A graduate from the University of Windsor with a BFA training in the early 1970s, Tom McCamus’s career has taken him to working with some of the greats in theatre and television. I was pleased to have seen his work at The Stratford Festival where he played Edmund Tyrone in ‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’. Others in this cast were Martha Henry, Peter Donaldson, William Hutt and Martha Burns.
I had taken my mother to see this production and I’ll always remember we both told each other that nearly three-hour performance flew by because we were highly engrossed in what we saw on stage. Tom has also appeared at the Shaw Festival and a number of Toronto theatres.
From his answers below, you’ll see Tom and his wife, Chick Reid, are using this ‘solitude’ and ‘escape’ to complete a great deal of work on their farm in Northumberland County.
Tom and I conversed by email. Thanks for the conversation and for sharing your thoughts about theatre in a post Covid world, Tom:
It has been an exceptionally long eight months since the pandemic began, and now 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?
We will eventually emerge from this – and probably when we do we will strive to make things ‘normal’, the way we things used to be. Our short-term memory will let us forget the crisis we lived through. I would hope that the powers that be don’t ‘forget’ so that when it happens again we will all be more prepared for it.
How have you been faring? How has your immediate family been doing during these last eight months?
We have been lucky – we live in the country on a 50-acre farm, so isolation is not that much different from our normal life out here. It’s also a small rural community here and there have been very few cases of the virus. But we have made every effort we can to support our local shops and restaurants that still have to abide by the lockdown rules.
As an artist within the performing arts community, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally?
I think what has been most difficult for me during this is being cut off from the daily interactions with other actors and theatre workers. Apart from the pandemic it has been a time of questioning as to what our theatre needs to do to make sure we include all who are a part of it. And to rely only on social media and zoom calls instead of one on one real people interactions to have these discussions - I find that quite difficult.
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?
We arrived for the first day of rehearsal at the Shaw Festival the day that the lockdowns started and then we were sent home. We continued to rehearse online for a couple of months until it was obvious that the season as we knew it would not be possible. The Festival continued online for most of the summer keeping its company somewhat employed and allowing for some new creative outlets. At the moment the Shaw is planning a truncated season based on last year’s playbill …… but that depends on what happens over the winter.
What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time?
We have lived on a farm for the past 20 years – however, whenever we work, we have to leave it and come back only on days off. We have been fortunate to have found a fair amount of work in those 20 years but unfortunately the property and its various buildings have been neglected due to our absence during the summer months. So, I have been repairing rotting roofs, cleaning barns, cutting and stacking wood, clearing brush and anything else that I keep saying I should get around to.
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 remember returning for a second season at the Shaw when I was a young actor and Christopher Newton asked me, “How do you feed yourself in the off season?” meaning artistically. How do you give yourself artistic fuel to continue doing whatever it is you choose to do? From then on, I’ve always tried to use anytime away from work to soak up whatever the world around me has to offer – so that I have raw material to use when I come back to work.
I would think this is the perfect time for that – it’s an extraordinary time … and the theatre and work will come back
Do you see anything positive stemming from Covid 19?
I guess time to stop and reconsider. It forces us to be in the moment….something actors are always striving to achieve.
Although I say that as someone who is in the latter part of his career and can afford to take that time. There are many others who don’t have that luxury. They are simply out of work and have families to feed and mortgages or rent to pay.
Do you think Covid 19 will have some lasting impact on the Toronto/Canadian/North American performing arts scene?
I’m hoping the impact Covid has is that things won’t return to normal when the theatres come back – that we can strip away the stuff that has been holding us back and come up with some new ways of doing things.
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 performances I’ve watched on YouTube, Zoom and other streaming platforms have been great and needed, helping to stay in touch with the theatre - but it can never replace live performance. However, with all the very exciting, multi disciplinary theatre around now the tools, skills and creativity that are developed in these experiments can’t help but be useful when we get to integrate them with live theater in the future
Despite all this fraught tension and confusion, what is it about performing that Covid will never destroy for you?
When you are denied something you realize how much you miss it – live reaction from an audience whether its one person laughing at a joke or an entire audience gasping at an entrance - is what I miss.
And as much as I’ve enjoyed this solitude and escape from the stresses of our work it will not destroy my love for that reaction from real live present audience.