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Maria Vacratsis

Moving Forward

Trish Lindstrom

Joe Szekeres

From the Class of 1977, University of Windsor, where she received her Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Theatre and English, Maria’s forty-seven-year career as a professional performing artist has taken her on many paths, some of which I’m truly envious she has travelled.

She appeared in the Hollywood blockbuster hit ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ as Sofia. She has also appeared in ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2’ and has made appearances on television in ‘Schitt’s Creek’, ‘Rookie Blue’, ‘Murdoch Mysteries’, ‘The Rick Mercer Report’ and ‘Riverdale’ only to name a few. I’ve also seen her performances both at Soulpepper and The Stratford Festival where she appeared in such classics as ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, ‘Electra’ and ‘Pericles’.

Maris is also a member of the ENSEMBLE of Toronto’s Company Theatre where she is indeed in very good company with some of Canada’s finest talents.

We conducted our interview via email. Thank you so much for the conversation, Maria:

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?

I'm loath to make any predictions as to how long this will last in its current incarnation but I have every reason to believe that between vaccines, treatments and the virus just wearing itself out, we will be returning to public gatherings in another year or so. In the meantime, the inventive minds of our theatre practitioners will be finding interesting and novel ways to bring stories to audiences.

I do hope that we take a lesson from some Asian and African countries who, at the first sign of a transmittable disease, don their masks and take precautions. We need to make this kind of respect for our fellow man an intrinsic part of our society.

How have you been faring? How has your immediate family been doing during these last eight months?

In truth, by fall of 2019 I knew I had to take a big break. I had two more projects for early winter of 2020 that would be done by the end of February and after that I was going to stop, spend time in my new home and town (we had moved to Stratford in late 2017 and I'd barely been able to settle and enjoy it) but lo and behold, a strangely timed, worldwide pandemic forced me into it anyway.

My husband had been retired for a bit, so we just settled in to see what being "retired" together was going to look like. Not without some guilt, we've really been enjoying ourselves. We don't get bored, we have a lot of home projects on the go and we've been reveling in our time together, really getting to know our town and surrounding areas.

As an artist within the performing arts community, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally?

The worst part for a time, was trying desperately to envision the future, how was I going to enjoy going back to an art form that, for me, was all about engaging closely and without fear, with other artists. I had to let that go and allow others with greater imaginations than my own, start to develop these new ideas. I also knew that, with time, my comfort levels would evolve. I had to just pull back from that and just live in the present.

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?

As I said earlier, my personal timing was rather fortuitous - I flew home on February 26th and went into isolation on the 29th. In late January, I had been contacted by producers about a film project that was in the works for summer but that has been put on hold. They believe they may go in 2021. I try to make no plans these days beyond what I'm going to make for dinner that evening. Mitigates stress.

What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time?

I was able to throw myself into doing work on our new home, building new gardens, having time for my passion for growing food, cooking and baking and improving on those things. We love walking and hiking and with a lot of countryside around us, we were able to indulge. The warmer weather was also great for meeting up with a couple of friends at a time on our patios and porches. I also got to read books that had nothing to do with a project - just pure pleasure and interest.

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?

That's a hard one as I think everyone needs to do whatever it is that gets them through. We're all different, at different stages of our careers, our lives.

I am in awe of many of the younger artists I know who seem to have thrown themselves into creating art other than theatre - they're writing, making music, putting out content on line or in other interesting ways. Maybe it would be to take this time to "meet yourself" outside of your art.

Do you see anything positive stemming from Covid 19?

Generally, I believe that as a society we might start thinking that the ecology of the way we live our lives, the way we do our work, the way we engage with our environment is more important or, at least, as important as how economically successful our endeavours turn out.

On a personal note, it was great to discover that after 47 years of working, pursuing work, thinking about work, I still had an identity without work, that I'm not completely defined by being an actor. This time is also forcing me to be present in my life - not having to think about doing work, getting work, learning lines, I realize that I have, at times, given my personal life short shrift.

Do you think Covid 19 will have some lasting impact on the Toronto/Canadian/North American performing arts scene?

Perhaps we will become "preppers" in some way. We'll always think of ways to keep ourselves prepared for these types of disasters. I personally doubt these will be long lasting. We say we learn from history but in so many ways we don't.

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 haven't had much to do with the online theatre world. Coming into this with major burnout, I just wanted to get away from theatre for a while and viewing work online was not satisfying to me - it felt like a bus man's holiday.

I understand people's need to do it and I applaud it, but artists and audiences alike crave the real thing. We'll be back in the theatres soon enough - there are already signs of it around the world.

Despite all this fraught tension and confusion, what is it about performing that Covid will never destroy for you?

I've been fortunate to have had a 43 year career so Covid certainly can't take away from me and it can't take away the friendships formed with some incredible artists nor can it erase the memories of all the great theatre I got to see.

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