Self Isolated Artist
The Canadian company of the Broadway hit ‘Come from Away’ was still packing them in at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre before the pandemic closed the theatres. This story of 9/11 and the goodness of people shining through in the darkest of times is definitely a story that we all need to see and to hear too. When it’s safe to return to the theatre, I plan to get to see this fine Canadian group of actors even if it’s the last seat in the furthest row of the upper balcony.
Saccha Dennis lends her talents as Hannah and others to this wonderful ensemble of characters. I’m trying not to spoil the plot if you haven’t seen it yet, but apologies if this gives it away. At one point, Hannah sings on the phone to her fire fighter son, ‘I am Here’, and Ms. Dennis’ rendition of this number still brings tears to my eyes (especially when you know what happens at the end of the story).
Originally from Montreal, Saccha is an actor, director, and creator who has played in Canada, the US and abroad. She studied Musical Theatre Performance at Oakville’s Sheridan College. I also had the chance to see Saccha’s work as director of the Hart House production of ‘Legally Blonde: The Musical’. Tremendous fun.
Saccha and I conducted our interview via Zoom:
1. How have you and your family been keeping during this nearly three-month isolation?
You know, we’ve been doing good, it’s been a bit of adjustment with the routine down. We finally have a routine down after months.
2. What has been the most challenging and difficult for you during this time personally and professionally? What have you been doing to keep yourself busy?
I think personally speaking I went back into full time mother mode which included being teacher, therapist and all duties that come with it. Normally, my daughter is in day care 4 times a week. The adjustment was difficult as it has been some time since I’ve had her full time. It’s great to spend time with my daughter so I’ve been really thankful for that time with her.
Professionally it’s hard because in theatre we don’t know what’s going on and we don’t know what’s going to happen afterwards. It’s kinda scary. This is a profession I worked hard to get to and the fact we’re in limbo right now makes for interesting times. CFA is a story to hear right now. I’m sad that we can’t spread that message right now.
Besides looking after my daughter, I’m being creative. I’ve had little projects on the side in connecting with theatre companies or to direct for them. I’m writing my own projects and pieces. But now with having my daughter full time, I’m having to juggle these other pieces and projects once again.
3. Along with your work in ‘Come from Away’ in Toronto, were you involved in any side projects when the pandemic was declared, and everything was shut down? How far were you into those projects? Will they come to fruition some time soon? Professionally, has Covid changed your life regarding how you will approach future performances of ‘Come from Away’?
My projects are ongoing. I want to make sure my projects are thoughtfully and strategically planned. There’s no rush for them to come to fruition as of yet. Right now, there’s no urgency to get the projects up and running.
It’s interesting the week when things started to seem off and shut down, yet we were still performing because there was nothing official happening. We got the sense that a lockdown was coming, and we knew about Covid. Already the message felt different because of the content of the show.
The show was a huge and epic event from history and how were we dealing with it. It was an interesting parallel to do the show while all of this was happening around us. I think it will be the same when we go back because we will go back because something so epic happened and we did come out of it just like ‘Come from Away’, and what we do as human beings to help each other out in situations like this.
4. Some actors whom I’ve interviewed have stated they can’t see anyone venturing back into a theatre or studio for a least 1 ½ to 2 years. Do you foresee this possible reality to be factual?
It’s interesting. I’m almost in denial. No one can say what will happen. People can assume and I feel and I hope anyway that we will be up and running sooner than that. A company like Mirvish is thinking of all strategies, and I believe they have a plan. To what extent, I’m not sure. Does that mean that it’s worth it to seat a third of the house for the costs? Is it worthwhile?
I don’t know. I want to be hopeful and that it will be sooner. When we went into lockdown, I’m sure a number of us did some research to find out about the pandemic of 1918. Theatres were still open as people needed an escape. I’m not saying we should be running because everyone needs to be safe and to feel safe.
I try to remain optimistic because it’s what I normally do. I’ve been training for this role so this production better come back.
It’s definitely going to look different in the next couple of years, that’s for sure.
5. In your estimation and opinion, do you foresee COVID 19 and its results leaving a lasting impact, either positive or negative, on the Canadian performing arts scene?
I thought a lot about this. On a positive note, people will start to create new businesses. Something new will be formed out of this. Whether it’s digital theatre, whatever different form of theatre it might bring.
On a negative note, there will be change but that will look like? I don’t know. Will audience and cast get their temperature taken as they enter? Will audience members have to wear masks? Will backstage crew have to wear masks? Social distancing? This could be a new era of theatre that we weren’t ready for. It’s necessary for our safety and for us to sustain our livelihood.
Will the seating in the audience be in different capsules or different shelters for families? Nobody really knows.
6. Do you have any words of wisdom 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?
Be your own creator. I’m starting to recently discover that it is in creating things that makes me, ME. Creating makes me love what I do. It could turn very grim for all artists. For new graduates, don’t depend on other sources or companies to give you a platform. Create a platform yourself. We’re seeing it online, You Tube, streaming.
7. I’ve spoken with some individuals who believe that online streaming and You Tube presentations destroy the theatrical impact of those who have gathered with anticipation to watch a performance. 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 believe for me theatre is that live experience. That’s what it’s built on. We come together as a community to witness a story and to see performers take us on a journey. Digital theatre is alright, but it takes away from that experience of a community. However, there are positive aspects of online theatre that you can’t get from live theatre that actually help theatre in a way.
For example, the visual. If you want to present a visual that you know you can’t do on stage, the online theatre will allow you to do that. There’s the yin and the yang.
I’m old school and I think a lot of people are. I just hope theatre doesn’t become obsolete.
I hope theatre has a life after Covid.
8. What is it about the performing arts that still energizes you even through this tumultuous and confusing time?
I always go back to community. It’s been three months since I’ve hugged my friends. We all need that communal interaction. That’s what energizes me to experience something in real life where I can sit across from them and touch their hand or hold their hand. Community is a feeling of human interactions, and that’s what really gets me.
With 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?
I have a few – resonance, juxtaposition (it’s fun to say), and I love the word Yes. That’s my favourite word.
2. What is your least favourite word?
3. What turns you on?
Kindness turns me on. Kind people, watching kind things unfold.
4. What turns you off?
Ignorance and hate.
5. What sound or noise do you love?
I love the sound of laughter. Love it.
6. What sound or noise bothers you?
7. What is your favourite curse word?
What is your least favourite curse word? I’m gonna say, “Shit” on all levels.
8. Other than your current profession now, what other profession would you have liked to attempt?
It has to be where I can help people – motivational speaking, teaching, interior decorating is something I also fancy.
9. What profession could you not see yourself doing?
Serving. Nothing wrong with serving as I’ve done it but it’s not for me.
10. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates?
“You did good, kid. You did good.” I need validation from God.
To learn more about Saccha Dennis, please visit her social media sites: www.sacchadennis.com, Facebook: SacchaDennisRobichaud or Instagram: @sacchafierce