Trudee Romanek

Canadian Chat

Laura Joy Photography

Joe Szekeres

I had the opportunity to meet Trudee just this past fall in Port Perry at a reading of one of her plays staged by Port Perry’s Theatre on the Ridge.

She is an emerging playwright and award-winning author. In June, her WWII drama Bright Daybreak was presented at Stage One Lunchbox Theatre’s virtual festival of New Canadian Works in Calgary, and she is a co-creator of this summer’s Ghost Watchers: An Augmented Reality Theatrical Adventure for Theatre by the Bay in Barrie. Her one-act youth musical The Tales of Andergrimm was just produced for a third time by the Kempenfelt Players, now as an outdoor, filmed production and, in July, she worked with young actors at Theatre on the Ridge to create the one-act comedy Half Baked.

Another comedy, “I” on the Prize, was selected for Theatre on the Ridge (TOTR)’s Snapshots Festival in October, where it received special recognition. Trudee also co-hosts ‘Stage Whispers’, a podcast about theatre in Central Ontario.

We conducted our interview via email. Thank you so much for your time, Trudee. I do hope to see more of your work in the future:

Since we’ve just celebrated Thanksgiving, tell me about some of the teachers and mentors in your life for whom you are thankful and who brought you to this point in your life as a performing artist.

The first person who comes to mind is a high school teacher, Nancy Walsh, in my hometown of Barrie, Ontario. She taught English (before our school had a course for drama), but I didn’t actually have her as a teacher. She was the supervisor or faculty advisor or whatever of the drama club, and she pulled a group of us together every year to prepare something for the Sears Drama Festival. She introduced me to what theatre performance was. She also made performing fun but still focused, and she was the first person to believe in my abilities and encourage me. Nancy is a friend now and I’m so lucky that she is interested in my writing and has attended performances and readings of my work. I’m very thankful for her!

I’m also very blessed that, for a community of its size, Barrie has a large number of high-caliber theatre workers. Arkady Spivak at Talk is Free Theatre is a constant inspiration, and I’ve learned so much from actor/director Scott Hurst, as well as Iain Moggach at Theatre by the Bay and, before him, Alex Dault. Carey Nicholson, artistic director at Theatre on the Ridge, is a more recent addition. And then there are others such as Leah Holder, Candy Pryce, Renée Cingolani, Edwina Douglas, Christina Luck — it’s a list that grows larger with each passing day, it seems. Every one of them has contributed to who I am at this moment.

I’m trying to think positively that we have, fingers crossed, moved forward in our dealing with Covid. How have you been able to move forward from these last 18 eighteen months on a personal level? How have you been changed or transformed on a personal level?

First, I’ve been very fortunate throughout this pandemic and I’m so grateful for that. I’ve continued to work, as has the rest of my family, and no one in my inner circle became ill from COVID. There have been challenges, but so many others have been much more severely impacted.

Back in about 2018, before the pandemic began, I realized how ignorant I was and still am to a large degree of Indigenous history in this country. So, during the “great pause” at the beginning of the pandemic, I made a more concerted effort to learn the things I should have been asking questions about for many years.

I took some online courses, listened to lots of podcasts, started reading more works by Indigenous writers, joined our local Friendship Centre and started attending or supporting their activities and others in our area. I joined Theatre Passe Muraille’s collective action to read the executive summary of the Truth and Reconciliation report (we’re about halfway through so far). As a non-Indigenous person whose family has been on this land for 200 years, I still have lots to learn, especially about my own ancestors’ roles in the oppression of First Nations people, but I’m trying, and I’ve made a commitment to keep learning.

How have these last eighteen months of the pandemic changed or transformed you as an artist professionally?

It’s been a wild time, but an incredible one for me, professionally.

COVID offered a couple of important things: time and geographic opportunity. Via Zoom, I had access to instructors, experts, and other theatre professionals across the country and even beyond it that I hadn’t had beforehand. I sat in on play readings happening in other time zones, and I attended workshops and lectures given by theatre professionals I’ve never connected with before. I was able to work with a cultural consultant in B.C. (Thank you, Abraham Asto!) Would I have thought of connecting with him on Zoom before the pandemic made it such a ubiquitous tool? I’m not sure.

I discovered that getting my butt in the chair and writing actually took my mind off the world’s uncertainty and eased my anxiety, so I wrote a lot. In these 18 months I think I’ve written, maybe, six short plays? And rewritten a young adult novel. So, all that writing meant I made a lot of progress toward my goal of being an emerging playwright.

For example, I had my first, second, and third workshops and play readings by professional companies. Hand in hand with that was the fact that two local theatre friends and I created a podcast called Stage Whispers. Originally, it was conceived as a way to help people share news of upcoming performances, which back in May and June of 2020, we naively thought might start up again in the fall. Then as we planned and as the pandemic stretched on, we realized that we could instead share with theatre companies exactly what was happening with other companies, how they were coping, and what the future looked like.

Since we launched in August of 2020, we’ve released more than 20 episodes and, in the process, I sort of serendipitously networked with many theatre professionals, some of whom, like Carey Nicholson, have ended up helping me further my writing career.

Yeah, the pandemic has been very good to me, and I know I’m extremely privileged to be able to say that.

In your opinion, do you see the global landscape of the professional Canadian live theatre scene changing at all as a result of these last 18 months?

I do see it changing. I feel very optimistic about the shifts that have happened in awareness of marginalized voices and under-represented artists. In many ways I see this as a reckoning that cannot be swept aside. Our industry needs to start taking better care of who gets to share what. We’re already seeing people make space for others and I sincerely hope that that continues. There is so much for us all to learn! Why should we be stuck looking at everything through the same lens we’ve always used? What’s interesting about that?

I also think there has been just a ton of creative thinking on the part of companies and artists to find some way, ANY way, to present art in the midst of this, and I don’t think that’s all going to go away once we’re fully back in the traditional theatre buildings. Love it or hate it, Zoom meant that people who felt under the weather could still see a show, audience members who lived a province or two away, or on the other side of the world, could watch the virtual performance.

Personally, I held my own private online reading of one of my plays that called for a middle eastern male cast member. So, a young Lebanese actor I know actually took part in the virtual reading — from Lebanon! (Thank you, Maher Sinno!)

What excites/intrigues/fascinates/interests you post Covid?

I am SO looking forward to hearing and watching more Black stories, more Indigenous stories, more stories from those who are gender fluid or differently abled — like Sandra Caldwell’s Stealth, and Ziigwen Mixemong’s Mno Bmaadiziwin. I’m excited about the many amazing stories that are out there just waiting to be shared with the world.

I’m also excited by all of the hybrid forms of art that we’re seeing! In August I got to see (and hear) Blindness in Toronto and I’ve got December tickets to Soulpepper’s virtual reality show Draw Me Close. In the new year I’m off to see Talk is Free Theatre’s immersive dance show A Grimm Night.

Of course, I’m thrilled at all of the traditional stagings that are opening up, as well, but these others make the playwright in me think outside the box more than I might otherwise do.

What disappoints/unnerves/upsets you post Covid?

I find myself very distressed about the enormous chasms that have opened up or grown wider between people over issues like race, mask-wearing, vaccination, politics, the economy. So many people right now seem to be struggling to talk to anyone who has a different viewpoint.

I guess I’ve always hoped that the human race was getting wiser and more compassionate. As nerdy, or maybe Pollyanna, as it sounds, I think of Star Trek society as a sort of a fictional ideal goal for real-life humankind. Sure, some of them fight and they’ve got certain problems, but there’s generally a fair bit of mutual respect and a will to provide for those who can’t provide for themselves. And I feel as though this trial we’ve faced has, over the long term, forced us apart instead of drawing us together.

That’s a very disheartening thing, and it eats away at me.

Where does Trudee, the artist, see herself going next?

Hmm...

Well, my challenge in this current world is to find a way to be creative while amplifying voices other than my own. As a female, I do have a somewhat marginalized viewpoint to share, because we’re still struggling to achieve gender parity in the theatre industry, but I’m extremely aware that there are voices far more marginalized than my own. So, is there a way for me to support those voices being heard, in my role as an emerging playwright? That’s what I’m exploring now.

Where does Trudee, the person, see herself going next?

Oh, that’s always a good question! I have elderly parents and also kids still at home, so weeks ago I decided I wouldn’t be doing any more community theatre until some of those responsibilities shifted, that I’d stick to writing for now. But then last week auditions for an exciting straight play were announced, with a director I know and like to work with, and I threw my hat in the ring for a part! So, I’m a bit all over the map.

What I do know is that I will keep expanding my horizons and learning about cultural groups other than my own, because I just don’t see any of us moving forward without doing so together, and that requires us to have better understanding of the other folks who share this planet with us.

RAPID ROUND

Try to answer these in a single sentence. If you need more than one sentence, that’s not a problem. I give credit to the late James Lipton and ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ for this questioning format:

If you could say one thing to one of your mentors or favourite teachers who encouraged you to get to this point as an artist, what would it be?

Thank you for making me accountable, for making certain I fully committed to what I began.

If you could say something to any of the naysayers in your career who didn’t think you would make it as an artist, what would that be?

Never dissuade a person from trying something, because they will learn from every experience.

What’s your favourite swear word?

There’s something about an F-bomb — maybe the fricative “f” and the finality of the “k” — that somehow completely expresses the frustration of the moment.

What is a word you love to hear yourself say?

“Serendipity” because, for me, the lilt of it perfectly matches its meaning. (See how I snuck it into my one of my earlier responses, ha ha!)

What is a word you don’t like to hear yourself say?

To be honest, I don’t like to say my own first name! I always seem to turn the “Tr” combination into something more like a “Ch” sound. Other people say it better than I do.

What would you tell your younger personal self with the knowledge and wisdom life experience has now given you?

Believe in yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and put yourself forward.

With the professional life experience you’ve gained over the years, what would you now tell the upcoming Trudee from years ago who was just in the throes of beginning a career as a performing artist?

View your many unsuccessful attempts as progress, or steps in the journey, rather than failures.

What is one thing you still wish to accomplish both personally and professionally?

I told myself I’ll bring two of my three passion projects to fruition by my sixtieth birthday, which means I have about 18 months to get one play professionally staged and my second young adult novel published.

Name one moment in your professional career as an artist that you wish you could re-visit again for a short while.

The moment I wrote the final scene of my first young adult novel, and realized it was the final scene, I was filled with such an incredible excitement and sense of accomplishment I was literally trembling. It felt fantastic.

Would Trudee do it all again if given the same opportunities?

I often think that if I could do it all again I’d do it faster, on a more direct route, but I am who I am, and I’m not sure I’d be willing to give up any parts of the fun ride I’ve had so far.

To connect with Trudee online, visit her website: trudeeromanek.com. You can also follow her on her professional Facebook page: @trudee.romanek.author AND on Twitter: @RomanekTrudee

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