The Self Isolated Artist
Sedina Fiati held quite an interesting conversation today. Before this pandemic hit, she talks about how she was on that proverbial hamster wheel of ‘busy ness’; we both agreed on the fact that this isolation allowed us that opportunity to sit and just ‘be’ amidst the craziness of it all.
Proudly black and queer, Sedina is a Toronto based performer, producer, creator and activist for stage and screen. She is deeply invested in artistic work that explores the intersection between art and activism, either in form or structure or ideally both. She is the former co-chair of Diversity Committee & Councillor – ACTRA Toronto (2013-2017), 2nd VP Member Engagement & Councillor – CAEA (2015-2018) and named as part of 2014 Dyke March Honoured Group – Toronto Fierce Femme Organizers.
We held our interview via Zoom:
We’ve just past the three-month mark of isolation and now slowly emerging from quarantine. How have you been faring? How has your immediate family been doing during this time?
It’s been really difficult for a lot of us, but there’s a lot to be thankful for. I’ve been working throughout and haven’t stopped. I’ve been doing a lot of online facilitation and a lot of online Zoom calls. It’s been hard to be cut off from a lot of things that we used to be able to do and not be able to see our friends or our families. Here in Canada, we’re lucky for the health care system, the emergency benefits. In the grand scheme of things, it’s been a hard-few months, it’s been a hard three months but in the grand scheme of things, I’m 39, I’ll survive three months of hardship (laughs).
I’ve been ok and so has my immediate family. I live with my partner, so we’ve just been isolating with each other. My mom is in a retirement residence, so I’ve been able to see her a couple of weeks ago with a physical distance. I’m looking forward to seeing her again, so yeah, everyone’s been ok.
As a performer, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally?
It’s been a time. I wear a lot of hats and it’s hard for me to talk just as a performer. It’s been hard not to go and see shows. I really miss that. It’s also been a good time of contemplation, of next steps. I feel like I was going to be quite busy throughout this spring, so this has allowed me to slow down as a performer, breathe and think through things. During this slow downtime as a performer, I’ve been thinking about training, about craft and how I’ve let that fall by the wayside for the last while and been wanting to reconnect with that and with practicing.
Personally, my partner and I have been reconnecting with each other. I’ve been calling people and text on a regular basis with family and friends. I’ve done my share of Zoom calls. I haven’t done many social Zoom calls to be honest, a few for sure, but for professional reasons I use Zoom a lot instead. I appreciate not having to look at a screen if I can help it.
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?
Yeah, I was. There were three things that were supposed to happen. One of them has been postponed where I was assistant directing with a friend on a project that she was creating that was going to happen at the Railway Museum in the spring. I was also supposed to do a workshop of a new play at YPT by Alicia Richardson called ‘Sweeter’. Alicia is the Canada Council playwright in residence there. I was supposed to direct a workshop of that play and that has been postponed to the fall. I was producing a reading of a new play called ‘Leopards and Peacocks’ by Gitanjali Lena. We did an online sharing of two scenes a few weeks ago to do something and to commemorate the 11th anniversary of the Tamil civil war.
There was a conference in Banff I was supposed to go to. That ended up being online with 3 seminars and video sharings.
A lot of things postponed and moved around. Performance wise I had nothing. I had thoughts about putting a cabaret together.
I thought about this schedule and thought, “That’s a lot.” I would have gotten through it all and would have been fine, but it’s probably better to chill out. I’ve been appreciating the time to do a few more things.
What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time?
Personally, I’ve been cleaning up a lot. So, my apartment is really clean. Just been watching things a little bit – lots of audible podcasts. I have more time to do things. More cooking, lots of baking. The stuff that I would squeeze in here and there I’ve had more time to do. A lot of cleaning.
I’ve always been inspired by Marie Kondo and, in general, makeover shows. Watching ‘Queer Eye’ has inspired my partner and I to change our space around. In addition to that, it’s been a lot of Zoom calls and online facilitation.
I work at Generator as APT. We moved to online – 2 sessions a week – until mid-May. I’m now in prep for a children’s piece theatre. We’re moved the session to be online this year. I know Camp TO is happening but I’m not anticipating the day camp to be open.
The weekends I really don’t have any energy left for work. I feel just depleted by the time Friday rolls around. I don’t think I’ve been on the screen so much since all this happened.
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 given the fact live theaters and studios might be closed for 1 ½ - 2 years?
It is a time of disruption where what we were doing before is not even possible. To the professional theatre school grads: “To be fair and honest, to be so honest, it takes a long time to build up a career anyway”. That was my experience and thinking back to 2004 when I graduated from theatre school. I did an indie show right out of school and other Fringe shows. I wasn’t paid a lot but that was okay because I wanted to do them.
To the graduates and to fellow performers and colleagues – those opportunities will come back. It’ll feel like, “My career is delayed but so is everyone’s”. We’re on such an individual trajectory anyway so who’s to say what you would or wouldn’t have gotten?
In the grand scheme of things, if you’re in a career for the long haul, you’ll be fine. Even with a year off, you’ll be fine. Life happens to us for any reason why your career will take a break. Be ready for those moments when your career takes a break. This time of the pandemic has made me aware that we may have to be doing other things with our time.
My overarching answer: “You’ll be fine.” Maintain yourself care in terms of your sanity and whatever you can do for your creative practice, but you don’t have to overdo it.
I do anticipate live performance for an audience may not return for a little while, unfortunately, but I can’t see performers being off for a really long time. It’s hard to be a performer so that’s why I’m glad to be wearing a producer’s hat as the stars have to align for a show to happen. There are always things you can be doing. Still taking the classes, exploring video performance. Dance class, singing. You should always be doing these things anyway. The work never stops. You can make an audience online.
Do you see anything positive stemming from COVID 19?
For all of us, it’s just a time of collective pause and think through who and what it is you want to be. I feel personally that I was on a hamster wheel and still on there. Just thinking about my trajectory, I didn’t even take a break until I graduated. So the positives for the new graduates: Journal, refill the well, develop those self-care practices, find positive elements to sustain yourself. You can take that break too.
Don’t feel like you’re actually missing out. This is your time, your trajectory, your career. This is a part of how your career has unfolded. Really take the time to contemplate. Others have had their own set of challenges too just like you. When things start back up again, you’re grounded and in a space of joy because that is, I think, the space where some of the best work happens.
Do you think COVID 19 will have some lasting impact on the Canadian/North American performing arts scene?
Yeah, it will. Tonight, I’m a guest for the Indie Arts Coalition in an open space - a series of ongoing conversations about how we want to move forward in a better and different way. Things are in the air that haven’t been there in awhile. A big thing that’s happening is the contemplation of what we’re doing and why, and who it’s benefitting in terms of the independent artist. The system set up, nonprofits being set up, and making sure independent artists are recognized somehow, financially.
With anti-racism, systemic oppression. Black Lives Matter, there’s a real spotlight on issues. I’ve been working on this for quite some time and so have other people before me. I don’t think we can come at this the same as we had.
It’s also a tough time because I don’t know how funding will be affected by the economic downturn. Will there be the same amount? Which institutions will be left standing after this? The ones that are left are in a space of reckoning that we can’t do things the way we did before.
We’re really going to have to work hard and pull innovative approaches to bring our audiences back to collective spaces, and to welcome people back.
Some artists have turned to YouTube 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?
There are so many things to say about it good and bad. I have questions about the commissioning of online performance from larger institutions and are people being paid properly for that work. There was an immediate response, at first, of the proliferation of work online to try to address the fact performances were canceled and people were out of work they might have had.
Now that things have settled, online performances are a good thing and especially because what alternative is there? I would rather see fewer performances that were well promoted, and artists were well compensated than seeing a bunch of performances. I can’t keep up with everything that I’m seeing online right now, bam, bam, bam…. who’s next?
It’s still a valid format, but I would rather people took the time to explore the medium and what the possibilities are and that things were properly promoted. Streaming removes the barrier of participation of people who might not have money and presence for whatever reason for those who can’t attend live performances.
The Zoom reading, I don’t know how that will fare when COVID is over. Yes, Zoom has allowed artists to collaborate from all over and that’s good. The Zoom reading will probably not endure to the extent that is happening now.
Despite all this fraught tension and confusion, what is it about performing that COVID will never destroy for you?
The ephemeral nature of performing. There’s something deep within the human history of storytelling that we can never erase that is deep within our DNA as humans. We need to share our stories with each other. We need to share emotions with each other. My parents were quite artistic so it appears that I’ve followed suit. The way we tell stories may differ, but we need to tell them. This will never be destroyed.
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?
Moist; it’s just kind of a funny word. It’s a great word, but it’s still a funny word Prime Minister Trudeau even pointed out what kind of a funny word it is.
3. What turns you on?
Sharing, honesty, generosity, kindness, joy
4. What turns you off?
Dishonesty, misplaced anger, meanness, excluding people, trying to feel better than somebody else.
5. What sound or noise do you love?
I love laughter, children’s laughter, and children playing.
6. What sound or noise bothers you?
Styrofoam rubbing together. That one really gets me.
7. What is your favourite curse word?
Oh, Fuck, for sure. It’s so versatile.
What is your least favourite curse word?
Cunt ‘cause it’s a good word.
8. Other than your own, what other career professions could you see yourself doing?
On line facilitating. Through various means, I’ve been teaching Zoom for Beginners to laid-off hotel workers. It’s all people of colour who worked in hotels who have been laid off so it’s been a joy to help these people figure Zoom.
9. What career choice could you not see yourself doing?
Hmmm. This is a good one. I don’t think I’d be a very good accountant. (laughs) Too many details.
10. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates?
Oh, this is a fun one. “Here is all of the foods you love. Here are all the people you love who are now dead. It’s a party.” (laughs)
You can follow Sedina on Facebook: Sedina Fiati, Twitter and Instagram: @bwheelsheels