Lisa Horner’s professional life as a performing artist is quite extensive when I had the chance to peruse her resume. Along with her famous IKEA The Winter Sale commercial of “Start the car, start the car, start the car.”, I also had the opportunity to see Lisa perform the role of Beulah in the Toronto company of ‘Come from Away’. Lisa’s onstage appearances don’t stop here.
I also saw her as Miss Gulch/The Wicked Witch in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ at the Elgin several years ago and in ‘Guys and Dolls’ at The Stratford Festival. Lisa has also appeared on CBC’s ‘Little Mosque on the Prairie’ and has worked at the Shaw Festival, Gryphon, Neptune and Grand Theatre (London, Ontario), and at Drayton Entertainment over the years.
We conducted our interview via email. Thank you so much for the conversation, Lisa:
It has been an exceptionally long five months since we’ve all been in isolation, and now it appears we are slowly emerging to some new way of living. How have you been faring? How has your immediate family been doing during this time?
I don’t know how to describe it really. At first, I took the opportunity to really slow down and check in with myself and my life. My husband is an actor as well, so we took the time, we cleaned and cooked, it was a novelty and relaxing. Honestly, I thought we would be back to work by the fall, which seems crazy now. My family is doing well, I have a family member who is quite compromised because he is diabetic so that’s nervous making. My nephews are heading back to school this week and I am thinking a lot about them right now too. As it goes on, I have good days and bad days. I’ve decided to just let whatever day it’s going to be and I don’t put pressure on myself. The bad days are good reminders of my privilege, I am so lucky. It helps me when I remember that.
As a performer, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally?
I think the biggest challenge was always to balance personal and professional life. Being an actor is an all encompassing 24/7 job and a passion. I’m sure any actor will say they’ve missed weddings, funerals, anniversaries, etc. Ironically, that is not the case now. it’s a different set of huge challenges we all face.
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?
I was playing Beulah in ‘Come from Away’ for Mirvish Productions, so in fact we had been going for two years. I have (had) the best job in the world. The producers have been very reassuring that the story will have a life after our industry comes back. I believe them. I hope it won’t be a long time, but I suspect we have a ways to go.
What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time?
I made the decision to go back to school when it became clear what state our country and the world is in. I kept reading about the situation in the Long-Term Care Homes, the isolation people were facing and the danger that the staff were under and how short staffed they were. I couldn’t sit still; I was starting to feel helpless and depressed…so I am working on my Personal Support Worker accreditation. Exam in January! And again, my privilege of having a good job (which gave me good credit!) meant I could do that. I’ve been thinking about doing it for a few years now. It feels like we are in a war and I wanted to get on the lines, I couldn’t watch anymore.
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 am a teacher as well and I said to some of my students, “This is an intermission. A long one.” I don’t envy young actors trying to keep their mental health intact with all of this. A lot of promise, excitement and then this. But nothing, nothing ever takes away from what you are.
We are artists. We are suffering as an industry, but we know what we are worth and what our purpose is in the global community, we’ll get through. Invest in yourself, be kind to yourself and be kind to others.
Do you see anything positive stemming from Covid 19?
Yes, I do actually. The pressure was clearly building and most of the world woke up to the injustices our BIPOC brothers and sisters have been facing. We should have seen it many, many years ago but here we are.
Our theatre community is going through huge changes and I am very grateful to be here for that and help anyway I can. We have the time to gain clarity (if we want it) about how we got to this place. Social media is a lot of things, but personally I am grateful for the education and information that the internet can provide (good and bad). It is a powerful thing that internet. Critical thinking is a very necessary tool these days.
Do you think Covid 19 will have some lasting impact on the Canadian/North American performing arts scene?
Oh, I’m sure. I don’t know what it is yet. But if we don’t let ourselves be affected and grow how can we be better? Certainly, the BLM movement is going to be a huge force of change in our community.
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?
I think that actors can put a box on a sidewalk and make magic. I am loving the ingenuity and imagination that is going into live online entertainment. There is such a technical aspect of it that eludes me and makes me frustrated sometimes. We have an expression in our house which is ‘don’t smash it Lisa’…we certainly can’t afford new computers, so I try to stay out of the entertaining and just be the entertained for now.
I’m not sure what may come out of all of this, but it certainly is lovely to reach people with live performances who would never have watched before.
Despite all this fraught tension and confusion, what is it about performing that Covid will never destroy for you?
Nothing in this world will ever destroy performing for me. Covid has made me fearful and sad that we aren’t doing as well as we could as a global community. We haven’t taken care of each other and our planet as well as we could have. But in terms of my art and what I do, that is my mental health and my church (for lack of a better description). I am on an intermission, but I’ll see you back in the theatre when everyone takes their seats.