Self Isolated Artist
Rodrigo (or Rod, as I found out later) Beilfuss told me in an email that he owes a great deal of appreciation to his high school English teacher, Mr. Gord McLeod, who opened the young exchange student’s world to the beauty of the language of William Shakespeare. Beginning with the study of ‘Hamlet’ in high school, Rod affectionately blames his teacher for everything since the young actor hasn’t stopped pursuing and bringing to life some of Shakespeare’s greatest stories.
Rod’s path in life has certainly fascinated me. Born and raised in Brazil, he moved to Winnipeg in 2001 as an exchange student. In Manitoba’s capital city, Rod is a founding member of Theatre by the River and has also acted and directed in several productions at local various theatres. He holds a BA (Honours) from the University of Winnipeg, an MA in Classical Acting in England’s London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Rodrigo is also a graduate of the Stratford Festival’s two prestigious flagship programs: The Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre and the Michael Langham Workshop for Classical Direction. Some impressive high credentials here. Currently, Rod is Artistic Director for Shakespeare in the Ruins (SIR) in Winnipeg.
This young actor was a member of the Stratford Festival Company for four years. Since I began reviewing for On Stage not that long ago, I can recall two productions in which he was involved that were personal favourites. Rod played young Siward in a very sexy production of ‘Macbeth’ that is now streaming until the end of the month. He also was the Assistant Director with Graham Abbey in a top-notch production of ‘The Front Page’:
1. How have you and your family been keeping during this two-and-a-half-month isolation? Are you in Winnipeg right now?
Yes, we are in Winnipeg; after 4 years in Stratford, Winnipeg has been our new home since last Fall. We are generally ok…but I’m not going to lie, parenting a 4-year-old while both of us work from home AND with a new baby coming out in early June…we feel a bit scattered. There are good days, and there are bad days – same as with everyone else out there. With the weather warming up, we feel less claustrophobic and a bit more hopeful. My wife is now entering her mat leave (baby comes out in a couple of weeks), and she’s busy nesting. My 4-year-old really, really misses his friends. Think about it, little kids out there haven’t played with other kids in about 10 weeks. Wouldn’t you feel a little crazy?!
2. Were you involved in any productions that were cancelled as a result of COVID? Were you in rehearsal or pre-production/planning stages that have been temporarily halted? If so, what will become of this work?
Yes, we were in pre-production for ‘The Winter’s Tale’, the mainstage offering from my company, Shakespeare in the Ruins (SIR). The Cast and Creative team were set to go, and we were a month away from rehearsals starting. It was going to be an exciting bilingual production, done in both French and English, staged outdoors at a beautiful heritage park. As Artistic Director, it was my job to call everyone involved to tell them the show couldn’t happen this year – that was not a fun day on the job at all, as you can imagine. But everyone took the news with such grace and kindness. Theatre people are incredible. Right now, the plan is to stage this production next year instead, as part of our 2021 season.
3. What has been most challenging and difficult for you personally during this time? What has been difficult for your family during this time? What have you all been doing to keep yourselves busy?
I think finding an emotional balance amidst such uncertainty has been a challenge. Every day is its own journey, there is no consistency. And living in an “eternal present” can be a bit maddening. My wife and I feel like we don’t have enough energy to devote to our boy properly – he’s a busy boy. We are trying our best; we’ve been reminding ourselves everyday that this is not “the new normal” – it’s just a moment in time.
Personally, I’m struggling with the predicament of ‘The Theatre’; we will be one of the very last sectors to recover, and I already miss being a room with great people creating something beautiful, together. I have to dig deeper into my well of patience. I have been devoting myself to little healthy obsessions to keep the mind busy, such as listening to a lot of classical music, and reading a biography of Chopin; and watching my favourite trashy show on TV right now: Billions. Trying my best to unplug the mind from the universe of Theatre sometimes, so I can re-charge.
4. You are one busy man, Rodrigo, with your work at Stratford plus your work as Artistic and General Directors of companies in Winnipeg. In your estimation and opinion, do you foresee COVID 19 and its results leaving a lasting impact on the Canadian performing arts and theatre scene?
Ya know, funny thing is, I’m a bit of a workaholic, and I always feel guilty if I don’t “do something” – it’s terrible, I’m working on fixing that, and failing. Maybe it’s my Catholic background growing up in Brazil; there’s so much guilt around enjoying life’s idle pleasures.
Managing a theatre company right now, weathering this pandemic storm, is fascinating – and incredibly exhausting. It turns out ‘not making theatre’, or “unmaking” theatre, is more work than making the bloody thing. The game right now is all about strategizing and stabilizing, thinking long term so that our company has enough resources to come out of this intact. It’s logistical, careful work, and terrifying. But also thrilling; the possibilities for reinvention are endless. We are in the middle of the storm right now, and I cannot wait to see what we create out of this.
This is our chance to re-design how we work. We were overdue for a re-examination of our processes in the theatre; for instance: do we really need to rehearse 6 days a week? How about we start giving people a two-day weekend? And: what are the stories we want to tell once we can gather again? What are the stories we will need?
COVID-19 has changed everything. Theatres will never be the same, I do not think. We also live in an era of constant paranoia, about everything. The fear of a resurgence or another pandemic will always be present. I expect we won’t be as huggy anymore…which is a shame. I love hugs.
5. Do you have any words of wisdom to console or 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 god. Where does one begin?
This is a moment in time. It is not a “normal” time, and we should not think in those “new normal” terms, ever. Instead, we should work toward learning, adapting, and supporting each other – constantly. Events will unfold incrementally into the next few months, and our sector will go through a lot of ups and downs within the next two years. It will take time for things to feel “right”.
It is ok to feel completely devastated by this. It is ok to feel like you need to let go of this “business” for a while. In fact, maybe that’s the best thing to do right now if you really feel like taking a break: letting go. It is ok if you must take on odd jobs to make ends meet – you’re not alone. It is ok to stop. You won’t be forgotten.
Everyone, from busy Oscar winners to amateur performers, everywhere, is out of work right now. Remember when Daniel Day-Lewis took FIVE years off and became a cobbler?
He did win 2 more Oscars after that…maybe it was good for his craft?
Sure, Day-Lewis was always a bit eccentric – and already rich and famous. But maybe there’s method in his madness.
I’m managing a theatre company at the moment, but if theatre is no longer a thing we do for the next few years…hell, “maybe I’ll sell shoes”, as Martha Henry once said to me.
All joking aside: it will suck for a good while. And then it won’t.
Think of it this way: the possibilities are endless. For once, we can completely dream, openly, about what we want theatre to look like in the future. And you can be a part of that revolution.
6. Do you foresee anything positive stemming from COVID 19 and its influence on the Canadian performing arts scene?
As I mentioned above: yes. This is our chance to begin again. And it is also a chance to reveal, once and for all, to everyone out there, just how precarious our lives in this medium really are. This is the moment to advocate for better public funding, for more partnerships, for a better collective understanding of what it is that makes life worth living. Is it really status? Money? Competition?...I don’t know about you, but I don’t miss the Before World. I miss people, and being in togetherness when celebrating Art. But I do not miss that world at all. It was a vile place, moving at an obscenely, unnecessarily fast pace.
This is our chance to properly slow down, and to investigate our sense of community.
7. You Tube presentations, online streaming seems to be part of a ‘new normal’ at this time for artists to showcase their work. Nevertheless, I’ve spoken with some individuals who believe that online streaming or You Tube presentations destroy the impact of the moment of a group of people who have gathered with anticipation in one sitting to watch a particular production. 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 think Theatre is a lot of things, and it is constantly changing and evolving and challenging our pre-conceived notions and prejudices. I think all these Zoom readings and streamed productions are fascinating, and the whole online revolution only proves just how utterly resourceful and inventive theatre people are. But none of it is ‘live’ – ie. in the true presence of an audience. And that is a big thing to miss from the equation…
Ultimately, I find all those options unsatisfying by nature. In that regard, I suppose they do a good job in making us miss the real deal – and in that way, they make us value live performance even more; because nothing compares to it.
Again, I don’t think this is a “new normal”, and I refuse to believe there is such a thing anyway. It is simply the thing we do, for now. What I am really interested in is finding a ‘new art’ from this; what sort of theatre can we create that is inspired by these social restrictions, and not done despite them? What does that look like?
8. Given all this confusion, drama, tension, and upheaval about COVID, what is it about your career as a performer you still like?
We are trained to be very empathetic creatures; to have our senses open to all sorts of stimuli. I’m trying to use that training to investigate what’s beautiful about the world right now: the acts of kindness from strangers; the chance that Nature has to recover; the emotions I feel when I sit down and listen to a great piece of music or the immense pleasure I get from watching my son grow up. We call that “being in the moment” in theatre. “To be here, present, alive, in the moment”. We have used those words to describe the act and the experience of Theatre so often, they are almost clichés…well, now we have been forced to LIVE those concepts. I’m finding the experiment immensely fascinating.
With a respectful acknowledgement to ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton, here are ten questions he used to ask his guests:
1. What is your favourite word?
2. What is your least favourite word?
“No” (my 4-year-old likes that word a lot…)
3. What turns you on?
Great theatre; there’s nothing like it. It’s like being awaken from the Matrix.
4. What turns you off?
People bragging about money.
5. What sound or noise do you love?
The sound a soccer ball makes when it hits the back of the net!
6. What sound or noise bothers you?
Construction noises. Just big machines making a mess, that sort of thing.
7. What is your favourite curse word?
Nothing beats a good “fuck” and its myriad variations; but when I lived in the UK, I did throw a few “bollocks” and “tosser” about.
8. Other than your current profession now, what other profession would you have liked to attempt?
Teaching, or writing.
9. What profession could you not see yourself doing?
Anything to do with tools, construction…I look absurd with a hammer in my hand.
10. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates?
“It’s not what it looks like, but we do have Campari!”
His Twitter handle: @RBeilfuss. If you wish to know more about Rod, visit his website: www.rodrigobeilfuss.com. To learn more about SIR (Shakespeare in the Ruins) of which Rod is the Artistic Director, please visit www.shakespeareintheruins.com.