Toronto’s Crow’s Theatre has produced some provocative and some rather controversial productions since I’ve begun reviewing.
And that’s the beauty of attending live productions as sometimes we don’t know what we’re getting. There have been some titles that just, for some reason, appeal to me and I want to find out more about them.
‘Mixtape’, the next production at Crow’s running November 9 – 28, is one of them. What appealed to me about this upcoming production is the picture of the cassette tape that I would have purchased many moons ago which contained the popular songs of the day. I remember those tapes made some of the greatest musical sounds to my ears. I even remember pulling together rather crudely songs from other sources to put on the one cassette tape.
Crow’s bills this production of ‘Mixtape’ as part memoir, part scientific inquiry and part love song to listening. Okay, you’ve got me hooked and I want to learn more.
I am pleased to have had the opportunity to profile writer and performer of the piece, Zorana Sadiq.
A multidisciplinary artist of Pakistani descent, Sadiq’s work is wide-ranging and spans different types of performance including theatre, television, chamber music, contemporary music, and opera. Sadiq has performed extensively in Canada and the Unites States alongside many of classical music’s leading conductors and vocalists including Bramwell Tovey, Robert Spano, Alex Pauk, Dawn Upshaw, baritone Daniel Okilitch, and tenor Colin Ainsworth, as well as appearances with Music Toronto at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, Vancouver Symphony, L.A. Philharmonic, Calgary Symphony, Indian River Festival in Prince Edward Island, Boston Musica Viva, Vancouver’s Turning Point Ensemble and New York’s Da Capo Ensemble.
Zorana has received training at Montreal’s McGill University and at the University of Toronto with specializations in Music History and Music Performance – Voice.
We conducted our interview via Zoom. Thank you so much, Zorana, for taking the time and for the smiles and laughter as I know you are busy with rehearsals right now:
Name one teacher and one mentor in your life for whom you are thankful that brought you to this point in your career as a performing artist.
Oh my gosh! This is a great question, actually, because I think we all have these kinds of people in our lives. In as much we can run into chaos and turmoil with people, there are those beacons that have a longer impression on you.
When I was a young singer, I went to the Aspen Music Festival and School and did their program there, and I got to study with the mezzo soprano Suzanne Mentzer. She was really important for me to run into at that point in my life. You can have teachers who say, “I’ve always sung like this, and now I’m going to show you how I do it without any impediment; it was never any trouble for me. It was very natural for me and I’m going to show you how”, and that’s lovely.
You can also have teachers and mentors who have had obstacles and have had to traverse the reality of something vulnerable and ‘tight ropey’ as classical singing.
Suzanne had had something that lots of singers have while she’s singing at the Met. She had some kind of vocal thing and had to stop for awhile, and she rebuilt her voice to the gorgeous instrument that it is today. She taught me something both technically and emotionally about the cost of holding back to protect yourself.
If you have something in your past that you worried about technically, if your way of solving that is to hold back and close yourself, there’s a cost. And so, there’s a thing you have to do, this beautiful ‘jump out’ risk that is actually better, and healthier and more safe for you than holding back, both technically but also just as philosophy as an artist.
Suzanne is so gracious, and she is just such a superb singer and artist. I loved that she levelled with me and got into the trenches with me. This is far more useful for me than someone on a pedestal and telling you how they do it. That’s a very different kind of teacher.
I was so lucky to have her as a teacher and mentor.
I’m trying to think positively that we have, fingers crossed, moved forward in 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?
I think we all were tolerating a level of busyness before the pandemic that was really not good for us; multitasking and sort of saying “If I have the actual time, then I can do it”.
It’s not about minutes, it’s about whether you actually have the space in your mind to do something.
I was about to go into the craziest balance of rehearsing something in the day, doing a show at night and teaching at the same time. All this crazy stuff that came completely to a halt with the pandemic.
It made me go, “That’s not good just because you can do it all”.
We’re all multitaskers and it’s a true feature of the profession that work doesn’t always come, and sometimes you have to do more than one thing. But I feel somewhat, and I hope it lasts that things are starting to feel like it’s time to do this again. But I think that thing about having space around the tasks that you do means you can really get down into the centre of them.
Of course, you have a certain level of professional acumen so you can kind of do that, but I don’t know. There’s something right in the centre you might miss if you overschedule. There’s something about time, and my relationship to time has shifted in the pandemic, and I hope that it lasts.
How have these last eighteen months of the pandemic changed or transformed you as an artist professionally?
Well, I had this unusual situation, a kind of KISMET around the timing of 18 months off while I was writing “Mixtape’.
I don’t know how I could have done it otherwise or blocked out my performance, my teaching stuff. I’m a parent so I had to have time there.
It was actually kind of lovely artistically for me in some ways, but I’ll tell you something. I’ve just seen some live theatre recently in the last two weeks, and I feel like I spend the first 10 minutes in this low gratitude weep, just silent sobbing. Because what we realize after we watch all the Netflix shows and eaten too much and drank too many cocktails is that art is like vitamins.
I started to feel like I had a vitamin deficiency. We need to see ourselves reflected in art. And so, professionally, I came to realize we’re not an add on. The provincial government can make us feel that way, but we’re not. We’re an essential part of all of us seeing ourselves, not in a highbrow way, but what is the function of art? To reflect us, to make us feel a spaciousness, to make us feel understood, and when you don’t have that…
Yes there’s good stuff on Netflix, and there’s great television and film, true. But that witnessing process of live art, or even being in a gallery in front of that painting, it’s the way our mind goes with art…this is like oxygen.
In your opinion, do you see the global landscape of the professional Canadian live theatre scene changing as a result of these last 18 months?
I was piecing what you might have thought of that question, and I’ll answer it this way and I think it’s the whole industry whether film, tv, theatre.
Because we were all glued to our screens and because COVID was an equal opportunity virus that affected people of privilege and disproportionately BIPOC people in the States particularly, I think we all felt what it was like to be in peril with the virus that we had this real tight lens on racial inequity, in a way that our busy lives had made it so that very big problem which has always been big, people were not paying it enough mind.
And so, I hope that it is not a fad that we are really asking who gets to tell the story. What stories are we not hearing? What should we think when we go to a show and we see a cast of entirely white people which formerly we just took as nothing. That’s a choice, we need to see that as a choice not as a representation of who we are certainly in Canada, certainly in Toronto.
That’s what I think has changed.
I think it’s hysterical the amount of self tapes, we’re just doing it all. The shows are hustling. In the theatre too, there’s been some beautiful and mindful stuff going on in the re-jigging of seasons. CANSTAGE is doing some beautiful, Crow’s certainly with Cliff Cardinal’s recent presentation of ‘As You Like It’. Beautiful stuff going on of who gets to tell the story, and what story is that, and what do we mean by universal stories because they’re not all really universal.
How are rehearsals going for MIXTAPE? How has this experience transformed you as an artist? What do you hope audiences will take away from MIXTAPE?
Rehearsals are going SOOO WELLL they’re a delight. I wake up every day excited before I’m even awake enough to know what I’m excited about. It’s wildly exciting and very stimulating. Chris (Abraham) is an excellent, excellent wingman to have as a dramaturg and as director. Then we have this beautiful team assembled: Thomas Ryder Payne is doing sound, Julie Fox is doing the set, Arun (Srinivasan) is doing the lighting. It’s just beautiful. The rehearsals are a delight.
I’ve never written a show myself. I’ve always been in someone else’s creation. I’ve sung recitals myself, but I’ve haven’t written a narrative play so that expression as writer has been a revelation to me. I’ve always been a person who loved and parsed and was a wordsmith, but never applied it in this way. That’s a very delicious thing to be writing because it’s really amazing and you can control it in a way that the spoken word is affected in a certain way and reactive. It’s beautiful.
Without giving away too much for audiences, I want them to come in with ‘open ears’ to this show. I don’t want to stack it with too much assumption and expectation. I would love it if the audience became aware of their own instrumentality. I actually think we are little instruments walking around making sounds, hearing sounds and learning language. I would love it if audiences have this in their mind plus the universal journey, in my case, to make the sound of who we are, and more universally be who we are and how to express who we are.
What fascinates/intrigues/energizes Zorana Sadiq post Covid?
This is the same kind of question as I said before about the landscape of theatre. What’s intriguing me is the possibilities that have been opened up, again in regards of who gets to speak.
We’ve had to become creative again post Covid like ‘do it yourself’ creative and ‘scrappy little things’ with theatres figuring out how to do online stuff, how to do in person stuff that is still distanced.
What that means is that is not the only way it can go, it can go a number of ways when chaos strikes and we have to be resourceful and scrappy. Then the red tape falls to the floor and it’s like ‘It’s okay. We have an opportunity to do it a different way’, and I find that really exciting all over the place.
Scrappy, less institutional kind of policy, I find that amazing.
I have to say that Crows is the first theatre to be doing this in person thing this fall, and Chris and Crows in particular are very good at re-imagining the paradigm and building in comfort and safety.
What disappoints/unnerves/upsets Zorana Sadiq post Covid?
Well, you know, some of the theatres aren’t going to make it. Some of the artists are not going to keep going.
I’m really worried about who left and can’t come back. Is it just going to be the big dogs that have government funding that will survive, and what’s going to happen because it’s really hard. Anybody who is doing theatre now is going to do it at a loss.
I’m worried who will not survive as it is still a perilous condition. We continue to have a provincial government that is not particularly supportive of the arts, and our federal government is doing an okay job. I’m worried about the financial shakedown of the theatre community for me.
Think of the young people, Joe, who have just graduated from theatre school and wondering if they’re going to be able to get a job in all of this. I worry about these young emerging artists because we need them.
Try to answer these in a single sentence. If you need more than one sentence, that’s not a problem. I credit the late James Lipton and “Inside the Actors’ Studio’ for this idea:
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 the map of the journey.”
If you could say something to any of the naysayers who didn’t think you would make it as an artist, what would that be?
So this would be for teachers: “Thank you for helping me to be a really good arts educator and teacher by showing me what not to do.”
I don’t mean this in a spiteful way as I really mean that because I teach too. I ‘m a good teacher and part of it is going, “I remember how that felt. I remember what that did to me” and that is something I am not going to do.
What’s your favourite swear word?
Absolutely for sure - “Fuck” – without a doubt.
What is a word you love to hear yourself say?
This is a great question as it is a perfect question for ‘Mixtape’ actually. The word I love to hear myself say is ‘wild’.
What is a word you don’t like to hear yourself say?
This might surprise you.
I say that word when I’m thinking black and white and then I know I’m in trouble when I hear “It always turns out like this” or “I always think that it’s…”
It’s never ‘always’…it’s just ‘sometimes’.
What would you tell your younger personal self with the knowledge and wisdom life experience has now given you?
“Don’t forget to laugh.”
With the professional life experience you’ve gained over the years, what would you now tell the upcoming Zorana Sadiq from years ago who was just in the throes of beginning a career as a performing artist?
“Don’t wait for someone to tell you what you’re good at.”
What is one thing you still wish to accomplish both personally and professionally?
Like a million and one things…how can I even begin to say just one thing????? (and we have a good laugh)
Who answers this question with just one thing????
Well, I guess personally, fearlessness. I would love to decrease the amount of hesitancy that is an initial filter for me.
Professionally, (and this is also funny in relation to ‘Mixtape’), “consistent listening”. It’s not easy as we often aren’t listening even when it’s your profession as often other things might be clouding what’s going on.
The best thing would be just to be listening.
Name one moment in your professional career as an artist that you wish you could re-visit again for a short while.
You know what…I would actually like to re-visit the first time I performed in front of a live audience because that addiction to communication and that first feeling of a circle of energy, from the performer to the audience and back.
I would love to see if I was picking that up even then.
What is one thing Zorana Sadiq will never take for granted again post Covid?
Small talk with strangers. I miss talking to strangers, kibitzing with people, talking with people on the bus, taking the bus.
It’s almost like speaking English as a second language because EVERYTHING IS LOUD!!!!!!! AND YOU DON’T WANT TO CONFUSE PEOPLE!!!!! so you can’t make a little joke.
Humour is a big thing in my life.
I talk to people I don’t know all the time. It was very hard when Covid hit, and that’s the human race.
I want small talk with strangers.
As a professional artist, would Zorana Sadiq do it all again if given the same opportunities?
I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
Follow Zorana on Twitter: @zoranasadiq and on Facebook: @zoranasadiq