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  • Profiles Durae McFarlane

    Back Durae McFarlane Moving Forward Mark Binks Joe Szekeres A year ago, I had reviewed an outstanding production of what many in Toronto were calling ‘not to be missed’. Toronto’s Crows Theatre had staged Annie Baker’s ‘The Flick’ terrifically directed by Mitchell Cushman. I had never seen this production, but word on the street and from what I had researched online indicated this play was something that would be remembered for a long time. And to this day, I can still recall that specific production, that awesome set design, and the three powerhouse performers who literally took my breath away as I watched with keen fascination. One of those dynamos on stage for his debut professional performance was Durae McFarlane, and he is one we should all keep an eye on when it is safe to return to the theatre. Mr. McFarlane’s performance was stellar. Durae is an actor and writer originally from Mississauga, Ontario. He is a recent graduate of the University of Windsor’s BFA Program and also trained with Canada’s National Voice Intensive. We conducted our interview via email. Thank you for the conversation, Durae: It has been an exceptionally long seven months since we’ve all been in isolation, and now it appears 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? To be honest it is what I expected. There were always talks about a second wave and so the numbers raising is not surprising. What is a bit surprising is the way it is being handled by the government (at least in Ontario where I am). It is less than ideal. There was also a part of me that was holding on for some sort of miracle that things would continue to get better and that life would somehow resemble what it used to be in some ways, but that is more idealistic than anything. I think this is going to be our new way of living for a long time. Wearing masks, always washing our hands (which should have always been a thing), and social distancing. Now if we will ever not have to do these things, I’m not sure. I think at the beginning of the pandemic, I just thought that we just need a vaccine and then things will resume how they use to be. But, I don’t believe that anymore. I’m not super informed about what the release of the vaccine would look like, but after witnessing how many people are against even wearing a mask, I’m sure there will be a group of people who will be against getting a vaccine altogether. And I’m sure that will make things complicated. How have you been faring? How has your immediate family been doing during these last seven months? I’m been doing okay all things considering. I really spend a lot of the first couple of weeks watching tv shows and movies and distracting myself from what was happening because it was just too much information and stimulus all the time. I also stopped going on social media and listening to the news for a bit, which was new for me (not constantly going on my phone to go on Facebook or Instagram). And now I limit the amount of time I spend on social media. My family is doing good. I was staying with my grandmother when the pandemic first started, and she is doing good. She wasn’t really stressed or anything but was cautious and was always updated with what was going on, which was the complete opposite of what I was doing. So, if I wanted to know something, I would just talk to her about it. My mom works in a nursing home, so it was stressful for a bit, but she has thankfully been safe and everyone else has been working from home. As an artist within the performing arts community, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally? The most challenging thing for me at the start of the pandemic, was that I was feeling really great after coming out of The Flick and, as that was my debut, I was really looking forward to capitalizing on that. But then I couldn’t audition for any theatre things. But I think people will remember things and roles that had an impact on them, and I think I will be okay. Personally, I really hated not having something to do, or something to work on. I’m someone who is always looking for a way to continue to grow and get better both as a person and as an artist. So, having so much time and not knowing what to do with it was challenging. There was the possibility of doing online things, but I also couldn’t afford to do a lot of the things I wanted to do. But then I found myself writing a lot which was something that I have been interested in but wasn’t necessarily my focus. But that’s kind of all I’ve been doing is writing and every couple of weeks it’s like there’s a new idea for a play or screenplay that comes to me. Way more ideas than I’m capable of writing. 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? I wasn’t in preparations or rehearsal for anything, I was just working a part time job in the food industry, so I was kind of grateful at the time for things to close because I was staying with my grandmother and I was very concerned about continuing to work while it started to seem more and more unsafe to do so. What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time? A couple of friends and I started this sort of web series back in the middle of March just as a way to stay creative, have some fun, and just have something to do. But that took a pause in June. And as we all started to go back to work, we haven’t continued it and don’t know if it will continue, but it was a good thing for me to do at the time. I also started meditating which has been such a great practice for me to start. It has really helped me feel less anxious in my day to day life and helped to bring awareness to my habitual thinking patterns and allowed me to tune in to what isn’t helpful to me. I’ve also been reading a lot and writing. I’m part of the Cahoots Theatre’s Hot House Lift Off Unit where I’m with a bunch of incredible artists as we all are writing our own plays. We’ve been meeting on Zoom pretty much since the beginning of the pandemic, and it’s been wonderful to have that space to chat with them all about all things theatre. 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 given the fact live theatres and studios might be closed for 1 ½ - 2 years? Being such a new artist to this industry myself, I don’t think I’m in any position to give any advice to anyone, but I would just say to find the joy in whatever it is you’re doing. I think the world can seem very dark, so it’s important to find purposeful moments of joy when you can. Do you see anything positive stemming from Covid 19? Yes. I think because everyone was home and not doing much, it allowed certain people who maybe have not paid attention to issues of racial justice to really start listening once the murder of George Floyd was all over social media and the details of the murder of Breonna Taylor started to circulate the internet as well. It caused people to mobilize and fight the systems in place that are hurting BIPOC in a way that I haven’t seen happen before. I think being stuck at home forced people to really have to reflect about who they think they are vs who they actually are and made some of those people go “oh maybe I’m not doing things I need to be doing to align my idea of myself with the actions I take.” And I hope that now that a lot more people are back to work, it doesn’t also mean they go back to their old habits of not really caring or doing anything about these issues. It also allowed BIPOC people to feel more empowered to speak up and not let things slide by. I think we’ve been hearing people speak that haven’t simply been given the platform or space to speak about the issues they're facing and what people can do to help change things. I think I’m seeing a lot more space be given to those voices and that’s been something long overdue, but great to see. Do you think Covid 19 will have some lasting impact on the Toronto/Canadian/North American performing arts scene? I hope with the sort of wake up with the racial inequities of the world, theatre will be more conscious of what it means to be an equitable space for all people. It really goes beyond just saying a bunch of nice things but implementing things in how they run their theatre companies and who makes up theatre companies. Some artists have turned to YouTube 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? I think if it works for the artist, do it! If it helps them stay enriched in some way, absolutely go for it. It’s something that I did for a little while and it definitely helped me feel more connected to other people and performing. I think at least for now, theatres have to utilize it in some ways. Some theatres have been. Sometimes I think it works great and sometimes I think it doesn’t, but it’s definitely new territory that places are learning to navigate and it’s not always going to be perfect and that’s okay. Despite all this fraught tension and confusion, what is it about performing that Covid will never destroy for you? Covid could never destroy the need for stories. During this time a lot of people turned to their computers/TVs to watch shows or movies or listen to music or read books. The need for stories will always be present to either distract people from their current situation for a little while or to illuminate something about themselves or the world. I think the need for stories will always be present and thus the need for storytellers. The way in which we tell stories and the medium we use may change and adapt but there will always be a need to Visit Durae’s Instagram: @duraemcfarlane Previous Next

  • Profiles Frayne McCarthy

    Back Frayne McCarthy Canadian Chat Selfie Joe Szekeres Frayne McCarthy is one extremely busy artist. As the Artistic Director of King Street Productions, Frayne works alongside his creative partner, Kevin John Saylor, who is the Artistic Director and owner of the Royal Theatre, Thousand Islands in Gananoque, Ontario. This quaint Eastern Ontario town is one of the most beautiful tourist destinations in late spring, all summer and fall. After two invitations with no response from Frayne, I had moved on. It was a nice surprise to get the answers to the questions from him tonight through Messenger. As you read his answers, you’ll understand and see why he must place some elements of his life in priority. Frayne has liked some of the profiles I’ve published over the course of the pandemic, but his name sounded familiar to me even before I saw his resume. Once I saw it, then I knew where I had seen his work before. I saw Frayne’s performance as Marius in the Montréal production of ‘Les Misérables’ at Théâtre St. Denis. I also saw his work in the original Canadian cast of the musical ‘Napoleon’ at Toronto’s Elgin Theatre. You’ll see from his answers what else and where else Frayne’s life and work have taken him. Thank you so much, Frayne, for adding your voice to the conversation: Tell me about some of the teachers and mentors in our life for whom you are thankful and who brought you to this point in your life as a performing artist. I haven’t had a typical performer’s training, so some of my mentors might surprise you. I suppose I can honestly say that my earliest mentor was my mother. I remember singing with both my Mom and Dad during the longish car rides to visit my grandparents. My mother always had a beautiful singing voice (and still does), and even as a young child I appreciated that she had something more significant in her sound than any of my teachers who taught us ditties at school. Fairly recently, I heard a keepsake cassette-recording of Mom singing with a twelve-year-old me for an aunt and uncle’s wedding, and I realized that, indeed, Mom had the natural talent to have been a professional singer. That sort of thing just wouldn’t have been considered realistic for an English-speaking girl from a rural background in western Quebec in the 50s and 60s…but she was absolutely that talented. In fact, performing never seemed like a possibility for me either. I attended a high school where there was no drama program to speak of, except for the small mafia of popular kids (which definitely did not include me) who seemed to monopolize the class for social time. There were no school plays or musicals, so I was never the least bit inclined to explore Theatre in school. But once I got to college things changed. Heritage College in Hull (now Gatineau) Québec didn’t have a Music or Theatre program, but while I was there, it did have a National Award-Winning stageband comprised of high school grads (that’s grade 11 in Québec) with exceptional talent who came from the separate school board’s feeder school (so, not the high school that I attended). These players were so remarkable that they were kept together as a group by two very caring bandleaders, Bobby Cleal and Heather Karas, who volunteered their time and talent to continue working with these students who had so much musical potential, and to help carry their development further. Bobby, Heather, and this brilliant gang of musicians to which they were committed just came together to rehearse (for no academic credit or financial remuneration at all) because it was thrilling to make amazing music together. And my own life was completely changed when I was allowed to participate as a band vocalist. Now, I know you might be wondering what singing in a band might have to do with Theatre, but I only later came to realize that it had a great deal to do with how I evolved as an actor. I learned to interpret my songs. Acting is storytelling and every song is a story being told through with music; it’s a sung soliloquy of sort. As I explored the feelings behind the lyrics, the dialogue that told these stories, I was becoming an actor. I was privileged to be a real part of this group of brilliant, talented players who, again without a Music Program, went on to win several Music Festival awards including the National College and University top prize and a regional ‘Best Festival Soloist’ – usually reserved for an exceptional instrumentalist – by me, a singer. I will always remember Heather talking through a band arrangement for a vocal number, and I will always remember when, after hearing me sing, Mr. Cleal officially announced that I was in the band. Excellence was nurtured by these great mentors who gave so much of themselves to our young band. Several of the players went on to professional careers in music. And because they took a chance on me and believed in my talent long before I ever took a singing lesson, I had an opportunity to discover my own potential as a performer. Sorry for reminiscing at such length about how I became a band singer, but it really was a catalyst for my personal artistic development. I later went on to study at the Conservatoire de Musique du Québec; I took electives and audited classes in the University of Ottawa Music Department (while I was a full-time student in the Visual Arts Department). Later I studied Vocal Performance for a few semesters in the Jazz Program at Humber College. Some of my music teachers were very helpful, but I made my greatest strides as a singer with my private voice teacher, Bruce Kelly in Toronto, who became my mentor and friend. He took on the mantle of mentor very seriously, and he was a constant and generous source of guidance, information, and support. I had the privilege of studying with Bruce for several years and he still inspires me today. As for Acting mentors, well I learned stagecraft mostly “by doing”, and talking to directors and other actors whom I respected. Much of my formal education was spent in Art studios with a paintbrush in my hand, but I realized eventually that I yearned to be a performer, particularly in Musical Theatre. Rather than go back to school to immerse myself in a formal theatre program, I instead threw myself into as many amateur productions as I could audition for in the Greater Toronto area, where I was living at the time. And it was an amazing education, although I sometimes joke that it was the School of Hard Knocks. I spent many hours learning my lines and lyrics while on buses and subways travelling to rehearsals in Toronto, Scarborough, Mississauga or wherever there was a show that I wanted to be in. I just got myself there. Of course, there were lessons to be learned through every show in which I was cast, but wo very special people stand out as my mentors during this period of my life: Lorraine Green Kimsa was the Artistic Director of Broadway North in North York, and she knew how to push me to be bolder and more confident that I eve thought I could be on stage. She took my shyness and vulnerability and made them strengths. Next, choreographer Nina Falconer, who became like a sister to me, taught me to have fun with dance, and to remember to smile in difficult scenes or through songs of melancholy or sorrow. Nina was never my director, but she was a constant artistic touchstone whom I always trusted when I asked for her personal notes. You can instinctively figure out who you best teachers are, and Nina was one of them. I’m trying to think positively that we have, fingers crossed, moved forward in our dealing with Covid even though the media tells us otherwise. How have you been able to move forward on a personal level? How have you been changed or transformed personally? Covid has been a terrible beast. I admire the people who can honestly say they have been positively changed through this period. Like many, I put on a brave face, pulled away from friends and family, took a forced break from my career, followed all prescribed protocols (including double vaccination and then boostered), and I’ve been waiting for things to get better. You know this, but your readers likely are now aware that I co-own the Royal Theatre Thousand Islands in Gananoque, Ontario with my partner, Kevin John Saylor In March of 2020 we shut down our operations before many other theatres, and we’ve remained closed until some limited capacity events were briefly allowed. But the stress of having both our home and the theatre to maintain without an income has been hard on my partner and me. Just because there weren’t any shows on our stage didn’t mean that we didn’t have the regular monthly overhead to pay. Kevin took a job on the Mohawk Territory of Kahanawake, which is his home community, teaching Grades 7 and 8 English. We are grateful for his employment at this time because we need some kind of household income to cover bills at the house and at the Royal. Unfortunately, I know that Kevin who has taught Theatre at the State of New York, has four University Degrees and a Meritorious Service Medal from the Governor General of Canada, is not in the most fulfilling teaching position for someone with his qualifications and artistic experiences. And so, while he’s in the classroom, we’re apart from one another during the week, every week, which is challenging, stressful and depressing. It’s an entirely different mindset than when we’re separated for creative work, like a show in a different city. So, I suppose the greatest challenge these days is maintaining a degree of optimism for the future. We need to take care of our mental health more than ever because, honestly, Covid has not presented any positive experience in our household at all. We are thankful that we and our circle of friends and family have not suffered any casualties. How have these last few months changed or transformed you professionally? Okay, I appreciate the nuance in this question, but again I’m amazed when I read about people who say that their creative careers have been transformed because of the pandemic. I’m not saying that it can’t be, but that I respect and tip my hat to these artists. Before Covid hit us all sideways, I was enjoying a bit of a career reboot. I had just come off a back-to-back gig in two of the most popular shows in Québec. I spent a year playing Harry Bright, a role I’d dreamed of playing in the spectacular multi-million-dollar production of ‘Mamma Mia!’ for Just for Laughs Productions in Montréal and Québec City. This French language production was a bold and beautiful (and frankly much improved) new version of the popular show. I knew well from being cast in the Mirvish Production in Toronto. Director and translator Serge Postigo’s reimagining of ‘Mamma Mia!’ was one of the most joyful experiences of my stage career. And while Kevin and I were apart, we were both creatively engaged (he at the Royal) and happy, and we managed to see each other quite frequently. Mamma Mia!’ then dovetailed perfectly with my next show, which was quite possibly the most prestigious stage production of the year in Montréal, Michel Tremblay’s and Andre Gagnon’s gorgeous ‘Nelligan’ for Théâtre du Nouveau Monde. I played the role of the father, David, in the piece and I was so captivated by the intimate family drama about unconditional love being impacted by mental illness that I collaborated with Michel on an English language adaptation of the show. I didn’t have an agent but was quite confident that I would be able to attract bilingual representation with my work in ‘Nelligan’. I was also very certain that I had acting work on the table for several months still as I had already been tapped to continue on as David Nelligan through the next summer in Québec City. The production was actually on tour throughout the province when we got word that we were cancelled. Overnight, every creative person I knew was unemployed. And soon after, as I tried to reach out to agents, I got the same unsurprising response that they were not taking on new talent, especially not at this time. Yes, some artists have tried to embrace the internet and present themselves online through live streaming. I was (am) one of them. I was very excited to be one of the first batch of performers selected by the National Arts Centre for their Canada Performs series. My one-hour live show was called ‘Émile Nelligan & Michel Tremblay in Poetry/en Poésie’ and it was well received Then Kevin and I worked with the American Federation of Musicians, the Musicians’ Trust Fund and the Union of Professional Musicians of Eastern Ontario to present several concerts at the Royal Theatre. And we also helped to produce twice the First Peoples’ Performing Arts Festival of the Thousand Islands online. But I’ve discovered that I do not have a particular passion or aptitude for the technical aspects of this very specific forum/medium that is the very particular specialty of some Creators. Sadly, the glut of amateur video production may have devalued the work of creatives working seriously in this medium. And the flood of free online performances of all sorts, I think, has somewhat devalued the work of many professional performing artists. But we need to move forward, and so, at the Royal, we have invested in equipment and continue to collaborate with the Union of Professional Musicians of Eastern Ontario. We hope we will be able to improve our online presentation when the gathering of groups for the purpose of livestreaming is allowed again (it’s been restricted, on and off). The Royal Theatre Thousand Islands is an amazing space acoustically for presenting live music, and musicians love the vibe of the place. So we do what we can, when we can, to use our space creatively, but that is not why my partner and I bought the Royal in 2013. Kevin and I bought a theatre because we are both actors and directors and we hoped that we would be establishing an exciting performance venue in Eastern Ontario, but it’s been extremely hard, and Covid has only presented more challenges. But has Covid changed or transformed us as artists? I guess it has made us fighters. We will not lose our dream, and so we are adapting at every turn, as best we can, and we do so with determination. And I hope that I will personally be able to get back on stage soon as well. In French or in English, I need to be performing. Do you see the global landscape of the professional Canadian live theatre scene changing at all as a result of these last two years (and moving into a third year)? The Canadian live theatre scene has been in limbo for basically two years now. I hear about actors who are looking forward to picking up contracts that were deferred all this time, but they are nonetheless doubtful that the shows will go on. I, myself, was offered a since-postponed ‘Nelligan’ concert tour, that is now being reconsidered, but no contract has been offered because everyone is still in a wait and see holding pattern. I completely understand. As theatre owners, Kevin and I are concerned about public safety, and we know that we are not alone. The global pandemic hasn’t run its course yet…and so we need to resign ourselves to being patient awhile longer. We know of theatres and companies that have closed permanently since Covid started, and so, yes, fewer performance opportunities and spaces will definitely affect the Canadian live theatre. Interestingly, I have many actor friends in Paris, France, whose shows are still going on and being sold to full-capacity houses. The spectacular mega-production French adaptation of ‘The Producers’ is completely sold out and has now announced a long-extended run. Meanwhile, in Canada, the huge success of Mirvish’s ‘Come from Away’ had to close completely because there wasn’t enough government financial support or understanding of how important this production was, what it represented or how terminating its theatrical run hurts a Canadian industry as well as many satellite businesses that rely on the success of the arts. But is it reckless for big shows (or shows of any size) to still be running in France? When I hint at my concerns for my friends’ and the public’s safety, I am gently rebuffed…so I say nothing further. The subject is so completely polarizing that I don’t want to lose friends, either here or in Europe. I see all sides. As an actor and theatre presenter, I am desperate to get back to business as usual, but I don’t want to be doing so in a way that endangers fellow artists or patrons. And when you are talking about someone’s livelihood in the performing arts, it’s even more difficult because our industry was the first to be completely shut down and has always seemed to be the least understood in terms of how to support our professionals and how to get show business back on its feet. How much our own Canadian theatre scene will change remains to be seen, I think. We still need to see how many companies survive, and how many theatre professionals have moved on to other employment opportunities. There is certainly going to be a period of rebuilding our industry required for awhile. What excites/intrigues/fascinates Frayne McCarthy post Covid? Post Covid? I want to get representation (remember, I’m in agent limbo) and see if I can get back on the boards and in front of the camera a bit more. I am also starting work on a second English language adaptation of an opera by Michel Trembly and composer Christian Thomas. In a perfect world, I’ll get back onstage as a performer. ‘Nelligan’ will be workshopped and produced.; I’ll work with Michel and Christian on ‘Solemn Mass for a Full Moon in Summer’; and maybe some light might also shine on ‘The Virgin Courtesan’, a musical I wrote with the brilliant Blair Thomson. And, of course, there is the Royal Theatre Thousand Islands, which is the 165-seat vaudeville theatre that Kevin and I run in Gananoque which I hop will become better known and appreciated as a great live-performance venue in Eastern Ontario. How many actors do you know who would go so far as to change their lives to buy, restore, and operate their own theatre? Not many, probably, because it’s madness! But Kevin and I love the Royal, and we have surrounded ourselves with great people who, like us, see wonderful potential for making our town a much more important arts destination in Canada. What disappoints/unnerves/upsets Frayne McCarthy post Covid? I supposed the idea of needing to start so many things from scratch. This is a weird business where you are quickly forgotten unless you are in the immediate creative mix. You’re apparently only as relevant as the last show you were in. I’ve always straddled Toronto and Montreal because I don’t seem to be one of the usual suspects in either city, and now I live in neither, but between both. I have been written off as retired by some people, and I just want to scream from the mountaintops that I’m still here, probably more dedicated to performing than I have ever been in my life. But I suppose that’s up to me, to make a stronger impression. Where does Frayne McCarthy, the artist, see himself going next? GOING next? Is that a trick question? Because if I could choose to actually go anywhere other than here (Gananoque/Montreal/Toronto), it would be to return to Paris to perform. I was blessed to live there for a time, and that city just felt so perfectly like home. Kevin loves it there too, so if there was a way to work in Paris again, and bring my Kevin along for the ride, and somehow leave the Royal in the care of a brilliant Manager (oh, the dream of being able to hire a Theatre Manager is so huge for us) that would be amazing. And seriously, I do see myself returning to Paris at some point in the future. I think I have more professional cachet in Europe as the first French Marius in ‘Les Miserables’ and the first French Capitaine Haddock in ‘Tintin, le temple du soleil’ than I have for any of my work in Canada. But next…-most immediately? I want to see my English language adaptation of ‘Nelligan’ come to life on stage so that I can continue to work on it with Michel Tremblay. And I will also continue working with Michel and Christian Tomas on the English language adaptation of ‘Solemn Mass for a Full Moon in Summer’. I also want to get an agent…and in jig time, I’ll be booked in the Big Time…Oh, what a dream! (Sorry, I geeked out there on a bit of ‘Gypsy’) Yeah, I want to get back in the saddle! And Kevin and I, and our Board of Directors, and our team of Royal Family volunteers will continue to build on our Royal Theatre Thousand Islands brand as an important Arts Venue in the Best located tourist destination in Ontario! Where does Frayne McCarthy, the person, see himself going next? Oh, you are being tricky! I see what you did there! Frayne the Artist and Frayne the person have been the same for so long that I hardly distinguish between the two. Frayne is only perhaps less the Artist when he is “Frayne, the son of Teresa and Kevin”…but even then, as I mentioned, my Mom was always a singing mentor; and both Mom and Dad have been my greatest supporters as an artist, and my Dad is even on the Board of Directors of our Production Company! I’m incredibly blessed to have them both so fully involved in all facets of my life. My friendships, too, nearly all revolve in some way around the world of the arts. And my relationship with Kevin is also deeply rooted in our artistic partnership. We met working on Theatre together; grew closer through working on Theatre together; and now we own and manage a Theatre together! Kevin makes me a better person, but he also makes me a better artist in every way possible. Frayne the person will go wherever Frayne the Artist needs to be. RAPID ROUND 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? I discovered that my mentors were people whom I wished to somehow emulate, and so I thank you for your example, support and guidance. 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 it be? The news of my retirement has been greatly exaggerated. What’s your favourite swear word? I honestly don’t like to swear. Swearing is a lazy form of expression, and I don’t think much of it in play dialogue either. What is a word you love to hear yourself say? Gorgeous What is a word you don’t like to hear yourself say? Disingenuous What would you tell your younger personal self with the knowledge and wisdom life experience has now given you? To that kid who was mercilessly bullied, I’d say “It gets better.” With the professional life experience you’ve gained over the years, what would you now tell the upcoming Frayne McCarthy from years ago who was just in the throes of beginning his career as a performing artist? Go to the events and be seen; go to the parties and mingle and do your best to make friends and network with people in the performing arts. What is one thing you still wish to accomplish personally and professionally? I want to record a solo album while I still kinda like my own singing voice. Name one moment in your professional career as an artist that you wish you could re-visit again for a short while. I wish I could live in the pure euphoric joy of being cast as Marius in ‘Les Misérables’. Would Frayne McCarthy do it all again if he was given the same opportunities? Yes, Frayne McCarthy would do it all again, but I think with a little more confidence, focus and drive. To learn more about The Royal Theatre Thousand Islands in Gananoque, Ontario, visit Social Media: Facebook: @RoyalTheatreThousandIslands AND Twitter: @RoyalTheatreTI Previous Next

  • Profiles James Dallas Smith

    Back James Dallas Smith Self Isolated Artist Ian Brown Joe Szekeres James Dallas Smith is an actor, writer, and musician of Six Nations Mohawk and Scottish heritage. I’ve seen him several times on stage over the course of many years, the first with Soulpepper’s wonderful production of ‘Our Town’ several years ago. Just this past year, I saw JD’s performances in two plays that continually raise and pique my interest in Indigenous theatre. The first was at Soulpepper in ‘Almighty Voice and his Wife’ directed by Jani Lauzon and the second at the Aki Studio Theatre in Native Earth’s visually haunting, ‘The is How We Got Here’ directed by Keith Barker. Keep an eye out on JD as he alludes to some exciting projects he has once it’s safe to return to the theatre. We conducted our interview via email: 1. It has been the almost three-month mark since we’ve all been in isolation. How have you been faring? How has your immediate family been doing during this time? I’ve struggled. I’m a person who loves to rehearse and perform in a room with other people. Different ideas and energies that can feed one another. Without these gatherings – with other artists or audiences – I’ve experienced a lot of frustration and anger about what’s been lost. And it’s never been so universal. Other times I’ve been able to draw strength or inspiration by seeing a peer or friend do an outstanding piece of work. There just isn’t any of that anywhere right now and no clear timeline when we might get a chance to gather again. That said, I know my problems are first world ones. My family is healthy, fed, with clean water, and safe. My woes are pretty tame compared to a lot of places near and far. 2. As a performer, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally? The lack of dialogue. I had a fortunate run of being in several really great projects (productions and workshops) that were having illuminating discussions about what the world is focused on in the middle of this pandemic, racism, and prejudice. I wasn’t leading these discussions. I was just fortunate enough to be in some great groups working on some incredible projects led by Jani Lauzon, Keith Barker, Taedon Witzl, Kaitlyn Riordan and Kevin Loring. What was encouraging was these talks were happening in large institutions like Stratford and Soulpepper, and they finally seemed to be grasping the depth of the problems in a lot of our theatre practices. Those talks were gaining momentum and generating some really exciting new projects. I hope they’re not lost because of the need to pause live performance. 3. 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? Yes, I had a few projects in the wings I was excited about. The closest was about a month away at Soulpepper. A show called ‘Revolutions: Songs That Changed the World’. Mike Ross does a lot of the music at Soulpepper. He’s a gifted performer, a great teacher, and just a kickass musician/writer. He invited me to the project, and I didn’t hesitate. I hope it does come to fruition sometime later. I think music is a great conduit for teaching and this is a time where a lot of people need to be educated. That and I just love music. 4. What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time? We have a little boy who just turned 3. My wife is a director at a crisis phone line and she didn’t stop when the pandemic hit. In fact, she got busier (And promoted!) She had to make a downtown call centre into a work-from-home-for-each-counsellor program. And fast. She did a fantastic job, but it meant most of my focus was Daddying for a few months. If you have a kid, you’ll understand. If not, run a marathon and then do it again. And do a triathlon. Every day. That’s roughly the energy level required, anyway. I’ve also managed to do some writing. Keith Barker is a friend and peer of mine (also a gifted writer and nominated two Doras this year – for his script and Outstanding Direction) who encouraged me to start writing stories a few years ago. Gil Garrat has also been kind and generous. It makes a difference to have that kind of support. We workshopped my first play, ‘Crossroads’ at Native Earth’s 32nd Weesageechak Begins to Dance Festival this past fall and Blyth has commissioned it. The timeline’s pretty fuzzy now on when it might get done but I’ve finished a few full drafts of the script and it seems plausible now that I could be a writer. That’s an exciting revelation to me. So, I started a few other scripts as well. There are four that I’m really excited about. 5. 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 given the fact live theaters and studios might be closed for 1 ½ - 2 years? Now more than ever, try and generate your own material. Your own stories. They don’t have to be full-length plays or novels. It could be a ten-minute video. It could be a collection of those from several artists that relate. Experiment with form. And if it’s your own material you’re not infringing on anyone else’s rights or property. You can present your story in any format you’d like. But this is all if you’re able. A friend of mine who I write with sometimes told me he finds it incredibly to be creative now and “to write from a place of fear”. That’s ok, too. Self-care was an under-discussed topic when I went to theatre school and it should be a huge topic. I’d also suggest reading or watching movies you might not normally be able to make time for. I’m learning that more perspectives only make you a better human and storyteller. 6. Do you see anything positive stemming from COVID 19? My wife and I had a discussion about this a few weeks ago. Yes. The fact that most of us are idle has allowed us to see a lot of things that the eye may have – in the past – glossed over as we return to our own daily grind. But now the world is watching together and the hatred and venom of racism that’s been around longer than we care to admit has come glaringly to the front of our attention. I hope it stays there until we have some substantial changes to the way we educate children about BIPOC and some systemic changes in the way we spend “the people’s” money. It’s made me very angry but I’m trying to channel that into educating myself and writing stories to leave behind that will teach the next generation more truth, more tolerance, and more generosity. 7. Do you think COVID 19 will have some lasting impact on the Canadian/North American performing arts scene? I think it already has, sadly. I can’t cite specifics but a lot of small venues (bars, concert halls, theatres) have already had to close and some larger project they won’t survive the pandemic. I’ve also heard of at least two universities canceling their theatre programs FOREVER because they can’t carry the cost of a year with staff and no students. (A friend of mine who works at a University and I were talking about what the hell you do with students who are in 3rd or 4th year of a Performance program. The practical application of your studies – ie. performing – is supposed to ramp up in your final years, not fall to nothing.) I think it’s possible we may see more small theatre programs and companies have to close unless there’s some manner of fiscal pandemic relief for them. 8. Some artists have turned to YouTube 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? My only concerns with streaming are the monetary ones. We’ve seen it with musicians already – how little they get paid from the larger streaming platform. It’s fractions of a penny per play. Most of them have to make money by playing live. The streaming platform is more like affordable advertising. I like the accessibility and the potential to reach wider audiences, but it has to be a fair wage for the artist. Where we’re hung up now is that we’re crossing all kinds of existing union boundaries. Artists have different unions for theatre acting, film acting, playwrighting, film direction, screenwriting, etc. If we do a performance of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and we film it for live streaming, how do we pay the actors and musicians? TV rates? Movie rates? Theatre rates? That’s what we need to agree on but haven’t been forced to yet. To me, as long as there are fair wages, it just seems like an extension of tv/film. I’d love to do it, but I think a lot of us are going to have to make some concessions about ‘ownership of content’. Which can be scary for a lot of people who have been exploited that way in the past. 9. Despite all this fraught tension and confusion, what is it about performing that COVID will never destroy for you? There is nothing like a gathering of people focused on a singular story that may or may not go flawlessly that I can’t find anywhere else. Sometimes it’s more fun when things DO go wrong in live performance. No one gets hurt and it’s usually delightful to see the recovery. As 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? Generosity 2. What is your least favourite word? Pork 3. What turns you on? Music 4. What turns you off? Prejudice 5. What sound or noise do you love? My family’s laughter 6. What sound or noise bothers you? Feedback. Ten years in a band will do that to you. 7. What is your favourite curse word? What is your least favourite curse word? Billy Connolly taught us this. It offends everyone. “Jesus Suffering Fuck!” “Damn” is my least favourite. 8. Other than your own, what other career profession could you see yourself doing? Video game tester 9. What career choice could you not see yourself doing? Banking. I’m shit with numbers. 10. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates? “Grab a beer…Mozart’s just finishing his set. I think Prince and Hendrix are doing something next…” To learn more about James Dallas Smith he’s at Facebook: James Dallas Smith Previous Next

  • Profiles Tracy Michailidis

    Back Tracy Michailidis “If people go and see good stuff at the theatre, they’ll want to keep going back to the theatre.” ​ ​ A new Canadian musical premiere is busily in preparation. Theatre Myth Collective, a collective of professional theatre artists led by Evan Tsitsias, is in rehearsal with his cast and crew for the world premiere production of ‘Inge(new) – In search of a musical’. The musical is written and directed by Tsitsias. More about the plot shortly. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to Tracy Michailidis via Zoom. She appears in the show along with Cory O’Brien, Astrid Van Wieren, and Elora Joy Sarmiento. (Addendum: I've just received word Tracy has had to depart the production for family reasons. Mairi Babb will now step into the role of Bridget. Plot and show information about 'Inge(new) can be found in this profile). When I asked Tracy where she completed her training as an artist, she smiled, laughed, and then said: “Is training ever really finished when you’re an artist?” I couldn’t agree with her more. Tracy attended a High School for the Performing Arts with a focus on theatre and acting. She loved it but she was also academically minded in Social Sciences and Humanities. Upon high school graduation, she attended Queen’s University but did not take theatre in her first year there but was an English major thinking she might go into law. Within those four years, she realized by doing some extracurricular theatre at Queen’s and then joining the theatre department, she said: “Whom am I kidding? This is my passion!’ Her love of language and social science remains a positive training program for her as an actor. These specific subject disciplines help complement acting and figuring out a character’s behaviour. Tracy loves looking at new scripts and parsing through the language trying to understand why these characters use these words in what context. How is she feeling about the gradual return to the theatre even though Covid still lingers? Tracy paused momentarily and then was very honest. In March 2020, she was feeling burned out. As a mid-career professional actor, Tracy is always grateful for the opportunity to work, but she needed a break to restore both her physical and mental body because theatre takes the full attention of everyone involved. Something bigger was happening to everyone in 2020. She felt she had the time to be with her family, read, listen, and just be still in the moment. The time away allowed her to ask that question many of the actors I interviewed also asked themselves: “Why am I doing what I’m doing in light of the bigger picture of society regarding essential and non-essential services? She explained further: “Theatre has been an integral part of my life and it is good. It is transformative and can change people’s minds.” but she is fine with the reality theatre is gradually and slowly returning. From a contextual frame at that time in 2020, the quiet fed her body and soul even more. She felt it was equalizing and leveling that happened, so she started teaching on Zoom during Covid. Michailidis recalled how there was good work happening for her and the students while she was teaching singing. During her teaching, she felt she was receiving from her students as well and that’s what she needed. When it appeared the theatre seemed to return albeit slowly, Tracy was involved in some outdoor productions. There were a few works she started rehearsing that were then cancelled if Covid went through the cast. Out of all this growth and struggle, she continued to be amazed at watching artists be creative with the restrictions placed on them. In this gradual return in the last three years, Tracy has been seeing a lot of ‘pop-up’ shops including smaller companies like Storefront. From a producing standpoint, these smaller pop-up theatre shops have been cost-effective and easier to produce. She compared them to midsize theatres and believes Toronto needs more of them. She was reminded of this in attending a production at the Harold Green Theatre recently in North York in the space formerly known as the North York Performing Arts Centre. Now the space has been cut up into smaller theatres. (Who remembers ‘Showboat’ from the 1990s? I do.) Tracy loves supporting the Toronto Blue Jays. When she attends ballgames, she looks around and sees so many people around her. Her statement to me which made me laugh: “Why aren’t these same people out to the theatre? If we’re united together in community here in the ballpark for the love of the game and the sport, find or make theatre that does the same.” And to the heart of our interview today. What is ‘Inge(new) – In search of a musical’ all about? Part of understanding the musical is in the title, according to Tracy. An ingenue is a young soprano often in musicals. Tracy plays the ingenue in a transitional period. Chronologically, she’s not an ingenue anymore but this is how the character identifies herself for the roles she has played and the opportunities she has had. The character finds herself in midlife not knowing how to move forward or into what box she should place herself. She’s troubled. She thinks she has it all together, but she doesn’t. By seeing herself as she is, the character can begin to accept who she is. Tracy did a workshop/reading of ‘Inge(new)’ at least five years ago. Without giving too much away about the plot, all she will say is it deals with an understanding of authenticity. Even now post-Covid, the social movements that have stemmed from the pandemic led to how many boxes we are to check off in our lives. Some of these boxes don’t deal necessarily with age, but with how we look, how we are inside, how others see us, and how we see ourselves. One of the things Tracy loves about musical theatre is the inherent collaboration by its very nature. Evan (Tsitsias) has assembled many wonderful artists from actors to creative individuals behind the scenes. Everyone is building ‘Inge(new) together and, for Tracy, that’s exciting. How would she describe Evan as director: “He’s rigorous in the way he approaches the work. He listens to the actors, and he trusts all of us which means a great deal to me. As an actor, I’m a big fan of rigor and that makes me feel really safe, especially with a new piece. I feel braver for it. As we’re going through the rehearsal, we know the story isn’t really finished at this time. As actors, we keep digging away and asking questions all the time so while this new script is fun untested, each of us in the production is also vulnerable.” With Tracy’s comment, I was also reminded of ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ and ‘Come from Away’ both homegrown but were always in constant revision from the various audience and critical reaction to both works. All good works of art take time to grow. Why should audiences come to see ‘Inge(new)’? For Tracy, first and foremost, come to see the play because it is a new Canadian work. She also stresses she finds the play really funny. Audiences and artists need to support each other in new work. Yes, there’s a lot of theatre going on right now, but there is good stuff going on out there and she adds: “If people go and see good stuff, they’ll want to keep going back to the theatre.” ‘Inge(new) – in search of a musical’ is about the theatre. What about those who are not involved in the industry? What can these audience members learn? ‘Inge(new)’ is a story about getting older. It’s also about intelligence versus wisdom. Tracy concluded our conversation with this statement: “We all have blind spots. When we attend the theatre, there’s that wonderful mirror that allows us to see ourselves when we can’t see ourselves clearly. I’m hoping audiences will come away from ‘(Inge)new’ seeing parts of themselves in the four characters.” ‘Ingenew-in search of a musical’ premieres May 25 and runs to June 4 at the Red Sandcastle Theatre, 922 Queen Street East, Toronto. Showtimes are 8 pm and 2:30 pm on some weekend performances. Tickets are available: To learn more about the upcoming production of ‘Ingenew-in search of a musical’ visit the Facebook page. Previous Next

  • Profiles Richard Lam

    Back Richard Lam Looking Ahead David Leyes Joe Szekeres Richard Lam has been one busy guy these last few weeks. I saw his work in a terrific production of Bad Hats’ Theatre production of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ presented by Soulpepper. I really enjoyed the production because the use of the technology enhanced the visual presentation of this iconic story. Hopefully, Soulpepper still has the production on its website that you can access, especially if you are an educator. Richard’s biography is also impressive. From Bad Hats’ Theatre website, “[Richard] is a Toronto-based Actor, Writer, Musician, and Sound Designer. Originally from Vancouver, Richard obtained his B.A. in Political Science at UBC before training in the BFA in Acting program at the University of Alberta. He was a company member at Soulpepper Theatre for four years, where he trained at the Soulpepper Academy in a split actor/musician stream under Director of Music Mike Ross. At Soulpepper, he appeared in 15 stage productions and concerts, and joined the company on tours to the Charlottetown Festival and Off-Broadway in New York City. He has also worked for many other theatres across Canada, including the Citadel Theatre, Canadian Stage, Coal Mine Theatre, Buddies in Bad Times, and Outside the March. In 2019, Richard wrote, performed, and composed music for his first original play, ‘The Little Prince: Reimagined’, and received Dora Award nominations for Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Performance. He is the guitarist in the band James King and the Midnight Hours (@jk12hr), and recently released his own home-recorded pandemic EP Hard Rain: A Mixtape Cabaret.” Richard is also an Ontario Councillor for Canadian Actors’ Equity Association. We conducted our interview through Zoom. Thanks again for your time, Richard: It’s a harsh reality that the worldwide pandemic of Covid 19 has changed all of us. Describe how your understanding of the world you know and how your perception and experience have changed on a personal level. It’s kind of like everything was thrown on its head completely. I feel like the world I know doesn’t exist anymore, or it’s covered in moss. I’m sure many people you’ve talked to have said the same thing. I was really used to a pace and a rhythm of my years, my kind of world, my career, auditioning for stuff, doing stuff, thinking ahead to what’s coming next (in 18 months). And then all of a sudden to have that completely go to zero, everything seems like it’s up for discussion now in a way that’s really, really fascinating. Some of that is really good. It’s been really refreshing to be able to spend some time with myself and to explore different stuff. I know a lot of people who have wondered about their relationship with theatre in this time because it can be a tough life and a tough career. There are aspects of it that definitely take their toll. For me, it’s been really refreshing to say, “Oh, no. I miss it. I want to do it again really badly.” I’m ready for it to come back when it does come back, and, in the meantime, I’ve pondering all the ways that I can plant seeds that will hopefully poke their way above the earth when the time is right. It’s been a little bit of everything. With live indoor theatre shut for one year plus, with it appearing it may not re-open any time soon, how has your understanding and perception as a professional artist of the live theatre industry been altered and changed? Well, if anything, I have a newfound appreciation, not that I didn’t have it before, but a newfound appreciation for how much we need people. We need people who aren’t us so badly who want to come and gather, sit together and have that experience together. The health of our industry and the ability of our industry to be relevant and important to our country and our society really depends on people having the time and energy, and feeling safe to sit together, be together and to have those experiences in leaving home, the safe nest that’s acquired a different power in Covid than it did before. But even before the industry was fighting against Netflix, getting takeout, and spending a night at home. The industry is nothing without people. Film and tv have been rolling along just fine but the theatre industry is in a complete standstill because we really need everyone else to want to leave their houses and sit have an experience. It’s a very simple thing, that’s the heart of it at the end of the day. Doing ‘Alice in Wonderland’ where we did get to have the creative aspect, the process, and that was so welcome, and I miss that so much. Knowing that the audience was never coming was strange, and I really miss that because it really changes everything. You can spend all your time in the rehearsal hall putting the show together, but once the audience is in the room with you, you learn so much about the show so quickly that it takes on its real identity. I felt like it was so close and yet so far. There was so much joy in making ‘Alice in Wonderland’ that we’re not back yet. The people are missing. As a professional artist, what are you missing the most about the live theatre industry? Along with the people I’m missing, I miss my community. I really did take it for granted how many people who were my friends and colleagues whom I adore and respect were in my life. We don’t make a coffee date and hang out as much as we should. But we see each other pretty regularly at a show, or we end up at the same bar after a show, and they’re talking about the show they saw, and I’m talking about the show I saw. The number of little networks of connections made it feel like we were part of a real group of people, a real functional community. I miss that a lot. I miss running into people and hearing about what people are up to, their lives in the lobby or wherever we end up running into each other. That’s the thing that has been really lacking from my life. My circle of humans used to be so big, and I loved that. And now it’s very small and it’s strange. As a professional artist, what is the one thing you will never take for granted again in the live theatre industry when you return to it? You know what, I did say it was my community, but if I’m honestly going to be 100% real with you, it’s so simple, - it’s BREATHING. When we were rehearsing ‘Alice in Wonderland’ we had masks on for three weeks. Finally, once everyone got a Covid test (the whole cast and production team), it was masks off and we could finally start performing. Yes, we still had the plexiglass. Honestly, rehearsing the show with the mask on, learning choreography, singing, even just speaking with projection, Jacob Macinnis who was in the show defined it as “We’re training at altitude” like athletes on a mountain. It was so hard to breathe. When I finally got to remove the mask, I was, “Oh, I’m not out of shape and I haven’t forgotten how to sing and speak without my mask.” (Richard laughs) I’ll never take breathing for granted ever again. It seems like a mundane thing to say, but it was like night and day when we had the masks off during final rehearsals. Describe one element you hope has changed concerning the live theatre industry. I hope that people really value what we have, and value how special this industry is and this work we get to do. I do feel there’s equal parts magic and reality sometimes in the theatre. And when you’re in the thick of it, it’s easy to get stuck on the reality; it’s easy to get detailed focus; it’s easy to get career focussed on the how much money you’re going to make and to spend and how the show’s going. It’s hard to step back and just realize what a beautiful thing it is to gather everyone and have these experiences and make this work. I don’t think anyone will ever lose sight of that at least for a generation. I’ve been teaching at Sheridan College and a little bit at Randolph for the last year all on Zoom. It’s been really humbling and a great reminder for me to see these students who are about to graduate or part way through their programs who still want to do theatre so badly that they’re slugging it out online for dozens of hours a week. Some of my students have 54 hours of class online a week; they’ve set up dance spaces in their home so they can dance on Zoom. They’re doing their singing and acting lessons all over Zoom, and they still want to make theatre and are still excited by it It was hard on them, but when these young people finally get the chance to enter the profession, which will be a little delayed from when it should be, the appreciation and joy these students will take from being able to do it finally is going to change all of us. And I hope all of us are changed in that way too. Explain what specifically you believe you must still accomplish within this industry as an artist. Ooooo…what a question! I really do think that I am still searching to realize my potential as an artist. I’m a bit of a ‘jack of all trades’, or at least now, thankfully, that I’m getting a bit more experience that I’m a ‘jack of some trades’ and not ‘all of them’ anymore and trying to narrow them down to just a few. Instead of every possible door being opened, now there’s just several. I am getting better at all of those things. I’m a musician, an actor, a writer. I have a lot of different hats I’ve worn at different times, and I really like all those things. For me, my happy place is balancing them all together and treating them all equally or making sure they all get to have their space. For me, I feel like I’m learning slower than I would if I had one thing because there’s just more things to keep track of, but I am learning and I am getting better. I just want to harmonize all those things together as well as I can and get as good as I can and treat them seriously. I know I’m not close to the tip of the iceberg yet; maybe I’m on the tip in using this confusing metaphor, but I know there’s a point that all the unique things I do can sit together and make me an artist that is different from anyone else. I am really looking forward to feeling like I’ve mastered whatever that balance is. I’m not quite there yet but I’m working at it. Some artists are saying that audiences must be prepared for a tsunami of Covid themed stories in the return to live theatre. Would you elaborate on this statement both as an artist in the theatre, and as an audience member observing the theatre. A few months ago, The Musical Stage Company compiled a survey of audience members with a bunch of questions actually similar to this. One of them on a scale of one to ten was how much do you want to see work which addresses this time of Covid. I was ZERO on the scale. Give me ‘Cats’ or ‘Phantom of the Opera’ instead. Give me ‘The Buddy Holly Story’, that’s where I’ll be. I want to see the lightest thing possible for at least two years, and then maybe I’ll be able to handle something surrounding Covid. But right now, I just want to celebrate moving through this time of Covid. Maybe I could handle something a little more indirect. Everyone has had such a life changing monumental experience in Covid. Every single person, on earth, Covid has become one of the life defining moments of this period of their lives and who they are, no matter how old you are or how much history you’ve lived through. This is one of the chapters of our lives. And so, I feel as if all us had a wild, first hand experience with this. It would be nice not to have to be reminded of this at the theatre for awhile. As an artist, what specifically is it about your work that you would like future audiences to remember about you? What a great question. The thing that I always think of the most, no matter what I’m doing whether I’m writing music, writing a play or acting is surprises. That’s the thing I think about a lot when I’m crafting something . Once I feel like I understand what the story is and zeroing in on the performance, I start thinking, okay, where am I going to surprise them. Where is the moment that I’m going to give something to the audience they don’t expect? And they’ll draw in a collective breath. That’s what I really enjoy doing. And that’s what makes the theatre so awesome is those moments where you really surprise somebody. And they can be simple. I remember being in ‘Of Human Bondage’ at Soulpepper several years ago. There was this great moment that was so small, but I lived for it watching it every night. All of the sound effects were created by the actors on the stage. There was a moment where an actor walked up and saw another actor through a window. The first actor knocked on thin air and the other actor knocked on a glass vase at the same time. People gasped every night because it worked so well. Nobody expected it, and for that one second it was a real window. And I loved that moment so much because people didn’t see it coming. I always think of little things like that. I hope I’ve showed some people little surprises and things like that they didn’t expect, and that it was delightful. To follow Richard on Instagram: @rickyslams Previous Next

  • Profiles Mike Payette

    Back Mike Payette Theatre Conversation in a Covid World Sabrina Reeves Joe Szekeres Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre welcomes its newest Artistic Director, Mike Payette. And what an impressive resume he holds. Mike is an award-winning actor, director and educator. Born and raised in the borough of Nôtre[1]Dame-de-Grace (aka NDG) in Montreal, Quebec, he was introduced to the arts from a young age and quickly dove in. He remarks this introduction as a significant moment that helped him see how theatre truly lifts and inspires potential. While completing his BFA in Specialization in Theatre and Development from Concordia University, he was the co-founding Artistic Director of award-winning Tableau D’Hôte Theatre (now celebrating 15 years). Later, he became a founding member of Metachroma Theatre, served as Artist[1]in-Residence for Neworld Theatre in Vancouver, and was Assistant Artistic Director for Black Theatre Workshop where he helped lead the creation of one of the country’s most acclaimed mentorship programs for BIPOC emerging artists. He has served on the boards of the MAI (Montréal, arts interculturels) and the Quebec Drama Federation, and currently sits on the board of Maison Théâtre as well as serving as Vice President of PACT (Professional Association of Canadian Theatres). For six seasons, Mike has been the Artistic and Executive Director of Geordie Theatre, Quebec’s largest English-language Theatre for Young Audiences company. As an actor, he has worked in some of Canada’s finest theatres including The Citadel, MTYP, The Grand, Factory Theatre, Neptune, and the National Arts Centre, as well as with great local companies Geordie, Black Theatre Workshop, Imago, Scapegoat Carnivale, Repercussion Theatre, Centaur Theatre and Segal Centre among others. Directing credits include the Montreal premieres of ‘A Line in the Sand’ by Guillermo Verdecchia and Marcus Youssef, ‘Elizabeth Rex’ by Timothy Findley, ‘Another Home Invasion’ by Joan MacLeod, and the Montreal English-language premiere of Michel Tremblay’s ‘Hosanna’ (Centaur/Tableau D’Hôte Theatre). Other credits include the Quebec premiere of ‘Harlem Duet’ by Djanet Sears (Black Theatre Workshop), ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ (Geordie), the Canadian premiere of ‘Choir Boy’ by Tarell Alvin McCraney (Centaur), and the national tours of ‘Angelique’ by Lorena Gale (National Arts Centre/Factory Theatre/Black Theatre Workshop/Tableau D’Hôte Theatre) and the ‘Tashme Project: The Living Archives’ by Julie Tamiko Manning and Matt Miwa (Tashme Prods/Factory Theatre/Firehall/Prismatic). Mike also directed the French-language premiere of Lorraine Hansberry’s ‘Héritage’ (A Raisin in the Sun) with Théâtre Jean-Duceppe; marking a large Quebec institution’s first time producing a Black playwright helmed by a Black director and featuring a predominantly Black cast. Mike has commissioned and developed many works by some of the country’s most vibrant emerging and established voices with Geordie and elsewhere, and he continues to be inspired by the evolving ways storytelling can take form; inviting new audiences and artists to be engaged in the many facets of theatre creation and practice. He is a two-time META (Montreal English Theatre Award) recipient and has been a guest artist and speaker for McGill University, Brock University, University of Calgary, as well as the National Theatre School of Canada, among others. I find the following words by Mike extremely important given what we have witnessed during this pandemic: “The work that I am attracted to leans into stories that dig deep into the complexities of the human condition. Embracing the visceral, challenging assumption, and empowering the silenced. Discovering stories that seemingly encompass one individual, or individual community, and emboldening the ways that story, through the shared experience of theatre, champions empathy and understanding of one another. I seek voices and stories that open doors for audiences and communities that have never felt welcome to the theatre and to share a space with those that have enjoyed its impact for years. I am motivated by the urgency of our current world; highlighting the value of theatre as a means for discourse between each other.” We conducted our conversation via Zoom. Mike, I look forward to speaking with you in person very soon: Well, Mike, we are one year where the doors of live theatre have been shut. How have you been faring during this time? Your immediate family? Not unlike so many of our colleagues in the rest of the sector, never mind the sector but the rest of the world just trying to cope with these new realities, I’ve been okay, thankfully. I’ve been in my little home office bubble for most of the year, really. My family is healthy and safe and that’s all I can ask. Certainly, on the work end of it, it’s been really non-stop. It really does feel that since late February early March (of last year) that time and space have completely gone out the window. Thankfully, with the conversations we’re still having great mobilization of the theatre and arts sector, not just Canada but regionally and in Montreal, there’s a lot of advocacy that we’ve been doing, and I’m super proud of all that has been accomplished with my company Geordie. We’ve been really active; we shifted our program fairly early. We had a touring show that went into livestream. We are still doing mainstage productions that are recorded so the work is still going, but it’s a different kind of work and different kind of headspace. The biggest checkpoint is just making sure we are okay in mental health. Some days are better than others, but I’m generally okay, thanks for asking, Joe. In preparation of your new role as Artistic Director at Tarragon Theatre, how else have you been spending your time outside of theatre? Oh, Joe, I wish there was a fancier answer beyond. I’ve been all about the work, but I’m going to search for some things that have been fun outside of theatre. Diving into cooking, building some recipes that I haven’t necessarily used before. Finding new music and listening to new artists, that’s been really cool. And reading a lot about the great things that the other companies across the country have been doing to keep connections with their own communities and their artists, and really looking at how art is shared and how to invite audiences into the development and the artistic process. That is something I’ve been really inspired by, not just here at home but across the country. So much has been in balancing the reactionary versus being proactive, and so because Geordie and myself we are pro-active entities that’s why there seems to be a lot of work. I’ve been teaching as well which is great at Montreal’s National Theatre School. I taught a class in December and am teaching a class right now so it’s good to get outside sometimes to see some fresh voices and fresh artists who thankfully get to practice and train, and I get to be a part of that so it gives me life, it gives me energy. It’s good. Many artists I’ve profiled and interviewed have shared so much of themselves and how the pandemic has affected them from Black Lives Matter and the BIPOC communities to the staggering number of illnesses and deaths. Could you share one element, either positive or negative, from this time that you believe will remain with you forever. I can give you a few things. I can tell you in terms of the resurgence of BLM or the mainstream acknowledgement of historical injustice, that’s what shifted. In terms of the actual stories and events, nothing has really changed, just the attention to these stories and to these realities has shifted to a more global conversation which has been a positive step forward. In terms of my relationship to it, I’m still on the heels of generations of artists and BIPOC artists who have really tried to mobilize this conversation for decades before me. I’m just riding that wave along with them in terms of this generation. It’s a deeply personal conversation when it comes to the representation of the kinds of stories or the kinds of artists that we want there. For me, there hasn’t really been a shift or change in terms of the work that I have been doing or the work I will do. I will continue fostering those new voices and ensure that everyone has room at the table. I do think a positive thing from a societal or social level – it’s forced us all to take a great pause reflecting our relationship to what it is that we do, how we exist and communicate with each other, and to actually meaningfully and significantly value somebody else’s story. I think it’s given us a lot of time to do some deep soul searching about who we are as individuals and who we are as a greater community. Artistically speaking, it has given us agency to re-connect or re-check ourselves in how we connect with our audiences. How to maintain those special relationships we’ve maintained over the years. If we can’t all be in the same room together and can’t go into theatres, how do we keep art alive, how do we keep theatre alive, and the conversation that theatre provokes alive for communities and audiences. So that’s why we’ve seen so many shifts in digital investigation OR virtual investigation of works and inviting people into our companies and our companies work. Institutionally, the merging of the various crises during this time has put a huge, this might sound like a trite wind and I can’t think of another polite word or way to say it right now, it’s forced us to ‘SHIT OR GET OFF THE POT’ kind of thing. Okay, so we know what it is. We’ve got this thing happening, we’ve got this pandemic happening, what are we doing in terms of our art and our audience? We have the social and racial injustice, Indigenous lives are dying, black lives are dying, these are two facts, so what are we going to do about it, as opposed to resting historically on the laurels of what we have done before. There is no more room for that. We’ve been given this opportunity for that deep, deep, deep reflection. After this is done, we will come back together, and we’ll see who makes it. We’ll see the artists and we’ll see the companies who have been able to ride wave and come out greater on the other side of it. Because this is all a big test. I see this as a huge test of ourselves mentally, emotionally, artistically, all of those things and it’s huge wait and a big burden for us all. We will find triumph at the end if we invest and deepen that reflection process. I think that’s what this time has afforded us, and I think it will continue to go for awhile. When we come back together, we will be checked. We will check ourselves and force us to check why we do what we do during a time when we are seeking that valuable connection and understanding of each other on a social level. The late Hal Prince spoke that theatre should trigger curiosity in the actor/artist and the audience. Has Covid sparked further curiosity in you as an artist yourself and how you will move forward in your new designation as Artistic Director for Tarragon? That’s a good question, and Joe you’ll discover that I can’t just give one answer, I have to give multiple answers (and Mike and I share a good laugh). Fundamentally, the belief that the theatre has always been the vessel for that discourse. The theatre, the piece, the experience of the time in the theatre being in a room with others, experiencing a live story all together at once. The second part of that is the conversation that comes from that story itself And theatre has always been that agency for that discourse. I imagine that won’t change but the content may. The content – we have a responsibility to humanize ourselves in terms of what it is the audience needs when they come back. Does it mean what kind of content we are bringing forward? We will need to think about that more wholly. On an artistic front, intimacy is a huge thing. Just seeing two characters hug, all the things we miss. With the National Theatre School, I directed the graduating students in ‘Indecent’ by Paula Vogel and this play is all about intimacy and connection. What we discovered even in that training ground what are the moments we can embrace in a heightened theatrical world that doesn’t necessary mean you have to physically connect, but you see an emotional connection that allows for tension that the audience feels even more so. I’m curious about how to embrace that, to actually elevate those moments of suspended tension when you want something because you legitimately cannot make it so. What does that do in terms of storytelling itself and how moments are executed? Or how those stories that crave intimacy are actually executed? I think that’s a test for all of us creators at the end of the day. It’s an awesome opportunity because it means that we’re actually giving more interest to the audience to fill in the gaps. And so, that’s a really exciting thing. I think we’ll also learn in what the digital platform has afforded us. It’s communicating, working, developing and still creating works virtually that has cut geographical issues. Now we can expand that, have more collaboration or discussion with artists that are outside of our geography. That’s nothing but good because we want to include a multitude of creative voices. What are the opportunities of connecting with a company in South Africa and seeing how that company works? Or seeing a company in Belgium? Or Australia? How are artists working and how can we exchange ideas so that we can learn from each other in a shared knowledge kind of way. That is an exciting thing, and we’ll still be able to develop meaningful connections because geography is no longer an issue. We’ll see how far that lasts, but I’m excited by and to bridge that digital dramaturgy with the parts of live theatre we love so much that we create a really unique experience, a hybrid that encompasses both. Margaret Atwood has spoken of Canadians as survivors who are able to withstand anything thrown in their path. Would you share what has helped you survive in this time of uncertainty. Oh, wow! I suppose I could get a little emotional about this when I reflect on it for real. What has allowed me to survive is to try to go outside myself a little bit to remind myself why I’m doing this in the first place. It’s not for me; it’s an acknowledgment of others that they don’t have the same platform or agency that I’ve been afforded; that are creating breath, levity, light, life, escape and that has been a driving force for me in recognising what folks have been missing during this time. If I have the opportunity to give something because of my role in the community or my role with Geordie, then that’s all I want to do. That’s why I’m here is that I want someone to feel after seeing something that I’ve been a part of in some way, shape or perform that there was a moment of remembering their value and why they’re important. We’ve lost a lot of people during this time. Yes, because of the pandemic but also artists, our technicians, our production people, that one shop that had that one special thing that no other store in the city had that a set designer would go to. There has been a lot of loss and a lot of darkness and it’s not to say that I haven’t endured that darkness, but the thing that gets me up in the morning is recognizing the purpose is greater than myself. That I feel a greater responsibility to make someone feel okay through theatre, through my work. Even though it’s taxing, hard work and exhausting, there’s great personal cost to it. I believe in empowering the other. I hope this doesn’t sound cheesy. I agree that we as human beings are, in essence, survivors and this has been a test for us all. We need to acknowledge those who have needed the support that they didn’t necessarily get, and to do everything that we can to be that supportive mechanism for others. I have my partner, she’s amazing; I have my stepdaughter, so there’s also the everyday realities as well in making sure my mom is healthy. That’s super important to me as I want them to be okay. I want them to survive. Previous Next

  • Profiles Martin Julien

    Back Martin Julien Looking Ahead to 'The Man that Got Away' Helen Tansay Joe Szekeres Since I’ve started the profile series, I’ve heard Martin Julien’s name or have noticed he may have responded to some Facebook comments these last few years. He has been a professional Canadian actor since the age of ten. Over time, he has also become a playwright, theatre deviser, lecturer, and scholar. Martin has been nominated for three Dora Mavor Moore Awards as Best Performer and was also highlighted as Toronto's top-rated theatre artist of the year by NOW Magazine in 1995. He holds a Ph.D. from the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies in the University of Toronto, where he was an SSHRC Doctoral Fellow (2015-2017). Martin was the senior editor of Theatre Passe Muraille: A Collective History, Playwrights Canada Press (2019), and his play ‘The Unanswered Question’ premiered at Ottawa's National Arts Centre in Artistic Director Peter Hinton-Davis’s inaugural season (2007). Recent acting credits include ‘Under the Stairs’ by Reza Jacobs and Kevin Dyer, YPT (2019), and playing the titular role in ‘Sir John A: A Gentrified Ojibway Rebellion’ by Drew Hayden Taylor, NAC (2017). Martin’s newest show ‘The Man that Got Away’ opens this week at the Buddies in Bad Times theatre. He took a few moments to answer questions via email. Thank you so much for taking the time, Martin. I’m looking forward to seeing the show this week: 1. Where did you complete your artist training? As an actor, at TMU in the mid-eighties. Before it was a university. When it was the Ryerson Theatre School. The director of my play, Peter Hinton-Davis, was in my class. As a performance scholar, I hold a PhD from the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies in the University of Toronto. 2. The twenty-first-century world of the professional artist has changed on account of the worldwide pandemic. What advice would you give to a young person who is/will or might consider a future career as a performing artist? As a veteran freelance player and deviser of theatre, I am far more interested in what advice such a young person might give to me! Those born since 2000 have the grand task of re-inventing a responsive ethics and practice for professional artists as we move on. We have two wonderful performers in their twenties – Ben Page and Tat Austrie – rounding out our cast of three, and they are my teachers. 3. Given the last three years of the worldwide pandemic, as a professional artist how are you feeling about the state of the live entertainment scene going forward? In your professional opinion, where do you see the world of live entertainment/live artist/theatre headed within the next proverbial five years? We must dedicate ourselves to clarifying new active relationships between creative practice, economics, and fairness. There seems no longer the funding for producing companies to invest in necessary rehearsal time and fair wages, while simultaneously there are important issues regarding artists’ health and scheduling which are being recognized. Where do time, money, and justice come together? The days of ‘the show must go on’ no matter what are over. 4. Personally, how are you feeling at this moment regarding the effects of the worldwide pandemic? I am also an educator of acting and theatre practice for young adults, and my personal feelings tilt towards both admiration and concern for this cohort of people. Crucial years of collaboration and collegiality have been lost, at a pivotal time of life for those just coming ‘into their own’. We must find ways to recover solidarity and trust in order to keep creating collective art. 5. Tell me more about ‘The Man That Got Away’ coming up at Buddies. What was its genesis? The play is based in my own personal history of growing up through the 1960s to 1980s in a loving and complicated family of my lesbian mother, my gay father, and me. It is a multi-faceted play that celebrates and critiques underexamined notions of queer identity through a unique personal lens, from the days of pre-Stonewall repression to ‘Gay Liberation’ to the AIDS epidemic. I sense that much of the ramifications of this collective journey are in danger of being ‘lost’, or simplified, in politics, art, and memory. It also celebrates and subverts my deep love of showtunes! a) Why do you believe it’s important for audiences to see ‘The Man That Got Away’ at this time? As a person in present-day society, I am appalled that the popular discourse continually insinuates that Covid-19 is the first epidemic to sweep North America since the influenza of 1919. Over the years between 1987 and 1992, in Canada alone, nearly 6,000 deaths have been attributed to HIV/AIDS. The vast majority of these deaths were gay men – often cared for by lesbian volunteers – who were often unrecognized and condemned by politics, religion, media, and the medical establishment. I fear this history of struggle and advocacy is being lost. At a time when trans and queer rights are both emerging and attacked in our civil dialogue, I feel it important to create public art that confirms and liberates the historical advocacy of LGBTQ2S+ rights and the beauty and breadth of queer culture. b) I thought I recognized the title of your show from a song title. I’ll be honest that I had to do a quick YouTube search to realize that the song was sung by Judy Garland in her 1954 film ‘A Star is Born’ opposite actor James Mason. It has been years since I’ve seen this film so it’s on my list to watch again. i) Am I reading too much into this or is the connection one that you are hoping audiences will make to your upcoming show? ii) From what I know about the life of Judy Garland, she was a tortured soul who battled many demons. Will your show focus also on demons/struggles/challenges you have faced in your life personally and professionally? Some audience members – Friends of Dorothy – will make the connection, and others will be learning something new about the depth and meaning of mid-twentieth century and mostly closeted and coded ‘gay culture’, and its relationship to Judy Garland. These ideas certainly have personal relevance to my family’s life growing up and are explored through the arts of theatre and performance in my show. I do not see Garland as a ‘tortured soul’ but perhaps, rather, a genius performer who was overused and abused by the ‘show biz’ industry. But also, her spirit was very good medicine for people such as my father Leo, who died of AIDS-related complications in 1988 at Casey House hospice. 6. What’s next for Martin Julien once ‘The Man That Got Away’ completes its run at Buddies? A rest from the four years it has taken to create this play and production! That said, I am participating in a workshop for a new musical in early January, then returning to teaching music theatre performance at Sheridan College through the spring. ‘The Man that Got Away’ previews December 6 and 7. It opens on December 8 and runs until December 18. All performances will be held at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander Street, Toronto. For tickets, call the Box Office (416) 975-8555 or visit for further information and/or to purchase tickets online. Previous Next

  • Profiles Glenn Sumi

    Back Glenn Sumi Looking Ahead --- Joe Szekeres I’ve read many of Glenn Sumi’s articles in Toronto’s NOW Magazine over the years. At the conclusion of his profile, he speaks about being balanced and fair in his commentaries on live theatre and film. Whether we are critics, reviewers, columnists or simply theatre and film goers, let us hope as we emerge from this Covid world in which we now find ourselves that we can also be ‘balanced and fair’ in how we view any work of art. Glenn is the Associate Entertainment Editor at NOW Magazine, where he’s written about film, theatre and comedy since the late 1990s. A member of the Toronto Film Critics Association and the Toronto Theatre Critics Association, he’s written about and discussed the arts for a variety of outlets, and for three years was a weekly pop culture commentator on CTV News Weekend. He misses live theatre and seeing movies in actual theatres. Being part of the recent Canadian Screen Awards feature jury – done on Zoom – was the most fun he’s had in 13 months. We conducted our conversation via email. Thank you so much for adding your voice to the discussion, Glenn: It’s a harsh reality that the worldwide pandemic of Covid 19 has changed all of us. Describe how your understanding of the world you know and how your perception and experience have changed on a personal level. Wow, what a place to begin. Bare minimum, this crisis has made me think about the enormous social and economic gaps in society. Most office workers have been able to work remotely from home, but that’s impossible if you’re a supermarket clerk or factory worker or security guard. It’s cracked open how badly run many of our institutions are. Did any of us know how long-term care homes were run until last year? Did we ever think that we’d get more useful and practical vaccine information from a pop-up Twitter account called Vaccine Hunters (@VaxHuntersCan) than from our government? Seeing anti-mask and “freedom” demonstrators has been utterly demoralizing and has made me think a lot about personal vs. collective freedom. Seeing how places like Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand have handled the virus – strict lockdowns (including limitation on how far you can travel), contact tracing, quarantining – has shown it’s possible to return to some normalcy if you follow the science and work together. On a personal level, I didn’t realize how important even casual day-to-day interactions were before this: working in an office, sitting in a café, sharing small talk. Your world is so much richer and more interesting when you’re exposed to other people and ideas on a regular basis. I live alone, and I haven’t hugged anyone in 14 months. I was never a big partygoer, but I miss being in small groups eating, drinking, and laughing, meeting friends of friends, that sort of thing. I miss big family gatherings, catching up with people in person and not via social media or email. With live indoor theatre shut for one year plus, with it appearing it may not re-open any time soon, how has your understanding and perception of the live theatre industry been altered and changed? I guess I instinctively knew it before, but only after the pandemic did I fully grasp how many people are actually involved in the theatre industry: everyone from the box office clerks and ushers to the photographer who does the season brochure to the restaurant workers near the theatre. I’ve also been thinking about the economic realities of theatres – things like the minimum audience capacity needed in a theatre to break even. And it’s made me think about something that’s been troubling me for the 20+ years I’ve been writing about theatre regularly and interviewing its artists: how so many people in the industry come from privileged backgrounds and have families to fall back on in tough times. On a more positive note, some of Toronto’s more creative companies have found ways to keep the theatrical spirit alive, via phone plays, audio dramas and other creative substitutes. What are you missing the most about the live theatre industry? Live theatre? I miss everything. The artistry, of course. The energy communicated between the performers onstage and the audience. The 3D-ness of it all – watching a filmed play on a screen doesn’t come close to being at the play. (I was wondering why, in the single time I visited the Art Gallery of Ontario last summer, I was so drawn to the sculptures, and I think it was because I was so tired of looking at flat surfaces.) I even miss annoying things, like the crush at the box office and intermission refreshment stands, the fidgeting and talking. The live theatre industry? Harder to say. The excitement around opening nights, I suppose. Seasons that don’t have the word “virtual” in them. What is the one thing you will never take for granted again in the live theatre industry when you return to it? The importance of a group of people sitting together in the dark experiencing something together. Describe one element you hope has changed concerning the live theatre industry. I hope last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and the recent anti-Asian racism incidents have made the industry seriously question who runs theatres, who sits on theatres’ boards of directors, and how that affects the art form. Explain what specifically you believe you must still accomplish within the industry. Encourage and support more talented BIPOC writers to consider arts journalism and criticism. Some artists are saying that audiences must be prepared for a tsunami of Covid themed stories in the return to live theatre. Would you elaborate on this statement as an audience member observing the theatre? It’s inevitable. I’ve already seen lots of COVID-related material on social media and in comedy – both sketch and stand-up. You have to address the elephant in the room. And some TV shows that have taped seasons after the pandemic began decided to set their show during the pandemic, showing proper health protocols, etc. I’m very curious to see how theatre artists respond. Back in December, the satiric Beaverton already predicted how painful this trend might be, with the headline: “Health Canada Warns of Inevitable Spring Wave of Terrible COVID-inspired Fringe play.” As with all things, it takes time for the full effect of an event to inspire original and lasting art. I think at first, audiences may be so exhausted and fatigued by the real thing that they may want to experience escapism. Personally, I’m looking forward to plays that don’t rely on traditional narrative. Like millions of others, I’ve watched a lot of film and TV over the past 14 months, and I want to engage with theatre that’s less story-based and more abstract and metaphor-based, stuff that doesn’t necessarily work well on Netflix. What specifically is it about your work that you want future readers to remember about you? People don’t have to agree with what I write, but I hope they feel I’ve been balanced and fair. To connect with Glenn Sumi on social media: Twitter: @glennsumi Instagram: @goaheadsumi Previous Next

  • Profiles Courtney Ch'ng Lancaster

    Back Courtney Ch'ng Lancaster Moving Forward LV Imagery Joe Szekeres When we all emerge from this pandemic, I would really like to have a glass of wine, beer or coffee with so many of the artists whom I’ve interviewed over the last several months. A good majority of the time I’m unable to place everything they’ve shared with me in this column because we sometimes veer off on different tangents if the subject warrants. Although artist Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster and I chatted over email, you’ll see from her answers below she has whetted my appetite to find out more and I wish I could ask more. She and her husband are new parents, (congratulations and best wishes, by the way), plus she has also been able to continue in her work as Assistant Artistic Director at Tarragon Theatre. I’ve reviewed several of the terrific productions in which Courtney appeared: ‘Innocence Lost’, ‘Idomeneus’, ‘Spoon River’, ‘Of Human Bondage’, ‘The Crucible’ at Soulpepper. She is a theatre maker from Antigonish, Nova Scotia, and the current Assistant Artistic Director at Tarragon Theatre in Toronto. Courtney is also a founding member of The Howland Company. During Covid-19, she has directed radio play versions of Three Women of Swatow, 7 Stories, and upcoming productions of Shape of a Girl and Democracy (Expect Theatre for Tarragon Acoustic). Her theatre direction includes The Wolves (Howland/Crows, Toronto Theatre Critics Best Ensemble 2018 and MyEntertainmentWorld Best Production 2018), Cannibal (Scrap Paper/Next Stage), 52 Pick-Up (Howland, Best of Fringe 2013), Gray (Inamorata) and Three Women of Swatow (Tarragon – delayed due to Covid-19). Her acting credits include Cyrano de Bergerac and Man and Superman at the Shaw Festival, seven seasons with Soulpepper Theatre and credits with Public Recordings, Canadian Stage, Citadel Theatre, Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre, Cahoots Theatre, Native Earth, and Tarragon Theatre. She is a graduate of the UBC BFA Theatre program, the Banff Citadel Theatre Program and the Soulpepper Academy. Courtney has twice been named a ‘Top Ten Theatre Artist’ by NOW Magazine and is a grateful alumna of the Loran Award and a recipient of two Dora Awards for Best Ensemble. Thank you for participating, Courtney: It has been an exceptional and nearly eight long months since we’ve all been in isolation, and now it appears 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? People can get used to anything. It’s our worst trait. Isn’t that terrifying? Already, I’m used to endless zoom play readings. I’m almost starting to like it. I never have to put on real clothes. In April, I was frantically washing my groceries. Now, the numbers are higher than ever, and yet I can’t seem to muster the same panic I felt in those early days, even as we hit numbers far beyond what we saw in the spring, and even as Toronto’s medical officer of health warns us to assume the virus is everywhere, right now. I think back in August, September even, I was still in a mental state of emergency, but humans aren’t built to live like that. I’ve normalized this. But I’m not sleeping well. How have you been faring? How has your immediate family been doing during these last six months? My family is mostly healthy, my family is safe, my family is not on the front lines of this pandemic. We are immensely privileged to have that kind of safety right now. I was already prepared for 2020 to be a strange year: we had our first child in February. I went into parenthood with very little experience of children. I had changed one diaper, I had never babysat. I had never been ASKED to babysit, my aura of discomfort around children is so palpable! So 2020 already seemed like a gaping pit of unknown. This reminds me of graduating from theatre school in 2008. All the business graduates around me were leaping into a depressed job market, a far cry from what they’d been promised. The theatre graduates were pretty sanguine in the face of limited opportunities and an uncertain future, we’d been preparing for that reality throughout our training. Artists are resilient. I digress. My husband is a musician, so much of his work performing and touring through the year was cancelled, but he has been able to access some of the government support and keep some work. I had taken on a learning position as Assistant Artistic Director at Tarragon Theatre in the fall of 2019, and so I had a maternity leave which I wouldn’t otherwise have had access to as a freelance artist (hot tip, artist friends, if you’re expecting, try to accrue those 600 hours of employment somewhere). This fall, post mat leave, I returned to my position at Tarragon, but the company has given employees the option to work from home through the rest of the season, so that’s what I’ve been doing. It’s sometimes hard with the baby but mostly great. So, while we’re anxious about the future, worried about our families, and a little sad that friends and family haven’t been able to share in this first year of our child’s life, we’re okay, more than okay. We’ve had much more concentrated family time than we would’ve had. As an artist within the performing arts community, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally I miss people. I miss the community of ‘hug-in-a-lobby’ theatre folks. And there are big doubts, a career in the theatre, already so difficult, now seems even more daunting. Kristina Lemieux of Generator said in the Toronto Star “My advice for gig workers and artists is to expect that your ability to live off the gig economy in the arts will not return for seven to 10 years at best,” This strikes me alternately as pessimistic and wise depending on the hour of the day. 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? In 2019, when I found out I was pregnant, I’d already signed on to direct the world premiere of Three Women of Swatow at Tarragon at the beginning of 2020. In a rather hubristic decision, I fudged my due date oh-just-a-wee-bit (both in my own mind and with my producers), consulted with many theatre parents who were wonderfully encouraging (but maybe a little wary about my timelines), enlisted my mother and husband’s support, and decided to go ahead with the job. Tarragon followed my lead and set up a sweet nursery for me (Richard Rose turned his office over to the cause, insisting the heat was better in there), I arranged shorter rehearsal days and longer breaks, and it was full steam ahead. Despite best-laid plans, baby was late, quite late, and I started rehearsals 9 days after birth. Which I don’t exactly recommend to anyone. But we were very fortunate in all aspects – a healthy child who was a good eater and sleeper out of the gate, a fairly easy recovery for me, my husband and my mother game to hold down the fort, and a wonderful team of artists working on the show diligently and sometimes independently as I took extended breaks to nurse. I set out for work every day tired, but giddy because somehow, it was working out. Of course, things started feeling wobbly that second week of March. The bottles of hand sanitizer appeared on every surface, hushed conversations between me and my SM bloomed into full cast dishes about what little information we had at that point. The producers checked in with me to ask if I had concerns about my safety or my baby’s safety, but I was much more concerned about my mother. By March 12th I knew enough to book her a flight home to Nova Scotia, and we put her on a plane the morning of March 14th, before I started my second day of tech. We got through teching the very last cue of the show right before lunch, and then my wonderful SM, who later told me he’d picked up the pace “because we were going to get to the end of the show, dammit”, took me aside and said we needed to go speak to the Managing Director. And so we were shut down, “for a month”, and we all went to drink and drown our sorrows at the thought of having to delay our opening for a whole month which of course became six months, and then indefinitely. The set is still up, as far as I know. And until recently, I still felt quite stuck in the mourning of that show, and the baby-art shuffle which was the first six weeks of my child’s life. What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time? I’m working a lot, learning a lot. Many not-art type things, with a few pleasant art things thrown in like readings and workshops and radio plays. I’m parenting. I’m teaching, I’m questioning and planning with my colleagues at the Howland Company. Everything, save the parenting, happens on zoom. I’m agonizingly texting other new parents in the middle of the night. I’m very fortunate to not have to go out into the world much. I stare at screens a lot. I’m examining a shift in my interests, and a gap in my training. I’ve been a freelance artist throughout my career, hustling for myself. Now, I feel that I haven’t done enough to strengthen my community. A new friend reminded me of this ( project led by the late, great, Ker Wells, wherein he activated a whole community into a pageant around the River Clyde and the state of its waters. This moment calls out for that kind of community building, for neighbours and friends to check up on you, feed and fight and march with you, and know your humanity. 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 given the fact live theaters and studios might be closed for 1 ½ - 2 years? Oof. I think the usual advice still applies – diversify your skillset. Do lots of things. Write, direct, design. Learn an instrument. Make videos, make virtual reality…stuff (and then teach me how), make plays. Going into the theatre was always going to be a hard row to hoe, but if you do lots of things, there are lots of ways in. But honestly, the next few years are unknown to me too. Also, honestly? I think about quitting all the time. ALL THE TIME. It’s an option, amongst many. When I was about 20, someone I looked up to quit the theatre to run a non-profit for youth, and I was so MAD about it. I was venting to another established artist who gently told me “Courtney, life is long” and I huffed and puffed and swore I’d never quit. The artist I admired was back a few years later, refreshed, refocused. But it would’ve been okay if they hadn’t returned, too. Community theatre is theatre. School plays are theatre. Theatre as a hobby is no less valuable than theatre as a calling (this idea was anathema to me until embarrassingly recently). Theatre schools make great, smart, engaged, justice-seeking, art-loving PEOPLE, regardless of whether they stay in the industry. So, I would tell a new graduate, if you want to pursue other skills right now, that is not a failure. Life is long. Do you see anything positive stemming from Covid 19? Theatre people: can we really go back to a 6-day work week after this? I don’t think I can. Do you think Covid 19 will have some lasting impact on the Toronto/Canadian/North American performing arts scene? Smarter people than I have said and will say smarter things about this. I think the zoom reading might be here to stay. In certain contexts, it’s wonderful to be able to read a play with artists from across the continent. Our artistic borders are more permeable than ever. Though maybe we’ll need a zoom hiatus for a bit when this shit is over. 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? I winge (wince and cringe) about this because it’s not the same and I don’t always or even often love it, and I’m confused about how to monetize it to adequately compensate artists in a country where the arts are chronically, majorly underfunded, but I recognize the doors that are being opened. The ACCESS is amazing, seeing things that would have been impossible due to geography, money, and other barriers. Despite all this fraught tension and confusion, what is it about performing that Covid will never destroy for you? We’ll get back to it. Tonight, as I write this at 4:37am (it’s not the baby keeping me awake, it’s anxiety and too much blue light from my screens) I miss the sweat. I miss the rented period costumes that can’t be washed, and only the alcohol-water spray to keep the odours at bay. I miss talkbacks even though I hate talkbacks. I miss nice lobbies and shitty greenrooms. I miss making weird eye contact with audience members at the bathroom sinks after the show. I miss the shiver of a scene going well. I miss whining about everything, the inadequate heating backstage, the injustice of matinees, the wigs, the shoes, the cellphone in the audience, the paycheques, the reviews. I swear when we get back to it, I won’t whine for at least a week. Oh, I can’t wait to get back to it. Previous Next

  • Profiles Steffi DiDomenicantonio

    Back Steffi DiDomenicantonio Moving Forward Jasper Savage Joe Szekeres What an enjoyable conversation I had today with the bubbly and effervescent Steffi D. who truly is thankful and grateful for the many opportunities where her career has led her. I did a bit of online research about this George Brown College student who was the fifth-place finalist in the 2006 Canadian Idol reality based show. After Canadian Idol, Steffi has performed on stage in musical theatre roles, including national tours of Spring Awakening and in 2013 she received a Dora Mavor Moore Award nomination (similar to the Tonys) for best actress in a musical for her appearance in Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘Cinderella’. Steffi also has a recurring role in the forthcoming television series ‘Crawford’. Steffi currently appears in the Toronto production of ‘Come from Away’. We conducted our conversation via Zoom: It has been an exceptionally long six months since we’ve all been in isolation, and now it appears 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? Uh, ok, I feel like this is tough because I feel as if we knew this moment was coming that the case numbers were going to spike again. I feel nervous, I feel a little bit anxious. When this all started I don’t think any of us thought we’d be sitting in our houses six months from now. When I got a text message from my Stage Manager on March 14 saying “Hey, don’t come into work today.” Who knew that it was literally to be six months from that moment? I don’t think anybody knew that was going to happen. I will say the one thing that makes feel a little bit more at peace when it comes to this is the entire world is going through the exact same thing. Everybody is in the same boat right now; everybody is going through the same thing. I guess, as far as this goes, yes, it’s unnerving the numbers are going up. But again, I feel as if more and more we need each other whether it’s over Zoom, either six feet away on a walk. A new way of living? Hmmmm…well I will say what seems unlikely right now. Giving someone either a hug or a handshake when you meet them sounds like it’s going to be a thing of the past. I think that’s really stressful and sad because we don’t get to connect in the same ways that we used to be able to connect for so so long. It’s going to be a little bit odd as we’re going to have to re-adjust the way we think of things. Who knew when cold and flu season rolled around, nobody thought to wear masks and not to get sick. Everyone was just rolling with the punches, get your flu shot. Honestly, I will never take my health for granted ever, ever again. How has your immediate family been doing during these last six months? My immediate family has been doing okay. My father is a radiologist so he’s still going to work at the hospital. My mom is technically retired now so she’s been spending a lot of time at home. My brother is a gastroenterologist and he’s working. As you can see I come from a family of a lot of doctors so all of them have still been going to work. I think everyone has been feeling okay. We had a bit of a scare. My grandmother is in a long-term care home. There was an outbreak there. Thankfully, she was totally fine so knock on wood that remains the case. I think everyone in my family has been really responsible so that’s good. As an artist within the performing arts community, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally? Okay, I feel like they go hand in hand those two things, personally and professionally. Specifically, it’s a big lesson I’ve had to learn during this time is that I think Covid made me realize that I’m so intertwined with my job and my career, and performing is so much a part of my identity that I feel like it’s been really hard to be forcefully separated from that during this time. And understanding who I am without performance and who I am without my career being the biggest part of me. I think that’s been a really challenging thing for me to understand that I’m a person outside my job and what I do. It’s been an interesting and fascinating journey to go ‘Who am I underneath all of this?’ 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? I had booked a contract that didn’t end up happening because it was supposed to be on camera. Unfortunately, I can’t disclose what it was. Other than that, ‘Come from Away’ has been my bread and butter for the past three years. We had done 850 shows at that time we stopped. Honestly, who knew it was going to be such a hit? I’ve loved every moment of being a part of ‘Come from Away’ and telling that story. I realize how deep of a void it has left when we weren’t able to continue on with the show. What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time? Well, that’s a great question. There has been a lot of things going on. At the beginning of all this, I actually was having a pretty nice time. I caught up on things I haven’t had time to do because being at the theatre eight times a week is grueling, demanding. You have to be responsible. When we had this big intermission and this big break, I thought to myself, ‘Hey, why not do some stuff that I’ve always wanted to do that I haven’t had time to do.” So I actually learned how to cook a little bit which is something I’ve never learned how to do. I can make a mean coconut cream pie now. I’ve made a great pasta sauce and chili to name a few things. I also re-decorated my apartment. I decluttered my entire place from head to toe. I took all the time in the world to go through every cupboard, every drawer, every closet, everything. One of the biggest things I’ve done is start this online talk show with the stage manager of ‘Come from Away’. Her name is Lisa Humber. And we started this online talk show called ‘Check In from Away’ where every week, every Tuesday, a new episode comes out on the Mirvish You Tube Channel. We interview different artists, people who work backstage about what they’ve been doing during the pandemic, other shows they’ve worked on at Mirvish, their favourite memories, what they miss the most about theatre, stuff like that. I have to tell you it was a saving grace for me to remain creative in some kind of way and also to connect with people whom I’ve met and there are some whom I haven’t met which was really cool. This has been my biggest project. We’ve released 17 episodes so far, so it’s been keeping us busy, but I’ve been grateful for it. 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 given the fact live theaters and studios might be closed for 1 ½ - 2 years? Ooooo, this is a tough one…I’ll start with the theatre grads… I feel so bad for the theatre grads because it must be so anti-climactic to graduate school and to literally walk out into a global pandemic and not be able to do what you love the most. I can’t even imagine. I’ve been so lucky to be able to do this for many years and the void that I’m feeling in all this is huge. Words of wisdom? Honestly, just try to stay sane, and try not to drink too much. I realize there’s not a lot to do some days, but we do have to keep our wits about us a little bit and whatever that means to you, keep connected to others around you, how difficult or annoying it might be over technology. And stay creative in some way. Find a little project, something to read, honestly anything to keep your mind exercised. It’s been difficult to keep the acting and singing chops alive if you’re not performing and can’t be on stage. Do you see anything positive stemming from Covid 19? Yes. I think a lot of things, actually. I think the world right now is literally and figuratively on fire. I feel this is an amazing opportunity with the social movements, the racial movements that really good things will come out of this. Since there has been so much time at home, we’ve had time to think and a lot of discoveries have been made that didn’t have the space to happen when everybody was in a ‘busy body’ kind of world, always hustling and moving. When you take away all that ‘busyness’, you realize what things are really important, and I know that’s happened to me. This pause in the world was also good for me for people to do a lot of self discovery of the world, other people. We’re learning to understand each other and I think things will be better at the end of the day when we come out of this and hopefully no more casualties. Do you think Covid 19 will have some lasting impact on the Toronto/Canadian/North American performing arts scene? I feel optimistic that people will be creative and find ways. This is what I hope, my dream and hope is that people will want to connect with the performing arts even more than they did before. After sitting home and finishing Netflix, I’m sure everyone is going to want to see a live performance or a musician playing or a concert, or a musical or a play. I’m just going to leave it at that because there’s no point in focusing on the negative as I’m an optimist. There’s plenty of negativity going around. Some artists have turned to YouTube 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? That’s a very interesting debate you just mentioned about some artists doing whatever it takes and those who say they will wait until they return to the theatre safely. Honestly, I’m all for whatever makes people feel happy, comfortable and creative. So if an artist wants to stream their work, that’s amazing to give people an opportunity who may not have that opportunity or the funds to go see a show, or a concert or a musical to access their stuff online. I think that’s incredible. I will say the only thing that sucks about Covid is theatre is all about live audiences and feeding off reactions and hearing laughter and tears. I find that’s the thing that suffers the most with streaming. Unfortunately, streaming doesn’t give you that instantaneous rapport and relationship with the audience. That’s a shame and that’s what I miss about theatre so much. Film and tv are fine but you don’t get the instant gratification that you get when you perform live. To be compensated properly for an artist’s work is an interesting debate I can see why this would divide people. If you’re volunteering your talents and feel comfortable and happy with that, I think you need to follow your gut and your intuition. If you want to share something and have a story to tell, by all means do it. Obviously, compensation is nice when it happens, but I think that’s a case by case decision basis. It depends on the project, the artist and what’s at stake. I can’t put a label on it either way because there are different outcomes of some of these projects. Despite all this fraught tension and confusion, what is it about performing that Covid will never destroy for you? Covid will never ever destroy my undying musical theatre nerd love for all things theatre. I’m a huge musical theatre nerd, I’m a theatre nerd. Nothing will ever replace the feelings that I have felt sitting in an audience with a programme in hand waiting for the production to begin, hearing the orchestra tune, seeing the performers enter the stage. It’s really un replicated. You can replicate that feeling anywhere else, just the feeling of the lights going down, a story beginning. For a couple of hours, you get to follow another story, forget any baggage you may have brought to the theatre, you can laugh, cry, whatever it makes you feel. It’s just solidified my undying love for theatre. Truly. I miss it so much every day. I will never ever take it for granted ever again. The moment I will have the chance to walk into the Royal Alexandra once again to tell the story of ‘Come from Away’, I will weep tears of joy and relief and sadness. I’m just going to be the happiest girl when that happens. You can follow Steffi on Twitter: SteffiD3 Previous Next

  • Profiles Lisa Rubin

    Back Lisa Rubin Moving Forward Leslie Schachter. Joe Szekeres My recent Zoom call with Montreal’s Artistic/Executive Director of the Segal Centre, Lisa Rubin, led me to discover that she has had an interesting mix of training. Lisa’s major was in Drama at Montreal’s McGill University, but it was more academic based and not a conservatory program. During her McGill years, she spent three consecutive years at the Charlottetown Festival. For Lisa, that was training for her and what an opportunity to be trained with this prestigious company. Lisa has had years of dance training and singing and voice lessons. She grew up in theatre programs of acting, singing and dancing. Lisa has been the Artistic and Executive Director of Montreal’s Segal Centre since 2014. A bit of my own online research revealed she has had an important part in the development of new musicals including ‘Prom Queen’ in 2016. In the online blog ‘The Montrealer’ in 2019, Peter Kerr had written that “Lisa is understandably proud of the reputation that the Segal has garnered…while honouring the history of the Centre, their audiences and donors.” I couldn’t agree with him more as she is an articulate, passionate and very calm lady who clearly is ready to take the reins and move the Segal forward once we are all given the clearance to return to the theatre. Thank you, Lisa, for taking the time from your schedule for our conversation: It has been an exceptionally long eight months since the pandemic began, and now the numbers are edging upward again in Ontario and Quebec. How are you feeling about this? Will we ever emerge to some new way of living? Yes, I do, I do think that when there’s a vaccine the clouds will part. I do believe that. Unfortunately, it’s the only time the clouds will part. Over the last eight months, people’s hopes and expectations have been giving us all whiplash. There’s an acknowledgement at this point that a true return to normalcy, the crowds, and our ability to connect with family, friends and the community will be post vaccine. It will take time. I’m sure there will be remnants of everything we’re doing now in terms of health and safety and protocols will stay with us for quite some time. How have you been faring? How has your immediate family been doing during these last eight months? For me, personally, it’s been very good. And I think that’s one of the struggles that have is balancing the acceptance and enjoying the change in my life that this has brought on while my other love and work love and work life and the industry is suffering. Personally, it has been five, almost six years in my job that has completely devoted to it in terms of travel, in terms of weekends, in terms of evenings, in terms of long, long hours. I have been grateful for every minute of it and I love it so much. It’s such a privilege to do what I do. It’s also taken me away from my family. It’s taken me away from finding the time to invest in myself. I’m not Oprah and not getting up at 5 am to exercise. I’ve exercised pretty early, but 5 am is just a tad too early for me. Reconnecting and just being home with my kids and cooking again and exercising daily is something I didn’t realize how much I loved. As a dancer, it’s made me want to sing again and dance again. I have incredible healthy kids at a good age, they’re 12 and 13. They have their independence, and they need it as they’re beginning their teenage journey. They also still like to hang out with us at night a little bit too, and cuddle. We spend a lot of time together. I remember very clearly what it was like to have little kids and I think this pandemic would have been very different for me and my family if my kids were younger. To me, parents and little kids are heroes right now, and the teachers, the doctors, the nurses. I’ve seen a lot of silver linings for myself. It hasn’t changed how hard I work or how many hours I sit in front of the screen. It’s just a different way of doing it because I’m home. I want to get back to seeing shows, to directing, to travelling, to being in the room and all that, but I don’t want to forget what this gift of time at home has meant. As an artist within the Montreal performing arts community, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally? I am seeing that show business is hard enough. To see people from back stage to technicians to the painters, the designer to the actors, to not have access to any work right now and leaving the business and going through mental health issues and financial crises, that’s where the guilt and trying to do the best that I can with the power that I have. I have a lot of power in my position and I have a job. There’s are things we’ve been talking about at the Segal Centre right now. What can we give back right now? And how do we continue to support our audiences and how do we continue to raise money? But how do we really look at what we have and how lucky we are to have what we have and give back to the community. At the Segal Centre, we’re giving away free space. We’re hiring and engaging with independent companies than we ever have before so we can put money in their hands and funnel it through. Although we don’t want to be doing online theatre, we’re doing online programming so we can just hire people. We can put money into companies and artists, and all of the things we want our audiences to enjoy and to help find some joy during this time. Another difficult and challenging thing we want to overcome is not getting done on what we had before. Let’s focus on what we have right now and remembering that everyone is dealing with this so we can get back to do what we love and want to do. Prior to the pandemic, the Segal Centre was on an incredible trajectory. Our new musicals keep getting better and stronger. There is so much potential and collaboration out there. To work now under this condition that we don’t have a season and only do some things, that’s okay. Even though I love musicals, we can’t do those right now and that’s okay. Instead let’s just focus on what we can do. I found it helpful to focus on the immediate future – such as looking at three months ahead – with the budgets we have and be motivated by what we have right now and the gratitude that comes with that. I know and feel very lucky so when I see others suffering, I want to help. I just can’t help everybody. I don’t think everyone is expecting me to, but artists look to the institute and organization for support as well. 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? Yes, it was ‘Oslo’ which is a Tony award winning play with a cast of 15. We were a week and few days away from first rehearsals starting. The entire set was built. Actors had memorized their lines. ‘Oslo’ was a really hard one to cancel as it’s a phenomenal show. I’m absolutely going to do it again. But it’s one of those shows that may have to wait until we get back on our feet because it is so big. We also cancelled a world premiere play, a world premiere comedy called ‘Siberian Summer’. This one I’m determined especially since it is a world premiere and the playwright can re-invent the piece so that it makes sense in a post-Covid world or an on-going Covid world that the story holds true and the relationships that we build the characters on all hold true. Now what happens if they have to wear masks? What happens if they have to stay 6 feet apart? How does that affect their life in this context? There are some exciting things coming up for ‘Siberian Summer’. We also cancelled the Yiddish Theatre. That was hard too because that’s community theatre. So community theatres around the city all had to cancel and that’s hard too. We also had to cancel our musical fundraiser for which we were rehearsing for 3-4 months. That was hard as we were ready to move into the theatre in March for Tech week. Some other things may never happen that we were working on or they might. Art is always changing. Art has to change so the shows we do will reflect the time and the artists we want to work with. We’ll see what makes sense for us to keep doing or what doesn’t. What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time? I have to tell you that I work a lot of hours. (Lisa laughs as she shares this) I still work a lot of hours. Outside of the work hours, I exercise, I go to COSTCO. I take care of my kids. I run errands. I’m also part of a volunteer group from The Federation. I’ve done quite a bit of deliveries. Volunteering is also something I personally enjoy because it makes me feel like I’m contributing. I’ve taken my kids with me when I volunteer, and we really enjoy bringing food and bringing gift bags to seniors’ residences. Reading a lot. I think about how I did everything before when I travelled so much. I think a busy person can do everything, and yet I’m also making more time for disconnecting because the connections are so intense during the week that Sunday I’m going for walks or bike rides or just lying on the couch and watching Netflix like everybody else. This is a change from my life before and I’m enjoying it. I’m never bored. I miss my friends, socializing, I miss my family. I haven’t seen my dad in a year. 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 given the fact live theaters and studios might be closed for 1 ½ - 2 years? There are two messages. One is perhaps a tough love message and that is our industry will have shrunk a little bit. There will be less opportunities for a bit than there were before. There will be smaller productions maybe than there were before. In order to excel in this field, you have to train, you need your technique. You need to keep singing. You need to keep dancing. You need to do all these things. I understand there may be this need of “I don’t want to” and permission to allow yourself to not also. But when the time comes, artists, you need to keep yourself and your SELF healthy. So, the training, the work, you can’t stop investing in yourself as an artist. I believe it will come back. Theatre is one of the things that if you like it as an audience member OR if you’re in it as an artist, you can’t live without it. It doesn’t matter. Nothing is going to change that. It’s going to come back, so will Broadway. Theatres will open again. It’s not going away. Hang in there. I know it’s hard, but you have to invest in yourself as an artist because if you want to work that’s what it’s going to take. As a result of what’s happened with Black Lives Matter and the major racial revolution and changes happening, the Segal Centre and others will be investing even more in mentorship opportunities and apprenticeships and training, and ensuring that we make that marginalized communities or voices that don’t belong in white American theatre WILL BELONG and will have opportunities for artists. That’s ongoing investments in artists. Do you see anything positive stemming from Covid 19? Oh, yeah. Access and having online programming, even if it’s not theatre, even if it’s our ‘talk show’ format presentations or educational opportunities gives people access to those who cannot attend the theatre. I feel as if I’ve become closer with my Board. I’ve become closer with leaders in the Montreal community. I’ve become closer with members of the French community. I’ve become closer with arts workers in the US because I do weekly Town Halls. It’s actually strange in how well you start getting to know people because you spend so much time online with them. There have been so many wonderful connections made as a result of not being able to travel to establish connections. This is going to make us appreciate the in person work even more. I also think many of us have been hustling, and I just hustle in a different way because it’s my job. The hustle of the working independent artist, whether he/she is or they are trying to work, investing in themselves and auditioning OR the working artist who goes from contract to contract to contract, they have not stopped. You can’t stop this. This forced stopping from the pandemic in the beginning, I think, was a wake up call for so many. If you talk to many artists who were non stop in the beginning, these artists realize they were forced to concentrate on other things like baking, reading, relaxing where they don’t have to study the script, learn lines or audition. I know it’s too long of a break, but I think artists deserved that break, actually, big time. These artists deserved not to hustle for a little bit. Now, we’re eight months later, so artists you are going to have to put the work back in for sure. Do you think Covid 19 will have some lasting impact on the Montreal/Canadian/North American performing arts scene? I think it’s going to be the same around the world. It’s going to take a lot for the vulnerable, regardless of age, who have been afraid these last eight months to find their way back and to have trust. There’s a whole group who would attend tomorrow if they know they could. There’s an inevitable loss from Covid as well. We may not be able to be at full capacity for some time so I think by the time we’re at full capacity happen again truly, it will have been this gradual 100 more, then another 100 more, so it will be a slow re-instatement of people to have that trust. We’re going to have to see it reflected in the numbers. We’re in for a slow re-awakening in the theatre industry but it will happen. I think this is the same for everywhere around the world and not just in Canada. It is what it is. I have hope but we will have to look at the audiences who will come to the theatre and program accordingly and just think differently. Everyone recognizes that old models may change and may shift. I’d like to be one of the innovators. We’re all a little burnt out just dealing with the whiplash, the HR, the granting, the cancelling. If it’s not me, someone else will and I’ll be grateful to them. We’ll help each other. 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? I think it’s so wonderful that artists who have done their own thing on streaming. I’ve seen some awesome work. Good for them. If actors are going to be hired and used for online streaming for our audiences, then yes, they should be compensated appropriately. Despite all this fraught tension and confusion, what is it about the art of performance that Covid will never destroy for you? Covid will never destroy the energy I feel even connecting during an online dance class. It doesn’t change. Being in person makes it better but it doesn’t change. It’s like an addiction. Once you’ve tasted it, you just know. Your love of food, your love of music that does not go away. Again, Covid will never destroy that energy. To learn more about Montreal’s Segal Centre, visit . Previous Next

  • Profiles Michelle Bouey (Patsy Cline) and Rob Kempson (Director) from 'A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline' at Port Hope's Capitol Theatre

    Back Michelle Bouey (Patsy Cline) and Rob Kempson (Director) from 'A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline' at Port Hope's Capitol Theatre Moving Forward Sam Moffatt Joe Szekeres A conversation with Rob Kempson (Director) and Michelle Bouey (Patsy Cline) and ‘A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline’ If you haven’t made the trip to Port Hope’s Capitol Theatre to see ‘A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline’, I encourage you all to do so. It was a lovely evening at the theatre and a smart choice to stage this play and begin welcoming audiences back after two years. But why ‘A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline’ to re-open the Capitol summer season? Artistic Producer and Director of the show Rob Kempson was happy to explain his reason why this show was apropos to begin. He wanted to start the season with this show because he has loved Patsy Cline’s music for a long time. As the first BIPOC artist to essay the role of the country music songstress, Michelle Bouey is such a talent that Rob couldn’t even imagine doing the show without her. But in his new role at the Capitol, Rob had to also think of the larger picture – how to introduce himself artistically to the community plus how to bring people together through all ages and demographics. For Rob, very few musicals, artists and plays have that cross-generational appeal as Patsy Cline’s music does. ‘Closer Walk’ is cross-generational. There are many Patsy Cline fans in the audiences who have never seen a performance like the one Michelle Bouey delivers. That was intentional as Rob wanted to make sure that, as Artistic Producer, he was delivering the familiar alongside the unfamiliar. Yes, it’s important to ensure the Capitol’s legacy supporters are welcomed back plus it is also important to bring a whole new generation of audiences into the theatre. Kempson shared two stories as proof of this crossover. He recalled an older gentleman who has been a long-time supporter of the Capitol who said: “You make sure you go back and tell Michelle that she’s even better than Patsy Cline herself, and I saw Patsy Cline perform when she was alive.” The other? One performance had many of the workers from the local brewery attend who had a great time and were loving the show and had no idea the Capitol existed. These are signs changes have already begun as Rob continues to look for ways to invite audiences back to the theatre, but he is keenly aware they will have their own terms. As Artistic Producer, he’s looking for where he can find other crossovers in live entertainment and have people sit beside people who are totally different from each other and yet have a shared artistic experience. Thus the reason for selecting ‘Closer Walk’ and Dolly Parton’s musical ‘9 to 5’ to be staged later this summer. When rehearsals and initial preparation on her own began for ‘Closer Walk’, Michelle Bouey says she didn’t know a lot about the singer when she first began working on the show but is “so glad she was introduced to Cline’s world because her catalogue of songs and her legacy is one that is so truly incredible in that it all happened before the age of thirty.” What is it about Cline’s music that speaks to Michelle? It’s the vocals and passion that spoke first to her when she heard Cline’s music for the first time. Whether it was an up-tempo piece or a soaring ballad, Bouey felt transported and stated she felt exactly what Cline was feeling at that moment. Bouey reiterated further that if you’ve never heard of Cline before, it is her music and the stories told through songs that are touching to hear, plus the bonus of being able to hear the songs live in a theatre instead of a recording. Michelle loves singing the songs for which Cline is known like ‘Always’ and ‘Crazy’, but there are some lesser-known musical numbers that pack an even greater punch. As director of the show, did Rob wonder about the mammoth task at hand to mount the production or did everything fall into place for him? He said it fell somewhere between these two parameters. Rob has directed other historical productions and has always felt inspired by the history of real-life people rather than being bound by the history. This connection is interesting as he further reitrerated: “Patsy Cline didn’t dance around the stage. She stood at the microphone and sang because she wasn’t wirelessly microphoned.” In other words, Cline lets the song tell the story. Although we are watching this show in 2022, Kempson praises the work of the entire crew and the band in all of their fringes and tassels. He recognizes the fun in using history as the inspiration from which to jump off rather than mimic it or pretend to do something. Rob completes a lot of research even before rehearsals begin because he asks the question: “As artists, how can we interpret and imagine the world of Patsy Cline through a 2022 lens rather than impose it?” The historical research for him becomes a launching pad rather than a definitive endpoint. This historical launching pad for the production makes complete sense. For me, Bouey hit all the vocal emotional chords within me. The entire look of the production was constructed uniquely and solely for this production alone. If audiences see ‘A Closer Walk’ somewhere else, they will probably end up seeing a new vision. Both Michelle and Rob speak glowingly about the incredible joy they experienced in working with seasoned actor Tyler Murree who plays DJ Little Big Man. Bouey is in awe of Tyler. She says he was so kind and supportive to her. She was intrigued in watching him develop all of the various characters he plays and how he switches characters in performance so effortlessly. Rob has worked with Tyler before and knew he performed this role of the DJ. Kempson was not asking for a replica of Tyler’s previous performance but take on a new version of it. And he did just that. Kempson echoed what Michelle said about Murree. He is a constant professional and such a joy to have in the room because he is a beautiful collaborator, open, and risk-taker who makes people smile at every single turn. Once again, I appreciated Rob’s candour very much. When he puts together a team he has a pretty strict ‘no asshole’ rule. For Kempson, it’s more than just if an actor can do the job; instead, it becomes ‘are you the right personality for this group of people’. And how are Rob and Michelle feeling about the theatre, the trajectory of Canadian theatre going forward, and the health protocols? Both agree the Canadian theatre scene has been forever altered moving forward. Kempson recognizes there are positive and negative changes Nevertheless, what really hit home for him was the sad reality many amazing artists in the industry have chosen not to return. These artists left to find other work and are staying in that other work because it is less precarious than the theatre industry. The positive reality moving forward – Rob believes artists and arts organizations are far more attuned to taking care of people and those within the community, and this makes for a far more beautiful collaboration. Although Rob had never worked with Michelle before, he strongly felt the importance of creating a space for her during rehearsals and performances where she felt welcome, cared for and safe both at the theatre and where she is billeted. Michelle remains grateful that Rob and the entire Capitol company have continued to ensure the safety of everyone involved in all the shows remains a top priority. She considers herself lucky because she chose to go back home to Prince Edward Island in 2020 to be with her family. The east coast provinces had strict entrance and quarantine requirements. Because of these strict requirements, the east coast provinces could continue performing and putting on shows, so Michelle could continue doing what she loved. She continues to feel safe in her work at the Capitol. As our time on Zoom wound down, I know I put Rob and Michelle on the spot to ask them the following question: “If Patsy Cline were sitting in on this Zoom call with us, what would you say to her?” There were a few seconds of awkward silence. Were they panicking? uncomfortable because they might not articulate what they wanted to say. Rob was the first to break this pregnant pause. He said it might not be satisfying but: “I’d want to jam with her. Can we get off Zoom and go hang out in a room somewhere and play some music together?” Everything Rob read about Cline, he learned she was a collaborator and loved to work with people. She also had strong opinions of what she likes and doesn’t like and Kempson is fine with that in any person. And Michelle Bouey: “Wow! My first instinct because I’m an emotional, cheesy gal, I would probably cry my eyes out and she would be so weirded out. And in my emotional state and tears, I would thank her so much because she is such a gift to this world of music. Your talent touches me more than you’ll ever know. And then I’d do what Rob said. I’d want to hang out with her and get to know her. She was a trailblazer, a feminist and ‘a badass bitch’. Patsy just seemed so cool and collected but still had this fire within her. I think it’s rare to have both things.” ‘A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline’ continues to June 26 at the Capitol Theatre, Mainstage, 20 Queen Street, Port Hope. For tickets, call 905-885-1071 or visit Covid protocols and masks remain in effect at the theatre as of the writing and publishing of this article. One of Rob Kempson’s responsibilities is to ensure the safety of his artists, crews and audience members because as he told me in the interview: “At the end of the day, we just wanna keep doing plays.” Previous Next

  • Profiles Rebecca Northan

    Back Rebecca Northan Theatre Conversation in a Covid World ... Joe Szekeres Boy, am I ever pleased Rebecca Northan and I made contact through Facebook. I’ve seen her name through various social media sites but hadn’t seen any of her work. After chatting with her through Zoom, I am planning to catch more of her work when we all get out of this thing called Covid. I am proud that I have caught her work as host and director of her pandemic project ‘Undiscovered Sonnets’ at Stratford Festival You Tube, and I’m planning to tune in for the next episode in conjunction with the Festival’s presentation of ‘Up Close and Musical’. Her spicy sense of humour made me laugh so many times throughout our conversation especially when Rebecca told me she wanted to evict Covid because she doesn’t want to live with it anymore. But she poses an interesting question that I still consider even after our conversation last week: What if Covid is here to stay? Rebecca graduated with a BFA from the University of Calgary. She is a Canadian Comedy Award, Dora Award, and Betty Mitchell Award winner. Rebecca is an alumna of the Loose Moose Theatre in Calgary where she did her improv training with Keith Johnstone. She is the Artistic Producer of Spontaneous Theatre and has created several shows that have toured across Canada, the US, and the UK including Blind Date, Queer Blind Date, Undercover, and Legend Has It. Her new show, An Undiscovered Shakespeare was to have had its world premier at the Stratford Festival in 2020. As a playwright, she is responsible for ZORRO: Family Code, Slipper, Kung Fu Panties, and most recently All I Want for Christmas. Rebecca has also taught at the U of C, the Canadian Film Centre, the Banff Centre, the Soulpepper Academy, and the Stratford Festival Conservatory. In February 2021, she will teach at the National Theatre School of Canada. She is delightfully witty. Thank you again, Rebecca, for our conversation and to hear your voice about theatre in a post Covid world: In a couple of months, we will be coming up on one year where the doors of live theatre have been shuttered. How have you been faring during this time? Your immediate family? (Rebecca gave a snicker before she began) I would say I’ve been feeling everything. At the beginning, like everybody, we thought, “Oh, we’ll just have two weeks off. Isn’t this great? It’s all blow over, and we’ll get back to it and everything will be fine.” Then it turned into a month….and then ups and downs….and here we are. I have absolutely gone to grocery shop in my pajamas, more than once. (and I started to laugh) And I’m wearing a mask too. Hey, I don’t care, I don’t care anymore. I’m really comfortable in what I’m wearing. But I’ve also been really inspired by my colleagues in the improv world. The world was paused on March 13 and some of my colleagues did a show online on March 15, and I think, “Wow, that’s incredible! That’s incredible!” I’m also inspired by the things people are experimenting with, and keeping busy, and keeping connected to offer things to the public. We saw a lot of things offered to the public. Here’s a free reading. Here’s a concert, here’s a whatever. I’ve also been really moved by the generosity of artists and I try to do that as well. At the end of May, 2020, I connected with some artists here in Stratford and we launched a project called ‘Sidewalk Scenes’ where people can order curbside entertainment. We were actually quite busy throughout the entire summer. We did a production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in a parking garage. I’m not good at being idle. I had seen an article about drive-in movie theatres being allowed to open in Manitoba in early May, and I thought, “If drive in movie theatres can be open, we can do drive in live performance.” I just waited for drive in theatres to be allowed to open in Ontario. As soon as it did, we way to the Bruce Hotel and said, “What do you think? We can get 10 cars in a circle in your parking garage” And so we did Romeo and Juliet. When you do this play during a pandemic, it makes so much more sense as the play itself is set against the backdrop of a plague. We kept busy. We had a woman who booked us to come and do improv in front of her house, and of course the neighbours came out on their porches. Some of the neighbours didn’t know each other, other than a wave to each other. We talked to that woman a week later and she was honest with us. This woman told us that she thought they were doing us a favour by booking us to come. I agreed and said that she paid for us to be there. But she told me, “Yes, but it’s you who did us the bigger favour. We have a connection with our neighbours now that we didn’t have before. And how nice it was to see our neighbours sitting on their porches, and laughing, and enjoying the performance and laughing together.” After hearing that, we felt really lucky and blessed. I didn’t think I’d be street performing in my mid career. I didn’t see that coming, but I’m really glad that I did that in my twenties, so I knew what it felt like. Street performing is not unknown to me. Theatre happens where you make it. It occurred long before we had the brick-and-mortar buildings, lights and velvet seats. My immediate family is doing alright. Healthwise, everyone is fine. We have two people in the family who got Covid but they have mild cases, so they are quarantined and having groceries dropped off. They’re in the recovery phase; their energy is coming back. We’re very lucky. How have you been spending your time since the theatre industry has been locked up tight as a drum? Along with grocery shopping in pajamas and street theatre, it’s fits and starts for me if I want to read a book as my attention span is short at the moment. I wrote a play that got produced in Cape Breton for Christmas. I think they’re in a different situation now. At Christmas time, they had 100 people indoors in their theatre. It was The Highland Arts Theatre in Cape Breton. They had no cases as they’re in that beautiful eastern bubble. This theatre had restrictions but no total lockdown. The Artistic Director had put a call out on Facebook saying they were looking for a Christmas show. They wanted it to be a comedy, written by a Canadian and preferably by a woman. I sent a message and said I would write them one, and the theatre said let’s do it. Look up ‘Highland Arts Theatre’ as they’ve launched a brilliant campaign during Covid. They got rid of all subscription packages, normal packages. What they told their community – in order for the theatre to stay open, they were going to try something as an experiment and were going to set up a subscription to the theatre in the way that you would subscribe to Netflix. That can be $5 a month, $50 a month, whatever you can afford. The theatre needed to bring in $50K a month to stay open. And they did it. They are the first ever directly community funded professional theatre. Go to their website and take a look at their tiers of subscription. (Note: the link will be included at the end of Rebecca’s profile) The theatre had different markers along the way. One marker was if they reached a certain marker the theatre would never charge for any production ever again, for anybody. Anybody could walk in, take a seat, and watch a production if that marker was hit. It’s incredible and inspiring with Highland Theatre has done. It’s a brand-new model and Highland is a company that has never had a grant. The late Hal Prince described the theatre as an escape for him. Would you say that Covid has been an escape for you or would you describe this near year long absence from the theatre as something else? My God, no, it’s a living hell. I’d rather be in a rehearsal hall. I’d rather be doing shows. I’d rather be around people. I’m a workaholic so, no work…..ugh…’s the worst. I’ve started painting which is something I didn’t know I had any skill at. But I have some commissions, so somebody thinks my paintings are okay. I’ve interviewed a few artists several months ago who said that the theatre industry will probably be shut down and not go full head on until at least 2022. There may be pockets of outdoor theatre where safety protocols are in place. What are your comments about this? Do you think you and your colleagues/fellow artists will not return until 2022? At least 2022, oh yeah, I can see that. I think that definitely we’ll see a bigger move towards outdoor theatre. That’s already happening as people are already planning their outdoor seasons. Our experimentation this past summer was solid. Knowing that Covid is around and there is a cross-breeze gives a certain peace of mind. My guess is that people will be nervous. We’re going to see a lot of personality types. There will be some who are front row centre, bring it on, let’s hug, let’s touch each other. I also think for everyone’s safety and peace of mind that we will come back gradually is my guess. I had a discussion recently with an Equity actor who said that yes theatre should not only entertain but, more importantly, it should transform both the actor and the audience. How has Covid transformed you in your understanding of the theatre and where it is headed in a post Covid world? I think Covid has driven home something to me which I’ve always believed that what are the most important things about live theatre is the fact we’re having a shared experience. We’re together when that happens. That lady who talked about having improv on the sidewalk in front of her, that improve we performed brought her neighbours together. That’s what we as artists hope will happen – we are bringing people together. The togetherness of it and this time has also made me realize that, as a performing artist, I’m in service to my community. For me, a big way that I serve the community is the skill that I have in making people laugh. If I come to you in the middle of a pandemic and make you laugh for 45 minutes, that’s how I can be of assistance right now. I can’t be of assistance in researching and developing a vaccine, although I wish I could. I can come and give you a couple of giggles. Maybe that will help a bit. The late Zoe Caldwell spoke about how actors should feel danger in the work. It’s a solid and swell thing to have if the actor/artist and the audience both feel it. Would you agree with Ms. Caldwell? Have you ever felt danger during this time of Covid and do you believe it will somehow influence your work when you return to the theatre? I think there should be risk and ‘danger in the work’. This danger has to come from a place of trust and safety first. You have to stand on the bedrock of safety in order to take educated and calculated risk. What is the danger really? It’s vulnerability, absolute truthful and human vulnerability. The danger is look at how messy we can be in this truthful and human vulnerability. If I am willing to take that risk and dip my toe in that kind of danger, that’s another way to serve my community. We can explore greed, the absolute feeling of ‘I want to get revenge’. We can go to those dangerous places in a safe way because it’s true and make believe at the same time. There’s a tension there of “We can take the trip but now we can take the safety when the lights come up and the show is over.” The audience has to feel safe. The only way an audience can come on the ride is knowing they too must also feel safe. The audience needs to know the character/performer is safe. We don’t want the audience to be worried for the performer. I guess, at the moment, I sit with the question: “What will risk/danger look like? How is it changing?” For example, when we did Romeo, we didn’t have any kissing because that’s too dangerous. Obviously, we were bubbled as a cast, but to an audience to see kissing, that would feel far too dangerous. That will be real danger, and we can’t do that. That’s part of us taking care of an audience. Instead, we had the characters touch hands because that’s what is called in the script. And even in the touching of hands, there were gasps from the audience because they could sense the imminent danger. When there’s real danger in the world, the kind of risks you take on stage change against the backdrop of a real, shared, lived danger. The act of two people touching hands is enough. Maybe it’s that going forward. Maybe danger and risk are gentler, smaller, small truthful things have greater weight? I’m not entirely sure because we’re in the midst of this right now. My brain is also thinking, ‘What if Covid is here to stay?’ Then what? Then the act of coming to the theatre is an act of courage for the actors and the audience. But we have this need to gather. So how do we adapt and manage this thing? I think we’ll ultimately be okay. We’ll find a way to gather and to share experiences safely. The late scenic designer Ming Cho Lee spoke about great art opening doors and making us feel more sensitive. Has this time of Covid made you sensitive to our world and has it made some impact on your life in such a way that you will bring this back with you to the theatre? I suppose in the back of my mind that I’ve known artists are vulnerable. It’s really been highlighted by the way we started our conversation, Joe. You said it yourself that an entire community of people lost their entire work and are waiting. That’s been really highlighted to me how vulnerable a community it really is. In a world where what we do is linked to the gathering of other humans, that’s a really unsafe Petri dish at the moment. It’s really softened my heart even more and given me more inspiration and more respect when I see people other artists going, “How else can we do this?” The creativity of the pivot is incredible, it’s incredible. I think I’m more sensitive to the plight of the artist. Ultimately as humans we are so vulnerable and that’s been highlighted by this teeny, tiny, wee micro virus has brought our world to a standstill. That’s incredible. My heart also aches for the artistic directors of the large theatre companies across Canada. I’ve often had daydreams of maybe I’ll get to run a giant arts organization someday. I’m so glad I’m not running a large arts organization right now because I can’t even begin to imagine how many items are on Antoni’s (Cimolino from Stratford Festival) desk right now. Again, the late Hal Prince spoke of the fact that theatre should trigger curiosity in the actor/artist and the audience. Has Covid sparked any curiosity in you about something during this time? Has this time away from the theatre sparked further curiosity for you when you return to this art form? Probably once a year since I became an actor, for more than half of my life, I’ve asked myself every year: “Is this a wise career choice? Can I do another year of it? What else am I good at?” This question of what if I can’t do this anymore, am I good at anything else? I’ve had that curiosity because it seems like a wise question to explore. The thought has crossed my mind in ‘What if I have to do a permanent pivot?” What’s that going to look like? I don’t have any answers yet, necessarily. It’s frightening to think about it. A friend dropped off some books on the front porch yesterday and we checked in with each other as he is a theatre person. I asked him how he was doing… “Not good, not good. What if live theatre is never coming back?” The hopeful part in me tells him it will come back. But when I closed the door, my curious side wondered, “What if he’s right?” Ultimately, I believe in science and scientists and that things will look differently and better. To learn more about Cape Breton’s Highland Arts Theatre, visit Previous Next

  • Profiles Lynn Slotkin

    Back Lynn Slotkin Self Isolated Artist --- Joe Szekeres I had the opportunity to have taken two Theatre Ontario workshops on the skill of writing theatre reviews that matter. Both workshops were facilitated by Toronto critic, Lynn Slotkin, for whom I have the utmost respect. The picture above was taken of the two of us at the conclusion of Lynn’s first workshop on ‘Writing Theatre Reviews that Matter’ at the Theatre Ontario offices in Toronto. Lynn holds an Honours BA in Fine Arts from York University, specializing in Drama Studies, History, Theory and Criticism. Additionally, she publishes ‘The Slotkin Letter’ a newsletter which chronicles her theatre experiences in Toronto, New York, London and elsewhere. From what I understand, The Slotkin Letter is referred to by many professional artists of actors, directors, Artistic Directors and theatre people who are keenly and seriously interested in theatre. As far as I’m concerned, she is a lady who definitely and assuredly knows her stuff. Over the years I followed professional theatre, I have read and pondered over many of Lynn’s reviews in The Toronto Star, Eye Weekly and the London Free Press (when I was completing my undergraduate degree at the University of Western Ontario). I always admired her candid and frank discussion on specific productions, what worked and what didn’t work, and how she specifically encapsulated her comments on the entire production in a manner that made me either want to see it or to avoid it at all cost. Taking these two workshops from now defunct Theatre Ontario was a tremendous boost to my interest in and love of live theatre and the performing arts. I am proud that I call Lynn a mentor to me as I continue to grow in writing theatre reviews that matter. She always welcomes online communication so that’s how I conducted this interview: 1. How have you been faring during this COVID – 19 crisis? Really well. I love being at home because I’m out every night going to the theatre. I still have things to write about but tend to procrastinate. I have to really work on that. I do miss going out when I want to buy stuff at the corner markets, but neighbours are kind in offering to do that for me. That kindness from people is wonderful. I have also been impressed with all the various theatre/arts initiatives for on-line readings, phone-plays, involving the audiences etc. I’ve also been thinking about the point and purpose of theatre from all quarters and how theatre criticism serves that as best as possible. I’ve spent this time thinking about what truly makes an inclusive audience and theatre practice. 2. What has been the most challenging element for you during this time? What have you been doing to keep yourself busy? Not being able to go to the theatre, of course. I miss the freedom to just leave the house, walk where I want and be with friends rather than restricting my movements, wearing a mask, disinfecting everything etc. And more than anything I miss hugging my friends and family, the tactile connection between people. To keep busy I’ve been keeping up with e-mails, postings, Facebook, Twitter and the various on-line activities that have popped up; the readings and phone initiatives of various companies (Outside the March, Convergence Theatre, Bad Hats Theatre, Soulpepper, National Theatre, Royal Court, etc. ). I hope not to be a slave to the screen so I am also tidying, tossing stuff I don’t need, clearing off my desk, and ironing. I love doing all that. 3. Do you have any words of wisdom or sage advice for performers on how to weather this crisis? Alas no, without sounding patronizing. I couldn’t even imagine how performers or any theatre people are coping financially or emotionally in this crisis. I can only speak for myself. I have never earned my living in the theatre. There is no money in theatre criticism unless the critic writes for a newspaper full time. Even when I charged a subscription fee when I produced my Slotkin Letter in hard copy, the fee was only enough to cover the postage and printing. I have always supported myself with a full-time job as an administrator at the University of Toronto. That salary paid my rent, travel and theatre tickets before I began to be invited by theatres to review their shows. Because I am always at the theatre or writing about it, this time at home is a pleasure. I still suffer from procrastination—there are theatre topics I can write about—and put off writing about theatre. I hope to conquer that. I am seeing how many artists are coping and using the time. I am impressed with the ZOOM readings of various theatres or the theatre projects on the phone from Outside the March and Convergence Theatre etc. Artists who are constantly inventing and creating different kinds of theatre are front and centre present in this crisis. The whole area is wide open and offers all sorts of opportunities. All I can say is take the opportunity; create; make your own luck; don’t give in to depression during these hard times. And, of course, on a purely practical level, I am tending to all those things I put off doing while going to the theatre and writing about it: tidying, cleaning, tossing stuff, decluttering, ironing and washing my hands. 4. Do you see anything positive stemming from this crisis? In all the plays that will be produced dealing with COVID-19 I’m sure there will be a few that will be good and can offer insights into dealing with isolation, disease, awareness, family, friendship and the importance of connection and art in that connection. Perhaps there will be a different definition of what theatre is, or will become. From a larger point of view, I think theatre makers, creators and company and theatre heads might re-think what is important about theatre and the arts and how to create it and engage with their audiences. Thought might be given to how to expand that audience. Many people spend their time on line and know that world. Can they be engaged to expand their world to include theatre if the theatre is created with them in mind? And those companies that have been struggling to survive, hanging on by a thread might just disappear to be replaced by others with a stronger hold on what theatre they want to create. The law of attrition? 5. Will COVID – 19 have some impact on the state of the Canadian performing arts scene? I think question 4 actually answered that. Artists always create stories that affected them personally or even with a larger view. The resultant plays might reflect COVID-19. Or I hope creators take the cue from Shakespeare. During the time of Shakespeare, there was also a plague. Quarantine. Shakespeare wrote “KING LEAR” which is timeless, not a play about the plague, which would be dated after if was over and people were free to move around again. Of course, Shakespeare being Shakespeare would write a play about a plague that was really about something else, that would make it timeless. 6. Some artists have been turning to online and / or streaming performances during this time. Is there any validity to this performance? Of course. It certainly shows an artist’s, theatre’s, company’s imagination and creativity, that they continue to find ways to connect with their audience and produce theatre in some form or other that engages them. I don’t care whether it’s a concert, a reading, a filmed rehearsal or a finished show etc. the act of creating theatre is still alive. It also heightens an audience’s/artist’s idea of theatre as we know it, when we all watch it as a community in a theatre. How will we think about that when this crisis is over? 7. Is this the way of the future for performing artists? I don’t think so. The element of shared community in one place watching the theatrical event is missing. A lot of the Instagram performances, on-line work etc. seems slap-dash, self-serving, self-absorbed. A lot also is excellent showing rigor and quality in the end result. But that shared experience of an audience watching a play in a shared space, where the audience can watch anywhere on that stage, and the actors display an artistic level makes the experience different than watching it on a flat screen where it tends to look flat and not three dimensional. 8. In your professional estimation, why is the role of the reviewer/critic of importance to the future of the Canadian performing arts scene. I won’t confine this answer only to Canadian Theatre but to all theatre that I review. I can only answer for me. I want to pass on my enthusiasm and love of the theatre through my reviews/critiques. I see my role as telling the truth about the evaluation of the event in a fair-minded, respectful, entertaining way so that the quality, flavour, story, artistry and the many other elements of a show are conveyed to the reader. The review establishes a rigor of evaluation in the hopes of keeping the standard of the show high. One hopes this engages the theatre maker, whether Canadian or international, to strive to be the best. There is no place for mediocrity in an art form. And reviews that just praise without reservation, no matter what the show, are not helpful to anyone. The review not only tells the story but evaluates it and the production that produces it. The review champions aspects that are good, encouraging, enlightening and artistic. Those areas of the show that need to be challenged or revisited to strengthen the execution, story-telling, performance or creation are also addressed. Finally, I think it’s important to indicate whether or not the event was worth doing—this is not as cut and dried as one might think. A critic who is fair and honest, who expects the best from the artist and from an enlightened audience is how the theatre as a whole improves and strengthens its future. As a nod to ‘Inside The Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton, here are 10 questions he asked his guests at the conclusion of his interviews: 1. What is your favourite word? Sure. 2. What is your least favourite word? No 3. What turns you on? Joy 4. What turns you off? Meanness 5. What sound or noise do you love? Spontaneous applause. 6. What sound or noise bothers you? Fake whooping at a show. 7. What is your favourite curse word? Shit. 8. What profession, other than your own, would you have like to attempt? Psychologist. 9. What profession would you not like to do? Police Officer. 10. If Heaven exists, what would you like God to say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates? “What took you so long?” To read Lynn’s reviews, comments, articles and even a rant or two, visit Previous Next

  • Profiles Qasim Khan

    Back Qasim Khan Looking Ahead Mark Short Joe Szekeres I had the opportunity to see Qasim Khan perform at Montreal’s Centaur Theatre in ‘Paradise Lost’ and wondered who this intense looking artist was on stage because he drew my focus to him immediately. When I had emailed Qasim I was very pleased he agreed to an interview, and the fact he answered the questions via email and returned them to me meant I could post his profile sooner. According to his website (, Qasim is a 2008 graduate of the joint Acting Program from Sheridan College and the University of Toronto. In 2011, he was one of eight artists from across Canada to join The Soulpepper Academy, a performance residency with The Soulpepper Theatre Company. Qasim’s resume includes some work with outstanding theatre companies across Canada. I encourage you to visit his website for more information. His two social media handles are found at the end of his profile. We conducted our interview via email. Thank you again, Qasim, for participating. It’s a harsh reality that the worldwide pandemic of Covid 19 has changed all of us. Describe how your understanding of the world you know and how your perception and experience have changed on a personal level. Wow. That’s a real big question. On a personal level, there’s not a single aspect of my life that hasn’t changed in the last year. The day-to-day basics are different: I would normally be in Stratford at this time of year, and I have decided to stay in Toronto for the time being. It’s been nice being close to my (small, contact-traced) circle of friends in the city. Last summer in Toronto was actually really lovely; I haven’t spent this amount of time in Toronto in years, and someone close to me sort of toured me to all these beautiful outdoor spots that I never knew existed – for someone who doesn’t normally spend tons of time outdoors, it was really magical. There’s still a few more places for me to explore this summer, so that’s a nice thing to look forward to. The other day-to-day changes are easy: I was a bit of a homebody pre-pandemic, so staying at home isn’t the end of the world (I’ve absolutely hit a wall though – we’ve been on a lockdown since last October here in Toronto – so right now all I want to do is go to a club and kiss strangers). Wearing a mask is a no-brainer, and I don’t even mind my hands being dry from hand sanitizer. Pre-pandemic, especially while working, my only hobby was going to the gym, and I haven’t set foot inside one since the day the NBA locked down in 2020. So, where I was lifting heavy things every morning at 6am, I’m now doing what I can at home, when I can, led by an app on my phone that makes me feel sufficiently guilty if I skip a workout. There’s a level of communication and transparency in my current relationships that is new to me because of COVID. Last November I worked on a movie and was COVID tested every 48 hours gearing up to being on set. My bubble and I had to keep extra safe so that I maintain a negative test result (otherwise I couldn’t go on set, or work). So that was a conversation with friends that I never thought I’d have: “Can you please only see me, and maybe not even go to a grocery store?” Pre-pandemic I had been with my partner for about five years, and we parted ways a few months into the pandemic, after building a really solid friendship. So, setting up my own home has been part of the adventure of 2020 as well – it helps having an ex who’s a very good realtor! I knew that I would be spending a big portion of 2021 locked in this new place, so I let myself deck it out with stuff that I feel good being surrounded by, including a very comfy couch, and a little army of plants (that are thriving). I guess the overall personal shift is that there’s far more calculation and mindfulness in what I’m doing, who I’m surrounding myself with, and how I’m spending my time. The need for routine comes in waves, and the routines themselves need fine-tuning as more time passes. This is probably a good lesson for the post-pandemic world: everything needs to evolve and reflect where you’re at, and I’m valuing the freedom I have right now to roll with things as they come. With live indoor theatre shut for one year plus, with it appearing it may not re-open any time soon, how has your understanding and perception as a professional artist of the live theatre industry been altered and changed? It’s a humbling thought that the very thing that has been so pivotal to my life, which has been essential to me as a human and professional, is so utterly non-essential in times like these. Of course, when we can have audiences again, theatre will be more essential than ever. But it has been a challenge having the largest part of my identity stripped away for over a year. Something that has been inspiring and speaks to how hungry all of us are to get back to work is how quickly theatres and artists adapted to the situation. Within a few weeks of the pandemic, a friend had put together a small, weekly, online reading group where we read through a bunch of plays together – for no purpose but to stay connected. And within the first couple of months, I was busy being part of online readings and workshops of new plays. I don’t think you’ll find an actor in this country that isn’t now a Zoom expert. I’ve been lucky to stay busy with Film/TV work, and some writing projects that I have on the go as well. I suppose my perception of the industry hasn’t changed, so much as the pandemic has highlighted many areas of the business that could be functioning better. We have all inherited a system of working in the theatre that no one has really challenged or questioned in a big way, partly because there is never time to reflect. It’s a beautiful way to earn a living but working in theatre has a lot of personal costs to it. We have told ourselves that it’s worth the trade-off, but what’s good about this break is that we can reevaluate how we have been working. It’s all stuff that allows artists to have a bit more agency – which will only create better work for our audiences to see. Because of COVID, there’s now conversations happening around sick days; for example, if you came backstage at a show during cold/flu season in the past, you would see a group of over worked actors sucking back lozenges, teas, covered in tissues, and doing whatever they needed to not miss a show. I have shattered a finger, had a concussion, and gashed my head open in the middle of performances, and have prided myself on trudging forward - these all made for good stories at the bar after the show – and everyone is celebrated for being die-hard. But COVID safety protocols are forcing us to get realistic about the boundaries an artist needs to have. So, having a break from the routine of everything is necessary to get some perspective. The murder of George Floyd and the protests of the last year have also been central to my perception of the theatre industry. What has been illuminated for many people is how unjust our current social-political setup is, and that translates to how every sector and organization has functioned in the past. It is heartening to see how keen most organizations are to return in a way that is healthier and supportive for Black and Indigenous artists, and artists of color. Part of my professional life in the pandemic has been sitting on the Stratford Festival’s Anti-Racism Committee, and we have been working hard to identify barriers for company members that are Indigenous, Black, or of color, and strategizing a way to shift the culture of the organization to allow these company members to have a fulfilling, meaningful, and equitable experience while working there. It’s wonderful to finally have the prospect of a 2021 season of shows and artists to gear this work towards. It’s all very exciting. I also became a member of the Howland Company in Toronto, and there’s lots of cool things in the works for us, and it’s another group of really inspiring theatre makers. So, where I would spend eight hours a day in a rehearsal hall, I now spend my day sitting on Zoom having stimulating conversations and dreaming about the theatre that audiences will see SOON! As a professional artist, what are you missing the most about the live theatre industry? I miss the people, the joy of creating something on my feet, the excitement I feel when a stage manager announces: “Five minutes to the top of part one, please; five minutes.” I think, most of all though, I miss the adrenaline rush of being on stage in front of a room of strangers. That is a feeling that, in 12 months of being at home, I have not been able to recreate, and it’s a feeling that is so central to who I am. The New York Times put out an article last week that talks about the feeling of “blah” we all have at this point in the pandemic – the “languishing” we all feel – I think my “languishing” will be remedied by that specific adrenaline kick. I miss that and can’t wait to feel it again. Oh, and I really miss making people laugh. As a professional artist, what is the one thing you will never take for granted again in the live theatre industry when you return to it? I will never take interacting with people for granted again. I’m a bit of homebody, a loner and a hermit when I work; it’s rare for me to socialize with folks I’m working with, especially once shows are running. I will never take for granted the opportunity to build relationships with these special humans ever again. Describe one element you hope has changed concerning the live theatre industry. Well, to be frank, a lot of organizations have made lots of promises to the community about their focus on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, and I certainly hope these promises are followed through. It would be a shame to spring right back to the kind of system we had before – it would feel bizarre at this point for both artists and audiences because the world as we know it is significantly different than where we were a year ago. Cultural shifts take time, so companies that funneled resources into this work last year are in way better footing to re-open in a better way this year *fingers crossed*. The ability to work online has presented opportunities for artists and organizations to collaborate on a national level, and that is a new thing that I hope we figure out how to bring into the off-line world. Theatres are speaking to each other, artists are speaking to each other, everyone is sharing resources and ideas, and a lot of the new works that have been developed in the last year have been influenced by folks Zooming in from around the country, and sometimes around the world. How cool is that!? I wouldn’t want to lose that connectivity. Explain what specifically you believe you must still accomplish within the industry. I was on a bit of a good, lucky streak of theatre work before the pandemic, and what was exciting about that was that it felt like I was getting to the point of playing the kinds of roles I wanted. So, there are roles I dream of playing, plays I dream of working on, directors I would love to collaborate with, and theatres I want to work at. I’d list them all but that’s more interesting to me than your readers. The only ‘agenda’ I’ve ever brought to my work is wanting young folks of color to see someone that looks like them be central to the stories they see on stage, and with the kinds of shifts I think we will see in the industry, that might be more possible than ever. That’s exciting. Some artists are saying that audiences must be prepared for a tsunami of Covid themed stories in the return to live theatre. Would you elaborate on this statement both as an artist in the theatre, and as an audience member observing the theatre. OH FUCK NO! I’d rather see theatres stay shut (that’s mainly a joke) than see or work on anyone’s socially distanced, one-person, masked, plexi-glassed, piece about their pandemic sourdough starter and plant collection. Or anything about isolation for that matter. Absolutely not. No one that lived through this time will ever forget what it was like, and I don’t think we need it amplified in the theatre right out the gate. I think the superpower that theatre will have post-pandemic is to provide an escape and balm for what we all just went through, and to speak to the social and political shifts we have seen in the last year, in an artful way. I’m hungry to perform in something that will either make people belly laugh, cry a lot, be stunning to look at, or to be candy for my brain (or, ideally, all the above… with many people on stage…. not six feet apart). As an artist, what specifically is it about your work that you want future audiences to remember about you? (This feels like I’m writing my own eulogy, but here goes!) Ummm… I mean, I guess I want people to remember that the guy they saw in ‘Paradise Lost’ and ‘The Neverending Story’ was kinda weird, but kinda funny, and it turns out he’s capable of a lot. And that his name rhymes with ‘awesome,’ but he’d rather people do the rhyming in their heads than out loud and in front of him. Follow Qasim on Twitter and Instagram: @theqasimkhan Previous Next

  • Profiles Pamela Mala Sinha

    Back Pamela Mala Sinha “It’s challenging as a playwright, but I love acting so much. I think the hard part is done and now I have to step into the harder part which is the role and surrender to the story..." ​ Joe Szekeres It has been a busy few weeks speaking with a number of artists who have show openings in the next several weeks. I’m rigorously trying to get caught up and post their articles but will always remain grateful and thankful for every opportunity to speak with them. Recently, I received a press release detailing background information about Pamela Mala Sinha and her play ‘NEW’ which is now playing at Canadian Stage's Berkeley Street Theatre. She is an award-winning Canadian actress and writer working internationally in theatre, television, and film. She was Necessary Angel’s inaugural Playwright in Residence. Pamela was the recipient of Dora Awards for Outstanding New Play (playwright) and Outstanding Lead Actress for her solo debut play, CRASH. Her second play, Happy Place, premiered in Toronto in 2015 at Soulpepper. CRASH’s US debut was at New York’s Signature Theatre in 2017. The film version of CRASH is currently in development with Necessary Angel and Riddle Films. She completed her training at Montréal’s National Theatre School in the 1990s. Does she miss the city: “I love Montréal. If I could have made a living as an English-speaking actor in the city I would have stayed. I have close friends who live in the city, so when I can I’m on a train.” Pamela slightly paused and then sighed when I asked her how she was feeling even though we are still in Covid’s throes. She felt it was ‘touch and go’ there as ‘NEW’ was supposed to premiere at Winnipeg’s Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in 2020. There was hope the production would open in 2021, but alas we know what occurred. 2022 was two years waiting for the premiere and it was a huge relief and privilege when the production was finally mounted at RMTC. Winnipeg is Pamela’s original hometown and 'NEW' is set here, so this is another inspiration of sentimental reason to premiere the play here. Now that Toronto is her home, the opening of ‘NEW’ is equally as significant as the Western premiere. For Sinha, this week’s Toronto opening still feels like the premiere of the play yet again. Sinha is ecstatic to be back in the theatre again telling stories that all theatre artists have been longing to do. It is their centre, purpose, and desire in their actor’s training to do so. On its website, Necessary Angel describes the plot: “The year is 1970 and the arrival of a Bengali bride to a small university town shakes up a tight-knit group of Indian immigrants, including the husband she's never met. Tradition and counterculture collide for three women and their husbands as their perceptions of identity, sexuality, and the meaning of freedom are challenged by the spirit - and actions - of this fearless young woman.” With this plot focus, Sinha tries to capture the things that were important in the story and that needed to be told in a deep and complex way. Pamela was one of the few artists selected nationally to receive a prestigious Project Imagination commission from Soulpepper Theatre Company to write a play of any choice. Thus, the genesis and germination of ‘NEW’ began. What she wanted to do was tell the story of her parent’s generation as young people. There is a whole world of her parents and their chosen extended family as young people, and a huge gap in the popular culture in terms of South Asian immigrants and their stories: “I remember looking at photographs in preparation for a funeral of a very close member of my family and seeing all these people young, vibrant, and sexy as hell, without children and figuring it all out and looking like a million bucks while they’re doing it.” Sinha wanted to know the truth of the situation, so she returned to Winnipeg to research and speak to extended members of her family. She asked a lot of questions. In all her research, she wanted to get to the truth about these individuals who were part of her years growing up. She established such trust and respect with these extended family members and the stories just came forward. As an actor, Sinha sometimes gets frustrated about the roles she is often offered. These roles are sometimes of those who are intimidated, vulnerable and afraid, and not the bold, brave, and adventurous people whom she saw in the photographs at the funeral. This drives Pamela bananas and why she often doesn’t work. Why not write what Pamela knows to be true as opposed to waiting for someone else to write it and being frustrated by it? She wanted to just tell the story not necessarily about the joys and triumphs. What were some of the struggles these extended family members felt? Did they feel lost? alone? Did they fight as a married couple? How were these conflicts resolved? These ‘new’ individuals to Canada/Winnipeg were young here. They came of age here. Pamela and her extended chosen family of aunts, uncles and cousins were all beneficiaries of the gifts of love and knowledge from those who came to Canada to build a life. This understanding makes the messages of ‘NEW’ so universal. Pamela also adds the play is based on fictional characters. No one from her extended family would recognize themselves on stage. How does she feel about being an actor this time and being directed by Necessary Angel’s Artistic Director Alan Dilworth? This is her fourth collaboration with Alan, and she agrees he is a gifted director. She’s learned that it’s important to write the play first and then hopefully not have to do any re-writes during rehearsal. With ‘New’, Sinha wrote the play and then made adjustments but, hopefully, they’re not cataclysmic so she can focus on her actor performance and journey in the play instead of the third eye point of view of the playwright: “It’s challenging as a playwright, but I love acting so much. I think the hard part is done and now I have to step into the harder part which is the role and surrender to the story as opposed to hearing the story while I’m in a scene and trying not to judge the writing.” As we concluded, I asked Pamela where she sees the future of Canadian theatre headed as an artist. She’s really worried about the theatre because people’s attention spans have shrunk with streaming. We both agreed that we are guilty of fast-forwarding a lot. She adds further: “Art will always be relevant and I think theatre is essential to our humanity. The convenience of everything being at our fingertips is going to threaten the sacredness of what we do. There’s great potential in these new plays new playwrights and new approaches, but we’re up against a lot. We have to get people to come to the theatre and experience that group and audience energy of receiving story in community. You don’t get that on your couch watching a streaming network.” Sinha’s final words: “Theatre keeps all of us connected in an important way that we were so robbed of during Covid.” Necessary Angel in association with Canadian Stage and the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre presents the Toronto premiere of ‘New’ running to May 14, 2023 at Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley Street. For tickets, visit or call the Box Office at (416) 368-3110. To learn more about Necessary Angel Theatre Company, visit . Previous Next

  • Profiles Mitchell Cushman

    Back Mitchell Cushman Moving Forward Dahlia Katz Joe Szekeres I’ve recognized Mitchell Cushman’s name from several years ago even before I started writing reviews for On Stage. I had heard of the play ‘The Flick’ but had never seen it before. When I saw it at Toronto’s Crow’s Theatre, I was gob smacked at such an outstanding production with nuanced direction by Mitchell combined with three solid performances. Mitchell and I spoke for a few brief seconds about the first time he saw the production in New York City off Broadway. Mitchell is a director, playwright, and founding Artistic Director of Outside the March, one of Canada’s leading immersive theatre companies. His work has been seen on stages as large as the Royal Alexandra Theatre, in spaces as intimate as kindergarten classrooms and living rooms, and in locales as far flung as London, New York, Whitehorse, Edinburgh, Munich, Finland and Japan. Since the beginning of the pandemic, he has been working to explore new possibilities for live performance, co-creating projects like internationally-acclaimed telephonic adventure The Ministry of Mundane Mysteries (OtM), and the “Grand Act of Theatre” Something Bubbled, Something Blue (NAC/TIFT/OtM). In 2015 he and Julie Tepperman co-created the award-winning Brantwood as part of Sheridan College’s CMTP – Canada’s largest exploration of immersive musical theatre. In 2018, he co-created and directed the intercontinental three-day immersive experience, The Curious Voyage. Recent Directing Credits include: The Tape Escape, The Flick, Dr. Silver, Jerusalem, Lessons in Temperament; The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale; TomorrowLoveTM (Outside the March); Treasure Island, Breath of Kings, Possible Worlds (Stratford); Hand to God; The Aliens (Coal Mine); Merrily We Roll Along (YES Theatre); Hand to God (RMTC). Mitchell has been the recipient of the Siminovitch protégé award, a Dora Award for Outstanding Direction, three Dora Awards for Outstanding Production, and his productions have received 14 Toronto Theatre Critics Awards. He holds an MFA degree in Directing from the University of Alberta, and a Combined Honours in Theatre and English from the University of King's College and Dalhousie University. What an honour to interview an incredibly talented and down to earth individual. Thank you so much for the Zoom conversation, Mitchell: 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? I’m feeling many different things. I’m navigating it first as a member of the community and second as an artist. As a member of the community, it just all feels surreal and there’s such a difference between when this felt new and now the fact it doesn’t feel new any more and feels familiar and more unnerving. One of the things I like about being connected to the theatre community is the extended web of hundreds of people who inspire me whom I’m used to brushing up against on a semi regular basis where we all find ourselves in the same dozen lobbies over the course of a normal year. Relationships take a lot more upkeep right now because there is a happenstance, and you have to plan every interaction. As an independent artist I think people who have been bearing the most brunt of the slowdown of the industry are independent artists and actors, designers and stage managers whose careers are based on stringing together a number of opportunities in order to sustain a living. I feel lucky that my full time is running the theatre company ‘Outside the March’ so I have still have some stability and some structure But the flipside to that is that I feel very, very grateful to be part of the more immediate circle of artists and collaborators many of whom are my closest friends. We’ve all kept each other as sane as possible during the pandemic by finding ways to create and collaborate during this time. The silver lining has been in the maintaining of these creative relationships. How have you been faring? How has your immediate family been doing during these last eight months? My long-time partner of ten years, Amy Keating, and I have been able to spend a lot of time together. In more normal times we both end up travelling a lot for work. This pandemic has been the longest period of time that I’ve spent in Toronto in about ten years. Amy and I have both worked at Stratford but never during the same time, so it’s been great to spend this time with her. Our immediate families are okay. Amy’s are in Edmonton and mine here. Our parents are in the age bracket where they all need to be really careful. I’ve spent a lot of time with my parents over the last eight months and it’s been almost all outdoors. As the weather starts to turn, I think we’re all getting nervous about that. As an artist within the performing arts community, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally? I would say that the loss of community that I talked about before and also the loss of direct connection with an audience. I’ve worked on a number of projects during this time and a lot was shared digitally or over Zoom live, but there’s no laughter, no applause or feedback mechanism with the audience so you can feel a little more disconnected for whom you’re creating work. What’s also been challenging is the awareness of so much hurt travelling through our world and our community right now exacerbated by the pandemic but also powerful inequities which have further come into the spotlight. You can feel a helplessness in the face of that for sure. I think it’s easy to feel helpless during these times. It’s all intertwined within all this. It’s easy not to feel like you’re in very much control in this industry even in the best of times. 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? I had six or seven productions that were delayed or fell away that may see the light of day sometime. It makes me grateful when a production like ‘The Flick’ clicked well and came to fruition. ‘The Flick’ was two years in pre-production. It’s an example of a play that has to be shared communally. I was in tech for an immersive production of ‘Sweeney Todd’ that was supposed to go on at Davenport and Dupont in these two abandoned buildings produced by Talk is Free Theatre. It was really shaping up to be something very special. It’s actually a show we’ve done once before in the United Kingdom and were going to bring it here. There was an exceptional cast of actors for ‘Todd’. I’ve done a lot of site-specific work but the kind of access to large, abandoned space that is often very hard to come by, and that was really tough not to share the show in that form. It was an intimate staging for thirty people inside the blood, gore and music of it all. I’ll always remember March 13 when we knew it was going to be our last day when all of lights were hung. We did one stumble through, run through and filmed it because we kind of knew that’s what we were going to be able to get. In those last few days of rehearsal, it felt like a race against the clock. I have faith the production of ‘Sweeney Todd’ will come back in some form, probably not in that same building because that building will be demolished. Theatre is always so temporal so you really can’t recreate something a year or two after the fact. I had some projects in pre-production, a show called ‘The Ex Boyfriend Yard Sale’ that was supposed to be presented with Soulpepper. We had done it in the past and we were going to do it last May. That is a one woman show that is a little more complete as Hailey McGee will play it so I have a little more faith. What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time? Amy and I have been streaming a lot of tv. I’ve never seen ‘Schitt’s Creek’ and she loves it. She’s never seen ‘The Wire’ and I love it, so we’ve embarked on binging these shows. There was a period of time where we were playing games with some friends over Zoom. We’ve been trying to get together with some close friends outside. We went on a really nice hike over the Thanksgiving weekend. It takes a lot of creativity to figure out. The main project I’ve been involved with over this pandemic is ‘The Ministry of Mundane Mysteries’, a telephone based theatre piece, and we’ve done over 800 performances entirely over the phone in over 200 cities over the world. There are also international collaborations of Mundane Mysteries all over the world. 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? It’s daunting. One of the bright spots during the pandemic is I’ve been doing a lot of teaching. I directed a show on Zoom at Sheridan in their CMTP New Musicals called ‘Living the Dream’. That opened a couple of weeks ago. Now I’m working with two groups of students at the University of Windsor directing a show called ‘The Stream You Step In’ which plays over the Zoom. All of these opportunities working with students on the cusp of graduating into the unknown have been so valuable and inspiring as to what I’m getting from them rather than the other way around. I know that sounds cliched to say, but I’ve found these students to be so versatile and adaptable. Such a remarkable ability in these students to gravitate towards these new forms and pick up new skills. For example, in directing the show at Sheridan, all of the cast overnight had to become their own audio producers, recording their own tracks and learning all of that really quickly. I guess the advice out of all this – if you forge a path for yourself in theatre, you really need to be adaptable and hungry to wear a whole bunch of different hats. Have a variety of tools in your toolset but also clarity around what it is you vitally want to bring to the table. Hopefully there will be space for this. The pandemic is only further illuminating that. We’re seeing a real levelling and spinning of the wheel. Our industry is going to look very different a year from now than a year ago, there’s a lot of hardship within that but hopefully a lot of an opportunity for new voices. Do you see anything positive stemming from Covid 19? I think Covid is making us stop as an industry and community and do some deep reflection. All of the vital conversations we are having within our industry around equity, where resources are going, and who has what seat at the table and how to properly support and elevate previously marginalized voices in the community is vital. The acceleration of these conversations following the murder of George Floyd were able to be amplified further because of the pause of the pandemic. Sometimes as an industry and community, I think we struggle with being so consumed by whatever fire we’re actively trying to immediately put out, it becomes harder to zoom out and look at the bigger picture and vital work that needs to be done. I have more belief and more of a sense of personal accountability in relation to those important themes than prior to the pandemic. Connected to this, I’ve felt more a member of a community with other artistic leaders in the city. We’ve been doing these bi-weekly artistic director meetings, myself and 40 artistic directors within Toronto. Weyni Mengesha and Brendan Healy started these groups and we’re going to find a new form for it in the new year. I’ve been more in touch with collaborators across the country and outside of Canada. Like minded collaboration with other collaborators outside the country was not on my radar prior to the pandemic. I’m hoping we can still maintain these outside of the country collaborations once we’re able to return to in person collaborations and interactions which I’m very much craving. Do you think Covid 19 will have some lasting impact on the Toronto/Canadian/North American performing arts scene? I think we’re very much in an adapt or die time not just in relation to Covid but also in relation to making sure as an industry we can hold ourselves to a much higher standard in relation to the voices we are elevating. Eyes have been opened to things that can’t or shouldn’t be closed. We’re already setting ourselves up for some big shifts in Canadian theatre and to how much change there has been in artistic leadership not just in Toronto but across the country. I’m so excited about the newer and younger people who are in these positions of leadership in our institutions. We’re seeing more women in these leadership roles, people who come from an independent theatre background will be more in touch with independent artists. That gives me a lot of faith in that we have independent and dynamic thinkers. The venued companies have been dealt the most challenging blow. 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 monetization piece of it is really hard and certainly a lot of industries have been dealing with that a lot before us – look at online journalism. This mental block we all seem to have to have about paying for something on our devices. We just think about commerce very differently in relation to digital content. For ‘Outside the March’ in one form or another, we’ve charged for all the experiences we’ve done during the pandemic. Art is a value, and I think it’s important that people resource it as such or it will diminish in quality and ultimately disappear. I think the tradeoff - the work we done at ‘Outside the March’ is still live. Whether or not you are experiencing it on your phone or over your device, anything that is pre-taped breaks the implicit bargain of theatre. We couldn’t give away ‘Mundane Mysteries’ for free because so much work and preparation had gone into the process as it was anchored between performer and audience. Despite all of the drama and tension of this time, what is it about the art of performance that Covid will never destroy for you? I think we’re all burning out on screen time. It’s definitely hard to imagine a crisis that is better designed to attack the things that theatre is. We’re seeing film rebound because it involves in person gatherings to make the work but not to share the work. And the fact theatre implicitly gathers the moment of manufacturing with the sharing all at the same time all gathered together, and how do you go forward? But I also like to think optimistically that is the very reason why there will be an increased and accelerated hunger for what theatre can offer going forward once we’re out of this pandemic. Once we can have personalized theatre again, I think there’s going to be a hunger for it. We need to keep theatre sustained and vibrant in the meantime so we can ultimately meet that moment when we’re all out of this. There will be a necessity of theatre in the rebuilding process. That’s what I’m holding on to. We’ll get there through incremental steps along the way. It might be 2022, but I don’t have a crystal ball so it’s hard to plan right now. To learn more about ‘Outside the March’, visit . Previous Next

  • Profiles Nora McLellan

    Back Nora McLellan Moving Forward ---- Joe Szekeres Performing artist Nora McLellan made me laugh quite a bit during our one hour Zoom conference call. She has certainly tried to stay positive in these long eight months. Well, Nora, please keep up your sense of humour in looking at things as sharing it with others is a gift indeed. I’m quite impressed with Nora’s background as a Canadian performing artist. She acted in JOHN for THE COMPANY THEATRE. Additionally, she has performed in some outstanding productions including AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY at the Arts Club in Vancouver, THE MATCHMAKER at The Stratford Festival, MRS. WARREN’S PROFESSION and GYPSY at The Shaw Festival, and THE STONE ANGEL at Canadian Stage and London, Ontario’s GRAND THEATRE to name a few. Thanks again, Nora, for an enjoyable discussion and conversation: 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? I was thinking about what it would be like the first time we go to a theatre and we see somebody shake hands or stage. Or hug on stage. Will it be a period piece, or will it be shocking? Will it be a sense memory? So these are the kinds of questions that occupy my thoughts when I go for walks. I think about those little noticing details. What we are in right now is the new way of living, I guess I would say. For me, living in Niagara means I am able to go for walks in the country. When I go to see my guy in Toronto, we try to go on interesting urban hikes. Two weekends we went to Downsview Park, an urban park where the airbase was. I hadn’t been here before. There were other people around but we were miles away from everyone as we walked. So, this new way of living means it’s quiet, I will say that (Nora laughs). Some new way of living is here right now. How have you been faring? How has your immediate family been doing during these last eight months? How have I been doing? There have been some personal struggles but I’m doing okay. I’ve been doing an astonishing amount of walking for me, at least 5-6 miles a day. So that is something that I feel I have to do, I feel as if I have to go walking daily. I’ve got headphones and listen to the CBC or podcasts or just take off all the external accoutrements and just listen to the sounds of the birds. It’s been very interesting. I got home in March and I’ve been really watching the seasons. Because I’m not usually here as much as I am this year, I’ve seen the same trees go through spring, summer, fall and then descending into winter. And I guess I’m going to be here to see your spring again aren’t I, Tree? (she says with a laugh and so do I) There are colleagues of mine in horrible situations in terms of health and personal things. My ‘chosen’ family are in Louisiana, Oakville, and Alberta. My guy Ted has his job as a Systems Administrator. He’s working from home 9-5 Monday – Friday in Toronto. Everybody just seems to be plodding along. My family are my closest friends that I picked. As an artist within the performing arts community, what has been the most difficult and/or challenging thing for you professionally and personally? During this time, it would be the lack of routine from working. Luckily, I have been working a lot in recent years. I miss that – warming up in the theatre, working on the text, the camaraderie. I miss watching other actors work or at work. I miss how a director works. I love Tech Week and I miss Tech Week. Some of us from Vancouver once a month will participate in Zoom calls and just to talk stuff. I miss the critical thought about the work. The thing about theatre is we’re filled with stories of all kinds. The short answer: “I miss it all.” 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? Yes, I was. I’m sincerely hoping that some of these projects will continue in the future. Fingers crossed, here’s hoping. What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time? I am Ontario Councillor for Actors’ Equity Association. We have a lot of meetings and depending on how many committees I’m on, I’m busy in reading a lot of documents. Walking and Zoom therapy! 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 given the fact live theaters and studios might be closed for 1 ½ - 2 years? Well, I don’t know necessarily if I’m a very wise person. At Equity, there’s a Mental Health Wellness Task Force, and the committee has been calling on the senior members of Equity to check in on how they’re doing. Many of the more senior members are saying: “We’re used to this uncertainty, this pause. It’s the young theatre graduates you should be contacting.” For the graduates, this time of the pandemic is a crash course in how to live in uncertainty and how to keep going. I’m incredibly impressed by my colleagues and how they have shifted to other professions in the interim while staying firmly planted in the live theatre/entertainment industry. And my colleagues have adapted to the digital world and how that adaptation has now become a part of theatre. The astonishing amount of people from across the country who have the ability (which I don’t and which is why it impresses me) to sit down and decide to discover how they can still create during this time of shutdown in the industry. I don’t have that ability. Someone has to tell me to do something, and I do it. For the young creators out there, talk about being put into a box and punch your way out of it. This is the time to realize, “Okay, I’ve been put into a pandemic lockdown box. How do I punch and do something?” It’s an extraordinary time and to the young performers I say, “if you’ve got it, go for it.” Do you see anything positive stemming from Covid 19? Yes, I do. The ability to take care of each other and to be kind to each other. In the arts community, I find them to be a very caring group. It seems right now that when our friends and colleagues are going through difficult times on top with the isolation, there is a great desire to reach out. That kindness, support, and idea for being thrilled for a colleague when a part is offered to them is rewarding. It’s not much of why didn’t I get that role or that part? Instead, it’s triple fold excitement for our colleague who was offered work in the industry during this time. The professional and community theatres are caring groups. Ted was involved in community theatre. It was important for him. I think the world of community theatre – people who donate their time for weekend and evening rehearsals do it for the love of it. They are a caring group. They really love what they’re doing, and it is this hope that I see stemming from Covid. Do you think Covid 19 will have some lasting impact on the Toronto/Canadian/North American performing arts scene? There’s been such a huge shift in the arts world, and a well-timed shift. There’s a new generation. I think the people that are showing that kind of leadership – the festivals have all demonstrated that. I’ve been seeing things happen right across the land. It’s incredible to me that I was streaming a show from the Arts Club in Vancouver the other night, watching Natasha Mumba in ‘acts of faith’ the other night. I was streaming something from California the other night that involved an acting lab from my teacher, Uta Hagen. I see a lasting impact in a deeper connection we will make with each other when we’re allowed back into the room and the performance space and utilizing the digital techniques and elements that were already in use. A few years ago, at the Blyth Festival, I saw ‘The Last Donnelly’ co-created by Gil Garratt and Paul Thompson with beautiful slide and digital work by Beth Kates similar to live music mixing in concerts. I think this is the future and it is fascinating. 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? Believe me, as a Councillor for Equity, this is an ongoing discussion especially these days. It’s a new world. I’ve seen some incredible work. One of the first things I saw in lockdown was a terrific performance at Factory Theatre with Kevin Hanchard in HOUSE. It worked. It was as if Kevin was talking to us. Then I saw Daniel McIvor, the playwright of HOUSE, perform the play in Cape Breton in August. Wonderful production with Daniel as well. Two streamed productions that were incredibly different, but that’s the mark of a great play. That kind of stuff has been eye opening. The Stratford filmed productions have been a tonic for us. I’ve also seen live concerts at Shaw where we were socially distant. Something that I truly miss as I was watching a streamed performance the other night – I miss being in the audience. I miss the shared experience. I miss being with Ted and knowing that we, as an audience, collectively receive something together that particular night. I still get it when I watch a performance digitally but being with people in the room is really something that cannot be replaced. We’re both on the same page, but ACTRA and EQUITY have to figure out the compensation element which is wobbly. People want to get out to do something but not being paid….it’s such a challenging issue right now. Despite all this fraught tension and confusion, what is it about performing that Covid will never destroy for you? Destroy? This question sounds like such a Game of Thrones kind of thing. (Nora laughs). To me, I’m just getting warmed up. I hope I’m part of the Canadian Theatre fabric when we all get out of this pandemic. What cannot be destroyed is my desire to be on stage. I feel like I’m just in the wings ready. I’m hoping I speak for so many of colleagues. Our love of telling stories and being part of the ritual of theatre – there’s nothing like it. Previous Next

  • Profiles Iain Moggach

    Back Iain Moggach Theatre Conversation in a Covid World Laura Joy Photography. Joe Szekeres Once again, in Barrie, Ontario, I’m hearing more good things about the professional live theatre scene with Theatre by the Bay. And again, I’m grateful Artistic Director Iain Moggach was available for an interview for this column series. He is eager and highly open minded to see where the arts and Theatre by the Bay will be headed within the next ten years and with the lessons learned from this ‘pandemic’ year. Iain humbly considers himself one of the luckiest people today and is appreciative of the opportunity he has been given to see the impact of the work of Theatre by the Bay and its connection with the audience whether through laughter or tears. In Iain’s own words, “Seeing the effect of the work of Theatre by the Bay fuels me to do more and to provide more opportunities to make as much theatre as I can.” He is an award-winning director, producer, actor, and theatre educator, born and raised in Ottawa. Iain attended George Brown Theatre School from 2012-2015. He was an inaugural participant of Theatre by the Bay’s Indie Producer’s Co-Op and was asked to move to Barrie as the Executive Director of Theatre by the Bay in Fall 2015. Since then, Iain has established himself as a central figure in Simcoe County’s theatre scene. With Theatre by the Bay alone, he has produced ten productions and five years of the annual gala, Stars Come Out. He performed in the critically acclaimed 2017 production, The Five Points as well as Assistant Directed the 2017 touring production, WE MUST HAVE MORE MEN! Iain also served as the Arts and Culture representative for the City of Barrie’s COVID-19 Economic Task Force. Due to his body of work as an artist, and his leadership of Theatre by the Bay, former Artistic Director Alex Dault and the board of directors selected Iain Moggach as the company’s new Artistic Director in October 2018. Iain has received numerous awards during his time with Theatre by the Bay including: Barrie’s Young Professional of the Year 2019 (Barrie Business Awards); Barrie’s Tourism Champion 2019 (Toast to Tourism Awards); Barrie’s Best Theatre Instructor 2019, 2020 (Barrie Advance Readers’ Choice Awards) We conducted our conversation via Zoom: We’ve been one year plus without live theatre to attend. How has Theatre by the Bay been doing? How have you been faring during this time and your immediate family? We have a couple of things planned. Right now, we’re just about to launch our Educational Programming that runs into the summer. However, we do also have plans for several outdoor events, several virtual events, and we have a show planned actually for the fall that we hope will be able to be presented obviously or presumably in a limited capacity that would allow for a live audience and for home delivery through live streaming and video. Thank you for asking about me and my family. I’m doing okay. I’ve been very danger adverse because my wife, Marissa, is high risk. I’ve been very bubbled and made sure I’ve had very little interaction with others because it could put my wife in danger. Every day is a bit of a new adventure. Obviously, everything has been quite heavy but there’s a lot that has been keeping me focused and busy, and there’s a lot to look forward to so that’s beneficial for sure. I’m fortunate in that all of my family is healthy, a little antsy to get out and explore but they’re all in good health. As a creative person, I’m happiest when I’m creating, and I have a lot to work on right now so that’s a blessing. Outside of theatre, how have you been spending your time since the industry has been locked up tight as a drum? One of the biggest discoveries I’ve had about myself in the last year was just how burnt out I was. So, I’ve learned the importance of rest this year and have taken a lot of rest. I’ve also taken this opportunity to learn who I am when I’m not making theatre and discovering some skills that I wanted to develop in myself. For instance, I’ve been learning Italian in weekly lessons with my dad who’s fluent with a little bit of practice every day. In the last year, I’ve also discovered a love of archery. We’re very lucky that just outside of Barrie, Ontario, there is a fantastic archery range. I’ve been spending a lot of time just getting out there and enjoying being in the sunshine and having something to focus on. This has been a good chance for me to learn and to do a lot of reading about the BIPOC community and what’s been going on with them. But also some policies such as Defunding the Police and learning about this, and it has been very eye opening. All these things have made me feel more complete as a person and in doing my job more successfully going forward. The late Hal Prince described the theatre as an escape for him. Has Covid been an escape for you or would you call this year long absence from theatre something else. It certainly hasn’t been an escape. Theatre by the Bay has always been at the top of my mind, for sure. Because we’re a company that does almost exclusively new work, this has been a real opportunity for us to dive more into the works that we were developing as well as starting to plan for the future and the kinds of works we want to do. So, no, it hasn’t been an escape. That being said, as an art form, theatre certainly has an escapist element to it but also because of the kind of work that we do that is so locally focussed, I see the theatre we make not as much of an escape but more AS A MIRROR where the audience and the community can see itself reflected back on them. In my opinion our work is its best when this is done successfully and allows our audience to reconsider something about its own community that, perhaps, it hadn’t given before. I’ve interviewed a few artists over this last year who have said they can’t see live theatre fully returning to what we knew it once was until at least 2022. Yes, there may be pockets here and there, but the theatre we knew of over a year ago will not be fully back until 2022. Some comments from you about this fact. I think we will start to see a return in some capacity by the fall, that’s my expectation. In terms of the days of 600 seat houses, that will probably be gone for a long time. That being said if you’re a smart theatre company, especially in the professional sphere, you don’t plan for 100% so that’s something to consider too. I think by 2022 there will certainly be more increased audience capacity and more people will be willing to go out and see things as they had in the past. Going into this coming fall, it’s going to be those who are just foaming at the mouth to return to see and engage with theatre, but by 2022 we will see a return of those casual theatre goers according to the project and those safety levels. Something else that we need to think about as a community is what has this time provided us in terms of opportunities, and I think live streamed and using virtual ways of reaching people is going to be part of the practice going forward. This could potentially expand audiences as all of a sudden you could have audiences from across the world engaging with your art at the same time. This is something very exciting that I don’t think we’re going to lose, and I personally believe we should encourage going forward. I had a discussion recently with an Equity actor who said that theatre should not only entertain but, most importantly, it should transform both the artist/actor and the audience. How has Covid transformed you in your understanding as Artistic Director and where do you see transformation occurring moving forward? That’s a big question…it certainly highlighted areas that Theatre by the Bay really needs to focus on. As a company that does a lot of work about the community, I think it’s really important for us to ensuring the stories that we tell accurately reflect the community as it currently exists. I think that emphasis will really change the kind of art that we make going forward. I think that’s really exciting. Of course, it took a year of a lot of heartbreak and suffering to get to this new understanding, but I’m very excited about the possibilities that come with that. In terms of our message, Theatre by the Bay and the way we impact our audience and our actors that engage with our work will remain the same; perhaps how that is delivered and what stories we tell is going to need to evolve to more accurately reflect our community and our times. Zoe Caldwell spoke about how actors should feel danger in the work. She says it’s a solid and swell thing to have if the artist and the audience both feel it at the same time. This is a three-part question: a) Do you agree with Ms. Caldwell? b) Have you ever felt danger during this time of Covid? c) Will this danger somehow influence your work in a post pandemic world with Theatre by the Bay? In terms of the first question, I think it’s important that we distinguish danger from risk. Danger, I see as, is a sandbag on the lighting grid dangling a little too loosely, or danger could be exclusionary practices or practices that artists aren’t comfortable with that they haven’t felt the confidence to address in the room openly. Risk, on the other hand, is a great thing. Risk is the types of shows that you choose, the choices that you make, the subject matter that you engage with, that is the most fertile ground for theatre to be created from, but risk requires a strong foundation of safety. For instance, if you’re a ski jumper, you want the jumper to know how far they need to land before the person can make the jump. Risk is can actors push themselves to soar as high as they can to get that maximum distance. That is a really important distinction. Risk is great, rewarding when it’s pulled off. Risk is inspiring and awe inducing to watch. In terms of the second question, certainly I’ve taken risk in terms of the work that we’re making. New work takes a lot of time. When the hope was that by 2021 we might be able to have theatre again, I created a season to hope for that. As the summer was going on, we had to abandon those plans and start from scratch, and that’s a very risky thing to do because new work takes time to breathe and to become the best that it can be. I hope we stick that landing if we’re sticking with the ski jumper analogy. Otherwise, I’ve been danger adverse right now. Our Educational Programs were put entirely virtual to ensure all our artists were safe. We’ re going to continue doing a lot of virtual programming this year specifically the danger of audiences coming together is something I want to avoid. Earlier when I mentioned my wife’s health concern, everything for me now is “Would I want to go and engage with that as an audience member?” This is an important mind set I’ve had throughout the pandemic. The late scenic designer Ming Cho Lee spoke about great art opening doors and making us feel more sensitive. How has Covid made you more sensitive to the world around you, and how will you take this sensitivity as you return fully to your position and to Theatre by the Bay? A great question. It’s certainly has in a lot of ways made me sensitive in a lot of ways. One of the most memorable events in terms of the BIPOC community and movement in the last year was watching the Stratford panel with the black artists speaking about their involvement in the Festival. The way they spoke about the experience of exclusion, of pain, of people leaving the industry, the perception of white artistic leaders to just completely shut them out of conversations was very painful to hear. That’s a horrible thing for anyone to experience. It made me very sensitive to the fact that I am a white straight arts leader and that I stand on a history of oppression, of exclusion and that, going forward, it’s an absolute necessity that I break down those barriers within my organization, and that our organization as a whole is an inclusive place. One of the big things from the last year was this continuous incendiary quality. One of the most important things I learned is that diversity and inclusion, that is the way we can start to break down those media silos. The funnelling of perspectives, the almost segregation of ideas needs to be broken down by having lots of people in the conversation. That’s how we do that. Hopefully through the art that is made with this in the foundation will allow the broader community, the broader world to become increasingly more sensitive to the plight of others. That was a big takeaway for me and for Theatre by the Bay as an organization as well. Hal Prince spoke of the fact that theatre should trigger curiosity in the artist and the audience. How has this time of Covid sparked curiosity in you as an artist and where you see Theatre by the Bay going in a post pandemic world? My curiosity right now is focussed around how many different perspectives of our community are there. Because our work is so focussed on Barrie and central Ontario area, Simcoe County mostly, how many perspectives are there? How many stories are there? How many amazing artists that perhaps haven’t been given an opportunity to work with us yet that are from the area or live in the area are there? How can we bring these individuals into the kind of art that we make? That’s really exciting to me. About a year ago I presented a five-year plan to the Board of Directors of Theatre by the Bay and a lot of it had to do with expanding our network beyond Barrie and the immediate area but to Simcoe County as a whole. As soon as that perspective broadened, all sorts of amazing stories and source material started to reveal itself so I’m really excited by that, and curious to see what Theatre by the Bay will look like five, ten years from now having absorbed the lessons from this year. To contact Iain via Instagram: @imoggach To learn more about Barrie Ontario’s Theatre by the Bay: Facebook: Theatre By the Bay; Twitter: @theatrebythebay; Instagram: @theatrebythebay Previous Next

  • Profiles Paolo Santalucia, Founding Member of The Howland Company

    Back Paolo Santalucia, Founding Member of The Howland Company Looking Ahead Courtesy of The Howland Company Joe Szekeres Actor, director, writer, and founding member of The Howland Company, Paolo Santalucia, was on his way to rehearsal where he is directing ‘Three Sisters’ which will open at Hart House this month. I’m grateful he was able to take a few moments before his upcoming rehearsal began to speak with me. I’ve admired and respected his work on stage at Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre over the years. Recently he appeared in ‘Orphans for the Czar’ at Crow’s Theatre. Most recently, I saw Paolo’s work in Canadian Stage’s whimsically colourful production of William Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’ at High Park. Santalucia is a graduate of the University of Toronto and Sheridan College’s joint Theatre and Drama Studies program. Upon his graduation, he was accepted into the Soulpepper Academy where he trained for about a year and a half before joining the acting ensemble at this prestigious company. As a professional artist, how’s he feeling about this gradual return to live performance even though Covid still surrounds all of us? Santalucia believes theatre must reflect our community, including our fears for the future and current moment. He elaborated further: “Art is an essential and beautiful aspect of community building in times of crisis. The Theatre has a real responsibility to engage with the issues of our time while also providing escapism from them and reminding us that there is a path forward.” For Paolo, it’s important this community-building happens at everyone’s own pace. He believes it’s vital that art continues to happen, that theatre continues to push through, and that we work within the complications that Covid is providing in order to ensure that we have art on our stages and don’t end up falling behind as a world-class theatre city. Even after these last two-plus years of changes within the theatre, what is it Paolo still finds fascinating about the craft and art of acting and directing? He laughed and said he still finds everything fascinating about the craft as this pause made him confront the fact that perhaps he might now know how to act, direct, write or even mount a play. Paolo clarified this point: “What I love is that it feels like we’ve come back to an industry asking questions of itself in a way that allows me to probe aspects of my own work that I’ve always felt self-conscious about.” What’s shifted for Paolo is the space he’s been given to question his pre-conceived notions about what a given piece is “supposed to be” – as opposed to undergoing an investigative process whereby one is able to ask what it is the play is trying to do in its own right. Having the confidence, space, and time to feel the industry is pushing past results-based art-making has been an exciting aspect of this pause. That’s something Santalucia feels much braver about now than he did two, three years ago. Before the pandemic, he was entering his work with what he knew what the story was about. That sometimes got in the way, so it’s exciting to engage in a process that trusts the work and trusts the people in the room in a different way. “I don’t have all the answers” he says “but I have a lot of questions.” Paolo adapted and will direct Chekhov’s ‘Three Sisters’ at Hart House on the University of Toronto campus. His cast list is stellar actors who are so in tune with each other to tell the story. He jokingly stated he was waiting for the shoe to drop so that the cast will realize he was a big hack. We both shared a good laugh over that. But why this 13-member cast of ‘Three Sisters’ now as we return to the theatre? One of the things Paolo has always loved about this play is the fact it’s a young person’s play. To see many young people populating the stage will be thrilling. Part of Howland Company’s mandate is to investigate the stories of our time and also re-investigate stories that reflect our time. Over the course of the pandemic, Santalucia went back to ‘Three Sisters’ story because he was part of a production in the midst of a Chekhov play. Tech day for that show was the last day in 2020 before everything shut down. What struck him the most about all of this? ‘The fears that were permeating what was happening in the early moments of the pandemic were being reflected in the work we were doing. During one of those long weeks I thought I should just sit down and re-read Chekhov’s plays. I was languishing around at home not doing too much when things were shut down and it felt like the right time.” In reading ‘Three Sisters’, Santalucia was struck by the plight of this group of young people trying hard to reacclimate their understanding of how their world has changed and question whether returning to the world they knew from their childhood was possible. This is a story of the inheritors of the world asking big questions. These questions have never been more relevant for Paolo. He felt it was really fruitful ground to revisit post-Covid. He always found ‘Three Sisters’ to be one of Chekhov’s more elusive plays. This family who wants to return to their home felt too literal for Paolo but, over the course of the pandemic, he began to understand something more about his own circumstances which lends itself to the central metaphors in ‘Three Sisters’. As we concluded our conversation, I asked Paolo where he hopes to see The Howland Company move in the next five years. First, Howland is a collectively run organization. Covid was a real eye-opener for the fragility of all theatre companies moving forward, and Paolo takes nothing for granted. His dream is for Howland to continue its existence and to move through this time of transition and change – to learn from it, and apply what they’ve learned in meaningful ways to allow movement forward with ambition and understanding. I like his final comments: “I look forward to the learning process during these next five years.” So do I, Paolo, so do I. We all have so much still to learn. The Howland Company and Hart House Theatre presents Anton Chekhov’s ‘Three Sisters’ (adapted and directed by Paolo Santalucia) which opens October 26 and runs to November 12 at Hart House Theatre, 7 Hart House Circle, Toronto. For tickets and for more information, visit or call 416-978-2452. Previous Next

  • Profiles Mikaela Davies

    Back Mikaela Davies Theatre Conversation in a Covid World Mark Binks Joe Szekeres I am extremely thankful Mikaela Davies sent me a friend request several months ago as I admired her work in ‘The Last Wife’ at Montreal’s Centaur Theatre. Our Zoom call sometimes went off topic today as we found the questions below led to other questions and comments that I hadn’t even considered, and that was alright as Mikaela told me at one point during the interview to bring them on. Mikaela Davies (she/her) is an actor, director and writer. She is a graduate of the 2020 CBC Canadian Film Centre's Actors Conservatory. She spent two years performing at Soulpepper Theatre and four seasons at The Stratford Festival where she performed the leading role in The Changeling. She is a graduate of the Soulpepper Actor’s Academy, Stratford Festival’s Michael Langham Conservatory for Classical Direction and Canadian Stage’s RBC Director Development Residency. Davies is the inaugural recipient of the Jon Kaplan Canadian Stage Performer Award; she holds a Sterling nomination for Outstanding Comedic Performance as the lead in Miss Bennet at The Citadel and a META nomination for Outstanding Supporting Performance in The Last Wife at The Centaur. She has worked closely as a dramaturge with Robert Lepage and Jillian Keiley. She has directed and co-created a handful of award-winning plays with Polly Phokeev including How We Are, The Mess & Earth 2.0. Thank you for the conversation, Mikaela: In a couple of months, we will be coming up on one year where the doors of live theatre have been shuttered. How have you been faring during this time? Your immediate family? I’ve been okay. I’ve been really lucky that my family and friends have been healthy and safe so that’s brought a lot of peace of mind. I’m also pretty lucky that my partner and I don’t have kids yet so I cannot understand how difficult it must be for parents with young kids at home trying to do their work and help them through school. My hat goes off to them. So challenging. Given my health and everyone around me and not having this extra burden, it’s been okay. It’s hard, it’s a hard time for everybody. I do feel lucky. It’s pretty scary to hear of the numbers going up and down and up daily. How have you been spending your time since the theatre industry has been locked up tight as a drum? Well, when Covid first started I was quite lucky that myself, Hailey Gillis and Polly Phokeev, we were commissioned through Crow’s Theatre to work on a musical. We’re working on this adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s ‘The Master and Margarita’, workshopped at The Stratford Festival. We were able to spend a good chunk of time just throwing ourselves into that so that was a really nice project to have. Polly Phokeev and I, we also work on our own writing projects together. We’ve had a history of making theatre together and now we’re exploring what it might be like to make a tv series so we’ve working on the draft of a pilot about a mission to colonize Mars. The other thing I have a lot of time for, which I’ve never really been able to do, is to take a breath and look around and breathe. I’ve always been a go, go, go artist and so in many ways this has afforded me a great pause. I’ve spent some time camping with my partner. We were van camping. We were sleeping in the back of his van. When the cases were low, we went out to British Columbia to see his family and we drove back across the country staying in national parks. I’ve never done that. I’ve never seen those parts and parks of Canada. That was the highlight of my year for sure. It was magical. The late Hal Prince described the theatre as an escape for him. Would you say that Covid has been an escape for you or would you describe this near year long absence from the theatre as something else? This is a good question. Speaking personally, Covid has allowed me to take a bit of a breath and a pause and to spend some time living and thinking about things, and as an artist I think that’s a useful thing to do. Sometimes we’re so caught up in making art, making art, making art, making art that we forget to live. I’m speaking for myself here. I’ve felt very grateful for that aspect of it. The kind of escapism that I imagine Hal Prince is referring to in theatre to me is a very different thing than the really dark, complicated time that Covid has brought on so many of us. To me, going to the theatre is an escape. I’m reading this incredible book right now by Tana French. She’s an Irish mystery writer and that feels like an escape. I’m thinking about these characters when I’m not in the book, my mind is going to them, I’m trying to figure out the mystery, that’s escapism. Covid is the opposite of this. Instead, it has shined a fluorescent light on the inequities of society, the drastic differences of the qualities of life of someone who makes $200K+ a year versus someone who makes $20K a year. Covid hasn’t been an escape. It might have been nice if it was, but no. I’ve interviewed a few artists several months ago who said that the theatre industry will probably be shut down and not go full head on until at least 2022. There may be pockets of outdoor theatre where safety protocols are in place. What are your comments about this? Do you think you and your colleagues/fellow artists will not return until 2022? (Mikaela chuckles) Okay with the caveat that I’m not a doctor so I really have no business making any predictions on this … I cannot imagine the theatre on an institutional level will be back to anything close to its capacity until 2022 or later. There’re two things to consider: a) when the theatre can legally come back in a safe way and b) everybody’s personal safety level. When will audiences feel safe to return because everyone will be at different starting points. I think we’ve got a long haul yet, but I’d love to be wrong. The question every artistic director asks is how to get young people to attend the theatre and become subscribers. Yes, our seniors make up a good deal of our audiences, but this may not be the case when theatres are legally allowed to re-open again. Well, one of the first things is to mount work that young people can relate to. Ya know, sometimes we think of theatre as medicine that can become inaccessible to younger people. I remember my parents taking me to museums when I was a kid, and I was thinking, “Oh, God, I don’t know if I like this. I don’t know if I’m engaging with this.” It doesn’t mean the work wasn’t incredible, it just means I didn’t understand it at the time. It didn’t speak to me and what I was going through at that time. The question is how to get young people excited about theatre and the answer is to program productions that speak to them and exploring and navigating so we can push those boundaries in their minds. I had a discussion recently with an Equity actor who said that theatre should not only entertain but, more importantly, it should transform both the actor and the audience. How has Covid transformed you in your understanding of the theatre and where it is headed in a post Covid world? I was speaking with a director and how we might be able to put on this play through a Covid lens. We tasked ourselves with re-reading this play and imagining it in a Covid world. One of the things that struck me as possibly so exciting is seeing two characters come together and embrace and kiss each other and how electric that might be in a world where that’s not allowed if you’re not in the bubble. Like anything that happens in our world and the societies around us, it can’t help but inform the way we see things. I imagine there will be a renewed sense of chemistry and intimacy in our work to come once we are safely allowed to put these things on. I think seeing two people from different families come together and give each other a hug or any sort of physical touch will hit us in a different way than it ever would have before since we took it for granted. The late Zoe Caldwell spoke about how actors should feel danger in the work. It’s a solid and swell thing to have if the actor/artist and the audience both feel it. Would you agree with Ms. Caldwell? Have you ever felt danger during this time of Covid and do you believe it will somehow influence your work when you return? This touches on tricky territory as we’ve seen through the #metoo Movement and the Black Lives Matter movement. Somebody’s idea of danger might be another person’s experience of abuse. I think it’s really important to say that you have to have everyone’s permission and consent to create that kind of environment. If you do, then I think it’s a fantastic thing to thrill yourself as an actor and for the audience and to seek that kind of danger as that’s the aliveness of theatre we all want to experience. I had that feeling of danger in reading Arthur Miller plays and when I performed in ‘The Changeling’ at the Stratford Festival. An artist can feel when an audience is in the palm of their hands and that’s exciting. The late scenic designer Ming Cho Lee spoke about great art opening doors and making us feel more sensitive. Has this time of Covid made you sensitive to our world and has it made some impact on your life in such a way that you will bring this back with you to the theatre? I certainly feel more attuned to everything around me. Not being able to see family or friends starts to wear on you and you have a greater understanding of mental health and anxiety. I’m a highly sensitive person so noise, feelings, it’s all mixed up for me and this time of Covid has turned it up. God, I hope I do bring this sensitivity when I return to the theatre. Again, the late Hal Prince spoke of the fact that theatre should trigger curiosity in the actor/artist and the audience. Has Covid sparked any interest in you about something during this time? Has this time away from the theatre sparked further curiosity for you when you return to this art form? I love that. I love the fact he said theatre should spark curiosity. I think curiosity is the thing we need to build bridges in this time. When you can start to cultivate that in yourself with people who have radically different sets of beliefs than you do, you can be curious about them. You can begin to open doors and make those connections. I think that’s fantastic Hal Prince talked about the fact curiosity is one of the facets of what theatre should do. I spent a lot of time being curious about the police to be honest and how those systems worked for some people and not for others. What does that mean about a society if we are to continue a system that is discriminating against any BIPOC person? That’s been a huge learning curve for me. I watched this fantastic Zoom play reading by Ali Joy Richardson called ‘Dad’ through Studio 180. It was directed by Ann-Marie Kerr. It was so well done. One of the things I thought was so effective was it happened over Zoom but they utilized the platform of Zoom as part of the piece. In the actual play, Ali adapted it. This was a phone conversation just like you and I are right now, and we all got to be a fly on the wall during this conversation. I love ‘fly on the wall’ moments so I’m curious to see how people have been able to adapt that even while theatre can’t happen in the live space they’ve been able to take this form and make it exciting, and present, and right now. You can connect with Mikaela at Instagram: @mikaelalilydavies and Twitter: @MikaelaLily Previous Next

  • Profiles Kristen Peace

    Back Kristen Peace Theatre Conversation in a Covid World ... Joe Szekeres You will see from Kristen’s profile that she has had a great deal on her plate this last year. I’m gratefully appreciative she was able to take a few moments to ‘Check in From Away’ for her profile. When she responded with her answers via email, I smiled as she began that every actor finds it sometimes a little strange and dreads writing one’s own semi autobiography because it is tough to do it. I agree with her wholeheartedly as it is tough to decide what to write about yourself. Just from the tone of her answers, Kristen feels both thankful and blessed for her career and where it has taken her. She started very young in this industry and feels extremely lucky that she was able to learn from great performers by working with them. Kristen prides herself on being a bit of a sponge and it has served her well as she has worked for some incredible companies: Charlottetown, Drayton, and Mirvish, as well as some always entertaining work on voiceovers for cartoons and video games. Fingers crossed to see you all again soon in Newfoundland at the Royal Alex, Kristen, when it’s safe. Thank you so much for participating in this conversation: Many professional theatre artists I’ve profiled and interviewed have shared so much of themselves and how the pandemic has affected them from social implications from the Black Lives Matter and BIPOC movements to the staggering numbers of illnesses and deaths. Could you share with us and describe one element, either positive or negative, from this time that you believe will remain with you forever? I’ve actually had multiple conversations about this topic with my friends. This pandemic has been terrible for so many of us. However, that’s not to say that there are not many things for which to be thankful. How do you convey the mix of chaos, debilitating stillness, and potential progress into a singular moment to remember? For me, it will forever be a mish mash of tears, stress, gratitude, and growth Have you learned anything about human nature from this time? I think we have all been watching the news and seen some really disappointing things over the past year. I’ve learned human nature can be beautiful and frightening at the same time. In my most challenging times, I’ve witnessed great kindness and generosity and I am proud of how Canadians evolve and grow, especially those involved in the arts community. They create for the sole purpose of others’ comfort and happiness. I remain in awe of the resilience of Canadians. How has your immediate family been faring during this time? As a family, can you share with us how your lives have been changed and impacted by this time? My family has certainly struggled over the past year, like so many others. We have had our fair share of stress and sadness. Our greatest loss was that of my darling dad, Glen. My father passed at the beginning of the new year, at home, with family by his side. Although his absence now creates a crater-sized hole in my heart, I am thankful that I was able to be at home and take care of him. This simply would not have been possible on a regular show schedule. Pre-COVID, my days were filled to the brim with an 8-show week, rehearsals and voice overs. The incredible silver lining of the pandemic was that I was allowed the time to spend with my dad in his last few months. For that, I am eternally grateful. I know none of us can even begin to guess when professional theatre artists will be back to work. I’ve spoken with some who have said it might not be until 2022. Would you agree on this account? Have you ever though that you might have had to pivot and switch careers during this time? I hold faith that we will be back in some capacity later this year. Truthfully, I have experienced a lot over the course of 2020 and have little desire to pivot. I’m taking the necessary room to recharge and enjoy valuable time with those I love. I’ve sacrificed so much over the course of my career for a job I truly love, and I have no intentions of putting my energy elsewhere until someone tells me I am done. How do you think your chosen career path and vocational calling will look once all of you return safely to the theatre? Do you feel confident that you can and will return safely? I’m someone who thinks that the “what if” game can be damaging to the soul. I’ve given myself permission to release control and ride this wave with as much kindness and positivity I can possibly muster. I have faith that we will return to work when it is safe to do so and that people will be itching to experience life again. This time of the worldwide pandemic has shaken all of us to our very core and being. According to author Margaret Atwood, she believes that Canadians are survivors no matter what is thrown in their path. Could you share what has helped you survive this time of uncertainty? My friends! Friendship has helped me through this mess. Whether it’s a FaceTime call at 3:00 am or a socially distanced garage movie night, these little moments have meant the world to me. One of my best friends and I made a commitment to remain in one another’s bubble. We decided to open an Etsy shop featuring upcycled embellished theme park apparel. It’s amazing what a little wine, glitter and love can conjure Imagine in a perfect world that the professional theatre artist has been called back as it has been deemed safe for actors and audience members to return. The first show is complete and now you’re waiting backstage for your curtain call: a) Describe how you believe you’re probably going to react at that curtain call. b) There is a crowd of people waiting to see you and your castmates at the stage door to greet all of you. Tell me what’s the first thing you will probably say to the first audience member: When we are lucky enough to return to the stage, I will hug and squish the life out of my co-stars. My brand of love is aggressive and I’m sure they already know they will just have to deal with it. I know I’m going to cry like a big, fat baby… a lot. I will feel zero shame. I also know that I will be so grateful to the audience for coming home to us. Previous Next

  • Profiles Evan Buliung

    Back Evan Buliung Looking Ahead Pierre Gautreau Joe Szekeres In chatting with artist Evan Buliung (graduate of George Brown Theatre School and the first Stratford Festival Conservatory Program), I felt like I was having a cup of coffee with an old college buddy whom I hadn’t seen in years, but I knew what he was doing up to that point. We laughed so much during our conversation that, yes, sometimes the language did turn a tad ‘colourful’ on both our parts; that was okay because Evan made me feel quite comfortable around him. We also played a game of six degrees of separation when we discovered that Evan had chummed around in his younger years with the son of my first cousin who lives in Brantford. Another point of interest, he and artist, Lisa Horner (who appears in the Toronto production of ‘Come from Away’) are the only actors in history who have played all of the Mirvish theatres. I had seen Evan in a tremendously moving production of ‘Fun Home’ with the Mirvish Series at the Panasonic Theatre several years ago. Evan also appeared in ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ at the Princess of Wales. I was so sorry to have missed that production because I heard it was extraordinary. Evan has also appeared at the Stratford Festival for 12 seasons. Evan believes the world of live theatre will come back. It’ll just be different and that’s probably a good thing because theatre was getting, in Evan’s words, “fucking stale”. I also went off script and asked Evan what he would be doing if he wasn’t an actor and artist. He told me he probably would have been a soldier. He was in army cadets when he was younger and was fascinated with war, even though he was a sensitive kid and probably would have quit the war. As he looked back on that time, Evan now believes he was looking for some kind of discipline. We conducted our conversation via Zoom. Thank you so much for your time, Evan: It’s a harsh reality that the worldwide pandemic of Covid 19 has changed all of us. Describe how your understanding of the world you know and how your perception and experience have changed on a personal level. It’s been, I hate to say it, actually been one of the best times of my life – allowing for introspection and some more work that needed to be done for myself personally. I don’t mind isolation, so it doesn’t really bear into my soul. I know a lot of people struggle with it, and I get that. I’ve been preparing for it my whole life. I say that from a very privileged standpoint that I’m not in a financial hole. I find it quite profound and quite a time to be alive. Things could always be worse, and that’s the Sagittarius in me, the eternal optimist. My parents are okay, they’re in Brantford. The numbers aren’t really high there. My brother and his wife and their kids, they have a lot and it’s a struggle for them, they’re busy. I don’t have kids so I’m not in that arena. Thanks for asking. They seem to be doing alright. Knock on wood. With live indoor theatre shut for one year plus, with it appearing it may not re-open any time soon, how has your understanding and perception as a professional artist of the live theatre industry been altered and changed? I’ve always been one that I like to vary my craft and learn new things. Years ago, I stepped into film and tv pretty heavily and I’ve been doing that ever since and more dabble in theatre now. Someone once said to me, “Theatre is a young man’s game.” And I get it. Some of those seasons doing three shows…The last season I was there I performed in ‘Guys and Dolls’ and ‘Romeo & Juliet’ thinking “Yah, I can do this” and forgetting I was 40. By the end of the season, I was exhausted. It’s a lot of work. “Guys and Dolls” is massive. So, I’ve been doing other things to be honest. A wise man said to me years ago, “What’s going to happen if you walk out the door, get hit by a bus, and can’t act anymore?” Because I was. I was identifying myself with my job which is a bit tricky, but we have that ingrained in us as actors. I hope Stratford is able to pull off their outdoor projects this summer. They’ve selected good works and they’ve got great people on board. Those people deserve to work, and I hope things go well for Antoni [Cimolino] (Artistic Director) because he’s put so much fucking work into that place with blood, sweat and tears and the new Tom Patterson Theatre that should have been open for all of us. What a feeling of being kicked in the nuts that so much work has gone in especially to open that brand new theatre along with the work and nothing came of it. (I then asked Evan about the appropriateness of some titles of Stratford productions in a patriarchal world)… It’s funny, well, it’s not funny, when we were performing ‘Guys and Dolls’ in the middle of the summer is when the Harvey Weinstein story broke. I remember walking out the stage and feeling, “Ugh”. It just hit me…“Why do we do it?” I even thought that before. I asked Donne [Feore, director of the production] in the audition why are you doing this show? Now, mind you, it’s a fantastic show. The stuff with the other two is some of the funniest writing in musical theatre, and the music, obviously, is gorgeous. It’s tough to answer this question. I’ve felt this coming on for about ten years. In all of classical theatre, I can’t see this being sustainable in the direction that we’re going in terms of equality. Unless we figure out a way to do it that we have to address the patriarchal nature of the classics. It’s just the way it is and clearly white favoured…yah, it was just a matter of time before it happened. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. I’m not an Artistic Director so they will have a lot to consider. After Antoni’s term is completed, hopefully, it will be a woman who will assume the role of Artistic Director. The Festival needs female energy behind the lens, especially in light of some of the patriarchal nature of some of these plays, and I think it would really help. As a professional artist, what are you missing the most about the live theatre industry? God, I miss the people more than anything, they’re really good people. Opening nights are fun. (Evan laughs and then says) I don’t know if theatre misses me, so I don’t really miss it. There’s new voices and new stories to be told, and that’s great. I’ll be part of it, but I don’t need to be centralized in it. I’m really enjoying doing film. I’m taking a lot of classes and working on that skill. I’m taking classes with a great teacher in Los Angeles. If I’m taking film and tv classes, I thought GO TO THE SOURCE. And I’m learning shit here that I wouldn’t learn in Canada. That’s their game, so why not go right to the source…at times, it’s terrifying and fucked, but really good and really exciting. If you don’t keep learning, what’s the point? I don’t miss ‘The Crucible’. I don’t need to see ‘The Crucible’ ever again (he says with a laugh). I don’t need to see ‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’ ever again. I get it, I get what it’s for, and I’ve performed in it. As a professional artist, what is the one thing you will never take for granted again in the live theatre industry when you return to it? That’s a really good question. I won’t take the people, the experience, for granted. I don’t know if I ever did. As we all know times moves very quickly and it tends to double as each day goes by. I certainly won’t take for granted the responsibility I have to the next generation to mentor or teach or be of service to them, to be the person that I wanted when I was that age. It’s hard because the younger people can do it themselves. It’s finding that balance. Describe one element you hope has changed concerning the live theatre industry. Well, so much has changed, I don’t think it needs my help. (Evan says with laughter. And then I re-phrase the question with one element Evan is glad that has changed concerning live theatre)… I’m glad that first and foremost, behaviour in rehearsal halls. And the treatment of other artists. I was never really a whipping boy but there were, sometimes I was but I was able to laugh it off and deflect it, but some people weren’t as lucky. So I’m grateful that’s being addressed, and I don’t think people can get away with that behaviour as much as well as like teaching in theatre schools. In theatre schools there’s no need to tear someone apart in order to make them a good actor. That’s just bad teaching because you don’t need to rip the person apart and rebuild them in some sort of structure that makes them an actor. There are other and better ways to get around and not do that destructive behaviour in teaching. Explain what specifically you believe you must still accomplish within the industry. Well, in the past number of years, I’ve really enjoyed teaching Shakespeare. I teach it with Cathy MacKinnon who’s the head of Voice at Stratford and we teach at colleges, and we also taught at Etobicoke School of the Arts, and the Conservatory at Stratford. I love teaching that. I love giving back what was given to me, and I love seeing people go, “Oooohhhh!” because once you get the keys to Shakespeare it’s like (and Evan makes a kaboom sound), “Holy Fuck!” and you get inside the language and come in underneath it and make it a part of me. Then you can actually sound like [Stratford veterans] Tom Rooney or Tom McCamus or Stephen Ouimette speaking Shakespeare as opposed to someone who doesn’t sound like these fucking guys. There’s a way in for everyone and I keep saying to Cathy this is our tagline: “Give me an afternoon and I’ll make you a Shakespearean actor guaranteed.” Now, that being said, it takes about ten years to become a good Shakespearean actor. Teaching is my next foray. I still would love to play MacBeth some day, and Lear and those old fuddy duddies…. I tell you, this pandemic is giving me a whole new perspective on King Lear. Some artists are saying that audiences must be prepared for a tsunami of Covid themed stories in the return to live theatre. Would you elaborate on this statement both as an artist in the theatre, and as an audience member observing the theatre. I’d rather shoot myself (with a good laugh) than go to a Covid themed play. God, we’ve all been here. What the fuck do I need that for? This is the last thing I want. Maybe, but who’s gonna go see it? What the fuck are you gonna tell? I don’t know. I can think of a fresher hell than go to a Covid play. Let’s move on. As an artist, what specifically is it about your work that you want future audiences to remember about you? Oh, wow! Jesus. Well, I mean I think what I’ve discovered is that my work has been a journey in actualizing my emotions. Coming from generations of alcoholism and different forms of dysfunction within the family unit, I haven’t had a drink in 15 years, but it’s always gone parallel with my profession is mental health and discovering these feelings that I wasn’t able to discover as a child through no one’s fault. I would hope that, for instance, when I was in Mirvish’s ‘Fun Home’ I had some people say you’re not homosexual so how could you play that. That’s not what it’s about. To me, the play is about shame and living with deep rooted shame regardless of its shame-based living. I’m hoping when audiences see this that this is somebody working through the states of being in their work that mirrors life. Our responsibility is to hold the mirror up to nature, no more no less. If an audience can resonate with that, which a lot of people did especially in ‘Fun Home’, if we can have an effect on an audience as those three girls did at the end of ‘Fun Home’, then that’s successful. Otherwise, what’s the point of doing it? I remember Peter Hutt said that to me years ago when I was younger. He said, “I don’t know why that guy doing it in this business; I know why that guy is in this business.” And he looked at me and said, “I have no idea why you’re doing this.” And it made so much sense to me. Because truly I was never in it for anything other than trying to figure out my life. And it just seemed like a really good way to do it. Previous Next

  • Profiles Duff MacDonald

    Back Duff MacDonald Canadian Chat Grant Landry Joe Szekeres I’ve seen Duff MacDonald’s name over the last few years in theatre programmes and through some of the social media websites. His name sounded familiar to me, and I soon figured out where I recognized it. I saw him play in the first Canadian company of ‘Les Misérables’ at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra. Duff was also part of the first National Touring production of ‘Les Mis’ in 1989-1990. Duff also played "Eamon" in the recent Grand Theatre (London ON) and RMTC (Winnipeg) productions of ONCE. According to his bio, Duff proudly hails from the Saskatchewan prairie land. He has recorded albums and sang in many venues across Canada and the United States ranging from coffee houses to large auditorium venues. He is proud of the training he has received. He obtained a full scholarship to go to North Dakota State University to study opera. He also studied at Vancouver’s Gastown Actor’s Studio and private studies in Acting with June Whittaker, Linda Darlow and Uta Hagen. Duff has also completed voice-over work in commercials. He has been seen in film and television roles like the recent LOCKE AND KEY (Netflix), CARTER (CTV Drama Channel), GOOD WITCH, TITANS (Netflix), CLAWS OF THE RED DRAGON, Incorporated (SyFy), Tru Love (Winner of 35 Worldwide Film Fest Awards), Cinderella Man, Foolproof, The Music Man and most recently in the nation-wide spot for AMERICAN EXPRESS/AEROPLAN and BOSTON PIZZA as the gold Professional Sports Trophy Model. We conducted our conversation via Zoom as Duff lives in St. John’s Newfoundland, at this moment. Thank you so much for the great conversation and laughter, Duff: Since we’ve just celebrated Thanksgiving, tell me about one teacher or mentor in your life for whom you are thankful and who brought you to this point in your life as a performing artist. I am very grateful for a number of people in my life who brought me to this point in my life as an artist. In the beginning, in my small town of Watson Saskatchewan, there was this lady named Jean, and she played the piano. She took me on. She was best friends with my mother and father for years. Both my mother and Jean were teachers. I just remember going over to Jean’s house and her teaching me a lot about music and singing and singing some old classic tunes. She was always the woman who was coaching me through all of that early stuff. Later on, I became part of ‘Saskatchewan Express’, a teen talent competition and I won and became part of this group of performers similar to “Up with People’. We toured all over Saskatchewan and I learned so much in the early 80s when I was 16 from all of those musicians. We had a 12-piece band behind us, and we had dancers; it was a big production sponsored by the lotteries. The woman who ran that, Carol Gay Belle, who worked for the CBC, she was also a huge influence on me as a kid in my teen years. 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? Oh boy, that’s a big one. Initially, it was a shock as it was with everyone. I was just about to go away and do a show. Personally, I did a full pivot turn. We performers spend a lot of time on our own, and as a writer and painter, I have a lot of different creative outlets. So, right away, the first thing I did was turn to my creative side and that really saved me during most of Covid until I ran out of projects. I produced a web series with a friend (check it out on Duff’s personal web page), two of them actually, a comedy series and another web series where I was interviewing people from all over the world. That brought me a lot of joy and peace in checking in with people around the globe and gaining a global perspective on what was exactly happening in our country and other countries. This really helped me to check in because the media was going crazy, but when you talk with other people in other countries, one on one, it really changed my whole view of everything and cut out all the crap the media was feeding us. I became grateful personally. I had my own apartment; I was in seclusion. I didn’t have a family; I wasn’t attending school. Everything just stopped for me, and I turned into a creative monster (and Duff says this with a good laugh). How have these last eighteen months of the pandemic changed or transformed you as an artist professionally? Well, they’re synonymous for me as an artist because I’m self-employed so everything is melded together. As an artist, it encompassed so many things for a lot of us. The rug was pulled out from all of us, but as artists, we’re very dependent on the community, the audience. That’s our living. When that disappeared, it really affected me but I used that artistic talent as a way of survival and it changed everything and started to focus on that. Also, my technical skills and my game went up about ten notches because artists were all forced to audition in our own homes, with our own lighting and our own camera. Luckily, I had done my comedy web series called ‘The Duff Show’ and learned so much about filming myself with green screen. So when auditions were coming up where they were doing live one on one Zoom calls, it didn’t shock me as much as some. My technical and voice-over side that all went up. My agent didn’t worry about me technically because he knew that I had seemed to have everything in order. Tell me further about ‘No Change in the Weather’ opening in St. John’s shortly. Are you hoping to bring it to Toronto after St. John’s? ‘No Change in the Weather’ …(and then Duff stopped for a moment to catch his breath and continued). I’m almost going to cry because it has been such a gift. The past couple of months were really, really hard even with the creative projects I had. After a while for me I kept wondering when I was going to get a job. I’d be so close to getting national commercials. I was starting to really doubt myself. I was away camping and got a call to audition for ‘No Change in the Weather’. I started looking into it and reading the script and doing some research as the play had been done previously. I saw there were some Ron Hynes music in the production. Ron is a Canadian institution on the East Coast, especially in Newfoundland. ‘No Change’ just came along out of nowhere and I got the job. Again, I put together a self tape, had all my equipment together. I had clips that I professionally recorded at the time. Everything just lined up and I had sung ‘Sonny’s Dream’ which is a Ron Hynes song in another show before, and I was auditioning for the character of Sonny. So it was a really sympatico moment where it all happened really fast as they were only looking for a few people. I’m part Irish, and Newfoundland has deep Irish roots here. ‘No Change in the Weather’ is the story of a family that comes home for their mother’s wake and to celebrate her loss and her life. They all come together on an island called God’s Pocket. The family doesn’t want the wake to be a downer so they’re trying to celebrate their mother. And then I show up as Sonny, and I haven’t seen anyone in 20 years as Sonny works for the government. There is a connection to the Churchill Falls political incident and blunder. I represent the political side of the show, and everyone has a lot of disdain for my character. It’s a beautiful story of this family coming together and finding a place of peace amongst all the craziness. It’s funny, it has some great Newfoundland tunes, some Alan Doyle and Ron Hynes music, some really classic Irish music. It’s full of heart and laughter. It really has been a gift for me and for the company. There are beautiful voices, and the talent in the production. The production is different from ‘Come from Away’ as this is Newfoundland people. It’s quite a bit different from ‘Come from Away’ as ‘No Change’ deals with the political slant, and it’s got some real Newfoundland heart. Bob Hallett, one of the members of Great Big Sea is Executive Producer of the show. Our director is Brad Hodder who is going to be in the Mirvish production of Harry Potter when it opens next year in Toronto. Steve Ross, who has completed 18 seasons at Stratford, is in the show with me. (Note: a profile of Steve Ross can be found through OnStage). These are only a few heavy hitter artists in the show as there’s more in the cast and it’s going to be a good show. It runs at the CAA Theatre in Toronto on Yonge Street and blow everyone away. We’re just performing ‘No Change in the Weather’ in St. John’s Newfoundland from November 12-14 as a tester and we come to Toronto November 19-27, 2021. 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 really do. There were some theatres that took the proverbial ‘bull by the horns’ and embraced this challenge and clicked in right away to continue connection to audiences. Some went virtual right away. I have a friend who lives in Texas who filmed a whole play virtually. The actors were not all in the same place. They were filmed separately and edited together to look like they were all in the same room. $20 was charged for the link to see the show, and they made some cash. That theatre wasn’t waiting around waiting for things to start up. The theatre scene has changed and I hope it doesn’t stay this way at half capacity. Ontario just went full capacity so fingers crossed, but what has happened is that theatres realized they can make money virtually: ‘Diana: The Musical’, ‘Hamilton’ and ‘Come from Away’ are the first three examples that come to mind. I think theatres are realizing that some want theatres to be live for them and as you and I know, Joe, there is nothing like that in the world. Nothing beats live. But, there’s also that clientele who can’t attend live theatre and can afford $200.00 tickets. Filmed productions of live musicals are getting pretty good, and there are those who would like to see it as well but can’t afford to go live. I hope it doesn’t go back to zero capacity but theatres are thinking things through. Look at Stratford with the outdoor tents. I think theatres will be a little more prepared for things now that we are slowly emerging from Covid. What excites/intrigues/fascinates/interests Duff MacDonald post Covid? Oh, wow! (and Duff and I have a good laugh at his initial response) Well, I’m fascinated by the human condition and how people operate under the conditions we’ve been under and how we’ve adjusted and not adjusted. I’m also fascinated by the strength of the human spirit. So many things happened during the pandemic – Black Lives Matter, Juneteenth, attack on the U.S. Capitol, but we persevered through it all and learned some important lessons. Things won’t be the same ever again, but I’m fascinated by how things have to be taken to the extreme in order for humans to learn. It’s incredible how hard we have to fight to get what we want and get to where we want – and we’re still doing this, really Saskatchewan? really, Alberta (Duff is making reference to the Covid numbers in both provinces) What excites me are the possibilities of what we can do. What disappoints/unnerves/upsets Duff MacDonald post Covid? Stupidity (and Duff and I share a good laugh again) and no lack of logic. Where does Duff MacDonald, the artist, see himself going next? Like I said, I’ve been really trying to up my game. I see myself being better. I want to be as good as I can possibly be. As every audition come through, I want to do my best. If I don’t get the job, at least I know I did my best. Everything else is out of my control. I believe that’s the mantra of my industry. Where does Duff MacDonald, the person, see himself going next? Uh….(and Duff starts to laugh again) it’s so hard to separate the Duff artist and the Duff person. It’s so hard…as a person I’d love to care less MORE. (and Duff laughs again.) I’m in my 50s (almost 55), so when you hit your 50s, it’s I don’t give a shit, I don’t give a fuck. I wanna care less about what people think MORE. 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 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? Well, that’s kinda obvious. “Thank you.” 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? (Duff laughs) “Fuck you.” It’s part of my performing artist mantra in not giving a shit. What’s your favourite swear word? (And another good laugh from Duff) Actually, I like, and it’s a bad one…by the way, Joe, are you able to print these words? Okay, here it is. It’s a strange thing, but I always say, “Cock!” I ended up on a tv show and that was a line we had to say. The other character had to say, “Cock and balls!” But for me, for some reason, it’s “Cock!” What is a word you love to hear yourself say? It’s actually an Italian word, and when Italians pick up the phone and say (And Duff, in his best Italian on the spot, says): “Pronto!” I don’t know why, I just love saying the word: “Pronto”. What is a word you don’t like to hear yourself say? Well, it’s two words: “I can’t” What would you tell your younger personal self with the knowledge and wisdom life experience has now given you? “Hang on, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride” (and Duff says it again this time in an on-the-spot Bette Davis with an imaginary cigarette between his fingers). And then make sure your readers know they can watch my comedy show live, “The Duff Show” and see me do it live. With the professional life experience you’ve gained over the years as an artist, what would you now tell the upcoming Duff MacDonald from years ago who was just in the throes of beginning a career? Oh… take more dance classes and study more. Study music more extensively. What is one thing you still wish to accomplish both personally and professionally? Professionally, I’m also a writer and would love to have one of my scripts produced. Personally, I would like to be independently wealthy. (and another laugh from Duff) Name one moment in your professional career as an artist that you wish you could re-visit again for a short while. Hmmm…one moment…I would have probably stayed in ‘Les Misérables’ another year. The show was on its way back to Toronto after touring. I was offered another year and I said, “No”. Because I was a cocky 22-year-old. Can you imagine I said that? Who says “No” to another year of full-time work in “Les Mis”? Little idiot, me. What will Duff MacDonald not take for granted ever again? Oh, boy, it just hit me (and I could tell Duff was tearing up). My parents. Yep. Would Duff MacDonald do it all again if given the same opportunities? No. Completely, I call it divine order. Everything that happened, happened for a reason and put me where I am. I totally believe good and bad it all brought me to this place, and I’m talking to you, Joe. To follow Duff at Facebook: @duffmacdonaldmusic, Twitter: @DuffMacDonald and Instagram: @duffmacdonald To learn more about Duff, visit his webpage: Previous Next

  • Profiles Sarah Dodd

    Back Sarah Dodd Self Isolated Artist Ian Brown Joe Szekeres Since I’ve been reviewing for On Stage, it has been most rewarding if I become aware that Canadian professional actors and artists are following the blog and reading the articles. I was pleased when I received a message that Sarah Dodd started following me on Twitter. I had to think for a minute as I did recognize her name. And then it came to me that I saw Sarah in a wonderfully crafted performance of ‘The Front Page’ at the Stratford Festival last summer. Just this past fall, I had read Sarah would appear in a production of ‘Marjorie Prime’ at Coal Mine Theatre in the winter with a stellar cast that included Martha Henry. Sarah speaks highly about her experience in her profile. This play was one I did not want to miss. But I did as another On Stage Blog reviewer really wanted to see the production. And by opening night, most of the tickets were gone. Note to self: Don’t do that again if you see the cast is a dynamite powerhouse. In our line conversation, Sarah told me she likes to work on new plays as it is her favourite to do. Her professional background is quite impressive. Since 1996, she has been working off and on at The Stratford Festival and has worked with some of the country’s finest performers including Brian Bedford and Martha Henry. Other appearances include Tarragon Theatre and Nightwood Theatre. Sarah is also a recipient of two Dora awards, one for her work in Daniel McIvor’s ‘Marion Bridge’ and directed by Mr. McIvor himself, and the other for her ensemble work with thirteen other women at Nightwood for ‘The Penelopiad’. The more online interviews I’m conducting, the more I would love to meet these individuals in person. I’m hoping that will begin once this pandemic is lifted: 1. How have you been keeping during this crisis, Sarah? How have you and your family been doing? At the beginning, I didn’t do well. I walked into a grocery store after rehearsal around March 13th and everything was gone. No milk, no toilet paper, no meat, no canned goods and I immediately had a panic attack. I called my husband and he helped me through it. I came home empty handed and he got up at 6:30 am the next day and found the things we needed. He’s an incredible guy. Since then, I have tried to think of this time as exactly what it is…time. I get to be with my son, and I get to be with my husband. We are healthy, we love each other, we laugh a lot and there have been many desserts baked. The most important thing we have done is allow each other to have bad days. You want to stay in bed? No problem. Don’t want to talk? That’s fine too. Need to cry? Here’s a shoulder and a chocolate brownie. 2. As an artist, what has been the most difficult and the most challenging for you at this time? Seeing all of our community lose their jobs. It is overwhelming and devastating. I worry about how artists are going to pay bills and unexpected expenses. I worry about lost opportunities for younger actors who were about to explode onto the scene. I worry about the new work that has been cancelled and may never be seen. I worry that some theatres will have to close for good. Also, I desperately miss my friends and the rehearsal hall. 3. Were you involved in any projects (pre-production, rehearsals or production) when the lockdown occurred? What has become of these projects? I was in the first week of rehearsals for Susanna Fournier’s ‘Always Still the Dawn’ at Canadian Stage. It was two one acts, directed by Severn Thompson and Liza Balkan. I was in a room with three brilliant actresses: Sochi Fried, Fiona Sauder and Krystina Bojanowski. Across the table were two remarkable directors and the astonishing Susanna Fournier. Heaven! We started on Tuesday and by Friday it was over. Gone. It was shattering. Brendan and Monica at Canadian Stage were so good with us and very transparent about what was happening. I am forever grateful for their care. I have been told that we will be back, I just don’t know when. I was also going to do ‘Meet My Sister’ by Bonnie Green at the Lighthouse Festival. Liza was going to direct this, too. So, needless to say, Liza and I have had some virtual cocktails. We have heard that the show will be in the 2021 season. 4. What have you been doing during this time to keep yourself busy? My son is going into high school next year, so I’ve been helping him with his homework. He has approximately 4 to 5 hours a day. I help him with the math and science, my husband helps with English and French. I’ve also been doing a lot of gardening, walking the dog and reading. Lately, I’ve been attempting yoga, which has proven harder than the algebra. I like the lying down on the mat part and breathing. I also stay busy by panicking and drinking “a glass” of wine. 5. Do you have any words of wisdom or sage advice to performers who have been hit hard by the pandemic? Any advice to those new graduates from the theatre schools who have entered the industry at this tumultuous time? For graduates, I wish every theatre program in the country would set up a mentorship program. When you graduate you are given a mentor whom you can contact in times of uncertainty. For performers, I have no idea what advice I could give. I am at a complete loss and I think that’s okay. I have no clue what each day is going to be like and I’m reluctantly learning to take this one day at a time. I do know that as soon as this is over, I’m going to see a lot of plays. 6. Do you see anything positive stemming from COVID-19? I hope that the government takes a long hard look at the treatment of vulnerable persons. The elderly, women, and children in violent homes, the homeless. I’m hoping that long term care facilities will be overhauled, and that affordable housing will open up. It was easy enough for the government to say, “Stay inside”. Now, they need to provide safe and affordable places to do it. On a lighter note, it’s been nice to be able to hear cardinals without the din of traffic. 7. Will COVID-19 leave some lasting impact on the Canadian performing arts scene? I hope not. I think initially it’s going to be very difficult for institutions to assure audiences that it’s safe to come back. Once, we are able to assuage any fears, I think everyone will be overjoyed to get back in their seats. Artists are a sturdy folk. As soon as we are given the “all clear”, we are back at it with hearts open. 8. Some artists have been turning to You Tube or streaming/online presentations to showcase and share their work. What are your thoughts and ideas on this? Do you see any advantages or disadvantages? Will You Tube and streaming become part of the ‘new normal’ we are hearing so much about? My son and I have been watching the National Theatre and Stratford Festival live YouTube casts. It’s been great way to introduce him to different plays and interpretations of Shakespeare. He loves a good lighting grid and raucous stage fight, but even he said “it doesn’t feel the same”. He’s 13. The audience and the performers feed off each other, we create the space together and because of that, every night is different. You can never rebroadcast that experience. I think it’s a great advertisement tool. Anything that draws more audiences in is fantastic. 9. What is it about performing you still love even through these uncertain times? I am really lucky because I was performing ‘Marjorie Prime’ a few weeks before the closures. It was one of the best times I’ve ever had. We were welcomed by Ted and Diana at The Coal Mine Theatre with such trusting and open arms. Stewart Arnott directed us into his delicate and moving vision of the play with such heart and humor. Martha, Beau, Gord and I were a loving quartet. We shared a dressing room, laughed our butts off, shared stories and experiences and we kept Martha well stocked with chips. If anyone missed or jumped a line (and we all did it), without a beat the other person just moved on. We listened to each other, we trusted each other, and we respected each other. It was perfect. That’s what I love. That is what keeps me going. That is what I hope for every artist: Love, Work, Community, Respect. As a nod to ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton, here are ten questions he asked his guests at the conclusion of his interview: 1. What is your favourite word? Welcome 2. What is your least favourite word? Actually 3. What turns you on? Invitations 4. What turns you off? Explanations 5. What sound or noise do you love? My son’s laughter 6. What sound or noise bothers you? Shouting 7. What is your favourite curse word? Dick 8. Other than your own at this moment, what other profession would you have liked to try? Architect 9. What profession could you not see yourself doing? Masseuse 10. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates? “I loved you in ‘Paradise Lost’” Previous Next

  • Profiles Ravi Jain

    Back Ravi Jain Canadian Chat David Leclerc Joe Szekeres There are some artists with whom I’ve wanted to converse during the pandemic and events did not allow us to chat. Ravi Jain is one of them. We’ve been playing email tag throughout the pandemic. He and his wife are parents of an adorable little guy, so I understood completely family responsibilities must come first. Ravi is the Co-artistic Director and founder of Toronto’s Why Not Theatre. From his bio on Why Not’s website: “Ravi is a multi-award-winning artist known for making politically bold and accessible theatrical experiences in both small indie productions and large theatres. As the founding artistic director of Why Not Theatre, Ravi has established himself as an artistic leader for his inventive productions, international producing/collaborations and innovative producing models which are aimed to better support emerging artists to make money from their art.” Ravi was twice shortlisted for the 2016 and 2019 Siminovitch Prize and won the 2012 Pauline McGibbon Award for Emerging Director and the 2016 Canada Council John Hirsch Prize for direction. He is a graduate of the two-year program at École Jacques Lecoq. He was selected to be on the roster of clowns for Cirque du Soleil. Currently, Sea Sick which he co-directed will be on at the National Theatre in London, his adaptation of The Indian epic Mahabarata will premier at the Shaw Festival, and What You Won’t Do For Love, starring David Suzuki will premier in Vancouver in 2021. I saw his production of ‘R &J’ this summer at Ontario’s Stratford Festival, and as a retired teacher of English Language and Literature I hope teachers will take advantage of showing the production to their classes when teaching ‘Romeo & Juliet’. We conducted our conversation via Zoom this morning. Ravi was on a walk with his little guy while we chatted so I got a chance to see his beautiful little boy. Thank you so much for your time, Ravi: Since we’ve just celebrated Thanksgiving, tell me about one teacher and one mentor in your life for whom you are thankful and who brought you to this point in your life as an artist. Oh, well, a teacher for sure is Jim Calder who was a Graduate Movement professor at NYU. I took his course in Italy and we became quite close. He actually went to Lecoq School with Dean Gilmour and Michele Smith. Jim was an amazing teacher – brilliant philosophically, brilliant practically – and just inspired me to go that one step further; that for my imagination there was always that one step further to go a little bit further, a little bit farther. I always think of Jim when I’m in a problem trying to go a little bit further. He always inspired me to do that. A mentor, for sure, is Franco Boni, who was the Artistic Director of The Theatre Centre. He always empowered me to follow my voice and to be fearless and to not be afraid of saying ‘the thing’ or doing ‘the thing’ and taking the risk. 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 eighteen months on a personal level? You know, I don’t think I have. Well, first of all, I’ve had a baby with my wife so that has been a life changing event to have this new person to take care of, to laugh with, and not to sleep with. (and we share a quick laugh) That, I feel, very different, older, more mature, and more responsible, for sure. But in terms of coming out of Covid? I don’t feel we’re out of it. I feel like some people want desperately to be out of it and other people are still feeling the impact of it, especially with all of these conversations we’ve had about inequities. Those didn’t go away. On a personal level, I still feel like we’re in Covid still and there are still a lot of unresolved things that I don’t yet know how to reconcile. As an artist, how have these last eighteen months changed or transformed you as a professional artist? It’s been great to be quiet for a little bit, and to just be reflective and to think about what role art can play to help people, especially in a time when so much help is needed. It’s given me a time to think about what it is I really want to do and why. It’s been a time of reflection which is good as an artist for me. It’s a time to go deeper and ask WHY. Why am I doing this? In your professional opinion, do you see the global landscape of the Canadian professional live theatre scene changing as a result of these last eighteen months? In some ways, Yes, but in a lot of ways, No. In some ways yes because I think people are talking about inequities and there are some changes, but on the whole there’s not a lot of change. I don’t see a lot of change. One has to always stay hopeful, but I don’t see it so I’m not sure about it. It’s a tricky one because I want to stay hopeful because I’ve been in some pretty dark places these last 18 months. What excites/intrigues/fascinates/interests Ravi Jain post Covid? I’m really excited about what is this all going to be (and Ravi and I share another quick laugh) What is travel in a world of a climate emergency? What is gathering in a world of Covid? I’m still very curious to see how this is all going to play out, and all these conversations about inequities and racial injustice. What is it all going to be? I still have yet to see it manifest, and it could be really exciting or it could not change. I’m staying on the exciting side in hopefully seeing what the other side will be. What disappoints/unnerves/upsets Ravi Jain post Covid? Mean shit. This idea that we’re back, the desperate desire to be back. And I suffer from it as well. I equally have it inside me, and I have to check myself because we’re not. I know we all want to do this but we gotta do it right. That was the real challenge I had this summer (in directing R&J at the Stratford Festival). We were in rehearsal and making a show. It was a strange experience because on one hand we were making a show, and it was great to be working with the artists and making change, and to take the opportunity to do something, AND at the same time know that two thirds of the industry wasn’t working. It’s hard. What’s unnerving to me is that some people will be back and some won’t. What are we going to be doing about that? Where does Ravi Jain, the artist, see himself going next? Oh, man. I’m still searching for exciting stories and exciting ways to tell them. I don’t know if I’ve ever chosen the direction I’ve ever gone. It always appeared and chose me, so I’m really waiting. I’ve been playing with larger scale work. It’s been really exciting as it brings with it a whole bunch of challenges. Maybe I’m itching to do something small? I don’t know. I’m very open and maybe, for the first time in my life, I’m really patient. Where does Ravi Jain, the person, see himself going next? Obviously, with a baby, our lives have changed which has been great. I’m someone who’s always been somewhere else whether I’m travelling or responsible to a rehearsal hall at night, and it’s been really great to have this time with my family and to make time for my family. I’ve lost so much of my family time to the arts just with late nights and weekends, and all the demands the arts takes from you. I’ve really lost a good amount of family time over my lifetime. To have this time is an important place for me to continue to grow. RAPID ROUND Try to answer these questions 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 The Actors’ Studio for this idea: If you could say one thing to one of your teachers and/or mentors who encouraged you to get to this point in your life as an artist, what would it be? Thank you for believing in me. If you could say something to any of the naysayers who didn’t think you would make it as an artist, what would it be? I told you so. What is your favourite swear word? It has to be Fuck. What is a word you love to hear yourself say? Ah…. Again. What is a word you don’t like to hear yourself say? Disappointed. What would you tell your younger PERSONAL self with the knowledge and wisdom life experience has given you now? Work isn’t everything. With the professional life experience you’ve gained over the years, what would you now tell the upcoming Ravi Jain from years ago when he was just in the throes of beginning his career as a performing artist? It’s a total contradiction to the other one. Work is everything. Just don’t stop moving and don’t let anyone say no. Just keep going. What is the one thing you still want to accomplish professionally and personally? Personally and professionally, I think I would love to run a larger civic organization. It’s about a responsibility and a larger impacting conversation with the city. Name one moment in your professional career as an artist that you wish you could re-visit for a short while. Oh, man, my 30s. (and Ravi has a good laugh over that) What will Ravi Jain never take for granted again post Covid? The impact of blind decisions on other people. Would Ravi Jain do it all again if given the same opportunities? Oh, yeah, 100%. Joe, did anyone ever say No to that question? Previous Next

  • Profiles Jac Yarrow and Ben Mark Turner

    Back Jac Yarrow and Ben Mark Turner Looking Ahead L-R: Jac Yarrow and Ben Mark Turner. Photos provided by Mirvish Productions Joe Szekeres compiled Jac's and Ben's answers ‘Joseph’ fever has struck the city of Toronto once again. Word has it the show is on its pre-Broadway run. Thank you to Mirvish Productions for allowing me to e interview Jac Yarrow who will play Joseph and Ben Michael Turner, the Musical Director, of this newest production of ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’ One tidbit of information. Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber gave his blessing to Yarrow to play the title character. How does Jac still feel about it: “When Having Lord Lloyd Webber see my audition and think I was capable of being up on the London Palladium stage, playing this iconic character is still unbelievable to me. I will be forever grateful to Andrew for taking a chance on a new kid like me. It’s an experience that has shaped my life.” Can you please share where you completed your training as an artist? Jac: I attended The Arts Educational Schools, London (ArtsEd). Ben: I read music at King’s College London; I received my performance training from voice tutors at the Royal Academy of Music, and I was a conducting scholar of Sing for Pleasure. In between rehearsals and performances here in Toronto, I am currently writing up my Master's thesis - which I am also completing at King’s, albeit from a distance… How are you feeling both personally and professionally about this gradual return to the live performing arts even though Covid is still present? Jac: Naturally I’m so happy to be back on stage after such a frightening, unpredictable time. To share a theatrical experience with live audiences after so long feels so special. It’s something I won’t take for granted, ever. Ben: Personally, and professionally, I am utterly thrilled about the safe return to live performance. The pandemic was a uniquely isolating time. Being able to come together once again, to create and share in the glorious experience of live performance, feels like a definitive, joyful step towards rekindling life as we used to know it. At the Princess of Wales, we are testing twice weekly, wearing masks backstage and adhering to the latest guidance; it feels like a very small price to pay for safely returning to work and be able to bring this gorgeous show to this wonderful city. How have rehearsals gone so far here in Toronto as you prepare for this Toronto engagement of JOSEPH? Jac: Rehearsals have been so exciting. We have Vanessa Fisher joining us here as the Narrator and Tosh Wonogho-Maud as Pharaoh. Along with a fresh batch of 16 Canadian kids (Two teams of 8.) It’s brilliant to see the new takes on these roles and to feel the buzz from these new cast members, who are raring to go. Ben: It has been so lovely to rehearse in Toronto. Collaborating with the musicians here as we workshopped the new 14-piece orchestration was a personal highlight. Combining Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s music with these magnificent players has made for a truly extraordinary musical experience. Our young acting company (also made up of Toronto’s finest) has taken the challenge of learning this mammoth show in their stride. It filled my soul with pure joy to see our first audience shower them with the love and praise they truly deserved. n.b. they also took mocking my British-isms and pointing out my lack of Canada-appropriate attire in their stride, but that’s beside the point… Is this your first visit to Toronto? What has it been like for you? Jac: Yes, it’s my first time in Toronto! I love it here. I’ve been to a Raptors game, explored the city, shopped am desperate to try Puppy Yoga! I’m so glad we’re here for multiple weeks (10 weeks) so I can fit in as much sightseeing as I can. The people are also some of the loveliest people I’ve ever met. We’ve been welcomed here with open arms and it’s so lovely. Ben: I have never been to Canada before and absolutely love it. It is frightfully chilly though, isn’t it? – and I’m promised it’s only going to get colder. Nevertheless, I’ve found that there are a few things here that can’t be fixed by a plate of poutine and a glass of ice wine. Our dark day is a Monday, so I begin my week living my best tourist life. I’ve started with the classics (the CN Tower, St. Lawrence’s Market, Niagara Falls etc.) – obviously – but we’re here until February and I’m a massive foodie so any niche ‘must-do’ suggestions would be hugely welcomed. These last 2-plus years have most certainly altered the face of the live performing arts scene worldwide. Tell me how you’re both personally and professionally feeling and experiencing this JOSEPH. What is it about this new London Palladium production that you believe will make it worthwhile for Toronto audiences to see this Christmas and holiday season, and well into 2023? Jac: Joseph is a timeless show. The music is so iconic and resonates with so many generations. That’s why I believe it has stood the test of time. This particular production of Joseph is not to be missed as the show has been completely reimagined for a more modern audience. The colourful story is presented on a huge, lavish set with beautiful, colourful costumes, athletic dancing, glorious voices, and real theatre magic. Direct from the stage of the London Palladium, our production of Joseph has all the excitement and surprises it did in London's West End. Ben: Joseph was Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice’s first collaboration in 1968. Back then it was only fifteen minutes long and it was performed as a one-off pop cantata in a school in south London. This year we took Laurence’s Palladium production around the UK to eighteen cities, and it was truly remarkable to see the show’s fifty-year history sewn into the fabric of British culture. From the first ‘Any Dream Will Do’, two thousand people in the Liverpool Empire Theatre were singing along with the “ahs”, reciting the colours of the coat, clapping the accelerando in ‘Potiphar’, and dancing in the aisles to the ‘Megamix’. Ben: At our first preview last Sunday, there was a wonderful exchange when the audience at the Princess of Wales let us in on their Joseph story: clapping, dancing, and singing along, just as they did with Donny Osmond in the nineties and with every Joseph since. To me, this new production, and its North American premiere, feel like the start of a glorious new chapter in Joseph’s history, as a new generation of theatregoers – led by lifelong fans of the show – take this iconic story and its music into their hearts. There is something irresistibly infectious about the joy that pours out of this show every night, we are so thrilled to have brought it to Toronto for the festive season, and I feel incredibly lucky to be a small cog in amongst it all. Once JOSEPH has concluded its run, Jac, what’s next for each of you? Jac: I can’t say as of yet. I’m trying to soak up my last few weeks playing the role after four years with the show. Joseph has been a huge part of my life and I will miss both the show and the role very dearly. ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’ opens Friday, December 16 at The Princess of Wales and runs through the Christmas and holiday season to February 18, 2023. For tickets, visit or call 1-800-461-3333. Previous Next

  • Profiles Shawn Wright

    Back Shawn Wright Looking Ahead David Leyes Joe Szekeres Shawn and I conducted our conversation through email. When he sent me his headshot, I kept thinking I have seen his work onstage, but where? Forgive me, Shawn, but I had to do a bit of research to see where I’ve seen you before on stage. And then it came clear to me as I remembered his performance as Geppetto in Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre production of ‘The Adventures of Pinocchio’. You brought a tear to my eye as the father who never gave up on his son no matter the odds. And I did see the original Toronto cast of ‘Jersey Boys’. I wasn’t reviewing at that time but loved every minute of that production. Nice work. Shawn holds an Honors B.A. in English Literature from the University of New Brunswick. Mid-career, he trained at Shakespeare & Company in Massachusetts. Other credits include: London Road, The Arsonists (Canadian Stage); the title role in Pal Joey (Theatre Calgary), Les Miserables,; 7 seasons at Stratford Festival; 6 seasons at Shaw Festival; 2 seasons as Matthew in Anne of Green Gables (Charlottetown Festival), Lord of the Rings (Mirvish); Mamma Mia! (Original USA cast); Jersey Boys (Original Toronto cast); Ragtime (original Broadway workshop cast), Oleanna (TNB); Mikado (Pacific Opera); Next to Normal (MTC); Anne of Green Gables (Charlottetown Festival); Oliver! (NAC). Playwright: Ghost Light (published by Playwrights Canada Press); seven productions so far, including a nomination for the international LAMBDA award. Awards: Dora, Guthrie, Newton, MyEntertainment plus many Broadway World nominations. Thank you for taking the time, Shawn, and for adding to the discussion of where you see live theatre headed in a post pandemic world: It’s a harsh reality that the worldwide pandemic of Covid 19 has changed all of us. Describe how your understanding of the world you know and how your perception and experience have changed on a personal level. Ok, that's a two-part question. The world I knew? What was the world I knew before March 13, 2020? On March 12, 2020, I was in the midst of a four-month Canadian tour of a play I'd written entitled ‘Ghost Light’. In May and June 2020, I was supposed to act in "On Golden Pond" with two of my childhood idols, Hal Linden and Michael Learned. In July 2020 I was supposed to start “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" in Toronto. I was happy that after a few months on the road I could walk to work from my own condo in a show that was projected to run for a few years. I was single. I was happy with my lot in life. After March 13, 2020? Ghost Light closed on the road; my upcoming shows were postponed until God knows when. I flew back to Toronto, collected CERB while waiting for college zoom teaching jobs, joined a dating site and met someone great (still together one year later), followed all the important and necessary social and cultural movements with awe and hope, felt happy for the small strides that were starting to happen in that regard, started to reckon with how white privilege was a factor in keeping me working all these years, taught acting by zoom at a few colleges, did a few voice over jobs and commercials, wondered if there would be a place for me in the theatre again, and ...oh, yeah,...basically worried day and night about breathing the wrong air and dying. With live indoor theatre shut for one year plus, with it appearing it may not re-open any time soon, how has your understanding and perception as a professional artist of the live theatre industry been altered and changed? How has my understanding of the theatre changed? Well, large productions (which have been most of my income) will take longer to get going than smaller productions (where i make some but not most of my income). There will be (hopefully) more of an equal distribution of casting in terms of an actor's race and gender and size (which is good) but probably not of an actor's age (which might be bad....for me). As a professional artist, what are you missing the most about the live theatre industry? I miss the laughs in the dressing room from the half hour call to the places call. I miss the satisfaction of a full day's work in my chosen field. I miss the boisterous rush of adrenaline-fuelled chat walking from the stage to the dressing room after a curtain call. i miss the fitting rooms with designers. i miss the glorious relaxation of being in a character I wear well in front of an audience. Well, ok, the industry and the art are two different things so....hmmm, what do i miss about the industry per se? The opening night parties, seeing my name on a poster alongside artists I admire, being part of a community that rallies at the drop of a hat to help a failing theatre company or an ailing colleague. I miss the memorials because we can't gather right now. In February 2020, we had a lovely send off for Mary Haney at a neighborhood pub. It was sweet and touching and raucous and full of love for Mary. There's a queue of dear others for whom we are waiting to do that. As a professional artist, what is the one thing you will never take for granted again in the live theatre industry when you return to it? Having a job in theatre. Having audiences come to our plays. I never really took those things for granted anyway. Describe one element you hope has changed concerning the live theatre industry. That everyone feels heard and represented. Explain what specifically you believe you must still accomplish within the industry. "Must" still accomplish? I don't think in terms of 'must' anymore. I've been proud of the career I've had pre-Covid because it's been exceptionally varied but I'm most proud of the fact that for over 30 years I've been able to make a full time living in the theatre. I WANT to keep accomplishing that. I guess I MUST accomplish that to pay my bills. Some artists are saying that audiences must be prepared for a tsunami of Covid themed stories in the return to live theatre. Would you elaborate on this statement both as an artist in the theatre, and as an audience member observing the theatre. I'd be grateful to be cast in a Covid themed play. I'd be happy to watch a Covid themed play. As an artist, what specifically is it about your work that you want future audiences to remember about you? I'd like to be remembered as an artist whose work was heart-felt and detailed. To follow Shawn Wright at Instagram: mistershawnwright / Facebook: Shawn Wright Previous Next

  • Profiles Sadie Berlin

    Back Sadie Berlin Theatre Conversation in a Covid World HAUI Joe Szekeres I’ve been discovering the work of more and more worthy professional theatre companies where I would really like to attend their productions. I had heard of b current before but knew very little of the company until now. From its website: “b current is the hotbed for culturally-rooted theatre development in Toronto. Originally founded as a place for Black artists to create, nurture, and present their new works, our company has grown to support artists from all diasporas. We strived over two decades to create space for diverse voices to be heard, always with a focus on engaging the communities from which our stories emerge. As a result, these communities trust our company and respect the work that we do. Whether our audiences identify with our work through ethnic experience, social values, or political awareness, these groups are loyal to our programming because they recognize the high level of cultural authenticity and integrity we foster in our artists and their works.” With such an important focus, I also became aware that b current now has a new Artistic Director: Sadie Berlin. She is a writer, director, producer and now the Artistic Director of b current. She has a practice in performance art where she focuses on durational work. The alphabet soup at the bottom of her signature alludes post-graduate and professional degrees. We conducted our conversation via email. Thank you so much, Sadie, for taking the time to add your voice to this important discussion. I look forward to meeting you in person soon to say hello to you: We are now one year in with very few signs at this time that live theatre will return fully any time soon. How have you been faring during this time? Your immediate family? Although I am about as secular as one can get, I sometimes think the Fates have me in their crosshairs. I find it a whimsical way of thinking about the ups and downs of life; imagining biddies busying themselves at playing around with the next twist and turn of my life. After the first couple of weeks of lockdown, I started getting more work than ever. As an artist, you work, create, plant seeds, network, parlay yourself into better and better paying work. I thought the pandemic would stop my career in its tracks, the opposite happened. My partner who would self-define as a recluse has gained self-knowledge on the limits of his need for isolation. My elderly mother, who still lives in my hometown of Montreal, had her first shot weeks ago and has been able somehow to keep her spirits up through the pandemic. How have you been spending your time since the theatre industry has been locked up tight as a drum? I never stopped working. When lockdown came, I was curating a series of articles, a covid-proof endeavour. When I was called back to work at The Lab of the Stratford Festival in the Spring, we worked on finding ways to support as many artists as possible through different initiatives, digital projects, and commissions. I have left the Festival to take the helm at b current and that, of course, is occupying all my time. It’s strange to be so fortunate through such difficult times and, of course, because the grass is always greener, I have moments when I envy those who have a chance to rest and think. I am a firm believer in wallowing. When I get upset, I give myself a limited number of hours to feel sorry for myself. Capitalist democracy and its prescriptive optimism, happiness and creepy, exaggerated smiles has never aligned with me. It’s ok to be angry, frustrated and upset right now. And for theatre artists, I understand the feeling of dysphoria as people are at home watching Netflix without realising how much theatre and its artists contribute to the tv and film industries. On the first week of lockdown, I posted the seven volume, original French version of Remembrance of Things Past and thought I would finally be able to get past Book ne. And then for Winter, I purchased a MIDI keyboard and thought I would compose music. I got wool for knitting projects. I purchased a fe Domestika courses just for fun. But there really hasn’t been any time for hobbies. The late Hal Prince described the theatre as an escape for him. Would you say that Covid has been an escape for you, or would you describe this near year long absence from the theatre as something else? I have keenly felt the absence of sharing space with other artists. In Pretend It’s a City, Lebowitz says that hanging out is the history of art. Forget social media or Zoom, nothing can substitute having a heated discussion about the nature of art at 2am in a dive joint. Until very recently, I was holding up better than most. I’m an only child and solitude never phased me. But I don’t feel liberated. I feel like I’ve been waiting outside my assigned gate at an airport for 13 months. I’ve interviewed a few artists several months ago who said that the theatre industry will probably be shut down and not go full head on until at least 2022. There may be pockets of outdoor theatre where safety protocols are in place. What are your comments about this? Do you think you and your colleagues/fellow artists will not return until 2022? I’m not sure whether this story is true, but it should be: I once heard about an African ant that lives colonies of millions and is deadly to all organic matter. The ants follow the same path every year. And so, once a year, every village on the ants’ path, pack up their clothes and pets and livestock and move off the path of the ant for a couple of days. They villagers come back to pristine village. I think how a western mindset would address this issue. I imagine the invention of poisons and extensive and environmentally impactful barriers. I conjure up Texans shooting the ants with their guns, an ungenerous but hilarious thought that might pass through my mind. One thing Covid has taught me is humility. I am no fatalist, but I respect Covid, the same way I respect bears: by staying out of the way. I am watching and waiting and, to me, it feels insolent to make any prediction whatsoever. Like tempting the Fates. I had a discussion recently with an Equity actor who said that yes theatre should not only entertain but, more importantly, it should transform both the actor and the audience. How has Covid transformed you in your understanding of the theatre and where it is headed in a post Covid world? I actually feel the assassinations of Breanna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Regis Korchisky-Paquet, Chantel Moore and so many others, have had a greater transformative impact on how I view my work. Covid doesn’t have a conscience, but society should. I’ve always hesitated between pursuing a life in the arts and working in social justice. The arts won but I will no longer work on projects that reinforce the status quo. I will no longer apologize for harping on about race and politics. Whatever the future holds, I will be a different person in it. The Hindu goddess Kali, the goddess of destruction and creativity is a great guide for me. Covid has given us a chance at self-renewal – gosh, I feel terrible writing this as I think of frontline workers, indigent children with poor wifi who are barely getting an education right now. It’s fair to imagine that most don’t have the luxury to ponder lofty cogitations. The late Zoe Caldwell spoke about how actors should feel danger in the work. It’s a solid and swell thing to have if the actor/artist and the audience both feel it. Would you agree with Ms. Caldwell? Have you ever felt danger during this time of Covid and do you believe it will somehow influence your work when you return to the theatre? Before Covid, “safety” had been a buzz word in theatre for some years. I feel we are shying away from any kind of danger, be it physical, emotional, aesthetic… it will change the art that we make but I don’t see any other way. This is the culture right now. I was in Berlin just before the pandemic became known to the world and every play, I saw, would have resulted in a call to Equity on the first day of rehearsal over here. And the entire culture is concerned about safety and that will affect the arts as well. Would Robert Mapplethorpe be the artist that he became without clubs like The Mineshaft? The possible de-radicalisation of art keeps me up at night. Because safety is never radical. Because safety is not visceral. On the other hand, do I want to see artists in “danger” of any kind or any form? Of course not. My outlet is my performance art practice where safety is a dirty word, the important distinction being that with performance art, every artist gets to own and control their process. The late scenic designer Ming Cho Lee spoke about great art opening doors and making us feel more sensitive. Has this time of Covid made you sensitive to our world and has it made some impact on your life in such a way that you will bring this back with you to the theatre? God, I hope not. Actually, what I hope for is the pandemic and everything around it to course its way through my corpus callosum until it is forklifted to deeper recesses of my mind. From there it can work its way back into a related but perhaps unrecognisable idea. Again, the civil unrest of the last year has had a much greater impact on me than the pandemic. More sensitivity is the last thing I need, especially after hearing Tennessee Williams’s adage that the secret to happiness is insensitivity. Seriously though, I believe in the great French adage: “chassez le naturel, il revient au galop”. In other words, we never really change. Again, the late Hal Prince spoke of the fact that theatre should trigger curiosity in the actor/artist and the audience. Has Covid sparked any curiosity in you about something during this time? Has this time away from the theatre sparked further curiosity for you when you return to this art form? I’m not sure it is possible to be more curious than I am in normal times but, as Covid forced me to get out and go for walks instead of the gym, my relationship with nature has deepened. I am very privileged to have access to the natural world where I live and, without Covid, I’m not sure I would have spent as much time pondering life’s cycles and our place in the natural world. I think of everything in more holistic terms now and I am sure this will affect my art practice. To learn more about b current, visit . You can also follow b current on its Facebook Page: @bcurrentLIVE; Twitter: @bcurrentLIVE; Instagram: @bcurrentlive To follow Sadie Berlin at Twitter: @artysadie and IG: @sadiediamorphine Previous Next

  • Profiles Kevin Bundy

    Back Kevin Bundy Looking Ahead Trish Lindström Joe Szekeres There are no pretentious airs whatsoever with artist Kevin Bundy. He strikes me as one of those guys to whom you could say let’s go for a beer and talk further. And I’m sure he would even buy a round, right, Kevin? I’ve seen his work on stage many times at Soulpepper in ‘Sisters’, ‘A Christmas Carol’ and in ‘Carmel’ at 4th Line Theatre. Kevin’s work on stage has been diverse, and whenever I see his name in the programme or in publicity, I know for certain that he will always deliver an excellent live performance. Kevin completed his theatre training at Montreal’s National Theatre School from 1984-1987. He was also at the Banff School for Fine Arts and took the Summer Drama Program. He has worked at many theatres across the country including Stratford, Shaw, Soulpepper, and Necessary Angel. There are still many theatres across the country where he would love to work. We conducted our conversation via Zoom and shared some good laughs. Thank you so much, Kevin, for adding your voice to this profile series: It’s a harsh reality that the worldwide pandemic of Covid 19 has changed all of us. Describe how your understanding of the world you know and how your perception and experience have changed on a personal level. Wow!!! That’s a big question to begin with, Joe (and Kevin and I share a quick laugh). I realize that being an actor for somebody who works mainly in front of a live audience, that I value and my personal worth partly from those live performances. Personally, I do as well as an actor and an artist. I realize during this time that my self worth was put in great jeopardy because I don’t get that feedback from a live audience which I personally need so that’s been tough. So, I’ve discovered what and how my own personal worth is in terms of my acting and my contributions to the profession and then, also hand in hand with that in my personal life, what have I done? What I have I achieved? What is of value that I attempted to achieve? All of those things really, boy for me, come into question. I was listening to an interview on the CBC where the interviewee was stating that, as an artist who performs live in front of an audience for six years now, he gauges his self worth on what he gets back from the audience; he said that he doesn’t get that anymore on account of Covid. And I thought, “Oh my God, I’m having those same exact thoughts.” What we have to try to do in these times, at least for me, is not to try deriving self worth from our profession anymore but take some time alone to decide who I am. This is the edge of a giant therapy session. (and we two share another laugh) Those are the big questions of my profession. This is who I am in my profession, and now that that’s gone, who am I? With live indoor theatre shut now for one year plus, with it appearing it may not re-open any time soon, how has your understanding and perception as a professional artist of the live theatre industry been altered and changed? Because of my profession, I think it’s important to attend live theatre and perform live theatre. Because it hasn’t been around for these last sixteen months indoors (and God knows how much longer), to me, now, it’s essential. Live theatre has become that much more important in people’s lives, and I hear that from other people who say, “You know what I miss? I miss live theatre.” I thought they were going to say ‘going to the movies’. Friends of mine who don’t attend a lot of live theatre say they’re looking forward to that time when they will have that chance to attend a show when they choose to do so. So, the answer to that question is it’s gone from being an important part of our lives to being an essential part of our lives. The fact that live theatre was gone raised the bar on how important and essential it is. As a professional artist, what are you missing the most about the live theatre industry? There’s so much I miss. I miss rehearsing a part. I miss researching a part. I miss getting into a part. I miss the people in the rehearsal hall. And there’s something about that last run through in the rehearsal hall before you hit the deck. It’s always so magical. There’s always something amazing happens because we try to put as many of these pieces together as we can before it gets taken apart again. That last run through in the rehearsal hall – I really, really miss that. I miss seeing my colleagues do really good work when you go see something and tell that person after, “I didn’t know you could do that” or “I knew you could but boy you blew it out of the water.” I really miss seeing actors and artists doing really good work and being thrilled by it. That’s what I miss a lot. I miss seeing my friends doing great things, but I always want to go and perform live theatre and take people away in the same way my friends and colleagues do. As a professional artist, what is the one thing you will never take for granted again in the live theatre industry when you return to it? Oh, yeah…that human connection in the room. So many times, what we’re doing now (and Kevin points to his computer screen), the Zoom call, the Zoom room, the Zoom audition, the Zoom workshops, we’ve all done lots of them now. But it’s real human connection with someone else in the room. That is greatness, so I’ll never take real human connection for granted ever again. Describe one element you hope has changed concerning the live theatre industry. (Before Kevin answered this question, I let him know several artists found it difficult to narrow it down to one element, and amusingly stated they would like to cheat on this question and add many elements.) I can see why people want to cheat on this question and say they want to use the word ‘many’ elements instead of just one… (Kevin gave a long pause and I could sense he wanted to say it right and state it right) This is what I think. I think the standard will go up. After these last fifteen, sixteen months away, when we return to the theatre we have to raise the standard, and say that we, as artists, have to do better and to make this medium and profession better. The medium and profession can’t go on the way it has gone on for so long. We will ensure this profession’s bar is raised to the highest standards and expect a higher level of ourselves, our performers, and our writers. That’s what I think. The last fifteen months with social movements throughout the entire country will only assist in raising the standards of equity, diversity, and inclusivity even further to make this medium and profession even better. Explain what specifically you believe you must still accomplish within the theatre industry. Oh, wow, that I must still accomplish. I must still accomplish getting another job. (and we share another good laugh). The one thing that I would like to be able to…I like to be able to accomplish effecting somebody who is younger and who wants to be in the profession. It is so hard to break into this profession, and even if you do, to maintain and sustain a career in it. I would like to influence and affect somebody to want to continue to be in this profession. There are loads of theatre schools and lots of theatre graduates. There are a lot of people as well asking what’s happening here, and I hope I can influence someone to want to move forward in this profession. I hope I’ve done that so far. Yes, there are harsh realties of the business, but I hope I can help younger actors find that magic in it, the beauty of it, the poetry and greatness this industry holds. Some artists are saying that audiences must be prepared for a tsunami of Covid themed stories in the return to live theatre. Would you elaborate on this statement both as an artist in the theatre, and as an audience member observing the theatre. (And again, I let Kevin know first how some artists truly felt about this future possible wave of Covid themed plays and stories) Joe, you said several other artists told you there would be no fucking way they would attend a Covid themed play. I understand why people might answer this question in saying that. It’s inevitable that there are going to be Covid themed stories and plays because it’s an era. It’s an era that has happened to humanity so it’s not going to be denied or ignored. I think audiences might get bored with Covid related stories and plays early on, but this is a time of all of us trying to find out who we are. This has been a major time in humanity as we’re all trying to figure out who we are. In a way, I say the opposite to no fucking way. I say, “Bring it the fuck on” (and we share another good laugh). I do get it, but for sure it’s gonna happen. As a professional artist, what specifically is it about your work that you want future audiences to remember about you? Oh, oh, great question, Joe! I want audiences to remember that they were taken outside of themselves. I would like them hopefully to be moved by something I did or were different in the way they left from the way they entered the theatre by something I did, by an interpretation that I was able to do with someone else’s words, or somebody else’s text. That’s what I would hope they would remember me by. Not with humour or melodrama, drama, or anything like that. But just generally overall hopefully I’ve moved an audience member into better insight into themselves or humanity. Is that a really lengthy answer, Joe? (and Kevin and I share another good laugh) C’mon, what did other people say? Previous Next

  • Profiles Mitchell Marcus

    Back Mitchell Marcus Moving Forward Dahlia Katz Joe Szekeres Just hearing about all the accomplishments of Mitchell Marcus within the professional performing arts community makes him a mover, shaker and leader within the theatre industry. Recently named to Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 (2019), he is the founder and Artistic & Managing Director of The Musical Stage Company – Canada’s leading and largest not-for-profit musical theatre company. Over sixteen years, The Musical Stage Company (previously Acting Up Stage Company) productions have been recognized with 105 Dora Award nominations, 23 Dora Awards and 19 Toronto Theatre Critics’ Awards and programming partnerships have been built with Mirvish, the Elgin Winter Garden Theatre Centre, Canadian Stage, AGO, TIFF, Massey Hall, Obsidian Theatre Company, and the Regent Park School of Music amongst others. Outside of The Musical Stage Company, Mitchell was the Associate Producer for the inaugural six years of Luminato, producing over 100 productions for one-million attendees annually. Mitchell has twice been the Creative Producer for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize as well as the producer of the Dora Awards. He organized four years of It’s Always Something, working with a team that raised over $500,000 annually for Gilda’s Club Greater Toronto. He is active on committees that service the arts community, serves as an advisor to the Metcalf Foundation for its Creative Strategies Incubator program, a member of Sheridan College’s Performing Arts Committee, a member of the Dora Eligibility Committee, and a member of the Advisory Committee of the Canadian Musical Theatre Writers Collective. Mitchell has held positions in the arts management departments at UofT and Ryerson University. Mitchell is the recipient of the 2017 The Leonard McHardy and John Harvey Award for Outstanding Leadership in Administration, a Harold Award, and was a finalist for the 2018 Roy Thomson Hall Award from the Toronto Arts Foundation recognizing contributions to Toronto’s musical life. I am grateful and thankful he took the time to participate in the conversation via email: It has been an exceptionally long six months since we’ve all been in isolation, and now it appears 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? Without discounting all the sadness of illness, destruction, injustice and loss, I have loved watching and participating in a global demonstration of resilience. There are, of course, so many things we are no longer able to do, but it’s been astonishing how quickly we can pivot as a species, adjusting to working-from-home, moving our lifestyles to the beauty of our outdoors, and adapting our thirst for global adventure into one more local. More importantly than the resiliency and speed of adaptation, I’ve loved seeing how many of us have found silver linings in this new routine which has forced us to challenge our expectations of what we thought life would bring and return to a simpler, more true sense of self and aspiration. In that regard, while I am certainly feeling scared about the increase in COVID-cases and frustrated by the barrage of human injustice that makes headlines every day, I am actually feeling quite optimistic and content. It’s fascinating to witness a historic moment of change like the one we are in. And I’m hopeful that what we are learning and reflecting upon during this time is going to lead to something very special on the other end. Look at how much we are accomplishing and look how much change feels within reach. If we can do that during social distancing, imagine what we are capable of once we have the freedom of movement and connection once again. How have you been faring? How has your immediate family been doing during these last six months? I’m very proud of how my family has navigated this time so far. We’ve really stayed optimistic and made the most of each day: I absolutely loved being a part of my kids’ education during the Spring in a hands-on way; We used money from cancelled vacations to rent a farm near Orangeville for a month in July and organized family colour-war events and daily swim lessons; It’s the first time in my life that I have been home every night of the week for dinner and been able to tuck my kids into bed; And each weekend is now filled with lots of hiking and bike riding. I don’t mean to be painting an overly rosy picture – there have been many nights of deep worry and anxiety. But there has also been much joy in togetherness. Personally, I’ve been digging more into mindfulness during this time. I’ve been practicing meditation for nearly four years, but it’s gone into overdrive over the last six months. My nightstand is stacked to the ceiling with books on anti-racism and books on mindfulness/spirituality. I’ve loved getting to learn new things and to dive deep into the philosophical exploration of imagining what the universe is telling us in this moment and how to apply it to my life. As an artist within the performing arts community, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally? The most difficult part of the last six months has been mourning the loss of live theatre and recognizing the immensely devastating impact it is having on independent artists. I feel enormously grateful and also enormously guilty for having a full-time job in the arts. I am deeply thankful for the existence of CERB and relieved that it will be extended in some form. Our team is doing everything we can think of to keep work flowing and money going out the door. But it’s very heavy to realize how many people in our industry, in our community, are struggling. At the end of the day, I often have to shut off all technology and curl up with one of those mindfulness books and a glass of wine and retreat into my own Zen place. But I also recognize the luxury of being able to shut out the pandemic and the privilege I’ve been afforded when doing so. The biggest challenge has been trying to stay in the present and not plan into the future. I am a planner by nature and my skill as a leader has been to keep our focus on multi-year strategic initiatives that make change. But it’s impossible to plan for a future we don’t yet understand. So I’ve had to work really, really hard to not get too far ahead and keep all of us at The Musical Stage Company focused on how we want to respond to the challenges and needs of today, abandoning past plans and paths that no longer feel relevant, and avoiding drawing too many conclusions for the future before we have a full understanding of what future we are planning for. But as someone who always likes to have the answer immediately, it’s been a real exercise in patience. 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? When we shut down, we were a few weeks away from the world premiere of KELLY v. KELLY by Britta Johnson and Sara Farb. We’ve been working with Britta and Sara since 2014 and we’ve been deep in development for KELLY v. KELLY for a couple of years, so this was a particularly painful project to not see materialize. It was also going to be SO good. I’m rarely confident about a production – especially a new work – but this show was in such great shape with a team that was firing on all cylinders. We also lost major milestones this season including UNCOVERED: DOLLY & ELVIS which was to play Koerner Hall in November, and the Canadian premiere of NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 that was to open at the Winter Garden Theatre in January. Without question, KELLY v. KELLY will see the light of day as soon as it is safe to do so. Thankfully we were able to postpone before we had spent too much of the money earmarked for the project. We put all the funding for it aside, not to be touched until it can be revived. So, it’s in the uniquely positive position of being ready for production with the funding to get it there. We’ll have to see about everything else. More than ever it’s important to me that the stories we tell are relevant and resonant for the moment in which they are being shared. The projects that were the right “why-this-project-why-now” in the old world may not be the right projects in the one that awaits us. That’s the funny thing about programming – you are often responding to an indescribable energy in the zeitgeist. If we want theatre to matter when we return, we need to make sure not to cling to what was and be hyper aware of what people need on the other side. Having said that, our commitment to new Canadian musicals is unwavering. We have run 17 workshops for new musicals since COVID hit and have no intention of slowing down. That is the joy of new material. The writers are naturally infusing today’s emotions and thoughts into the works. They are living, breathing stories being developed during a global pandemic. So even though none of them are about living during or after COVID-19, their ongoing evolution will ensure that they are necessary and healing in the world that awaits us. What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time? Working and raising kids! Honestly, it fills my days completely. Work has not really gotten much quieter even though we aren’t in production (turns out navigating global pandemic is more work than producing theatre). We produced 80 concerts this summer, we are in production for an UNCOVERED film, we are running workshops, our youth programs are going national, etc. By the time I’ve completed a day of Zoom meetings, cleared an inbox of emails, and spent some time with my kids, I’m ready for bed. But the weekends have been quieter than normal. There are no readings to attend or shows to see. And my kids’ programs have all shut down. So, I’ve loved the pace of my weekends. We’ve just been outdoors as much as possible, biking, hiking, and camping. 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 given the fact live theaters and studios might be closed for 1 ½ - 2 years? Here’s two of my favourite quotes from Pema Chödrön: “When there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may be just the beginning of a great adventure.” And “Rather than realizing that it takes death for there to be birth, we just fight against the fear of death.” I don’t mean to be cliché, answering your question with inspiring quotes, but I really believe this is the only way forward. Something has died. We have to take the time and space to grieve it. But we also have to open ourselves to the exciting possibility of reinvention and rebirth that comes after an ending. In that regard, I guess my advice for recent grads is to recognize that this death has levelled the playing field. None of us know the way forward, and the most senior arts leader doesn’t have any better strategies for the future than a recent theatre grad (who may in fact have more objectivity on what could be possible). We are all now pioneers building a more equitable, more sustainable, more relevant theatre. Seize this once in a lifetime chance to be a part of the rebirth by charting your own course and helping to mould the industry that awaits you. Do you see anything positive stemming from Covid 19? I think it has taught us to slow down. I think it has taught us not to take simple connection for granted. I think it has removed some of the allure of ruthless ambition and replaced it with a focus on empathy and equity. I hope these lessons stay with us. Do you think Covid 19 will have some lasting impact on the Toronto/Canadian/North American performing arts scene? It absolutely will. Hopefully COVID itself will succumb to a vaccine and we won’t have to have the distancing and health measures in our lives forever. But I hope we will forever be impacted by what this time has taught us about equity and treatment of people. And I hope that audiences are so hungry to gather together again that they race to the theatre in unprecedented numbers! 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? For me, producing theatre has always been about serving and enriching an audience. It is about giving a willing group of people something that their souls needed that they didn’t realize was needed. Ultimately, the medium doesn’t matter as much as the power of the message and the unbridled attention of an audience. If this exchange is happening successfully on YouTube and via online streaming sites, may it live forever! I am skeptical however about how well this is working. There is a sense of ceremony when we gather in person and devote our entire energy to a story. I fear that we haven’t yet figured out how to permeate the digital fourth wall in the same way to achieve the same outcome. But this is definitely the ‘trial and error’ phase. I have no doubt that artists will successfully navigate this new medium and make it into a powerful mode of soul nourishment. Despite all this fraught tension and confusion, what is it about performing that Covid will never destroy for you? My heart knows the power of hearing the exact right piece of music to capture a moment or emotion. It is like nothing else. And no pandemic can keep that magical experience from happening each time I witness it in a theatre, outdoors, or online. It will withstand the test of time. You can follow Mitchell on his social media handles: @mitchellmarcus and at Musical Stage Company: @musicalstagecom. Previous Next

  • Profiles Colm and Donna Feore

    Back Colm and Donna Feore Moving Forward Ann Baggley Joe Szekeres To the 115 Canadian and American professional theatre artists whom I’ve profiled over the last six months: thank you so much for sharing your stories and your thoughts with all of us. On a personal note, it is the arts to which I have turned during these sometimes very trying six months of the pandemic to keep me focused and going in knowing the end will be in sight. I passionately believe with all my heart and being the end of this pandemic is in sight. When is anyone’s guess? Live theatre will be back, and it will be a pleasure to return and watch all professional artists grace the stage again with those roles, those ‘dream’ roles, you so very much want to play. Who knows what format theatre will take as we slowly emerge from all this? But that is the exciting part in anticipation of wondering how the theatres will tackle this new challenge. When the decision was made in October to conclude the ‘Moving Forward’ series November 30, I struggled trying to decide who to ask as there were so many other artists out there with whom I so very much wanted to contact but time restraints didn’t allow me – at least for now. But who? I came upon a trailer of ‘Bon Cop, Bad Cop’ a few weeks ago online, and I just knew right then that I wanted to ask Donna and Colm Feore for an interview. I just sensed they as well were the right choice to conclude this series. And so, I contacted the Stratford Festival to ask for a contact to get in touch with the Feores. And I was equally humbled and elated when Donna got in touch with me to say she and Colm would be delighted to participate and to conclude the series. Donna is an extraordinary director and choreographer of many shows at the Festival. I’ve seen Colm in many wonderful productions at the Festival as well along with many television and film roles. Thank you/Merci, Donna and Colm for the interview via email. Until we all see each other again: 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? DONNA: It is very troubling to see the numbers climb so high again in November. It is a stark wake up call that Covid has gone nowhere and we are completely dependant on behaviours of our society to keep everyone safe. Hand washing, distancing and mask wearing continue to be the smartest action we can do at the moment. I am optimistic we will come out the other side of this pandemic. The recent news of vaccines is very encouraging! COLM: I am feeling optimistic and defeated by turns. On the one hand, I believe we will be back when circumstances allow and that we can stay ready for that moment; on the other, the sum of what we’ve lost is huge and I am trying to reconcile that loss with the need to keep moving forward. When we emerge from this pandemic period I think we will keep what we have learned about best practices and have a new, and I hope, appreciation of the value of what we do, both our audiences and ourselves. How have you been faring? How has your immediate family been doing during these last eight months? DONNA: I think there are good days and there are fewer good days for me. I miss the social and physical contact with people. I have however been given a huge gift of time to see friends that I have lost contact with over these last years with busy schedules. My immediate family is doing well. We had our daughter home for almost 6 months as she is a professional volleyball player, and her sport was shut down. Our son just graduated law school, so he was home for an extended period of time before he started articling. Our oldest son and his wife work form home in TO but we found we had more time with them. I believe we would have never had this time with our adult children without this pandemic and I will be profoundly grateful for it forever. COLM: I began the shutdown committed to keep working on what I was doing when we stopped. When it became clear we were not coming back, I grieved for the work done but began to think about the new perspective the shutdown offered. Our business is precarious. If you are lucky enough to do it and keep doing it, you keep going, almost afraid to stop. When you are forced to stop you start to reflect. We had some of our family with us to share our time and even though it was weird we cherished it. These moments showed us what is really important. As an artist within the performing arts community, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally? COLM: Well, professionally this has been catastrophic. And, like my wife and I, many of our colleagues and friend are two artists households. The threat is existential. We’ve relied on each other to reach out and encourage, philosophize, laugh and cry about the situation. And it helps. I’ve got a lot of balanced advice from other artists about how to cope with the stresses of these days. Some offer wisdom, some books, some recipes, some exercise ideas. All useful, all welcome. DONNA: I miss my creative teams most of all. I realize now that it has been taken away, just how much I love and cherish our time together. The laughter, the brilliant ideas, the collaboration. It is a loss both professionally and personally because we are a close group and have worked together for a long time. It just always was so great to be together. I miss them all so much. We have stayed in touch a fair amount these last months. It is an important bond that a pandemic can’t destroy. I worry for the artists, especially the artists that are alone. I feel terrible for the younger generation of artist that is just beginning, but I am especially sad for the actors and creative artists that are mid career and on the cusp of huge breakthroughs. It is painful to see them having to put everything on hold and rethink knowing how incredibly talented they all are. 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? DONNA: At the Stratford Festival I was directing and choreographing a version of “Chicago’ that I had been given the permission to completely reimagine. There are 15 production numbers in the show, and we were one day away from the sitzprobe for ‘Chicago’. The sitzprobe is the first time the company gets to hear our orchestra play the score, and the singers get to sing the songs with the orchestra. It is a magical day ALWAYS, no matter the show but this one felt incredibly special. ‘Chicago’ has a magnificent score and to hear our brilliant musicians play it was going to be off the charts! It was heartbreaking to have to stop dead and, when we went in to collect our belongings, the rehearsal room was set up for the sitzprobe. I will never forget that feeling of sadness when I walked in the room and saw that. I feel extremely optimistic that it will be produced in the future, so we just have to be patient. I was also directing and choreographing a new musical of ‘Here’s What It Takes’ written by Steven Page and Daniel MacIvor. We had been developing the show for over 2 years and we were in production on week 3 when we stopped. It was another blow to not see the show produced and it was going to be in the beautiful new Tom Patterson Theatre. I am very hopeful that it too will have a life in the future. I also have two shows that are in pre-Broadway tryout phase. Both of those shows are new works, and both have dates set for fall of 2021 and early 2022. COLM: I was rehearsing ‘Richard III’ which was scheduled to open the new Tom Patterson Theatre as an echo of the production with Alec Guinness which opened the festival in 1953. We were well on our way and I had been preparing for many months before we started so when we stopped and then realized we weren’t coming back, it was a shock. I continue to work on the play, but I don’t see us returning to it until at least 2022. What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time? DONNA: Lots of hiking!! I am the creative producer on a new project for the National Arts Centre Orchestra. It is a 4-part television show that features some of our most gifted artists both in the worlds of music and the visual arts in Canada. I am excited and look forward to an announcement of the project in the very near future. I have been working on both shows being produced in the USA with the writers throughout the pandemic. They are both brand new musicals, so we have taken this time to continue working on the score and the script. It has been wonderful to have the time in a more relaxed environment to really dig in. I have cleaned out my house and continue to do so. I cannot believe how much stuff we have accumulated and kept over the years! It feels good to purge and do the stuff around the house that I have said I would do for the last 10 years! I have connected with friends that I have not seen or talked to in far too long. That has been such a positive part of Covid for me. We have some close friends in Stratford that have been in our bubble this whole time, so we feel lucky here. We also are extremely fortunate to have an amazing family that we are so grateful for. COLM: Well, once the biggest question of our day became “what’s for dinner?”, I knew I’d have a purpose. I love cooking and having time to try stuff out has been great. I’ve had a chance to read more and more widely. We’ve also begun to just start fixing things up around the house that our work allowed us to ignore for so long. And perhaps the best thing is that we had a couple of our adult children isolated with us while they studied for various things. It was a great pleasure getting to know them better. 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? DONNA: To be honest, everyday is a new day of discovery of what interests me and how I enjoy spending my time. Live theatre will be back. It will be different, but it will be back. I guess I would say to keep trying to work on your skills. Keep exploring new skills and get curious about other things. These are opportunities that you might otherwise not have had without this enforced pause in our industry. Colm has always been interested in so many other things other than acting and I admire his ability to allow curiosity to take him down some really exciting paths. I am trying to do that more and I highly recommend that a young actor and creative artist coming out of theatre school allow that curiosity into their being. It is a scary time for so many artists. Our industry was uncertain enough financially, so this added stress is a lot for many to bear. I hope and wish that people are finding a way through it. COLM: I am certain that public performance will return and that the lessons of the pandemic will change how it works. I think that the best way to ride out this crisis is to continue working on your craft. It’s about staying ready and being flexible. And no matter what you are doing to make a living, never stop the imaginative work of the actor. I was taught that every class was an acting class, that there was always something to be learned from living. Nothing is wasted. That said, I know that for the perennially unemployed this has gone from a dry spell to a desert, but we must trust that what we offer the world is desperately needed and, as soon as we possibly can, we’ll be back. Do you see anything positive stemming from Covid 19? DONNA: That’s hard because there has been so much suffering and continues to be for so many. I do however feel that Covid has given time for all us to reflect on our choices, our actions, and our evaluation of the future. I have talked a lot about family and friend time which has been such a positive. I have also seen so many artists create a new path for themselves that is so impressive! It is amazing to see the talent that has come out of these artists. Our community in Stratford has been hit hard both in the theatre, the retail, restaurant and hospitality industry. I have watched a community get behind each other and support each other so much. People who are hard hit themselves reaching out and helping others. It has made me love this city of Stratford even more. COLM: In the face of such global suffering I find it hard to see much positive though perhaps, the time for isolated reflection has been of use. We’ve had time to question our choices, and I know that moving forward our choices will reflect the experience of Covid. Do you think Covid 19 will have some lasting impact on the Toronto/Canadian/North American performing arts scene? COLM: No question that Covid will transform the performing arts locally, nationally, and globally. We are going to have to learn to live with it, or something like it, forever. The lessons of science will allow us to come back together, but I think it will take some time to figure out how. The one ray of hope I have is a fundamental belief in the deep desire humans have for community. We need to share our stories, our songs, ourselves, it’s part of what makes us human. DONNA: Yes, it will. There is a hard reality for all the performing arts in North America. It will be a long climb for the arts to get back to a healthy financial position again. I do think we have all taken for granted that we will always be able to do what we love in our industry. Our worries were our next jobs. When the anchor was thrown overboard in our speedboat, and our industry literally stopped around the entire world, it proved that it can all be taken away instantly. I know I will never take it for granted ever again. 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? DONNA: I think it has been particularly good for some artists to be able to continue showcasing their work and teaching on You Tube and other platforms. I am interested in content that is developed strictly for a digital platform. I think it is something that can live alongside the live event in the future. We live in a huge country geographically and being able to digitally reach communities that do not have the means to come to a live event whether it be theatre, dance, opera or symphony is crucial to the future of the arts and their relevance. COLM: I’m happy to see artists taking advantage of whatever medium is available to get their work out there. In a few short years there have been profound changes in how people get their entertainment. If an artist can connect with their audience via You Tube etc then why not? I will always love the live experience with both players and audience in the same space and if that space must be virtual, bring it on. Despite all this fraught tension and confusion, what is it about performing that Covid will never destroy for you? DONNA: Our creativity remains in us all. That won’t go anywhere. It is where it needs to be right now, whatever that looks like. COLM: I have been incredibly lucky to have worked on a few projects while under Covid protocols and restrictions, and what it couldn’t kill was my gratitude for, and delight in, the work. Acting is a crazy business at the best of times but working under these peculiar conditions made me appreciate how much I enjoy it. Not retiring just yet!! (Editor’s Note: and I’m pleased you’re not just yet) Previous Next

  • Profiles Keith Barker, Artistic Director of Native Earth Performing Arts

    Back Keith Barker, Artistic Director of Native Earth Performing Arts Looking Ahead getting captured Joe Szekeres The engagement comes in recognizing that it’s not about the queerness at all – it’s about the artistry in the work. When I went through a press release and saw that Native Earth Performing Arts would be one of the ten members of a newly established coalition launching our country’s first ever National Queer and Trans Playwrighting Unit, I was pleased to be invited and interview Keith Barker, Native Earth’s Artistic Director. I wanted to profile Barker earlier in the Professional Artist Pandemic Profile Series I’ve compiled for the last two years so I’m grateful for this opportunity. More about this coalition shortly and Native Earth’s involvement. Throughout this series I do like to have a quick check in with the artist to see how he has fared during the pandemic. Barker is thankful no one in his immediate family had Covid and that everyone was safe. His family felt no differently in addressing how the disease affected their lives and mental health, concerns we’ve all felt at one point. Does Barker believe Covid has altered the trajectory of the Canadian performing arts scene? Absolutely he does as it has led to modifications and re-examinations of so many items and issues within the professional theatre community, especially First Nations. For one, contingency plans have had to be put in place moving forward if the Indigenous performing arts community wants to ensure its voices continue to be heard even if its artists become ill with Covid. We talked about the use of understudies in Indigenous productions. Additionally, Barker also spoke of the fact that Native Earth will continue to offer a hybrid model in offering productions to be seen live and virtually. He recognizes that people are at limits in watching online theatre as its resources are limited compared to those of film and television who have fared stronger during these last two years. However, digital presentations have allowed Native Earth to share their stories in rural and remote communities so future budgeting will have to ensure this opportunity can continue along with live performances. The focus of Barker’s profile was this newly established consortium for the National Queer and Trans Playwrighting Unit and his professional involvement. The following theatre groups are liaised: Zee Zee Theatre (Vancouver), the frank Theatre (Vancouver), Gwaandak Theatre (Whitehorse), Theatre Outré (Lethbridge), Persephone Theatre (Saskatoon), Theatre Projects Manitoba (Winnipeg), Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (Toronto), Native Earth Performing Arts (Toronto), Imago Theatre (Montréal), and Neptune Theatre (Halifax). For those who are interested in applying: “2SLGBTQ+ emerging and mid-career theatre makers from across Canada are invited to submit applications by July 5, 2022. The selection process will see five artists announced in September 2022 to participate in a 10-month process, during which they will receive living wage compensation and one-on-one mentorship as they write a new work. The developed plays will be performed live and streamed online in September of 2023.” This massively important undertaking holds gigantic implications for the Queer and Trans voice in the country. First Nations artists have also experienced similar implications in solidifying their voices to be heard as well and, as a First Nations artist himself, Barker foresees similar positive and challenging elements moving forward in the Queer and Trans community: “It’s an opportunity to humanize all our experiences as Canadian citizens. There has been a noticeable lack both with Indigenous work and with the Queer and Trans artist voices across Canada that needed to be heard. Thanks to the work of Canada Council and federal grant money, artistic groups were asked how they are going to reflect their individual communities with a specific focus on the Indigenous and the Queer/Trans voice.” One challenging element regarding this consortium for Keith: “Post Covid, theatres have struggled financially. Additionally, audiences have also struggled as they have been locked up for a long time and may have become entrenched and only want to see comedies or something that make them laugh. I get that, we all want to laugh since we’ve all experienced one of the most awful times in our lives… But I’m confident in that as artists and theatre companies slate both fun and new and really good stories we’ve never heard before out there along with new voices, we will begin to cultivate audiences with challenging work and that is sure to start some great conversation. Artists are doing good work out there. If audiences are hesitant to respond, that’s the start of a conversation too.” I’ve seen some really good stories from the Indigenous perspective since I’ve been reviewing so I fully concur with Barker as there is good stuff out there. I’ve been fully engaged when I’ve seen these productions, have asked questions and have learned in the process. As artists and audiences emerge from Covid, are they simply at a survival stage for this next while in listening and hearing the Queer and Trans voices? Keith believes we (including himself) are now at a crossroads where we have to begin that important conversation with the community. Look at what has transpired regarding our grappling with Residential Schools. We’ve moved beyond the recognition of Residential Schools and are now at the beginning of engagement with the issue. The same exists in that we’ve moved simply beyond just appreciating that the queer and trans voices exist. We are now at the beginning of engagement with their voices. Changes begin in small acts. Keith then shared one personal element from his youth. When he was growing up, he was afraid of gay people until his best friend came out to him. He learned long ago that it didn’t matter to him if his best friend was gay. Keith ignored that label and saw the person of his best friend from years ago. He then shared something from former Senator the Honourable Murray Sinclair regarding the Residential Schools issue. It took one hundred and fifty years to get into this mess and it’s going to take one hundred and fifty years to get out of it. The same exists in engaging Queer and Trans voices and their stories. It’s not merely just a matter of survival for these individuals. They have every right to have their voices heard and their stories told. Barker stated that queer and trans stories are as good and worthy as other stories being told in theatres across this country. It’s going to take time to engage with queer and trans artists as we live with them in this country. There are Queer and Trans Canadian artists whom audiences may know and not know. Native Earth was started by two spirited artists. The engagement comes in recognizing that it’s not about the queerness at all – it’s about the artistry in the work. Keith concluded our conversation by saying it takes time to change. It’s a matter of playing the long game as instant gratification does not and cannot occur. Thank you so much, Keith, for the conversation. To learn more information and/or apply to the National Queer and Trans Playwright Unit, visit: Previous Next