Tracey Hoyt

The Self Isolated Artist

Anna Keenan

Joe Szekeres

After I had written a profile on Sergio Di Zio, he sent me an email speaking glowingly about his friend, Tracey Hoyt, who is one of the most respected and long time voice actors in Toronto who has deep roots in Improv and Second City. According to Sergio, Tracey’s recent play is personal and lovely. He thought she would be ideal to be profiled in this series of the self isolated artist.

I couldn’t agree more with him and was very pleased when Tracey got in touch with me. I perused her website and am in tremendous respect of her professional experience in all areas of the business from theatre to film and TV, improvisation and voice over work. Tracey also comes highly recommended by some of Canada’s finest talents when it comes to voice over work. You’ll see them on her website.

We conducted our interview via email:

1. How have you and your family been keeping during this two-month isolation?

We’re all healthy and well, thanks. My three step kids are young adults and they’re all isolating in their own bubbles. My husband and I share a small space. We’ve discovered that being in nature and walking our dog several times a day has energized and motivated us more than anything else.

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

Other than being away from our loved ones, it’s been not being able to experience live theatre with family, friends and strangers. I miss that so much. This has freed up a lot of time to watch films and TV series I’ve been meaning to check out. That’s been a constant most evenings. I’ve also enjoyed Soulpepper Theatre’s weekly Fresh Ink writing series online, some of the NAC/Facebook #CanadaPerforms readings and the occasional Zoom or Face Time visit with close friends and family.

In the early days, I was commissioned by Convergence Theatre to write something based on an anonymous COVID Confession, which was very enjoyable. It was a character monologue that I recorded on my phone. I also shared a bunch of my own confessions, which inspired other artists to create songs, prose and even an animated short film. It was a fascinating and connecting experience. I also took Haley McGee’s wonderful 14-day Creative Quarantine Challenge, which was the perfect creative re-set between writing the last two drafts of my play.

3. From your website, I can see you are one very busy lady indeed with all of the coaching you give professional actors and all who might be interested in voice work. Plus, you will be in a CBC Gem series in July and you’ve just completed your play ‘The Shivers’. Professionally, how has COVID changed your life regarding all the work you have completed? Some actors whom I’ve interviewed have stated they can’t see anyone venturing back into a theatre or studio for a least 1 ½ to 2 years. Do you foresee this reality to be factual?

I actually spent the first few months of self-isolation working on my play, three or four times a week. I feel grateful to have had so much time with it, as well as time to let things marinate, as a dear writer friend of mine says. It’s very hard to imagine the play being produced any time soon, but one of my life mottos is: “There’s always a way.” I trust the process and the timing of things, always. It’s tough to predict when we’ll be able to go back. As an eternal optimist, I’m going to wish for the Spring of 2021.

The web series, which was shot in November 2019, now feels like two years ago. Although I can’t share the specifics at this point, I’ll be fascinated to see it. In one of my favourite scenes in the series, I was sitting with about one hundred background performers. That seems preposterous now, as it does whenever I see intimacy, crowd scenes, face-touching or food sharing as I watch anything created before the Pandemic.

4. In your estimation and opinion, do you foresee COVID 19 and its results leaving a lasting impact on the Canadian performing arts scene?

Hopefully not for too long. Seeing images of safely distant seats at a theatre in Berlin recently almost made me gasp. At this point, it’s hard to imagine how theatre will be sustainable in Canada with so little available space for the audience, let alone how things will be rehearsed and staged safely for the artists. That said, I’m a big believer in limitation being the perfect opportunity for more creative risks - sort of like having limited menu items in the fridge and coming up with something simple yet perfect. I sense there may be more solo and intimate performances with much smaller casts as a more realistic short-term possibility for live theatre, and that projects with larger numbers will have to get creative using digital tools. I’m curious to see how it all unfolds and hope to be part of making that happen.

5. Do you have any words of wisdom to build hope and faith in those performing artists and employees of The Festivals 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?

I’m hopeful that all levels of government, funding bodies and Canadians in isolation are starting to appreciate how much richer their lives are because of what performing artists do - as well as an awareness of just how many other creative and service jobs and businesses go hand in hand with that, behind the scenes and within the community. Historically, theatre has survived many challenges. It will survive this, too.

My advice for recent theatre grads is that this is the perfect time to implement the vocal and physical practises you learned in school. Let them become part of this strange new normal. You’ll need these skills at every stage of your career. Keep reading scripts and working on monologues that you wish you had been assigned at school - or the ones you have never dared to try. You know which ones. Research playwrights and actors that fascinate you. Read reviews or find their other work online. Dare to start writing down your own stories, characters and monologues. As my treasured mentor Terry O’Reilly once taught me, remember that no one can do what you do. Let that be your strength and be ready to shine when it’s safe for you to join us. We can’t wait to see what you’ve been cooking up.

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

I think it’s going to feel even more special to attend anything live - whether it’s dance, music, literary events or theatre. That we’ll be more selective about how we spend our energy and our time - as performers and as audience members. My hope is that we’ll all be more vocal about celebrating what we’ve seen and prouder than ever to share what we’re working on creatively.

7. I’ve spoken with some individuals who believe that online streaming and You Tube presentations destroy the theatrical impact of those who have gathered with anticipation to watch a performance. 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?

From what I’ve watched live so far, I’ve appreciated that it’s been “appointment” driven - that you have to show up at a certain time, as we do when we attend a performance. The immediacy of the performance (and often the audience comments, in real time) is thrilling. When it’s pre-recorded, I have enjoyed going back and re-watching moments that stood out. For me, the biggest value is that more people can see it, across the borderless internet. For someone who has regularly done independent shows for 30, 55 or several hundred people, this excites me. I can only envision this as a new normal if all artists involved are properly compensated for it. I’m sure our theatre and media performance unions are scrambling to navigate that right now.

8. What is it about the performing arts that still energizes you even through this tumultuous and confusing time?

I suppose it’s that, within days of lockdown, so many artists found new ways to share their work. Others chose to gain inspiration by watching other people create, or to take a break from it, which is healthy and necessary. This is actually the longest I’ve been away from auditioning and performing in over 30 years. During these last few months, I’ve gained a whole new appreciation not only for the frontline workers holding everything together for us, but for other performing artists - especially singers, dancers and musicians. We’re all feeling very big feelings right now. Performing artists help us process them with everything they put out there.

With a respectful acknowledgement 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?

Rustle, which is my dog’s name.

2. What is your least favourite word?

I dare not say his name.

3. What turns you on?

Synchronicity.

4. What turns you off?

Assumptions.

5. What sound or noise do you love?

My husband’s laugh.

6. What sound or noise bothers you?

Vocal fry.

7. What is your favourite curse word?

F--kyouyouf----ngf---!

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

A hairdresser in film/TV/theatre.

9. What profession could you not see yourself doing?

Tax auditor.

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

“Your mother is inside. She says she’d love a coffee.”

Tracey Hoyt’s headshot was taken just before she won the Cayle Chernin Theatre Development Award in May, 2019, for her play The Shivers, formerly titled Hospital Hotel.

To learn more about Tracey, visit her website www.traceyhoyt.com. You may also access her Twitter handle: @traceyhoytactor.

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