Norm Foster

The Self Isolated Artist

Self portrait

Joe Szekeres

Thank you to the theatre gods who have looked down upon me with grace and have blessed me with the opportunity to converse either online, via telephone or by email with some of Canada’s finest members of the professional performing arts community. These ‘self-isolated artists’ have been tremendously kind and receptive in speaking about how they are holding up during this Covid crisis while sharing some personal and poignant memories and thoughts.

I cannot recall of any theatre company off the top of my head, either amateur or professional, who hasn’t produced at least one play by Norm Foster, another of Canada’s finest playwrights. I remember the first time I saw ‘The Melville Boys’ and was struck by how funny the story was at one point while several minutes later I was wiping a tear from my eye. I’ve always found Norm’s plays, characters, and dialogue true to life, sometimes daring, sometimes witty, sometimes harsh and most often humane.

The story of how Norm came to a love of theatre always makes me smile each time I read about it. He went with a friend to an audition of a community theatre production of ‘Harvey’ because Norm wanted to see what this ‘theatre thing’ was all about. He ended up with the role of ‘Elwood P. Dowd’, the central character who has an invisible six-foot rabbit friend. Norm had never seen a play in his life up to this point.

He seems like the kind of guy with whom you could sit in a pub for hours, have some beers, and just ask him questions and discuss everything and anything. I certainly hope I get that chance one day.

And I just found out today that one of Norm’s hobbies is photography. His headshot is only just one example of his work.

We conducted our interview via email right after he had recovered from surgery. Thank you so much, Norm, for your kindness to be interviewed:

1. It has been just over two months right now that we have been under this lockdown. I just found out you got out of the hospital. First off, Norm, a very speedy recovery to you. Before your surgery how have you been doing during this period of isolation and quarantine? How is your immediate family doing?

Oddly enough before THIS surgery, I was recovering from another surgery for a ruptured aneurysm that occurred on a flight from Costa Rica to Toronto. So, it has been an eventful couple of months. I have actually been recovering from some surgery for the entire Covid adventure. If there is such a thing as good time for it to happen, this is it. The rest of the family seems to be doing okay. My wife Helena is doing a lot of gardening and online studying.

2. Before I started reviewing for On Stage Blog, I had just missed you by that much (as Maxwell Smart used to say) when you performed at The Capitol Theatre in Port Hope, Ontario several years ago. Were you involved in any projects before the pandemic was declared and everything was shut down?

I was set to do a tour of my play ‘Jonas and Barry in the Home’ in several theatres in Southern Ontario starting in June. Plus, I was scheduled to go into rehearsals for two new plays of mine at the Foster Festival in St. Catharines this summer. All of that was wiped out of course when the theatres shut down.

3. What has been the most difficult and/or challenging element of this period of isolation?

Not being inspired to write. I’ve talked to other artists about this and many of them feel the same way. You would think that with all of this down time available to us that we would be writing furiously. Not so. Ordinarily I have no problem sitting down first thing in the morning and writing. That is no longer the case, and I’m not sure why. I still have the ideas. I just don’t have the urgency to get them down on paper.

4. Now, along with your recovery from surgery at home, what have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time of lockdown?

I watch tv. I practice my guitar. I face time with my children and grandchildren. I argue with my wife about nothing. I check my pulse. I sit in my beautiful yard like an old man and hope against hope that the NFL season won’t be canceled.

5. Any words of wisdom or sage advice you would give to other performing artists or emerging playwrights 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?

I would just tell them to hang in there. This is just a speed bump. Mind you, it’s a pretty big speed bump, but this too shall pass and your dreams can still be achieved, given time.

6. Do you see anything positive stemming from this pandemic?

At first, I thought that this would lead people down a less selfish path. The old ‘we’re in this together’ idea, but the more I see what’s going on in the world, the more I realize that I was just being naïve. For the most part, people are looking out for themselves. Positives? Yeah. I haven’t put gas in my car since March 3 and my last credit card statement was $32.

7. In your estimation and informed opinion, will the Canadian performing arts scene somehow be changed or impacted as a result of COVID – 19?

It will be changed but I’m not sure how exactly. It will take some time for it to return to the way it was, if it does at all. We are all going to be cautious. I don’t think it will be nearly as enjoyable or fulfilling for the artists or the audience for quite some time. I fear it will seem more like work, something which I avoid at all costs.

8. Many artists are turning to streaming/online performances to showcase/highlight/share their work. What are your thoughts about this format presentation? Any advantages to doing this? Disadvantages? Are you participating or will you be participating in this presentation format soon?

I think it’s great if the artists want to do that. Personally, I’m not interested in online performances right now, because they haven’t made the technology watchable in my opinion. It is just a stop gap measure for now. A way for artists to stay active, and that’s good. But it doesn’t interest me at this time.

9. Once you’re back on your feet and feeling better, will you do any live performances soon? What is it about the arts you still love given all the change, the confusion and the drama surrounding our world now?

Oh yes, I plan to get back out on the road next year or whenever they say we can. I love performing and being a part of getting a play up and running. In fact, that’s why I do what I do. I love telling a good story to an audience. That won’t change. But I will not be writing any plays about COVID-19. People seem to think that we writers are all going to be telling our stories about it. Not me. I’ve got plenty of other stories to tell.

With a respectful acknowledgement 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?

Funny.

b. What is your least favourite word?

Laborious

c. What turns you on?

Quality writing.

d. What turns you off?

Opinions.

e. What sound or noise do you love?

Waves coming ashore

f. What sound or noise bothers you?

Arguing.

g. What is your favourite curse word?

Fuck

h. What profession, other than your own, would you have liked to attempt?

Piano player in a smoky bar.

i. What profession would you not like to do?

Law enforcement

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

“Nice job.”

To learn more about Norm, visit his website www.normfoster.com.

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