Self Isolated Artist
Since I’ve been reviewing for On Stage, it has been most rewarding if I become aware that Canadian professional actors and artists are following the blog and reading the articles. I was pleased when I received a message that Sarah Dodd started following me on Twitter. I had to think for a minute as I did recognize her name. And then it came to me that I saw Sarah in a wonderfully crafted performance of ‘The Front Page’ at the Stratford Festival last summer.
Just this past fall, I had read Sarah would appear in a production of ‘Marjorie Prime’ at Coal Mine Theatre in the winter with a stellar cast that included Martha Henry. Sarah speaks highly about her experience in her profile. This play was one I did not want to miss. But I did as another On Stage Blog reviewer really wanted to see the production. And by opening night, most of the tickets were gone. Note to self: Don’t do that again if you see the cast is a dynamite powerhouse.
In our line conversation, Sarah told me she likes to work on new plays as it is her favourite to do. Her professional background is quite impressive. Since 1996, she has been working off and on at The Stratford Festival and has worked with some of the country’s finest performers including Brian Bedford and Martha Henry.
Other appearances include Tarragon Theatre and Nightwood Theatre. Sarah is also a recipient of two Dora awards, one for her work in Daniel McIvor’s ‘Marion Bridge’ and directed by Mr. McIvor himself, and the other for her ensemble work with thirteen other women at Nightwood for ‘The Penelopiad’.
The more online interviews I’m conducting, the more I would love to meet these individuals in person. I’m hoping that will begin once this pandemic is lifted:
1. How have you been keeping during this crisis, Sarah? How have you and your family been doing?
At the beginning, I didn’t do well. I walked into a grocery store after rehearsal around March 13th and everything was gone. No milk, no toilet paper, no meat, no canned goods and I immediately had a panic attack. I called my husband and he helped me through it. I came home empty handed and he got up at 6:30 am the next day and found the things we needed. He’s an incredible guy.
Since then, I have tried to think of this time as exactly what it is…time. I get to be with my son, and I get to be with my husband. We are healthy, we love each other, we laugh a lot and there have been many desserts baked. The most important thing we have done is allow each other to have bad days. You want to stay in bed? No problem. Don’t want to talk? That’s fine too. Need to cry? Here’s a shoulder and a chocolate brownie.
2. As an artist, what has been the most difficult and the most challenging for you at this time?
Seeing all of our community lose their jobs. It is overwhelming and devastating. I worry about how artists are going to pay bills and unexpected expenses. I worry about lost opportunities for younger actors who were about to explode onto the scene. I worry about the new work that has been cancelled and may never be seen. I worry that some theatres will have to close for good. Also, I desperately miss my friends and the rehearsal hall.
3. Were you involved in any projects (pre-production, rehearsals or production) when the lockdown occurred? What has become of these projects?
I was in the first week of rehearsals for Susanna Fournier’s ‘Always Still the Dawn’ at Canadian Stage. It was two one acts, directed by Severn Thompson and Liza Balkan. I was in a room with three brilliant actresses: Sochi Fried, Fiona Sauder and Krystina Bojanowski. Across the table were two remarkable directors and the astonishing Susanna Fournier. Heaven!
We started on Tuesday and by Friday it was over. Gone. It was shattering. Brendan and Monica at Canadian Stage were so good with us and very transparent about what was happening. I am forever grateful for their care. I have been told that we will be back, I just don’t know when. I was also going to do ‘Meet My Sister’ by Bonnie Green at the Lighthouse Festival. Liza was going to direct this, too. So, needless to say, Liza and I have had some virtual cocktails. We have heard that the show will be in the 2021 season.
4. What have you been doing during this time to keep yourself busy?
My son is going into high school next year, so I’ve been helping him with his homework. He has approximately 4 to 5 hours a day. I help him with the math and science, my husband helps with English and French. I’ve also been doing a lot of gardening, walking the dog and reading. Lately, I’ve been attempting yoga, which has proven harder than the algebra. I like the lying down on the mat part and breathing. I also stay busy by panicking and drinking “a glass” of wine.
5. Do you have any words of wisdom or sage advice to performers who have been hit hard by the pandemic? Any advice to those new graduates from the theatre schools who have entered the industry at this tumultuous time?
For graduates, I wish every theatre program in the country would set up a mentorship program. When you graduate you are given a mentor whom you can contact in times of uncertainty.
For performers, I have no idea what advice I could give. I am at a complete loss and I think that’s okay. I have no clue what each day is going to be like and I’m reluctantly learning to take this one day at a time. I do know that as soon as this is over, I’m going to see a lot of plays.
6. Do you see anything positive stemming from COVID-19?
I hope that the government takes a long hard look at the treatment of vulnerable persons. The elderly, women, and children in violent homes, the homeless. I’m hoping that long term care facilities will be overhauled, and that affordable housing will open up. It was easy enough for the government to say, “Stay inside”. Now, they need to provide safe and affordable places to do it. On a lighter note, it’s been nice to be able to hear cardinals without the din of traffic.
7. Will COVID-19 leave some lasting impact on the Canadian performing arts scene?
I hope not. I think initially it’s going to be very difficult for institutions to assure audiences that it’s safe to come back. Once, we are able to assuage any fears, I think everyone will be overjoyed to get back in their seats. Artists are a sturdy folk. As soon as we are given the “all clear”, we are back at it with hearts open.
8. Some artists have been turning to You Tube or streaming/online presentations to showcase and share their work. What are your thoughts and ideas on this? Do you see any advantages or disadvantages?
Will You Tube and streaming become part of the ‘new normal’ we are hearing so much about?
My son and I have been watching the National Theatre and Stratford Festival live YouTube casts. It’s been great way to introduce him to different plays and interpretations of Shakespeare. He loves a good lighting grid and raucous stage fight, but even he said “it doesn’t feel the same”. He’s 13. The audience and the performers feed off each other, we create the space together and because of that, every night is different. You can never rebroadcast that experience. I think it’s a great advertisement tool. Anything that draws more audiences in is fantastic.
9. What is it about performing you still love even through these uncertain times?
I am really lucky because I was performing ‘Marjorie Prime’ a few weeks before the closures. It was one of the best times I’ve ever had. We were welcomed by Ted and Diana at The Coal Mine Theatre with such trusting and open arms. Stewart Arnott directed us into his delicate and moving vision of the play with such heart and humor.
Martha, Beau, Gord and I were a loving quartet. We shared a dressing room, laughed our butts off, shared stories and experiences and we kept Martha well stocked with chips. If anyone missed or jumped a line (and we all did it), without a beat the other person just moved on. We listened to each other, we trusted each other, and we respected each other. It was perfect. That’s what I love. That is what keeps me going.
That is what I hope for every artist: Love, Work, Community, Respect.
As a nod to ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton, here are ten questions he asked his guests at the conclusion of his interview:
1. What is your favourite word?
2. What is your least favourite word?
3. What turns you on?
4. What turns you off?
5. What sound or noise do you love?
My son’s laughter
6. What sound or noise bothers you?
7. What is your favourite curse word?
8. Other than your own at this moment, what other profession would you have liked to try?
9. What profession 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?
“I loved you in ‘Paradise Lost’”