Self Isolated Artist
Thom Allison is one helluva musical theatre performer in this country. I’ve seen his work in the original Canadian companies of ‘Miss Saigon’ and ‘The Who’s Tommy’. I also saw his extraordinary work in the ensemble ‘Take Me Out’ when it premiered at Canadian Stage’s Bluma Appel Theatre. It was the first trip I had made to the Shaw Festival where I saw an absolute knockout performance Thom gave as Coalhouse Walker in ‘Ragtime’. Solid memorable stuff in that performance that sent shivers down my spine. When musical theatre strives to be excellent, it is excellent. Thom and the cast delivered that excellent performance.
Just this past fall 2019, Thom was part of The Musical Stage’s mesmerizing ‘Uncovered: Stevie Wonder and Prince’ that featured some “really big names” (as Ed Sullivan used to say) including Jully Black, Jackie Richardson, Sarah Afful and Chy Ryan Spain.
Currently, Thom can be seen as Pree in Space Channel/SyFy’s hit KILLJOYS for which he won a Canadian Screen Award. He has also been nominated for most Canadian theatre awards.
1. It has been the almost three-month mark since we’ve all been in isolation? How have you been doing? How has your immediate family been doing during this time?
Actually, not bad. I needed some quiet and this is the break I kind of needed. Plus I believe in making choices that are positive out of a negative so I’ve been using the time to catch up with people/projects, read, rest. And most importantly to mourn.
I’ve lost my whole immediate family – my father, then my brother (my only sibling), then my mother – in the last 3 ½ years. My mother was the last and she died a year ago June 7. And it was 2 /2 years and 3 days from my dad dying (who was the first) to my mother dying (who was the last). And all from cancer. So, the blessing is they aren’t sick during this horrible period. But I didn’t have time to mourn any of them since as one passed, the next one was already ill. But after my mother passed away last June, I was so busy spreading all of their ashes around the country and dealing with my mother’s estate and then I was working through the fall and winter, I still didn’t have time to mourn. So this has also been a really healing time for me.
2. As a performer, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally?
I’m not sure I can say this has been a challenging time personally. I’m a person who is not afraid or unused to difficult self-reflection so I’ve enjoyed the time to re-evaluate where I’m going and what I want to be doing during and after the pandemic. Professionally, there is the issue of money but that hasn’t been too bad yet…talk to me in 4 months. 😊 But I am in the process of going from being a performer to a director and I’m realizing I may not have the chance to do a lot of that for many months. But in the meantime, I’m trying to learn more about the craft. I’m not wasting time.
3. 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 was ready to go to the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre to star in a hilarious play called ‘The Legend of Georgia McBride’ but the rest of their season, like all others, had to be cancelled. They still want to do the show at some point so it may happen. And there have been a couple more projects that may just be postponed. Nothing has been fully cancelled yet but I don’t know if they will all still happen this year.
4. What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time?
I have been doing a lot of benefits online research for my own projects. I’ve been planning some projects for future. Getting to some apartment fixes that have been desperately needing attention, cooking, baking. And most fun of all, connecting with friends I haven’t had the time or energy to chat with. I’m very much a ‘glass half-full’ kinda guy so I’ve really been trying to make the best of a bizarre situation.
5. 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?
I know a lot of fellow performers and colleagues are having a hard time for all kinds of reasons. Part of it is not knowing who to be without a job, some who don’t have partners and are not okay with the days of alone-ness, and on and on. I guess all I can say is remember you’re not alone. Reach out to friends, family, keep connected. And also find the peace in stillness.
We get the chance to be still so rarely – read that book you’ve been wanting to read, finally work on your voice without a need for an outcome ‘cause there is not a show at the moment, meditate…all those things we say we’ll get to eventually. Well, this is eventually. Use this time to be good to yourself and be the person you’ve been wanting to be. It’s hard to remember that we’re not just our jobs.
To theatre school graduates…God bless you. You have been dropped into the oddest of times. But I think my advice is the same in a way – keep working on your instrument. Theatre school is only the beginning. Hone your craft, have Zoom play-readings, create work gatherings to work on a script or monologues, keep your body limber and available. But also, cultivate other hobbies, read, knit, craft. It will fill your ‘well’ with other information.
6. Do you see anything positive stemming from Covid 19?
I think we are realizing how crazy our lives have become. I hope we see people (and allow ourselves to see) how slowing down and streamlining can create a healthier, more balanced life. Also, when we look at how fast the earth is trying to heal herself when we have freed her from the vast amounts of pollution and abuse. I’m hoping people in power see how we can get back some of what we thought was lost forever, in terms of the environment.
7. Do you think Covid 19 will have some lasting impact on the Canadian/North American performing arts scene?
I do but I don’t quite know what that will be. I don’t think we can come back and not be affected. Artists are reflectors of the world around them. And this will have an impact on the world.
8. Some artists have turned to You Tube 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?
The streaming stuff has been fun and creative. It can also be a little overloading. I think we could all go quiet for a moment but I get that some people need to be creating all the time and many people are happy for something to watch so there is no right or wrong. In terms of going forward – the You Tube and online streaming is helpful in this moment but it’s not theatre.
Nothing will ever be able to replace the experience of real theatre. A room full of people sharing a real/imaginative experience in real time. It is not removed – it is immediate and felt viscerally between actors and audience. It is a glorious, unique experience hat cannot be duplicated. But in the meantime, the online experience is keeping us feeling connected and that is important.
9. Despite all this fraught tension and confusion, what is it about performing that Covid will never destroy for you?
The real-time magic of it. You create a world of light and sound and visuals and the audience goes on the ride and believes in your world for 90-150 minutes. Nothing like it.
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?
Next time (I know it’s two but grrr)
3. What turns you on?
4. What turns you off?
5. What sound or noise do you love?
6. What sound or noise bothers you?
7. What is your favourite curse word?
8. Other than your own, what other career profession could you see yourself doing?
9. What career choice could you not see yourself doing?
10. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates?
“You were fabulous!”
To learn more about Thom visit his website: www.thomallison.com.
To book Thom for Video messages: https://starsona.com/thomallison.
Twitter: @thomallison Instagram: thom_allison
CD “A Whole Lotta Sunlight” available on ITunes and Spotify