Louise Pitre

Self Isolated Artist

Helen Tansey

Joe Szekeres

What’s not to love about Louise? She is a University of Western Ontario graduate just like me. (Go Stangs!)
Even before she appeared in the iconic Toronto and Montreal productions of ‘Les Miserables’, I saw Louise first perform as Mrs. Johnstone at Toronto’s High Park in Willy Russell’s ‘Blood Brothers’. If you know the ending after the bodies of the brothers are lying on stage, and their mother stands between them, I remember wiping tears from my eyes watching and listening to a mother’s sorrowful lament over the deaths of her boys. That final song pierced the heart of everyone who sat around me on that warm summer night. What a glorious way to be introduced to one of Canada’s finest singers.

And then to see Louise just this past fall in ‘Piaf/Dietrich’ as part of the Mirvish series. Absolutely heaven once again to see one of Canada’s finest chanteuses grace the stage and offer one hell of a performance as the legendary tortured soul, Edith Piaf.

Louise was also nominated for a Tony award for her work in the Broadway production of ‘Mamma Mia!’ She is the recipient of the National Broadway Touring Award, a New York Theatre World Award, a San Francisco Theatre Critics’ Award, a Betty Mitchell Award and four Dora Mavor Moore awards, all for best performance by a leading actress in a musical.

We conducted our interview via email:

1. How have you and your family been keeping during this two-month isolation?

My husband and I are doing fine actually. We are feeling lucky to live where we live and to be able to be together, at home, with our dog. And we are deeply grateful to be good at spending a lot of time together.

2. What has been most challenging and difficult for you during this time personally? What have you been doing to keep yourself busy?

The most difficult thing about all this is the lack of in-person visits with friends. We see a couple of friends once in a while in their backyards where we can maintain a good distance and still talk. I miss my dinners out with girlfriends!!!!! We miss our gym!!!!!!!!!

As for keeping busy we are doing our workouts in our small condo with elastic bands and lots of floor exercises. We walk the dog 3 times a day. We try to add a powerwalk without the dog because we feel the cardio part of our workouts has gone out the window!!!!! And most of all, I am cooking up a storm. I cook a lot all the time but now I can devote more time to it and I admit I love that.

3. Were you involved in any professional projects when the pandemic was declared, and everything was shut down? How far were you into those projects? Will they come to fruition some time soon? Professionally, has Covid changed your life regarding all the work you have completed or may have had planned?

Joe and I were in the middle of the run of our show THE TIMES THEY ARE A’CHANGIN’ at the Segal Centre in Montreal. Can you think of a better title for this situation????? We thought so! We got a call from Lisa Rubin, the AD, on Thursday afternoon (March 12) that there would be no more performances. We went in to get our stuff from our dressing rooms and packed everything in our rental apartment to drive back to Toronto. A surreal feeling to say the least.

There was another production in final preparation to happen this summer but obviously that is gone, and I have no idea when it can happen now. I have some concerts booked in early 2021 but, as they are outside the country, I cannot assume that these will happen either. So basically, my work life has come to a grinding halt with no concrete end in sight.

4. Some actors whom I’ve interviewed have stated they can’t see anyon'e venturing back into a theatre or studio for a least 1 ½ to 2 years. Do you foresee this possible reality to be factual?

I’m afraid I do. It will be prohibitive to put on most productions with only a portion of the seats sold in order to maintain safe distancing for the audience members. There is also the very challenging aspect of the backstage area. How can you keep a safe distance from dressers and crew members running the show…….not to mention keeping safe distance between performers on the stage. I am bracing for 1 1/2 years but at this point we should not even try to put a date on this.

5. In your estimation and opinion, do you foresee COVID 19 and its results leaving a lasting impact, either positive or negative, on the Canadian performing arts scene?

This strange time highlights the need for the arts. People are turning to music, theatre, dance, movies, television, documentaries, cooking, painting etc…….because they all realize it makes their life fuller. It feeds the heart and the soul. It brings solace. The arts always do this valuable work, not only in times of trouble and war. But that is when it is more evident.

Can you imagine how everyone would be spending this incredible amount of time in isolation if none of the arts was there to be consumed?? Then why is it that in “normal” times budget cuts hit the arts so cavalierly????? I am hoping that the public at large will come out of this with a new appreciation for the arts and the people who create it.

6. Do you have any words of wisdom to build hope and faith in those performing artists who have been hit hard as a result of COVID 19? Any words of sage advice to the new graduates from Canada’s theatre schools regarding this fraught time of confusion?

Oh boy…….right now I find it very difficult to feel hope and faith in the world in general. I am struggling to believe that most people are good and fair and tolerant as my usual positive attitude has been shaken to the core this last while…and I am not talking about COVID 19….

I would say though to the recent graduates that although this is an insanely difficult time to start in this business it is actually an intense preparation for a performer’s life: it is feast or famine so often in this business; there is no guarantee of work; you make a great salary on one job and a shitty one on the next, etc……

This time can make you aware that you must keep working on your craft all the time because you want to be better and better and better and most of all ready when you are called upon. It makes you keenly aware that putting money aside is extremely important so you can afford to be out of work. This is the time to dive into learning all those songs you have been wanting to learn and memorize for auditions, reading all those plays and musicals you are not familiar with, watching all those on-line movies/musicals/plays to see those accomplished actors/singers/dancers at work and LEARN FROM THEM.

I think this strange thing we are all living is making us all take a good look at our lives and what we want it to be. DO THAT. Think and visualize your wants and wishes. Make a plan for how you are going to get there. Look at what would have been done in theatres this coming season and pick the part you would like to play and learn it. And then believe that when things get back to normal you will be all ready to go to walk in and audition for that part and get it.

7. I’ve spoken with some individuals who believe that online streaming and YouTube presentations destroy the theatrical impact of those who have gathered with anticipation to watch a performance. What are your thoughts and comments about the advantages and/or values of online streaming? Do you foresee this as part of the ‘new normal’ for Canadian theatre as we move forward from COVID 19?

I truly hope this is not the new normal but hey, it’s better than nothing……just like ZOOM is not as good as being face to face in person but you at least get to see each other and talk. I don’t think we can compare the experience of watching from your home on your laptop and sitting in a theatre with hundreds of breathing humans sitting next to each other. I will assume (call me crazy) that online streaming will not be the way of the future for theatre but rather the reason for a heightened, renewed appreciation of sitting in a theatre to see something LIVE!!!!

8. What is it about the performing arts that still energizes you even through this tumultuous and confusing time?

Remembering the feeling of sitting in a theatre - that moment - the best moment of all - when the lights start to dim and you think “I have no idea what I am about to see, hear, feel” and then the show starts……..I convince myself that I will feel that again and that I will be on the stage again reminding myself that people sitting in the audience are feeling that very same sense of anticipation I feel when I am in a seat and not on stage.

The concrete thing that is energizing me is a project I am working on with Joe and our friend Diane. We have had an idea for a musical for a couple of years. I work well under pressure. I like deadlines. I have neither so we have promised ourselves that we will have something to show for all this down time. It is difficult to feel highly motivated to work I will admit. It is constantly shocking to me how the days fly by……how is it 4pm already??? Where does the time go? How did I do everything I did before????

And with so little to do how the hell is it that I am finding it difficult to sit down and work/write/think??
It is the challenge of this bizarre time so to help that we are managing weekly work sessions in person in a big space (thanks to Diane) and that is making all the difference. For a couple of hours, it feels almost like regular life and we all agree that it does re-charge the creative brain.

With a respectful acknowledgement to ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton, here are the ten questions he used to ask his guests:

1. What is your favourite word?

Abandon

2. What is your least favourite word?

Intolerance

3. What turns you on?

Fantastic food/wine

4. What turns you off?

Apathy

5. What sound or noise do you love?

My dog’s tiny barks when he is dreaming

6. What sound or noise bothers you?

Angry screaming

7. What is your favourite curse word?

Fuck (Oh for fuck’s sake!!!!!)

8. Other than your current profession now, what other profession would you have liked to attempt?

Chef (or dog trainer)

9. What profession could you not see yourself doing?

Gynecologist

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

“Tasting Menu with your husband through Door 1, and when you are done the orchestra is waiting through Door 2 with the chart of THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY.”

To learn more about Louise, visit her website www.louisepitre.com.

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