Shawn and I conducted our conversation through email. When he sent me his headshot, I kept thinking I have seen his work onstage, but where?
Forgive me, Shawn, but I had to do a bit of research to see where I’ve seen you before on stage. And then it came clear to me as I remembered his performance as Geppetto in Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre production of ‘The Adventures of Pinocchio’. You brought a tear to my eye as the father who never gave up on his son no matter the odds. And I did see the original Toronto cast of ‘Jersey Boys’. I wasn’t reviewing at that time but loved every minute of that production.
Shawn holds an Honors B.A. in English Literature from the University of New Brunswick. Mid-career, he trained at Shakespeare & Company in Massachusetts.
Other credits include: London Road, The Arsonists (Canadian Stage); the title role in Pal Joey (Theatre Calgary), Les Miserables,; 7 seasons at Stratford Festival; 6 seasons at Shaw Festival; 2 seasons as Matthew in Anne of Green Gables (Charlottetown Festival), Lord of the Rings (Mirvish); Mamma Mia! (Original USA cast); Jersey Boys (Original Toronto cast); Ragtime (original Broadway workshop cast), Oleanna (TNB); Mikado (Pacific Opera); Next to Normal (MTC); Anne of Green Gables (Charlottetown Festival); Oliver! (NAC).
Playwright: Ghost Light (published by Playwrights Canada Press); seven productions so far, including a nomination for the international LAMBDA award. Awards: Dora, Guthrie, Newton, MyEntertainment plus many Broadway World nominations.
Thank you for taking the time, Shawn, and for adding to the discussion of where you see live theatre headed in a post pandemic world:
It’s a harsh reality that the worldwide pandemic of Covid 19 has changed all of us. Describe how your understanding of the world you know and how your perception and experience have changed on a personal level.
Ok, that's a two-part question. The world I knew? What was the world I knew before March 13, 2020?
On March 12, 2020, I was in the midst of a four-month Canadian tour of a play I'd written entitled ‘Ghost Light’. In May and June 2020, I was supposed to act in "On Golden Pond" with two of my childhood idols, Hal Linden and Michael Learned.
In July 2020 I was supposed to start “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" in Toronto. I was happy that after a few months on the road I could walk to work from my own condo in a show that was projected to run for a few years. I was single. I was happy with my lot in life.
After March 13, 2020? Ghost Light closed on the road; my upcoming shows were postponed until God knows when. I flew back to Toronto, collected CERB while waiting for college zoom teaching jobs, joined a dating site and met someone great (still together one year later), followed all the important and necessary social and cultural movements with awe and hope, felt happy for the small strides that were starting to happen in that regard, started to reckon with how white privilege was a factor in keeping me working all these years, taught acting by zoom at a few colleges, did a few voice over jobs and commercials, wondered if there would be a place for me in the theatre again, and ...oh, yeah,...basically worried day and night about breathing the wrong air and dying.
With live indoor theatre shut for one year plus, with it appearing it may not re-open any time soon, how has your understanding and perception as a professional artist of the live theatre industry been altered and changed?
How has my understanding of the theatre changed? Well, large productions (which have been most of my income) will take longer to get going than smaller productions (where i make some but not most of my income). There will be (hopefully) more of an equal distribution of casting in terms of an actor's race and gender and size (which is good) but probably not of an actor's age (which might be bad....for me).
As a professional artist, what are you missing the most about the live theatre industry?
I miss the laughs in the dressing room from the half hour call to the places call. I miss the satisfaction of a full day's work in my chosen field.
I miss the boisterous rush of adrenaline-fuelled chat walking from the stage to the dressing room after a curtain call.
i miss the fitting rooms with designers.
i miss the glorious relaxation of being in a character I wear well in front of an audience.
Well, ok, the industry and the art are two different things so....hmmm, what do i miss about the industry per se?
The opening night parties, seeing my name on a poster alongside artists I admire, being part of a community that rallies at the drop of a hat to help a failing theatre company or an ailing colleague.
I miss the memorials because we can't gather right now. In February 2020, we had a lovely send off for Mary Haney at a neighborhood pub. It was sweet and touching and raucous and full of love for Mary.
There's a queue of dear others for whom we are waiting to do that.
As a professional artist, what is the one thing you will never take for granted again in the live theatre industry when you return to it?
Having a job in theatre. Having audiences come to our plays. I never really took those things for granted anyway.
Describe one element you hope has changed concerning the live theatre industry.
That everyone feels heard and represented.
Explain what specifically you believe you must still accomplish within the industry.
"Must" still accomplish? I don't think in terms of 'must' anymore.
I've been proud of the career I've had pre-Covid because it's been exceptionally varied but I'm most proud of the fact that for over 30 years I've been able to make a full time living in the theatre. I WANT to keep accomplishing that. I guess I MUST accomplish that to pay my bills.
Some artists are saying that audiences must be prepared for a tsunami of Covid themed stories in the return to live theatre. Would you elaborate on this statement both as an artist in the theatre, and as an audience member observing the theatre.
I'd be grateful to be cast in a Covid themed play. I'd be happy to watch a Covid themed play.
As an artist, what specifically is it about your work that you want future audiences to remember about you?
I'd like to be remembered as an artist whose work was heart-felt and detailed.
To follow Shawn Wright at Instagram: mistershawnwright / Facebook: Shawn Wright