Self Isolated Artist
Just before the pandemic shut everything down, I had the chance to attend a terrific production of Ella Hickson’s ‘Oil’ at ARC. I had never heard of ARC theatre before but was seeing many online advertisements for the play that piqued my interest.
I was pleased to have written a profile of Bahareh Yaraghi, one of the artists from this production. As I was thinking about other artists whom I’d like to invite for an interview, I remember that Nabil Traboulsi also gave a memorable performance that evening. I was pleased when I had contacted him and he agreed.
Nabil has received solid training as an actor according to his biography from his website. He has performed in New York, Toronto and Brussels. He is fluent in English, French and Arabic so I will have to practice my knowledge of the French language with him sometime. I see he has also performed at Theatre Francais de Toronto so I will have to attend a performance there as well.
We conducted our interview via email:
1. It has been the almost three-month mark since we’ve all been in isolation? How have you been doing? How has your immediate family been doing during this time?
I’ve been doing well given the circumstances. I mostly feel gratitude for being here in Canada where there has been some support provided to help us through this difficult period. There have been things that could’ve been more successful bug as a whole I believe we are doing well. Of course, some days are more difficult than others and it’s a time to be especially kind to ourselves and each other, but I live with my partner and we keep each other happy.
My parents live in Beirut, Lebanon (which is where I grew up). I have two brothers living in Berlin and Dubai and they are all safe and healthy. We talk regularly.
2. As a performer, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally?
We make our living by being around people, collaborating with other artists, and putting on shows for live audiences, so it’s been hard to have that taken away so abruptly, but it’s what needs to be done to get to a place where it’s safe to get together again. Looking ahead has also been a source of anxiety because it feels like theatres won’t be able to open safely for awhile.
3. 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 in performances for ARC’s production of ‘Oil’ by Ella Hickson when the world came to a standstill. Thankfully, we were able to have two weeks of performances and we only had to cancel the last of our three-week run. I’m so grateful that we were able to share this very important play with our audiences and I wish the people who were planning on seeing it during the last week had been able to do so. Who knows, maybe a remount in the future?
My heart goes out to all the artists who were involved in shows but weren’t able to share their work with their communities. I know that theatres are working hard to incorporate these plays in future seasons so I have high hopes.
4. What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time?
I’ve been doing a lot of things that I usually do or want to do but didn’t have enough time for because of work. It’s been lovely to just be able to spend some time with my partner, Margaret, and sip a cup of tea in the backyard. We’re both actors so she’s been organizing weekly play readings on Zoom which has been a great way to discover new plays or revisit familiar ones so it’s a different experience from reading it alone.
We also go for daily walks and I try to exercise as much as possible.
I quickly notice that when I’m not active, I tend to feel ‘smaller’ and more prone to having a bad day. And then more of the common pastimes that a lot of us have resorted to: cooking, reading, watching films and tv shows, podcasts, tuning into Zoom readings and/or live interviews and panels. Music has been a part of my life since I was a teenager and it’s been an important creative outlet.
Oh, and I seem to have developed an interest in birds, which is something I never thought I would be into. They’re fascinating and incredibly unique and watching them makes me think of characters and acting.
This makes it sound like I’m accomplishing a thousand things a day so I want to clarify that there has also been A LOT of just sitting on the couch mindlessly browsing the internet or social media and some very unproductive days.
5. 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?
I’m trying my best to take it one day at a time and take in what’s happening around me. The actor in me is always and forever will be a student of human behaviour so I think it’s a good time to check in and see how I feel on a regular basis, but also to tune in and watch other people around me.
6. Do you see anything positive stemming from Covid 19?
Yes, I see a lot of positives. The status quo we were operating under before the pandemic hit was bad. The dominating capitalist and consumerist paradigm that we’ve developed over the past 50 + years is wreaking havoc on the planet and our ability to live in a fair society. I think it’s interesting that from a purely biological perspective, a virus has spread to curtail humans’ need (?) to drill for oil, pollute the planet and produce mass quantities of useless products. It feels like a self-regulation of sorts and it should be a wake up call going forward. The success of societies should be gauged by how the most vulnerable people are faring, and not by how many billionaires we produce or how much value we’ve created for shareholders and large corporations around the globe. I sincerely hope that on a macro scale, we will adjust in a way that is appropriate, before irreversible damage is done.
The only thing is that this has allowed us to stop and reflect on what truly matters in our lives. Even our industry can be a bit of a rat race, where we’re all trying to book the next job. I think a lot of people have been able to take a deep breath and feel like they have time to rest and organize their thoughts. Nevertheless, it’s important to recognize that even this is a privilege and that a lot of vulnerable people don’t have that luxury and have to hustle even harder to make ends meet during the pandemic.
7. Do you think Covid 19 will have some lasting impact on the Canadian/North American performing arts scene?
On a practical level, I think all industries worldwide will be impacted. It will take some time to recover economically as a country and a lot of our theatres depend on public funding. Overall spending is going to decrease which means less tax dollars for governments, in addition to the burden of making up for the crucial emergency benefits that were created and helped so many of us stay afloat, will make the recovery difficult but not impossible.
However, we’ve been putting on plays and telling stories for millennia so the core of what we do as artists doesn’t change and the core of how we experience art as an audience doesn’t change. It’s deeply ingrained in our DNA and our culture, and that is a comforting thought. We are resilient and we will adapt to the circumstances.
8. 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 love it! I’ve watched a lot of performances online and it’s been a blessing. Live readings are even better. However, I don’t think this will replace live theatre in any way, shape or form. Theatre needs an audience to exist and nothing can replace that. If I wanted to experience something through my screen, I’m more likely to watch a movie or TV show because that was created for that medium specifically, and so it will be crafted more successfully than say, a video recording of a play.
This is a temporary situation and we will be back in our theatres when it is safe to do so. You can’t replace the live experience of the theatre the same way you can’t equate watching a concert online with being there.
9. Despite all this fraught tension and confusion, what is it about performing that Covid will never destroy for you?
The connection with my fellow actors and creatives. The community around it. The pleasure of being in front of a live audience. The joy of crafting a performance and finding the nuances and subtleties, and most importantly, understanding the human story that is being told. Those are some of the reasons why I love being an actor and they exist independently of Covid.
As a respectful acknowledgment 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?
2. What is your least favourite word?
3. What turns you on?
The idea that all humans are connected through biology but also through our stories and myths, no matter when and where.
4. What turns you off?
5. What sound or noise do you love?
Birds chirp in the morning.
6. What sound or noise bothers you?
The air show.
7. What is your favourite curse word?
COCK AND BALLS !
8. Other than your own, what other career profession could you see yourself doing?
Musician or investigative journalist
9. What career choice could you not see yourself doing?
10. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates?
“Come on in, man, they’re waiting for you.”
To learn more about Nabil, visit his website: http://www.nabiltraboulsi.com.