Toronto, Ontario, in the late 80s and early 90s saw a slew of first run, first-rate productions with some featuring an all Canadian cast. I liked to get to the theatre early so I could read the artist biographies in the programme to learn more about these talented individuals.
One of those names I remember is Monique Lund. She appeared in an amazing production of ‘The Who’s Tommy’ and ‘Cats’ during these years. Again, since I began reviewing, I’ve seen her name in many Stratford Festival productions. She is indeed a talented lady.
Monique received her early training on Prince Edward Island and started as a dancer there and moved to Montreal after high school to train with Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal on a full scholarship. She also studied voice at McGill University and acting in Montreal and Toronto before getting hired as a company member in ‘Cats’. The rest is history as they say!
She has performed in eleven seasons at Stratford and hit the 90s jackpot doing musicals in Toronto during these golden years while appearing in ‘Cats’, ‘Crazy For You’, ‘Tommy’, ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ (with Donny Osmond), ‘Mamma Mia’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’. Monique has played the role of Donna Sheridan in ‘Mamma Mia’ in the US for two years as well as having played many leads from Vancouver to Halifax.
Thank you, Monique, for participating:
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?
Yes, I suppose EVERYTHING has changed in terms of our daily lives. My daughter is 15 and when March Break came and it was announced that the kids would be off for three weeks, that seemed implausible... impossible. And then when someone speculated that the kids wouldn’t be going back at all I couldn’t fathom it. But that’s what happened. And we adapted.
I think we actually are a very adaptable species. I try to remember that. In terms of our lives now, I actually feel very lucky to be living in a small town. There aren’t reems of people around and it’s easy to see friends in the park or on a walk around the river. It’s easy to social distance when you have vast space around you. Sometimes I forget that we’re in the middle of a global pandemic and then I go to the grocery store and see everyone in masks and it’s sort of sci fi- esque.
But like I said earlier, we adapt. People seem accustomed to it now. I know that masks will continue to be a part of our lives for a very long time and that’s as it should be.
Were you involved or being considered for any projects before the pandemic was declared and everything was shut down?
I did have several contracts that I was supposed to do in 2020 that were cancelled. It really is very sobering to watch your entire year go up in smoke. I feel there was a real tsunami effect..... spring contracts were cancelled which we all expected, then the summer ones evaporated, and the final blow was Christmas contracts being cancelled.
I think our community went into mourning. It was shocking. Our employment is precarious at the best of times so to have this happen was incredibly difficult. And I do musicals, so the two things that are banned (and will be for the foreseeable future) are mass indoor gatherings and singing. PERFECT!!!
Describe the most challenging element or moment of the isolation period for you. Did this element or moment significantly impact how you and your immediate family are living your lives today?
I would say the most difficult moment was not being able to see my family. We’re quite spread out across the country and we always get together on PEI every summer for a reunion. Just knowing that was off the table really made me sad. I miss my parents and my sisters
But having said that I feel so lucky that I live with people. My husband and daughter have literally saved my bacon throughout this. I have thought repeatedly of my single friends who have had to socially isolate AND lose their livelihood at the same time.
We really tried to make the best of it and look at the positives. Being home together, cooking, watching movies and living simply.
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 have been extremely busy during lockdown. The first month or so I would say I was a bit aimless. I tried not to judge myself for it. Everyone reacted in their own way. But then I had a bit of a reckoning with myself. I had always had these other ventures that were of interest to me. But I’d never had the time to explore them. The upside of being employed pretty regularly in the theatre is that I never really had to do anything else. But suddenly I was faced with a blank page.
So I started working toward launching my own jewelry line. I launched about six weeks ago and it’s been successful beyond my wildest dreams. It’s a creative outlet just like theatre is and I realized that that’s a vital and essential component to my innate happiness.
I am also studying to become a personal trainer and nutrition coach. My dream is to have my own fitness company in Stratford, Ontario, that caters to women in the prime of their lives (45 +) It’s an incredibly detailed course of study and I’m finding it challenging and wonderful. I want to inspire women to feel great about themselves. At a certain age, haven’t we earned that??
I’m also involved with an incredible theatre company in town called Here for Now Theatre. The artistic producer, Fiona Mongillo, really has made an incredible thing happen. As the situation was unfolding with the pandemic and it became apparent that all contracts would be cancelled, she set to work to find a creative solution in taking advantage of what we COULD do. And that was to do outdoor theatre.
She wanted a troubadour experience in which we’re light on our feet and can adapt to the ever-changing situation. So, we’re in the middle of an outdoor theatre festival at the Bruce Hotel in Stratford. We’re doing live theatre! It’s been an incredible experience.
My husband Mark Weatherley wrote two of the plays (“Whack! “and “Infinite Possibilities”) and I came on board as a director. It’s been an incredible experience. The audiences are so appreciative. They’re starving for that live experience. We’re doing everything by the book including physically distancing the chairs, sterilizing them between seatings and limiting the numbers. Again, we adapt!
The Festival has been so successful that we’ve been extended. So, for me, the pandemic has given me a bit of a kick in the pants to venture into new territory. I think it’s interesting how things have unfolded for me. I guess without the safety net of relying on doing musicals (and I use the term “safety net” very loosely!!) I sort of allowed myself to dream a little and act upon those dreams. I feel extraordinarily lucky.
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?
In terms of advice for other performing artists right now, I would say be bold and just leap into that unknown. I mean we’re already living in an incredibly uncertain time so maybe now is the time to develop that new skill, to take that course, to try something new.
I think as artists we all need that side hustle more than ever. As my husband wrote in his play “When nothing is certain, anything is possible!” I actually really believe that.
And for the young’ uns coming up, I would say try to be as well rounded as possible. Develop those skills and passions and hobbies outside of theatre. Hopefully, it will translate into some income so you’re not solely reliant on theatre to pay the bills. I think it can only help you as an artist too!
But also we now have the gift of time! So read those books, learn those new songs, have play readings in the park with your friends, phone up an older artist that you’ve always admired, and ask if you can pick their brain. Get creative! There are opportunities to be had if you so choose. But I also feel that to be too focused on our careers can limit and inhibit the scope and breadth we’re capable of as humans.
I really feel that it’s important to look at this as an opportunity for growth. The alternative is to view it solely as a negative phenomenon which I think is not terribly helpful. But let’s face it, it’s HARD. I think it’s absolutely ok to go under the covers and cry it out. Just don’t stay there too long!
Do you see anything positive stemming from this pandemic?
The positives I see are families connecting more, people having more time to just be, people getting back to baking and cooking, people helping each other. If only the financial repercussions for artists were not so dire, I think we’d be happier. It’s really hard to be blissed out when you’re worried about money. It’s a very real quandary.
But as I said before, it’s really interesting to see the creative ways people are forging new paths for themselves. But also a lot of brilliant artists are working jobs that they’re not particularly enjoying. It’s tough. But we’re a tough bunch!
In your informed opinion, will the Canadian, Broadway, and Californian performing arts scene somehow be changed or impacted on account of the coronavirus?
Man, if only I had a crystal ball! I have no idea. I try not to speculate too much because the information keeps changing and none of us have a clue what’s going to happen. All I know is that when I think about assembling together with a big cast for the first day of rehearsal it literally brings tears to my eyes. The joy I have felt over the years working with people in the theatre will stay with me forever. And I am by nature an optimist, so I have to believe we’ll get back there.
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?
In terms of live streaming, I think it absolutely will be a huge part of our industry moving forward. For me personally, I haven’t done anything, but I’ve certainly watched some content. But you know, I have come to a personal conclusion with it. I would rather watch the opening number of Ragtime at the Tony Awards for example with that huge cast brilliantly staged than something on Zoom.
I find I’m looking to the past to get that fix. Watching throngs of performers interacting with each other with joy and abandon and physical proximity thrills me more than anything right now.
But I certainly don’t judge those who are pursuing the online avenue!! It actually drives me crazy when we become divisive as artists. We must support each other right now more than ever! To each his own! Live and let live! And of course, if anyone did ask me to do a Zoom performance thing I’d be all over it.
What is it about performing you still love given all the change, the confusion, and the drama surrounding our world now?
Wow. So, this question has brought me to my knees. I have been a professional stage artist for over 35 years. I have had so many incredible opportunities and have met the most brilliant, funny, kind, compassionate, and exceptional people. I have sung exquisite songs, I have tap-danced on pianos, worn exquisite costumes, witnessed the most vulnerable moments, laughed, cried, bled, despaired, rejoiced, and felt everything in between.
My life has been incredibly rich and varied and interesting for having done it. I can’t fathom myself ever giving it up and so, I never will. It’s given me too much joy and happiness and laughter.
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?
b. What is your least favourite word?
c. What turns you on?
d. What turns you off?
e. What sound or noise do you love?
f. What sound or noise bothers you?
g. What is your favourite curse word?
h. What profession, other than your own, would you have liked to attempt?
i. What profession would you not like to do?
j. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates?
“Red or white? Thanks.”
To learn more about Monique's jewelry line, visit https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/minniebymoniquelund