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Steve Ross

Theatre Conversation in a Covid World

Trish Lindstrom

Joe Szekeres

It was time to update the questions for the profile column series. Now who to ask to be a part of this new discussion?

Enter Steve Ross.

Steve commented on one of the profiles I had submitted to a Facebook posting this week. When I saw his name, I was positive that I’ve seen his work before at Stratford but had to do a bit of research. That research culminated in remembering seeing Steve in some momentous productions at Stratford including To Kill a Mockingbird, The Music Man, The Rocky Horror Show, Billy Elliot, Little Shop of Horrors. An impressive resume which is only a mere introduction to this artist’s work.

Steve went to the National Theatre School and graduated in 1991. Prior to that he spent two years at Brock University studying theatre and this past fall returned to Brock (online) to complete that BA…thirty years late but happy to have done it.

2020 would have been his 16th season at The Stratford Festival. Steve’s favorite productions here have been The Grapes of Wrath and Crazy for You. He was part of the ensemble of London Road at Canadian Stage in Toronto and won the Dora Award for best ensemble.

Steve was also part of the highly successful production of Assassins presented by Talk Is Free Theatre in Barrie, Toronto and Winnipeg. This is perhaps the favorite show of his career. He emailed me how he misses it so very much: “I miss the character, I miss the cast, I miss every single thing about that production. Even though he did four separate runs of the show it was never enough.”

Thank you for this gentle reminder, Steve, for me to get in touch with Talk Is Free this summer.

We conducted our conversation via email. Thanks, Steve, for connecting and for adding to the conversation.

Many professional theatre artists I’ve profiled and interviewed have shared so much of themselves and how the pandemic has affected them from social implications from the Black Lives Matter and BIPOC movements to the staggering numbers of illnesses and deaths. Could you share with us and describe one element, either positive or negative, from this time that you believe will remain with you forever?

I think this great pause has given us all time to think. Without this time, I don’t know that we’d have been able to truly evaluate the horrors that are in front of us at the moment. Black Lives Matter NEEDS to be heard and acknowledged. We need to make forward strides. The United States is just broken, and we need to fix that…not Canadians specifically but, it needs to be addressed. I’m grateful to have had the time to sit and reflect and learn from the generosity of my colleagues with regards to race and inclusivity.

Have you learned anything about human nature from this time?

I can’t speak for all of humanity, but I know I’m much stronger than I thought; much more resilient. We’re not meant, as human beings, to be in crisis for this long a time and I am witnessing extraordinary strength in people. We’re all just…getting through this…one day at a time.

How has your immediate family been faring during this time? As a family, can you share with us how your lives have been changed and impacted by this time?

My immediate family has been doing all right. I think we’re all into this next phase of things just going on too long. I think we’re all just sick of it but there’s nothing really to be done about it. It’s a big waiting game.

I know none of us can even begin to guess when professional theatre artists will be back to work. I’ve spoken with some who have said it might not be until 2022. Would you agree on this account? Have you ever though that you might have had to pivot and switch careers during this time?

I’m hopeful that smaller companies might find ways to “bubble up” before 2022. I’d love to see some Christmas work come around. I considered “the pivot” but I’ve decided to stay the course for a while longer. I am pivoting within the profession…branching out into teaching and writing…which I didn’t foresee but I’m enjoying both very much.

How do you think your chosen career path and vocational calling will look once all of you return safely to the theatre? Do you feel confident that you can and will return safely?

I do think we can return safely. But that will be on each individual. I’m very curious how things will look when we get back in a rehearsal hall. Will masks become the norm? How will we get back to any sense of intimacy in scenes? There are so many questions that I suppose we will just have to wait to have answered.

This time of the worldwide pandemic has shaken all of us to our very core and being. According to author Margaret Atwood, she believes that Canadians are survivors no matter what is thrown in their path. Could you share what has helped you survive this time of uncertainty?

Shakespeare. I started to read and watch his plays and it became such a balm for me. On particularly tough days when nothing else seemed to help, I would turn to Shakespeare. It sounds pretentious and I don’t mean it that way. But it forced me to listen and be present and as a result I forgot about the current situation…if only for that three-hour play. I am so grateful for this.

Imagine in a perfect world that the professional theatre artist has been called back as it has been deemed safe for actors and audience members to return. The first show is complete and now you’re waiting backstage for your curtain call:

Describe how you believe you’re probably going to react at that curtain call.

I want to be grateful. I never again want to complain about the long days or the uncomfortable shoes or any of the little gripes that I have been guilty of complaining about. I want to stand there at the curtain call and be reminded that this is why we all do this wild profession. We do it to share stories with others…in a dark room…and then that night will never exist again.

There is a crowd of people waiting to see you and your castmates at the stage door to greet all of you. Tell me what’s the first thing you will probably say to the first audience member:

Whew! I’m so glad we could both be here. I’m missed you so, so much!

Steve Ross’s headshot by Trish Lindstrom.

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