Tanisha Taitt

Self-Isolated Artist

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Joe Szekeres

During this time of isolation, I’ve been in touch with some of the Artistic Directors in Toronto, Stratford and Montreal to profile their work from home and online since they are isolated from their theatres. One of these companies has a unique sounding name I’ve always liked every time I hear it – Cahoots Theatre. To be in cahoots is clever.

I had reviewed their production of ‘Good Morning, Viet Mom’ and wanted to learn more about this company. I was pleased when I got in touch with newly appointed Cahoots’ Artistic Director, Tanisha Taitt.

Tanisha was appointed October 1, 2019. Her biography on Cahoots’ website is highly impressive, and I heartily recommend you read it. From 2013-2019, Tanisha was a Dramatic Arts mentor with the Toronto District School Board. She has worked in many theatre companies including National Arts Centre, Obsidian, Soulpepper, Nightwood and Buddies in Bad Times. She is fiercely committed to inclusion and to racial and cultural representation in the performing arts.

I am looking forward to seeing what she has programmed for the next season and once it’s safe to return to the theatre.

We conducted our interview via email:

1. How have you been keeping during this nearly three-month isolation? How is your immediate family doing?

What a crazy time. It’s been a rollercoaster for sure. About three weeks after isolation began, I suddenly found myself feeling very ill, and ended up being quite sick for about ten days. I am much better now but that was scary. My family is doing well. Although I sadly have not been able to be with them in person since early March, we talk everyday.

2. What has been most challenging and difficult for you during this time? What have you been doing to keep yourself busy?

Difficult? Being ill, being away from my family and friends, the incredible uncertainty with regards to the future of the theatre industry and carrying the weight of the racist murders of unarmed Black men.
I’ve been writing a lot, reading a lot, listening to music that I love a lot. And I will very likely write a new album soon. There are SO many songs bouncing on the walls of my head. So very many. I was a singer-songwriter long before my life led me to theatre, for many years, and that is still my go-to place when life feels like it’s spinning off its axis.

I’m also pondering who I want to be on the other side of all of this. This incredible shaking that the earth is experiencing right now cannot be for naught. I feel that I must emerge having learned and grown in some way, while at the same time not trying to force anything that isn’t true. One thing I’m trying to do more of is face-to-face, one-on-one conversations online, rather than quick emails or texts or Facebook messages. And good old-fashioned phone calls. So underrated. I want more time with my friends, even if we can’t be in the same room, feeling connected on a more intimate level.

3. Tanisha, I can’t even begin to imagine the varied emotions and feelings you’ve been going through personally and professionally with other key players and individuals with regard to Cahoots’ future. In your estimation and opinion, do you foresee COVID 19 and its results leaving a lasting impact on the Canadian performing arts and theatre scene?

I sure hope it does. If it doesn’t, then a lot of people lost a lot of work and a lot of money for no reason other than a virus. I’m not saying that to be trite, or to downplay the impact of this disease and the enormous suffering and loss attached. I’m saying that if the only things to come out of all of that are negative, that will be a second tragedy. I hope that this time is causing all of us to look deeper at what it is we’re doing as a species, and on more of a micro level, as an industry. I no longer take theatre for granted, at all. We’ve all seen how quickly that which we were certain of can vanish. So, I hope that the lasting impact of this is not a financial one, but an ideological one.

4. Do you have any words of wisdom to console or to build hope and faith in those performing artists and employees at Cahoots who have been hit hard as a result of COVID 19? Any words of sage advice to the new graduates from Canada’s theatre schools regarding this fraught time of confusion?

All I can say is that this will eventually end. Things won’t be the same afterward, but I don’t believe that we are out of theatres forever. I think that the most important thing is to stay in touch with your creativity, because creativity is innately hopeful. That doesn’t mean that you need to be making something all of the time, or any of the time for that matter. But it means that the part of yourself that is the visionary -- the designer or the director or playwright or actor or producer or teacher -- cannot be allowed to fade away. Because we will need you more than ever when we return. We will need to reignite the theatre, and it will take all of us holding onto our matches in order to do that. We can’t restart the fire if we’ve all thrown out our matches.

5. Do you foresee anything positive stemming from COVID 19 and its influence on the Canadian performing arts scene?

I hope that we become more genuinely compassionate and less self-centered. There is a lot of genuine goodness in our industry, but there is a lot of machination and ego too. Like, ego that would be laughable if it wasn’t so damaging and obnoxious. I am hoping that the vulnerability we have all been made to feel during this pandemic, on multiple levels, makes us kinder.

6. You Tube presentations, online streaming seems to be part of a ‘new normal’ at this time for artists to showcase their work. What are your thoughts and comments about the advantages and/or values of online streaming? Do you foresee this as part of the ‘new normal’ for Canadian theatre as we move forward from COVID 19?

I think that each company needs to make that decision for themselves. I think there’s been some great stuff streamed, and some very-hard-to-sit-through stuff streamed. People are trying because this is all new to us. I do think that it’s been a bit reactive, like there’s a sense of sheer panic about getting stuff online right away or having things for people to watch all of the time. I don’t think that’s necessary at all. I think that it’s going to become extremely oversaturated and eventually people will just turn away from it altogether.

Some of what is being thrown at the wall will stick and some won’t. There will be magic and there will be mediocrity, just like on real stages. We’re all likely to stream something that is a bit of a hot mess, and something else that works beautifully. A lot of trial and error is to come, because yes, I think that there is going to be a lot of virtual theatre coming in the year ahead.

7. What is it that you still adore in your role as Artistic Director of Cahoots that Covid will never destroy?

Well I just began in the role last Fall, so it’s very new still. But I love what Cahoots stands for and I adore the enormous honour that I’ve been given -- to try each and every day to convert those values into art and community bonding. My commitment to that can never be felled by a little pandemic!

With a respectful acknowledgment to ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton, here are ten questions he used to ask his guests:

1. What is your favourite word?

Truth

2. What is your least favourite word?

Retarded

3. What turns you on?

Tenderness

4. What turns you off?

False equivalencies

5. What sound or noise do you love?

A baby’s gurgle

6. What sound or noise bothers you?

Car alarms

7. What is your favourite curse word?

I don’t really swear, but I’ll admit that hearing a truly horrible human called an MF has a certain and very-
satisfying poetry to it.

8. Other than your current profession now, what other profession would you have liked to attempt?

A&R Director at a record label

9. What profession could you not see yourself doing?

Gravedigger

10. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates?

“Well done, my love.”

To learn more about Artistic Director Tanisha Taitt and Cahoots Theatre, visit www.cahoots.ca.

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