What an enjoyable conversation I had today with the bubbly and effervescent Steffi D. who truly is thankful and grateful for the many opportunities where her career has led her.
I did a bit of online research about this George Brown College student who was the fifth-place finalist in the 2006 Canadian Idol reality based show.
After Canadian Idol, Steffi has performed on stage in musical theatre roles, including national tours of Spring Awakening and in 2013 she received a Dora Mavor Moore Award nomination (similar to the Tonys) for best actress in a musical for her appearance in Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘Cinderella’. Steffi also has a recurring role in the forthcoming television series ‘Crawford’.
Steffi currently appears in the Toronto production of ‘Come from Away’. We conducted our conversation via Zoom:
It has been an exceptionally long six months since we’ve all been in isolation, and now it appears the numbers are edging upward again. How are you feeling about this? Will we ever emerge to some new way of living in your opinion?
Uh, ok, I feel like this is tough because I feel as if we knew this moment was coming that the case numbers were going to spike again. I feel nervous, I feel a little bit anxious. When this all started I don’t think any of us thought we’d be sitting in our houses six months from now. When I got a text message from my Stage Manager on March 14 saying “Hey, don’t come into work today.” Who knew that it was literally to be six months from that moment? I don’t think anybody knew that was going to happen.
I will say the one thing that makes feel a little bit more at peace when it comes to this is the entire world is going through the exact same thing. Everybody is in the same boat right now; everybody is going through the same thing. I guess, as far as this goes, yes, it’s unnerving the numbers are going up. But again, I feel as if more and more we need each other whether it’s over Zoom, either six feet away on a walk.
A new way of living? Hmmmm…well I will say what seems unlikely right now. Giving someone either a hug or a handshake when you meet them sounds like it’s going to be a thing of the past. I think that’s really stressful and sad because we don’t get to connect in the same ways that we used to be able to connect for so so long. It’s going to be a little bit odd as we’re going to have to re-adjust the way we think of things.
Who knew when cold and flu season rolled around, nobody thought to wear masks and not to get sick. Everyone was just rolling with the punches, get your flu shot.
Honestly, I will never take my health for granted ever, ever again.
How has your immediate family been doing during these last six months?
My immediate family has been doing okay. My father is a radiologist so he’s still going to work at the hospital. My mom is technically retired now so she’s been spending a lot of time at home. My brother is a gastroenterologist and he’s working. As you can see I come from a family of a lot of doctors so all of them have still been going to work.
I think everyone has been feeling okay. We had a bit of a scare. My grandmother is in a long-term care home. There was an outbreak there. Thankfully, she was totally fine so knock on wood that remains the case. I think everyone in my family has been really responsible so that’s good.
As an artist within the performing arts community, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally?
Okay, I feel like they go hand in hand those two things, personally and professionally. Specifically, it’s a big lesson I’ve had to learn during this time is that I think Covid made me realize that I’m so intertwined with my job and my career, and performing is so much a part of my identity that I feel like it’s been really hard to be forcefully separated from that during this time. And understanding who I am without performance and who I am without my career being the biggest part of me.
I think that’s been a really challenging thing for me to understand that I’m a person outside my job and what I do. It’s been an interesting and fascinating journey to go ‘Who am I underneath all of this?’
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?
I had booked a contract that didn’t end up happening because it was supposed to be on camera. Unfortunately, I can’t disclose what it was.
Other than that, ‘Come from Away’ has been my bread and butter for the past three years. We had done 850 shows at that time we stopped. Honestly, who knew it was going to be such a hit? I’ve loved every moment of being a part of ‘Come from Away’ and telling that story. I realize how deep of a void it has left when we weren’t able to continue on with the show.
What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time?
Well, that’s a great question. There has been a lot of things going on. At the beginning of all this, I actually was having a pretty nice time. I caught up on things I haven’t had time to do because being at the theatre eight times a week is grueling, demanding. You have to be responsible.
When we had this big intermission and this big break, I thought to myself, ‘Hey, why not do some stuff that I’ve always wanted to do that I haven’t had time to do.” So I actually learned how to cook a little bit which is something I’ve never learned how to do. I can make a mean coconut cream pie now. I’ve made a great pasta sauce and chili to name a few things. I also re-decorated my apartment. I decluttered my entire place from head to toe. I took all the time in the world to go through every cupboard, every drawer, every closet, everything.
One of the biggest things I’ve done is start this online talk show with the stage manager of ‘Come from Away’. Her name is Lisa Humber. And we started this online talk show called ‘Check In from Away’ where every week, every Tuesday, a new episode comes out on the Mirvish You Tube Channel. We interview different artists, people who work backstage about what they’ve been doing during the pandemic, other shows they’ve worked on at Mirvish, their favourite memories, what they miss the most about theatre, stuff like that.
I have to tell you it was a saving grace for me to remain creative in some kind of way and also to connect with people whom I’ve met and there are some whom I haven’t met which was really cool. This has been my biggest project. We’ve released 17 episodes so far, so it’s been keeping us busy, but I’ve been grateful for it.
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?
Ooooo, this is a tough one…I’ll start with the theatre grads…
I feel so bad for the theatre grads because it must be so anti-climactic to graduate school and to literally walk out into a global pandemic and not be able to do what you love the most. I can’t even imagine.
I’ve been so lucky to be able to do this for many years and the void that I’m feeling in all this is huge.
Words of wisdom? Honestly, just try to stay sane, and try not to drink too much. I realize there’s not a lot to do some days, but we do have to keep our wits about us a little bit and whatever that means to you, keep connected to others around you, how difficult or annoying it might be over technology.
And stay creative in some way. Find a little project, something to read, honestly anything to keep your mind exercised. It’s been difficult to keep the acting and singing chops alive if you’re not performing and can’t be on stage.
Do you see anything positive stemming from Covid 19?
Yes. I think a lot of things, actually. I think the world right now is literally and figuratively on fire. I feel this is an amazing opportunity with the social movements, the racial movements that really good things will come out of this. Since there has been so much time at home, we’ve had time to think and a lot of discoveries have been made that didn’t have the space to happen when everybody was in a ‘busy body’ kind of world, always hustling and moving.
When you take away all that ‘busyness’, you realize what things are really important, and I know that’s happened to me. This pause in the world was also good for me for people to do a lot of self discovery of the world, other people. We’re learning to understand each other and I think things will be better at the end of the day when we come out of this and hopefully no more casualties.
Do you think Covid 19 will have some lasting impact on the Toronto/Canadian/North American performing arts scene?
I feel optimistic that people will be creative and find ways. This is what I hope, my dream and hope is that people will want to connect with the performing arts even more than they did before. After sitting home and finishing Netflix, I’m sure everyone is going to want to see a live performance or a musician playing or a concert, or a musical or a play.
I’m just going to leave it at that because there’s no point in focusing on the negative as I’m an optimist. There’s plenty of negativity going around.
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?
That’s a very interesting debate you just mentioned about some artists doing whatever it takes and those who say they will wait until they return to the theatre safely.
Honestly, I’m all for whatever makes people feel happy, comfortable and creative. So if an artist wants to stream their work, that’s amazing to give people an opportunity who may not have that opportunity or the funds to go see a show, or a concert or a musical to access their stuff online. I think that’s incredible.
I will say the only thing that sucks about Covid is theatre is all about live audiences and feeding off reactions and hearing laughter and tears. I find that’s the thing that suffers the most with streaming. Unfortunately, streaming doesn’t give you that instantaneous rapport and relationship with the audience. That’s a shame and that’s what I miss about theatre so much.
Film and tv are fine but you don’t get the instant gratification that you get when you perform live.
To be compensated properly for an artist’s work is an interesting debate I can see why this would divide people. If you’re volunteering your talents and feel comfortable and happy with that, I think you need to follow your gut and your intuition. If you want to share something and have a story to tell, by all means do it.
Obviously, compensation is nice when it happens, but I think that’s a case by case decision basis. It depends on the project, the artist and what’s at stake. I can’t put a label on it either way because there are different outcomes of some of these projects.
Despite all this fraught tension and confusion, what is it about performing that Covid will never destroy for you?
Covid will never ever destroy my undying musical theatre nerd love for all things theatre. I’m a huge musical theatre nerd, I’m a theatre nerd. Nothing will ever replace the feelings that I have felt sitting in an audience with a programme in hand waiting for the production to begin, hearing the orchestra tune, seeing the performers enter the stage.
It’s really un replicated. You can replicate that feeling anywhere else, just the feeling of the lights going down, a story beginning. For a couple of hours, you get to follow another story, forget any baggage you may have brought to the theatre, you can laugh, cry, whatever it makes you feel.
It’s just solidified my undying love for theatre. Truly. I miss it so much every day. I will never ever take it for granted ever again. The moment I will have the chance to walk into the Royal Alexandra once again to tell the story of ‘Come from Away’, I will weep tears of joy and relief and sadness.
I’m just going to be the happiest girl when that happens.
You can follow Steffi on Twitter: SteffiD3 Myspace.com/SteffiDBowPower