we were discussing when we’re coming back, it makes things difficult and to go about your life. For me, I’m waiting with this awesome production that’s ready to go when we can go, but who knows when that’s going to be? And what do I do with myself in the meantime?
How do I make an income? How long do I hold out? What do we do? The uncertainty is challenging but I’m getting used to it.
The restaurant owner is a friend and knows my situation that when the theatres are re-opened, I will just say, “Here’s my two-week notice. As soon as I get that call, I’m out of there.”
What were you doing to keep yourself busy during this time of lockdown and isolation from the world of theatre? Since theatres will most likely be shuttered until the spring of 2021, where do you see your interests moving at this time?
I’ve been first and foremost embracing the ‘non-busyness’ of it all. I’ve been doing a lot of meditating, doing a lot of self-care work and reflection as well. I found myself alone a lot with my thoughts and doing this self-care and reflection allowed me some new and further personal insights into who I am and my person and what I wanted to know and/or change about myself.
I’ve been exercising a lot which is something I never really did but it’s kept me sane. It gave me an excuse to get outside every day just into the back where I live. The exercise is nothing too intense but getting some air. I’ve walked A LOT…I’ve never walked this much in my entire life. I’ve walked around this entire city three times over. That’s been good.
I’ve also been helping some friends with some projects. I’ve also been trying to explore other avenues of creativity. This is a good opportunity to explore other things I didn’t do so often. I tried my hand at writing a little bit. Currently, I’m trying to write a short film. I don’t know how, if or when anything will ever come of it. But the point is for me to exercise my creativity in a new way since I can’t be on the stage right now.
I do want to finish the short film and find other related elements of my creativity. I also like writing songs and working on my instrumental skills. I play a little bit of piano. I’m not exceptional but I can work on it.
Any words of wisdom or sage advice you would give to other performing artists who are concerned about the impact of COVID-19? What about to the new theatre graduates who are just out of school and may have been hit hard? Why is it important for them not to lose sight of their dreams?
Ya know, I’m not one as a kid myself like I should be doling out wisdom but…I would tell other artists just remember why you chose this route in the first place. Those reasons are still valid even though the avenue has changed. For most artists, we want to perform, we want to create, we want to tell stories and there’s a need for that. There’s always been a need for that. Regardless of what is happening in the world, we artists will come back again.
Speaking for myself, it was never really about the paycheque because we know what this life could be like. It can be very tricky to get that pay cheque and there’s also A LOT of work involved. The pay cheque was not the leading motivation for me to become a performing artist.
The reason why we became performing artists is still there. It’s still valid and will be needed more than ever. We’ve seen in this time how much it is needed from people performing from their balconies earlier at the beginning of the lockdown.
There’s a need for performance. Stick with it. We’ll be back some time. We will be.
To the new theatre graduates: This is a really good time to hone. You’ve just graduated but keep digging into yourself and into your craft. Keep learning and developing. Try new monologues. Now’s a good time to beef up your audition material. You’ve got plenty of time to select monologues and songs.
It’s also a great time to create as well. Obviously, the time of a pandemic is not ideal for the new graduates, but this isn’t the end. You’ve just spent a bunch of money at theatre school so at least give it a chance.
I’m taking my own advice. I’ve actually increased what I’ve normally been doing. I would normally see a vocal coach once a week. She was also an overall coach for me. We’d go over monologues, text work, and breathwork. Now we’re meeting four times a week at least via Skype. I’m just trying to improve. I’m trying to be the best I can be.
Do you see anything positive stemming from this pandemic?
With all respect and understanding to anyone who has lost anybody on account of COVID or who has lost a job or financially, I actually see a lot of good. Whether we want to call this ‘The Great Intermission’ or ‘The Great Pause’, this was something that was needed for all of us even outside the theatre industry. I think a pause was necessary.
Our pace of life was, for many of us, a little insane if you think about it. Everyone’s running around constantly trying to run the rat race, busy, busy, busy and we’ve become so addicted to this need to be busy. I think that sometimes comes at the expense of our relationships, at the expense of our physical and mental health, at the expense of our spiritual health.
We need to take the time to pause and to see what’s really important and valued and valuable in life. So, this pandemic was a necessary thing. I think now we’re seeing connection. I’ve connected to people to whom I haven’t spoken in a long time and it’s really been nice. My relationships have gotten a lot stronger throughout this even though I haven’t been able to see others in person all the time.
I found everyone has just been a lot more vulnerable. Even the conversations I’ve had with friends, the tone of the conversation has shifted especially in America. Everyone now is in this place where we’re not so distracted. We can think about things in a deeper way, we can have conversations in a deeper way, more healing in our lives because we’ve been forced to.
It’s time to heal. I really do. It feels very rough, tumultuous in the world but I think that’s what is needed for real healing to come. We have to see these things clearly.
I see that we’ll also be a little more careful in the future. More people are washing their hands. I was always an avid hand washer.
In your informed opinion, will the Toronto and the Canadian performing arts scene somehow be changed or impacted on account of the coronavirus?
Yah, it’s undeniable. There are going to be impacts that are positive and negative at the same time. We’re seeing theatre companies struggle, amounts of money being lost. We don’t know what this is all going to look like. There will definitely be safety protocols in place.
It’s going to be strange in the beginning because I don’t think it’s going back to the way it was before.
We’re seeing a lot of online work now happening. We have to at this point.
There’s a lot of conversation going on and talking since we’re not back to work yet. There will be a huge call for different inclusions in theatre. Those calls have been happening for quite some time. I didn’t see the Indigenous round table discussions going on at Stratford and I really wished I could have. I was mostly just reading what was happening online.
There have been a lot of courageous people coming forward to have these tough conversations. As a black man myself, I found myself very affected by a lot the stuff that was happening in the US. There is a lot of conversation about race relations in every industry, really, and generally in life.
It’s been a very emotional moment for me. I found myself coming in and out of a conversation and how I can pay attention to the conversation because I found myself going in and out because it was a lot. I hadn’t realized just how much it was affecting me and I had to control myself and breathe when there was too much information coming in. There’s been life to distract me and to keep me busy and during this time it’s really gutted me at points in ways where it was too much. When that occurred I got off Facebook, I got off online, and put the phone down as I couldn’t take it anymore. It was starting to affect my mental health.
What are your thoughts about streaming live productions? As we continue to emerge and find our way back to a new perspective of daily life, will live streaming become part of the performing arts scene in your estimation? Have you been participating, or will you participate in any online streaming productions soon?
I have very mixed feelings about this. I understand it. And we’re doing what we can because we don’t have very many options and people want to continue to work and we want people to have content to look at. I appreciate streaming that is done in the most creative way we can.
With this pandemic, it has become an onslaught of watching through boxes all the time with people staring into a camera, and it gets to be tiresome to look at. But I understand this is avenue that we need to reach people in their homes.
That being said, you can never replace a live performance. The reason why I love live theatre so much – there is an actual exchange of energy in the room between the actors and the audience, the musicians, or whatever it is. There’s a spontaneity taking place, hearing the silence together, hearing the breaths together, feeling those moments together is what it’s about and that can never be replaced by a screen to me. You cannot put a screen there and satisfy me.
The screen will pacify us for a time. It’ll do what it does for a while, but I just want to get back to being in the room. That’s why we do this.
Streaming can be difficult because there’s so much grey area with what the rights are, what is permitted, not permitted, and how much money is going to be paid to Equity scale. It’s a very complicated time because there are so many unusual performances. There’s still a lot to figure out there with streaming.
What is it about performing you still love given all the change, the confusion, and the drama surrounding our world now?
The energy exchange is intoxicating but beyond that, performance has power. It has such incredible power and some of the greatest movements were fuelled by performance. Performance has the power to change people, to impact people in ways that we don’t even realize.
Given all the craziness going on right now, the irony is we now need performance more than ever. There are so many stories that can be told. It’s a healing thing. Going to a good performance is a healing experience for everyone involved and that’s what I really love about it.
I’ll never forget sitting and hearing a performance, or even in a church where you hear someone sing and it was like they were channeling something else. And with that being transmitted from them to me sitting there and tears welling up because I feel extreme excitement in that way, I love it. And if I can do that in performance to someone else, I love it.
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:
a. What is your favourite word?
Reconciliation. I like the sound of the word, I like the way it rolls off the tongue. I like the meaning behind the word.
b. What is your least favourite word?
No. Don’t tell me No. I don’t like it. I want to be able to do whatever I want to do it.
c. What turns you on?
Compassion and empathy, and open-mindedness is a big one. Humility – These are really sexy words, and I want you, Joe, to put that statement in my profile (Kyle says with a laugh).
d. What turns you off?
Willful ignorance and a lack of compassion.
e. What sound or noise do you love?
I love the sound of a pencil writing on a single leaf of lined paper. I don’t know what it has to be lined directly on the desk, not in a binder. It has to be one sheet, on the desk, with a pencil, and writing across. I love that sound and I don’t know why.
f. What sound or noise bothers you?
A cat purring. It weirds me out. Also paired with the vibration of the sound coming from inside them. I know, it’s weird, but it’s the sound of purring that weirds me out. I do like cats, but when they purr it gives me the shivers. My sister pointed that out to me when I was younger and I couldn’t recognize it then.
g. What is your favourite curse word?
Bomboclaat – it’s Jamaican. It’s just a curse word. It’s hard to translate, almost like the ‘f’ bomb. What is your least favourite curse word? That is a good one…that’s a tough one because I’m generally a fan of curse words. Any word that is derogatory to any race, gender, identity, I don’t particularly like. There are some boring swear words like shit, asshole, I like to get creative.
h. What profession, other than your own, would you have liked to attempt?
I always was interested in surgery. We used to watch surgeries in my home. My mom used to put them on. Some people would be grossed out by it, but I wasn’t. I could be eating dinner and watching an operation happen and I wasn’t fazed by that.
I was told by my Grade 11 Biology teacher whom you know, Joe, that I should never be a surgeon because I had terrible technique.
I’m also obsessed with space – astrophysics. If I could be an astronaut, I’d go.
i. What profession would you not like to do?
President, politics. I would never want to be president. I would never want to work in politics or in that realm. I understand activism, I understand the importance of politics, I respect it. But it’s just a whole other thing that I don’t connect with there. And there’s too many games, back doors. It’s a tough job.
We need someone to run the country, but I don’t have any interest in doing it. My ego is different. It’s more about importance.
j. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates?
“Let’s party. Just turn up. Here’s some music. Let’s have a good time. Relax. Breathe.”
To follow Kyle, visit his Instagram: @thekyleofkyles.