Self Isolated Artist
Holy mackerel. Artist Vanessa Sears has been performing professionally for a couple of years, and the wonderful work in which she has performed along with some top-notch award acknowledgments have made her an upcoming young artist for whom we should continue to watch on stages across Ontario and across the country.
My first introduction to her work was as Ronette in Stratford Festival’s fun production of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’. I then saw her work in the glorious ‘Caroline, or Change’ at Toronto’s Elgin Theatre just this past January. For this performance, Vanessa received the Toronto Theatre Critics’ Award for Best Supporting Performance in a Musical (and most deservedly so). She has also received the Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Ensemble Work when she appeared as Dorothy Gale in Young People’s Theatre production of ‘The Wizard of Oz’.
When we all get back to the theatre, and you see that Vanessa is performing in a show, make sure you check out her bio in the house programme to learn more about her. I have also included her social media accounts at the conclusion of this profile.
We conducted our interview via email:
1. How have you and your family been keeping during this two-month isolation?
It’s been a strange and scary time as it has for most everyone, I’m sure. I’m isolating alone which has been difficult. Navigating mental health is a struggle but so far with incredible support from my loved ones I’m managing. My parents live in Vienna, Austria so they’re ‘ahead’ of Canada and have been letting us know how things are going over there and what to look out for here. My siblings are spread out and all dealing with the world day by day. I think we’re all stressed but trying to stay grateful for our health and for each other.
2. What has been most challenging and difficult for you during this time personally? What have you been doing to keep yourself busy?
I thought being alone was the hardest part but being alone while navigating the images and videos of police brutality against black people has been heartbreaking. I didn’t understand how traumatic and exhausting that could be until recently. It’s hard to navigate and heal without the ability to physically gather with my loved ones, but I’ve received so much love and care from my family, friends and the black community. It’s equal parts painful and inspiring, but it also feels necessary. I’m trying to focus on all the positive changes already coming out of this increased understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement.
I have been staying busy doing projects here and there, working with Songbird series, teaching classes as well as taking them, learning guitar, reading and more recently trying to educate myself and others on BLM. Sunshine and workouts have also been hugely helpful for my mental health.
3. Were you involved in any professional projects when the pandemic was declared, and everything was shut down? How far were you into those projects? Will they come to fruition some time soon? Professionally, has Covid changed your life regarding all the work you have completed or may have had planned?
I was in rehearsal at the Stratford Festival for ‘Here’s What It Takes’, a new musical scheduled to premiere at the new Tom Patterson Theatre. We were just moving past the table work and onto our feet, starting to block scenes and numbers when rehearsals stopped. I can’t say whether or not it’ll come to fruition, there are zero guarantees but I’m staying optimistic.
Covid has definitely changed my professional life. I was very lucky to earn my living solely from working in theatre and now I am facing a year of no income. I’m genuinely trying to decide if I need to shift careers as we have no idea when or if we’ll be able to mount productions again. With every day that passes I’m more and more grateful that I got to finish the run of Musical Stage Company and Obsidian Theatre’s ‘Caroline, or Change’. What a way to go, and what a show to hold in our hearts through this time.
4. 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 possible reality to be factual?
Unfortunately, yes. Reports and meetings I’ve attended have all been honest about their projections and it doesn’t look great. However, I’m recording in a studio for Andrew Seok’s ‘Birth of a Song’ alongside Chilina Kennedy this week, and that gives me hope. Theatre, opera and dance will probably be the last to return but there are other avenues to explore that are creatively fulfilling!
5. In your estimation and opinion, do you foresee COVID 19 and its results leaving a lasting impact, either positive or negative, on the Canadian performing arts scene?
Absolutely, it’s going to change how we operate for a long time. It’s going to change how people interact, it’s going to change audience engagement, and it’ll change health and safety standards for all industries.
One positive change I anticipate is that there will be a new appreciation for the performing arts. As artists (especially ones who are self employed and constantly hustling), we are aware that we’re lucky when we’re getting paid to work at all. What I took for granted was how integral community is to my mental health, and how much joy I get from my work and the people I work with. I value that community so much and I’m going to do a better job of expressing that when this is all over. I also hope that theatre companies will use this forced pause to change theatrical practices previously deemed too ‘inconvenient’ or ‘broad’ to tackle. There’s no better time to reconstruct an entire industry than when the world is forced to slow down.
6. Do you have any words of wisdom to build hope and faith in those performing artists 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’ve only been performing professionally for a couple of years, so I still look to my role models who’ve been in the business for decades for guidance and wisdom. Their ability to stay calm and kind is the best reassurance I could ask for during these troubling times. So I suppose I’ll say, “stay kind and stay calm”! Process things in whatever way is healthiest for YOU! And do not be afraid to ask for help.
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?
Personally I have yet to see live a performance through streaming that really excites me, and I want entertainment on screen I’m much more likely to watch a move or show designed for that medium than a script reading. However, it’s your art and you can share it how you want to! Folks are getting more and more innovative as we familiarize ourselves with the tech available, and there’s loads of room for something exciting to grow.
8. What is it about the performing arts that still energizes you even through this tumultuous and confusing time?
Love. There is so much love. It takes a full heart to be in this profession, and it’s what keeps me going in an industry full of obstacles. Story telling is powerful, it changes hearts and minds. I truly believe that, and I want to continue doing it. Art connects us all to humanity, it is worth doing.
With 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?
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 current profession now, what other profession would you have liked to attempt?
9. What profession 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?
“I’ve got some of your family up here who’d love to see you.”
Facebook: @ActorVanessaSears/ Insta: @vanessa_sears / Twitter: @nessasears