EVAN BULIUNG: LEADING ACTOR EXPLAINS “THEATRE IS NOT MOUNTED ON A WALL, IT IS A LIVING BREATHING ORGANISM THAT CHANGES FROM SHOW TO SHOW, SO TO BASE CRITIQUES ON ONE SHOW IS MOOT. I WOULD HOPE MOST GOOD REVIEWERS WOULD KNOW AND APPRECIATE THIS” … A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

EVAN BULIUNG: We​ ​gather​ ​together​ ​as​ ​a​ ​group​ ​of​ ​performers​ ​with​ ​generally​ ​low​ ​self-​esteem​ ​and work​ ​out​ ​the​ ​kinks​ ​in​ ​a​ ​windowless​ ​room. ​ ​We​ ​channel​ ​all​ ​that​ ​human​ ​nature​ ​has​ ​to offer​ ​from​ ​the​ ​darkest​ ​depravity​ ​to​ ​the​ ​freest​ ​joys…​ ​then​ ​spring​ ​it​ ​on​ ​people​ ​sitting​ ​in somewhat​ ​expensive​ ​and​ ​uncomfortable​ ​seats​ ​so​ ​they​ ​don’t​ ​feel​ ​alone.

JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

EB: Most​ ​of​ ​the​ ​time​ ​I​ ​express​ ​the​ ​writer’s​ ​beliefs, ​ ​but​ ​I​ ​guess​ ​through​ ​character​ ​I​ ​can find​ ​different​ ​shades​ ​to​ ​express. ​ ​I​ ​love​ ​finding​ ​a​ ​little​ ​nugget​ ​of​ ​character​ ​through interpretation​ ​of​ ​the​ ​words. For​ ​Mercutio​ ​to​ ​say​ ​to​ ​Benvolio​ ​for​ ​instance: “t’would​ ​anger​ ​him​ ​to​ ​raise​ ​a​ ​spirit​ ​in​ ​his​ ​mistress​ ​circle​ ​of​ ​some​ ​strange​ ​nature, there​ ​letting​ ​it​ ​stand​ ​till​ ​she​ ​hath​ ​laid​ ​it​ ​and​ ​conjured​ ​it​ ​down. ​ ​That​ ​were​ ​some​ ​spite.” One​ ​could​ ​say​ ​that​ ​with​ ​a​ ​slight​ ​wink​ ​to​ ​the​ ​sexual​ ​context​ ​of​ ​the​ ​line, ​ ​OR, ​ ​as​ ​I​ ​found later​ ​in​ ​the​ ​run, ​ ​Mercutio​ ​can​ ​say​ ​it​ ​mockingly​ ​and​ ​bitter​ ​about​ ​Romeo’s​ ​infatuation because​ ​of​ ​Mercutio’s​ ​innate​ ​struggle​ ​himself. ​ ​ ​There’s​ ​a​ ​million​ ​choices, ​ ​and​ ​they can​ ​change, ​ ​be​ ​open. ​ ​ ​If​ ​ANY​ ​of​ ​that​ ​makes​ ​any​ ​sense. I​ ​like​ ​to​ ​think​ ​through​ ​character​ ​examination​ ​that​ ​there’s​ ​a​ ​bit​ ​of​ ​good​ ​in​ ​all​ ​of​ ​us​ ​and a​ ​bit​ ​of​ ​bad…. ​ ​though​ ​the​ ​scale​ ​slides​ ​from​ ​time​ ​to​ ​time.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

EB: Brent​ ​Carver-There​ ​isn’t​ ​a​ ​performer​ ​alive​ ​that​ ​I’ve​ ​seen​ ​who​ ​is​ ​completely​ ​open​ ​to inspiration, ​ ​the​ ​dove​ ​always​ ​drops​ ​with​ ​him. ​ ​ (Bernie​ ​Hopkins​ ​used​ ​to​ ​drop​ ​this expression, ​ ​I​ ​always​ ​pretended​ ​to​ ​know​ ​what​ ​it​ ​meant)

Bernie​ ​Sanders-Tenacity, ​ ​compassion, ​ ​truth, ​ ​integrity, ​ ​humility.

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

EB: I​ ​guess​ ​I’ve​ ​always​ ​done​ ​this. ​ ​I​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​be​ ​an​ ​actor​ ​from​ ​a​ ​very​ ​young​ ​age​ ​so​ ​I’ve known​ ​nothing​ ​else. ​ ​I​ ​never​ ​had​ ​any​ ​desire​ ​to​ ​be​ ​a​ ​lawyer​ ​or​ ​banker​ ​or​ ​fireman, ​ ​all very​ ​honourable​ ​work​ ​of​ ​course. ​ ​ ​So​ ​my​ ​change​ ​has​ ​been​ ​within​ ​the​ ​work​ ​I​ ​suppose. I​ ​never​ ​desired​ ​to​ ​attain​ ​anything​ ​other​ ​than​ ​work​ ​in​ ​this​ ​craft​. ​ ​I​ ​have​ ​the​ ​utmost respect​ ​for​ ​writers​ ​and​ ​feel​ ​our​ ​only​ ​job​ ​as​ ​actors​ ​is​ ​to​ ​mine​ ​their​ ​work​ ​for​ ​all​ ​its depths​ ​and​ ​work​ ​together​ ​as​ ​actors​ ​to​ ​achieve​ ​that​ ​goal.

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

EB: Moodiness, ​ ​addiction, ​ ​self-righteousness, ​ ​abject​ ​liberalism, ​ ​distrust​ ​of​ ​anything artless, ​ ​memorizing, ​ ​soaking​ ​up​ ​energies.

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

EB: I​ ​received​ ​the​ ​Richard​ ​Monette​ ​travel​ ​grant​ ​7​ ​years​ ​back​ ​and​ ​travelled​ ​Europe​ ​by myself​ ​for​ ​a​ ​number​ ​of​ ​months,​ ​it’s​ ​something​ ​I​ ​should’ve​ ​done​ ​much​ ​sooner​ ​in​ ​my life​ ​but​ ​you’re​ ​ready​ ​when​ ​you’re​ ​ready​ ​to​ ​be​ ​on​ ​your​ ​own​ ​in​ ​a​ ​strange​ ​place​ ​with only​ ​meager​ ​English​ ​to​ ​get​ ​you​ ​by.​ ​I​ ​had​ ​just​ ​got​ ​sober​ ​recently​ ​too​ ​for,​ ​a​ ​day​ ​at​ ​a time,​ ​the​ ​final​ ​time​ ​after​ ​many​ ​years​ ​of​ ​trying.​ ​I​ ​remember​ ​standing​ ​on​ ​a​ ​rock​ ​in Greece​ ​a​ ​few​ ​months​ ​into​ ​the​ ​trip​ ​staring​ ​out​ ​into​ ​the​ ​ocean​ ​for​ ​a​ ​couple​ ​hours​ ​and​ ​I felt​ ​completely​ ​fine​ ​with​ ​myself,​ ​I​ ​was​ ​able​ ​to​ ​be​ ​by​ ​myself​ ​without​ ​distraction​ ​or something​ ​to​ ​quiet​ ​my​ ​mind.​ ​Serenity.​ ​Of​ ​course​ ​these​ ​things​ ​are​ ​fleeting​, ​but​ ​I finally​ ​felt​ ​at​ ​home​ ​in​ ​my​ ​skin.

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

EB: I’m​ ​not​ ​sure. ​ ​I’m​ ​not​ ​an​ ​outsider. ​ ​They’d​ ​have​ ​to​ ​tell​ ​you​ ​that​ ​one.

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

EB: I​ ​was​ ​five​ ​when​ ​I​ ​realized​ ​what​ ​I​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​do.​ ​ ​I​ ​imagine​ ​my​ ​folks,​ ​who​ ​have​ ​always been​ ​extremely​ ​supportive,​ ​for​ ​which​ ​I’m​ ​very​ ​lucky​ ​and​ ​very​ ​grateful,​ ​They​ ​most likely​ ​took​ ​me​ ​to​ ​too​ ​many​ ​plays​ ​and​ ​performances​ ​when​ ​I​ ​was​ ​a​ ​child.​ ​ ​My​ ​deep insecurity​ ​as​ ​a​ ​child​,​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as,​ ​no​ ​doubt,​ ​seasonal​ ​depression​ ​and​ ​a​ ​constant aloneness​ ​fit​ ​the​ ​bill​ ​to​ ​want​ ​to​ ​pretend​ ​to​ ​be​ ​someone​ ​else.​ ​It​ ​saved​ ​me​ ​for​ ​a​ ​time​ ​by boosting​ ​my​ ​confidence​ ​and​ ​giving​ ​me​ ​direction.​ ​I​ ​was​ ​lucky​ ​to​ ​grow​ ​up​ ​in​ ​a​ ​time when​ ​theatre​ ​and​ ​arts​ ​were​ ​far​ ​more​ ​ingrained​ ​in​ ​the​ ​school​ ​system​ ​than​ ​perhaps they​ ​are​ ​now​ ​with​ ​budget​ ​cuts​ ​and​ ​eradication​ ​of​ ​arts​ ​programs​ ​entirely.

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

EB: Abs.​ ​Cause​ ​they​ ​look​ ​impressive.​ ​Artistically​ ​though,​ ​I’m​ ​satiated,​ ​I’ve​ ​learned​ ​so much​ ​about​ ​myself​ ​and​ ​others​ ​around​ ​me​ ​so​ ​now​ ​I’d​ ​like​ ​to​ ​pass​ ​that​ ​on​ ​to​ ​younger folks​ ​trying​ ​it​ ​out.​ ​ ​Not​ ​that​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​have​ ​more​ ​to​ ​learn,​ ​there’s​ ​always​ ​more​ ​to​ ​learn​ ​if you’re​ ​open​ ​to​ ​it,​ ​but​ ​I​ ​was​ ​graced​ ​with​ ​wonderful​ ​teachers,​ ​I’d​ ​like​ ​to​ ​help newcomers​ ​to​ ​find​ ​their​ ​own​ ​freedom​ ​on​ ​the​ ​stage.​ ​Whether​ ​a​ ​student​ ​continues​ ​in the​ ​arts​ ​or​ ​not,​ ​the​ ​skills​ ​learned​ ​and​ ​confidence​ ​gained​ ​by​ ​a​ ​healthy​ ​exploration​ ​of artistic​ ​goals​ ​is​ ​invaluable​ ​in​ ​any​ ​workplace.​ ​Most​ ​jobs​ ​could​ ​be​ ​considered​ ​an​ ​art form.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

EB: Surviving​ ​Lord​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Rings​ ​the​ ​Musical​ ​(barely). ​ ​ ​Besides​ ​that, ​ ​getting​ ​sober. ​ ​On the​ ​stage​ ​I’d​ ​say​ ​figuring​ ​out​ ​Edgar​ ​in​ ​King​ ​Lear​ ​after​ ​doing​ ​it​ ​twice, ​ ​delving​ ​into Stanhope​ ​in​ ​Journey’s​ ​End​ ​at​ ​Shaw, ​ ​Stanhope’s​ ​alcohol-​fuelled​ ​survival​ ​I​ ​was​ ​able to​ ​tap​ ​into, ​ ​allowing​ ​myself​ ​to​ ​dig​ ​into​ ​my​ ​own​ ​experience​ ​with​ ​addiction.

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

EB: I​ ​always​ ​had​ ​an​ ​image​ ​in​ ​my​ ​head​ ​growing​ ​up​ ​and​ ​through​ ​my​ ​adolescence​ ​of​ ​a​ ​pilot light​ ​inside​ ​of​ ​me,​ ​through​ ​the​ ​fear​ ​and​ ​misery​ ​and​ ​damage​ ​and​ ​pain.​ ​That​ ​light​ ​was my​ ​ability,​ ​talent,​ ​desire​ ​and​ ​will​ ​to​ ​do​ ​this​ ​work,​ ​my​ ​confidence​ ​in​ ​my​ ​own​ ​abilities and​ ​nothing​ ​would​ ​extinguish​ ​it…I’m​ ​lucky​ ​I​ ​didn’t​ ​overdose​ ​though,​ ​cause​ ​imagery wouldn’t​ ​help​ ​that.​ ​I’m​ ​lucky,​ ​I’ve​ ​lost​ ​amazing​ ​friends​ ​to​ ​it​ ​and​ ​it​ ​is​ ​a​ ​reminder​ ​to myself​ ​and​ ​others​ ​to​ ​stay​ ​on​ ​the​ ​beam. Truly​ ​drugs​ ​don’t​ ​add​ ​to​ ​your​ ​work,​ ​they simply​ ​stall​ ​your​ ​growth​ ​both​ ​artistically​ ​and​ ​spiritually…at​ ​least​ ​in​ ​my​ ​experience.

JS: Of what value are critics?

EB: I​ ​wrestle​ ​with​ ​this,​ ​definitely.​ ​ ​I​ ​grew​ ​up​ ​in​ ​a​ ​theatre​ ​world​ ​where​ ​we​ ​didn’t​ ​talk​ ​about and​ ​certainly​ ​didn’t​ ​bring​ ​reviews​ ​into​ ​the​ ​theatre.​ ​The​ ​world​ ​now,​ ​and​ ​producers specifically,​ ​somewhat​ ​rely​ ​on​ ​reviews​ ​to​ ​sell​ ​tickets.​ ​ ​But​ ​they​ ​have​ ​an​ ​effect​ ​on performers​ ​to​ ​varying​ ​degrees.​ ​ ​So​ ​I​ ​kinda​ ​see​ ​it​ ​as​ ​an​ ​interesting​ ​sidebar​ ​to​ ​what​ ​we do.​ ​The​ ​difficulty​ ​is​ ​that​ ​theatre​ ​is​ ​not​ ​mounted​ ​on​ ​a​ ​wall,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​a​ ​living​ ​breathing organism​ ​that​ ​changes​ ​from​ ​show​ ​to​ ​show,​ ​so​ ​to​ ​base​ ​critiques​ ​on​ ​one​ ​show​ ​is moot.​ ​I​ ​would​ ​hope​ ​most​ ​good​ ​reviewers​ ​would​ ​know​ ​and​ ​appreciate​ ​this​ ​and perhaps​ ​just​ ​note​ ​the​ ​form​ ​and​ ​structure​ ​of​ ​the​ ​piece.​ ​But​ ​then​ ​I’m​ ​not​ ​a​ ​reviewer, except​ ​an​ ​amateur​ ​one​ ​on​ ​Facebook​ ​from​ ​time​ ​to​ ​time.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

EB: It’s​ ​interesting​ ​this, ​ ​sometimes​ ​theatres​ ​in​ ​their​ ​pre-​announcements​ ​tell​ ​the​ ​audience to​ ​sit​ ​back​ ​and​ ​enjoy​ ​the​ ​show, ​ ​I​ ​like​ ​to​ ​think​ ​their​ ​job​ ​is​ ​more​ ​engaging​ ​than​ ​that. ​ ​I say​ ​sit​ ​forward​ ​and​ ​listen, ​ ​of​ ​course​ ​this​ ​depends​ ​on​ ​the​ ​comfortability​ ​of​ ​the​ ​chairs. I​ ​like​ ​to​ ​think​ ​that​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​shy​ ​away​ ​from​ ​the​ ​dark​ ​side​ ​of​ ​character​ ​on​ ​stage​ ​but​ ​I​ ​love a​ ​good​ ​transformative​ ​storyline​ ​“start​ ​out​ ​bad​ ​and​ ​learn​ ​something​ ​and​ ​bingo”​ ​kinda guy.​ ​ ​I​ ​love​ ​comedy,​ ​I​ ​did​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​it​ ​at​ ​Shaw.​ ​I​ ​grew​ ​up​ ​on​ ​Monty​ ​Python​ ​and​ ​dry English​ ​wit​ ​is​ ​by​ ​far​ ​my​ ​favourite​ ​thing​ ​to​ ​do.​ ​Shaping​ ​and​ ​moulding​ ​timing​ ​on​ ​stage and​ ​using​ ​the​ ​audience​ ​as​ ​metronome​ ​to​ ​this​ ​practice.​ ​I​ ​remember​ ​playing​ ​Jack​ ​in Earnest​ ​at​ ​Shaw​ ​years​ ​ago​ ​and​ ​we​ ​did​ ​something​ ​like​ ​138​ ​of​ ​them.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​utter insanity.​ ​ ​It​ ​is​ ​a​ ​perfect​ ​comedy​ ​if​ ​not​ ​THE​ ​perfect​ ​comedy​ ​and​ ​it​ ​drove​ ​me​ ​mental trying​ ​to​ ​perfect​ ​its​ ​quick​ ​barbs​ ​and​ ​slow​ ​turns​ ​and​ ​grand​ ​entrances​ ​and​ ​muffin fights.​ ​ ​I​ ​loved​ ​it​, ​but​ ​for​ ​my​ ​perfectionist​ ​mind​ ​(much​ ​more​ ​so​ ​when​ ​I​ ​was​ ​younger)​ ​it drove​ ​me​ ​and​ ​most​ ​like​ly​ ​those​ ​around​ ​me​ ​mental.

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?

EB: I​ ​think​ ​that’s​ ​happening​ ​without​ ​my​ ​wishes.​ ​There​ ​seems​ ​to​ ​be​ ​an​ ​action/reaction thing​ ​happening​ ​in​ ​the​ ​world​ ​right​ ​now​ ​as​ ​it​ ​tries​ ​to​ ​right​ ​itself.​ ​The​ ​Trump​ ​effect​ ​has brought​ ​so​ ​much​ ​out​ ​into​ ​the​ ​light,​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​it​ ​is​ ​really​ ​ugly.​ ​But​ ​the​ ​light​ ​heals​ ​or​ ​so I’d​ ​like​ ​to​ ​think.​ ​ ​Oh,​ ​and​ ​the​ ​world​ ​is​ ​melting,​ ​let’s​ ​not​ ​forget​ ​that.​ ​In​ ​the​ ​arts​ ​I​ ​would ask​ ​our​ ​government​ ​to​ ​invest​ ​in​ ​more​ ​arts​ ​space,​ ​arts​ ​education,​ ​arts​ ​cultivation​ ​and a​ ​reverse​ ​artistic​ ​brain​ ​drain​ ​from​ ​the​ ​states.​ ​ ​Instead​ ​it​ ​seems​ ​like​ ​we​ ​are​ ​slowly allowing​ ​these​ ​things​ ​to​ ​fall​ ​to​ ​the​ ​wayside​ ​for​ ​more​ ​tech-​ ​based​ ​growth​ ​and​ ​fostering the​ ​financial​ ​sector.​ ​ ​There​ ​are​ ​great​ ​artists​ ​in​ ​this​ ​country​ ​that​ ​fight​ ​constantly​ ​to keep​ ​things​ ​“Canadian”​ ​to​ ​keep​ ​crews​ ​Canadian​ ​and​ ​more​ ​artists​ ​on​ ​set​ ​Canadian but​ ​it​ ​seems​ ​to​ ​be​ ​a​ ​huge​ ​struggle​ ​to​ ​convince​ ​our​ ​unions​ ​and​ ​government otherwise.​ ​We​ ​have​ ​great​ ​stories​ ​to​ ​tell​ ​in​ ​this​ ​country​ ​and​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​great​ ​things I’ve​ ​seen​ ​is​ ​there​ ​are​ ​more​ ​and​ ​more​ ​diverse​ ​stories​ ​that​ ​cover​ ​a​ ​wide​ ​range​ ​of Canadian​ ​stories​ ​from​ ​Indigenous​ ​stories​ ​to​ ​Korean​ ​to​ ​East​ ​Indian. That’s​ ​exciting and​ ​vital​ ​for​ ​not​ ​only​ ​entertainment​ ​and​ ​a​ ​good​ ​story​ ​to​ ​tell,​ ​but​ ​also​ ​vital​ ​for audiences​ ​to​ ​be​ ​challenged​ ​and​ ​new​ ​audiences​ ​to​ ​be​ ​found​ ​and​ ​cultivated.

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

EB: To​ ​me​ ​this​ ​sounds​ ​like​ ​either​ ​an​ ​enlightening​ ​experience​ ​to​ ​relive​ ​or​ ​something​ ​I’d like​ ​to​ ​change​ ​through​ ​regret. I​ ​will​ ​start​ ​with​ ​regret​ ​- ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​I​ ​would​ ​relive​ ​parts​ ​of​ ​The​ ​Lord​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Rings​ ​musical.​ ​ ​I​ ​was​ ​younger​ ​of​ ​course and​ ​hindsight​ ​is​ ​20/20​ ​but​ ​I​ ​would​ ​choose​ ​to​ ​come​ ​at​ ​that​ ​differently,​ ​I​ ​would’ve​ ​put my​ ​foot​ ​down​ ​and​ ​refused​ ​some​ ​of​ ​what​ ​was​ ​asked.​ ​ ​I​ ​would’ve​ ​practiced​ ​much more​ ​self-care​ ​and​ ​taken​ ​care​ ​of​ ​those​ ​around​ ​me​ ​better.​ ​ ​I​ ​took​ ​too​ ​much​ ​on​ ​and​ ​it damaged​ ​me,​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​think​ ​I’ve​ ​ever​ ​fully​ ​recovered​ ​from​ ​that​ ​experience.​ ​ ​I​ ​shudder when​ ​I​ ​think​ ​of​ ​what​ ​I​ ​became​ ​on​ ​that​ ​show​ ​and​ ​for​ ​some​ ​time​ ​afterwards.​ ​Perhaps playing​ ​Aragorn​ ​and​ ​investing​ ​in​ ​the​ ​character,​ ​I​ ​tried​ ​to​ ​fight​ ​the​ ​battle​ ​but​ ​it​ ​was​ ​a losing​ ​fight​ ​and​ ​it​ ​cost​ ​me.​ ​ ​I​ ​would​ ​sometimes​ ​have​ ​panic​ ​attacks​ ​right​ ​before​ ​the show​ ​and​ ​have​ ​to​ ​call​ ​out​ ​when​ ​I​ ​played​ ​through​ ​my​ ​head​ ​the​ ​dangers​ ​that​ ​lay​ ​ahead on​ ​the​ ​stage,​ ​from​ ​a​ ​purely​ ​technical​ ​standpoint.​ ​ ​I​ ​was​ ​overjoyed​ ​to​ ​get​ ​to​ ​be​ ​in​ ​the show​ ​at​ ​the​ ​beginning​ ​and​ ​then​ ​it​ ​turned​ ​into​ ​a​ ​very​ ​difficult​ ​time.​ ​There​ ​were stretches​ ​of​ ​time​ ​for​ ​weeks​ ​when​ ​we​ ​didn’t​ ​have​ ​a​ ​day​ ​off.​ ​ ​We​ ​worked​ ​gruelling almost​ ​Olympic​ ​hours​ ​with​ ​projectiles​ ​being​ ​flung​ ​at​ ​us​ ​on​ ​the​ ​darkly​ ​lit​ ​stage.​ ​ ​As​ ​a cast​ ​we​ ​stood​ ​up​ ​for​ ​each​ ​other,​ ​we​ ​helped​ ​each​ ​other.​ ​But​ ​I​ ​was​ ​overwrought​ ​and beaten​ ​down​ ​by​ ​its​ ​size​ ​and​ ​scope.​ ​ ​We​ ​begged​ ​Equity​ ​at​ ​one​ ​point​ ​to​ ​help​ ​us,​ ​but little​ ​was​ ​done.​ ​ ​It​ ​was​ ​a​ ​joke. And​ ​so​ ​for​ ​me​ ​personally,​ ​I​ ​fell​ ​apart.​ ​ ​I​ ​wasn’t​ ​able​ ​to​ ​recharge​ ​and​ ​I​ ​took​ ​out​ ​my frustration​ ​on​ ​myself​ ​and​ ​others.​ ​ ​When​ ​the​ ​show​ ​closed​ ​I​ ​didn’t​ ​leave​ ​my​ ​apartment for​ ​a​ ​long​ ​time.​ ​ ​I​ ​could​ ​write​ ​for​ ​days​ ​on​ ​this​ ​experience​, ​but​ ​maybe​ ​I’ll​ ​save​ ​it​ ​for​ ​my one​ ​man​ ​show​ ​“Smolkin​ ​the​ ​Tolkien”…​ ​it’s​ ​still​ ​in​ ​rewrites.​ ​ ​Including​ ​the​ ​title. The​ ​experience, ​ ​though, ​ ​did​ ​teach​ ​me​ ​to​ ​give​ ​my​ ​heart​ ​to​ ​a​ ​show​ ​but​ ​not​ ​my​ ​soul. To​ ​re-live​ – ​cause​ ​it​ ​was​ ​a​ ​great​ ​experience​ ​- ​ ​​Art​ ​with​ ​Peter​ ​Donaldson​ ​and​ ​Colin​ ​Mochrie. ​ ​It​ ​was​ ​just​ ​pure​ ​joy​ ​and​ ​laughs​ ​from beginning​ ​to​ ​end. ​ ​I​ ​was​ ​very​ ​honoured​ ​to​ ​work​ ​with​ ​both​ ​of​ ​those​ ​giants​ ​and​ ​I’m pretty​ ​sure​ ​they​ ​realized​ ​how​ ​much​ ​they​ ​had​ ​to​ ​learn​ ​from​ ​me. ​ ​About​ ​comedy. Especially​ ​Colin. ​ ​His​ ​career​ ​really​ ​took​ ​off​ ​after​ ​that.

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

EB: I​ ​am​ ​uneasy​ ​with​ ​it​ ​for​ ​the​ ​most​ ​part​ ​but​ ​thankfully​ ​I​ ​live​ ​in​ ​Canada​ ​and​ ​nobody knows​ ​who​ ​I​ ​am​ ​because​ ​we​ ​are​ ​Borg. ​ ​ ​The​ ​Mr.​ ​Hyde​ ​in​ ​me​ ​can​ ​relish​ ​in​ ​a​ ​good notice​ ​or​ ​well-​timed​ ​photo​ ​like​ ​anyone​ ​else,​ ​but​ ​truly​ ​I’m​ ​just​ ​doing​ ​it​ ​because​ ​it’s​ ​all I’ve​ ​known​ ​ (without​ ​sounding​ ​too​ ​precious).

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why.

EB: Japan -cause​ ​it​ ​looks​ ​just​ ​insane​ ​and​ ​beyond​ ​beautiful​ ​at​ ​the​ ​same​ ​time Firenze (Florence) -cause​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​know​ ​if​ ​there’s​ ​a​ ​more​ ​invigorating​ ​and​ ​inspiring place​ ​on​ ​earth…plus, ​ ​food.

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us?

EB: Upcoming​ ​in​ ​the​ ​new​ ​year​ ​I’m​ ​playing​ ​Bruce​ ​Bechdel​ ​in​ ​FUN​ ​HOME​ ​for​ ​The​ ​Musical Stage​ ​Company/Mirvish​ ​at​ ​the​ ​newly​ ​minted​ ​CAA​ ​Theatre​ ​on​ ​Yonge​ ​street​ ​(I’m calling​ ​it​ ​the​ ​Canadian​ ​Arts​ ​Arena).​ ​It’s​ ​an​ ​amazing​ ​musical​ ​that​ ​won​ ​5​ ​Tonys​ ​a​ ​few years​ ​back.​ ​ ​Based​ ​on​ ​the​ ​graphic​ ​novel​ ​by​ ​Alison​ ​Bechdel,​ ​it’s​ ​a​ ​beautiful​ ​and heartbreaking​ ​show​ ​written​ ​by​ ​Jeanine​ ​Tesori​ ​and​ ​Lisa​ ​Kron.​ ​ ​It’s​ ​about​ ​families​ ​and the​ ​secrets​ ​that​ ​can​ ​be​ ​kept​ ​and​ ​that​ ​can​ ​ultimately​ ​destroy​ ​us​ ​and​ ​perhaps​ ​recreate us​ ​at​ ​the​ ​same​ ​time.​ ​ ​With​ ​an​ ​incredible​ ​score​ ​and​ ​amazing​ ​cast​ ​I’m​ ​fortunate enough​ ​to​ ​work​ ​with,​ ​I​ ​couldn’t​ ​be​ ​more​ ​excited/terrified.

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

EB: What​ ​gives​ ​me​ ​hope​ ​is​ ​that​ ​we​ ​are​ ​telling​ ​new​ ​stories​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​infusing​ ​old​ ​stories with​ ​new​ ​voices.​ ​Voices​ ​that​ ​haven’t​ ​been​ ​given​ ​as​ ​much​ ​chance​ ​to​ ​be​ ​used​ ​in​ ​these tellings.​ ​ ​When​ ​I​ ​came​ ​into​ ​this​ ​business,​ ​there​ ​were​ ​still​ ​many​ ​British​ ​expats​ ​running things​ ​and​ ​telling​ ​British​ ​tales,​ ​even​ ​on​ ​Lord​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Rings​ ​we​ ​were​ ​told​ ​many​ ​times that​ ​England​ ​was​ ​its​ ​spiritual​ ​homeland.​ ​Canada​ ​is​ ​exploring​ ​its​ ​own​ ​voice​ ​and​ ​it’s​ ​a hugely​ ​diverse​ ​voice.​ ​ ​It​ ​is​ ​thrilling​ ​to​ ​see​ ​women​ ​playing​ ​men​’s​ ​parts​ ​and​ ​I​ ​think once​ ​the​ ​ball​ ​gets​ ​rolling​ ​with​ ​this​ ​type​ ​of​ ​casting,​ ​it​ ​can’t​ ​be​ ​rolled​ ​back​ ​nor​ ​should it. What​ ​I​ ​find​ ​depressing​ ​is​ ​that​ ​there​ ​seems​ ​to​ ​be​ ​no​ ​delineation​ ​between​ ​artists​ ​and any​ ​other​ ​sector​ ​in​ ​terms​ ​of​ ​funding​ ​or​ ​taxation.​ ​In​ ​Ireland​ ​the​ ​first​ ​50,000​ ​of​ ​income gained​ ​by​ ​artists​ ​in​ ​all​ ​fields​ ​is​ ​exempt​ ​from​ ​tax.​ ​ ​They​ ​cultivate​ ​and​ ​nurture​ ​their artists​ ​and​ ​the​ ​work​ ​shows.​ ​ ​Actors​ ​in​ ​this​ ​country​ ​can’t​ ​even​ ​claim​ ​unemployment insurance​ ​where​ ​they​ ​can​ ​in​ ​the​ ​USA.​ ​I’m​ ​not​ ​saying​ ​that​ ​there​ ​aren’t​ ​many​ ​grants​ ​to apply​ ​for​ ​and​ ​they​ ​ARE​ ​applied​ ​for​ ​but​ ​self-employed​ ​artists​ ​should​ ​be​ ​treated​ ​as who​ ​they​ ​are,​ ​channels​ ​to​ ​the​ ​truth.​ ​Com

Comedians​ ​are,​ ​once​ ​again​ ​the​ ​truth​ ​speakers, artists​ ​are​ ​the​ ​balancers​ ​and​ ​the​ ​awareness​ ​makers,​ ​the​ ​enlighteners.​ ​ ​We​ ​don’t make​ ​enough​ ​money​ ​to​ ​require​ ​us​ ​saving​ ​the​ ​government​ ​coffers​ ​from​ ​ruin.​ ​ ​I​ ​do understand​ ​though​ ​that​ ​we​ ​have​ ​a​ ​smaller​ ​population​ ​than​ ​some​ ​countries​ ​so​ ​we must​ ​all​ ​pull​ ​our​ ​weight,​ ​I’m​ ​just​ ​curious​ ​whether​ ​there’s​ ​a​ ​better​ ​way​ ​to​ ​keep​ ​artists from​ ​starving​ ​or​ ​ultimately​ ​flying​ ​the​ ​coop.

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

EB: Most​ ​intriguing​ ​thing​ ​about​ ​me? ​ ​I​ ​think​ ​I’m​ ​rather​ ​unspectacular​ ​actually, ​ ​fairly simple​ ​and​ ​a​ ​small​ ​town​ ​boy​ ​living​ ​in​ ​the​ ​city. ​ ​ ​I​ ​was​ ​born​ ​with​ ​a​ ​love​ ​for​ ​acting​ ​and some​ ​skills​ ​and​ ​an​ ​innate​ ​ability​ ​to​ ​tear​ ​myself​ ​apart​ ​and​ ​put​ ​it​ ​back​ ​together​ ​again. Surprising​ ​thing? ​ ​Maybe​ ​not​ ​so​ ​surprising,​ ​but​ ​I’m​ ​actually​ ​very​ ​shy​ ​and​ ​have​ ​terribly low​ ​self-esteem​ ​sometimes, ​ and ​that​ ​combined​ ​with​ ​a​ ​healthy​ ​ego​ ​makes​ ​for​ ​a​ ​busy time upstairs.

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MARTHA HENRY: ACTOR/DIRECTOR, FORTY-TWO YEAR VETERAN OF THE STRATFORD FESTIVAL – AND PROSPERO IN THE TEMPEST OF STRATFORD’S 2018 SEASON – DECLARES “WE ARE MOVING TOWARD A REALIZATION THAT OUR NOTIONS OF CASTING, OF WHITE DOMINANCE IN THE THEATRE, ARE BEING NOT ONLY CHALLENGED BUT BLOWN TO SHREDS…… THE WORLD ITSELF IS CHANGING AND THE THEATRE IS IN THE VANGUARD”.. A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

MARTHA HENRY: Oh, good grief. “I work in the theatre.”

JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

MH: James, dear, I don’t think I can answer questions like this. I guess what I show or reveal is who I am. But I certainly don’t think of my work that way (although I often admire people who do). I just try to tell the playwright’s story of the play in as interesting and close-to-the-bone way as I possibly can.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

MH: There are many. Douglas Rain: a man of complete and total integrity, who often (perhaps to his own and others’ discomfort) “told it like it is”. And who illuminated complex characters with the greatest, most breathtaking clarity I have ever witnessed on a stage.

Goldie Semple: an actress of incomparable beauty and talent – and wit! – who took care of other people far beyond her duty – and ultimately her capacity – to do so. The world was a richer place when she was in it.

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

MH: Well, I believe I began to do “creative work” (although I certainly would not have called it that) when I was 7 and spent the years before that looking for the place to DO that work. I didn’t have a name for it then. Nor, I guess, do I now.

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

MH: My health. Nothing wrong with my health – I’m incredibly lucky at my age – but without that we can’t function.

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

MH: Major Turning Point: when Powys Thomas said to me, “Well, why can’t you?”

I was working at the Crest Theatre in Toronto under the artistic leadership of the great Murray Davis, who had formed a repertory company for the 1960-61 season. I was in every show (The Matchmaker, Macbeth, Under Milk Wood, Our Father’s House, The Schoolmistress, The Seagull) and at the same time, Powys, who was in the company, was going across the country auditioning for a new theatre school under the leadership of Michel Saint-Denis. I thought this was wonderful and exciting and I regretted the fact that I had gone to a school for four years (Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh) and therefore obviously would not be eligible or even considered for a school like this. Nor would I entertain the notion myself. When I communicated this to Powys (“I wish such a school had been available when I was looking for one. I’d have gone then. Too bad I can’t now.” (wink & smile) Powys replied, “Well, why can’t you?” Which resulted in my not only going to Montreal in the fall of 1960 but becoming the first (literally) graduate of The National Theatre School of Canada when I got an offer from Stratford to play Miranda in The Tempest in 1962.

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

MH: I guess the most difficult thing for someone who is not in this business to understand is that it is a business, a vocation, a way of life. People tend to think of what we do as being peripheral, a lark, an “entertainment” – because that’s what it is for them. If you work from 9 to 5, to think of people who work from 10AM to 11PM as being people who actually “work”, is difficult and finally incomprehensible.

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

MH: I got myself into the Brownie Scouts when I was 7 because they did a play.

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

MH: I always wanted to go and live in Jamaica and make it as a white singer. It never happened, partially because I was continually working – and partially because I can’t really sing.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

MH: This is another of those tricky questions. My most meaningful achievement was doing, when I was running the Grand in London, all three plays of Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Trilogy starting with Brighton Beach Memoirs, through Biloxi Blues, culminating in Broadway Bound. We produced these wonderful plays from my first year at The Grand (1987) through my last (1994) with the same cast, a Eugene (Eric Wolfe) who went from 14 in the first play to 21 in the last, complete with parents (Nicole Lipman and James Blendick) and an aunt (Debbie Kipp) and brother Marc. They were wonderful, all of them. I was extremely proud of them and of the shows. It seemed to me to signify a continuum, a lasting dedication to the elongated strain, the evolution, of the quality and thought behind what we were presenting – acknowledging that our audience was accompanying us on this journey.

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

MH: Well, of course, don’t do it unless you HAVE to. It’s too hard, otherwise.

JS: Of what value are critics?

MH: Some critics are useful to the artists, I think (Robert Cushman). Sometimes you can glean something from a knowledgeable reviewer that sticks and helps in the future. Too often the “critics” are most interested in establishing their own fame, their influence in a town, upon a community – their position of power.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

MH: To come. Then it’s up to us.

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?

MH: Well, I guess more government support. There are theatres in Europe that can do astounding things – shows that take several years to come to fruition – because their governments believe they are crucial for the development and health of the country. This is not, of course, the North American attitude. We tend to feel that the arts are an inconsequential frill.

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

MH: James, I don’t believe that I would. The theatre is ephemeral and probably should be. You can’t go back and relive something with any degree of validity because you are different than you were then. This is why it’s so interesting to play a part more than once: you are a different human being, a different artist than you were then – and so the part becomes different, too.

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

MH: I don’t have such pressure, James. I haven’t been interviewed in years. I interact with members of the audience who are effusive and kind. I have little or no interaction with the media.

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why

MH: I love Jamaica, have been there a few times and would live there, if I could make a living there. I have never been to Greece and would love to go and spend some time there. It really is the birthplace of what we do. (I learned a bit of Greek when I was in university – have lost most of it now…)

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us?

MH: Ah, projects…..I have always wanted to direct Ibsen’s The Wild Duck. Every time I find a Hedvig (the young daughter and the “owner” of the duck) I ask an artistic director if I can do it. They always say no. I think they believe no one will care, no one will come. And yet it’s one of the most poignant and incisive stories about a family and the ability to care about something outside yourself that has ever been written.

I would love to do Tennessee Williams’ Camino Real. I saw it when I was in university, directed by the legendary Bill Ball. It was spellbinding. Very few companies have the resources to do this play any longer. It would be a magical production on the Festival stage.

And of course, Clifford Odets’ The Country Girl. I have the perfect cast in mind for this searing story of a marriage and a failed artist from a legendary playwright of the American theatre.

Finally, from our own canon: without a doubt, the great John Murrell’s October – a story about Eleanora Duse and her friendship with Isadora Duncan. This fascinating, endlessly complex and alarming play has yet to have its definitive production. I would like to have the chance to try.

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

MH: I suppose what depresses me (although I’m seldom depressed) and what inspires me are actually one and the same: I think the conundrum we’re having at the moment about “diversity” and “colour-blind” casting (a term now considered offensive in certain circles) mean that we are moving toward a realization that our notions of casting, of white dominance in the theatre, are being not only challenged but blown to shreds and I’m pretty sure that it will not be long (although not in my lifetime) before those notions of “right” and “wrong” casting will be obsolete and we will have come to a realization of the fitness of things as reflected in the world in which we live……before the idea of someone with a darker skin playing a character previously meant to be of a lighter hue will seem so obsolete as to be laughable. The world itself is changing and the theatre is in the vanguard.

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

MH: Most intriguing, surprising thing about me? That I’m still here.

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DR. HANNAH FRENCH: BROADCASTER, RESEARCHER, CRITIC, PERFORMER, PUBLIC SPEAKER, EDUCATOR, AND ‘PORTKEY’ SAYS, “I GET DEPRESSED EVERY TIME MUSIC EDUCATION IS LABELLED NON-ESSENTIAL, OR AN ADD-ON FOR PRIVILEGED KIDS. THE ENORMOUS BENEFITS FROM BOTH THE ART AND SCIENCE OF MUSIC HAVE BEEN PROVED TIME AND AGAIN” …. A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

Raphaëlle Photography

James Strecker: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopaedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

Hannah French: Hannah French (PhD. MMus. BMus. LRAM. ARAM.) is a Musical Butterfly: Broadcaster (BBC); Researcher (Eighteenth Century and BBC Proms); Critic (BBC Music Magazine); Performer (Baroque Flute); Public Speaker (Pre-concert Talks, Festival Lectures, Listening Clubs); Educator (Children’s Music Classes, Undergraduate Music Degrees, Music Appreciation Classes); Collaborator (TV Historian, Music Consultant).

JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

HF: That the history of music is a living tale of musical people having experiences that everyone can relate to in one way or another. I aspire to be the portkey.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

HF: Both dead, and both unjustly famed for being wives of great men:

First, pianist Natasha Spender; the ‘omnicompetent wife of one of the 20th century’s most famous poets’. I worked for Natasha for a couple of summers, predominantly transcribing her late husband’s diaries. But the labels do her little justice as the true artist she was in her own right. Over the long summer evenings, she taught me a huge amount about life in the arts: from dealing with love and loss, to adapting your dreams. She performed at the first televised Last Night of the Proms, and planted the seeds of my obsession with the Proms – she was the one who taught me that the mark of a successful achievement is the realisation it’s become an obsession.

Second, soprano Anna Magdalena Bach; the second wife of the composer Johann Sebastian. We have to read through so many lines to catch sight of her, but despite that there is much to admire. A professional singer (doubtless performing Bach’s spectacular secular cantatas at the Court of Cöthen), she managed a huge musical household and continued her career – but to what extent we’re unsure as of course history neglects women. Her manuscripts and notebooks prove her talent – but no, I don’t believe she wrote the Cello Suites.

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

HF: I don’t remember a time when work wasn’t creative. I performed from a young age, chose creative subjects throughout my education, devised my own courses to teach undergraduates for over a decade at the Royal Academy of Music (London, UK), and now freelance in various fields as a musicologist. I would say that since I began broadcasting, I feel I’ve found my creative home and my own voice, which has brought renewed confidence and inspiration.

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

HF: I’m a workaholic perfectionist caught up in a disabled body. I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and wage a daily battle with pain. But this can bring focus too.

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

HF: Two major turning points stand out for me now:

The first was in my last year of school. I was told, very loudly and in front of a full room of 18-year-olds, that I’d never make it as a musician as I ‘couldn’t hack making mistakes’. It was mortifying, but has driven me. I’m still working on dealing with making mistakes.

The second was a long embrace with my husband Paul, under the beautiful Victorian Christmas lights of my home-town of Leeds (UK) on 12 November 2014. It’s like a gleaming moment in time. Minutes earlier I’d passed my PhD viva. The day before I’d been in the studio at Radio3 pre-recording my first proper feature reviewing newly released recordings. That week I’d finally made some progress with my health and mobility. I was pregnant. It was the start of a new chapter in taking control, personally and creatively: I had choices and new aspirations. I haven’t looked back.

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

HF: There’s no line between work and pleasure. I love that. But sometimes I crave silence, or Netflix. And I’m NEVER finished, it’s just simply time to stop and have a G&T.

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

HF: I sang before I spoke.

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

HF: Write short stories – because there are too many musical things I want to do first.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

HF: In terms of meaningfulness, being a doctor of music has nothing on a doctor of medicine. But music is medicine for the soul, and the most meaningful achievements are those when you make even a fleeting difference to someone’s life. There’s little so rewarding as a child singing back a tune or finding a rhythm, a student realising why things that have been instinctive all make sense, or an adult discovering that a musical experience can change the way they feel about themselves or the world. It’s powerful alchemy.

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

HF: If you think you need a plan B, you are chasing the wrong profession, but be prepared to adapt plan A. And celebrate small victories.

JS: Of what value are critics?

HF: I sit on both sides of this, being one and being subjected to them. Everyone is a critic whether they choose to voice their opinions or not. But critics are not just about criticism and these days when there are so many platforms for anyone to review pretty much anything, we’re returning to seek out cultural gatekeepers and a trusted voice. Ultimately the value of critics lies in the collective fascination with one person’s opinion, on one day, of one performance.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

HF: To tune into BBCRadio3 with an open mind and an open ear.

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?

HF: Manners. Seriously. The world over, and through every walk of life. Manners make you stop and think for a split second. If there were better manners on the road, I would arrive at my destination in a better frame of mind. People feel valued and appreciated when they are thanked. Please goes a long way in affecting change. It’s the same in the arts. It has to be genuine and we are all responsible.

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

HF: A recent one: February 2016. I was introducing a brilliant performance recorded live by the Dunedin Consort and John Butt of John Blow’s ‘Venus and Adonis for The Early Music Show on BBC Radio 3.
I’d previously been a guest on various radio shows, but this was my first time hosting. The script was relatively brief, but I’d agonized over it. It felt like a real responsibility to craft something meaningful and a chance to do something I’d aspired to for such a long time – I really wanted to get it right. Having always performed or spoken in real time, I didn’t expect the process of studio recording to feel as creative as it did and I loved it. It was one of those days when the producer who had booked me was ill so another stood in at the last minute, but that turned out to be a very good thing. In that short time, he helped me glimpse the art of broadcasting and I was hooked. I left Broadcasting House on cloud nine.

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

HF: I’m new to the media, and not remotely recognizable. However, I’ve already realised the benefit of having a professional photograph which says what you want it to be about your character – especially if people only hear your voice. I’m really grateful to photographer (and soprano) Christina Raphaëlle Haldane, for teaching me this and taking my photo.

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why.

HF: Jerusalem has been on my must-visit list for years. I suppose it’s the allure of experiencing the historic crossroads of culture, religion, food etc, but I would return in a heartbeat to the summer sun of Tuscany, with my family and a big pile of books.

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us?

HF: I’m currently researching and scripting an edition of The Early Music Show (BBC Radio3) which I’ll present for broadcast at the end of January 2018. It’s about the Vingt-Quatre Violons du Roi, a string ensemble resident at the French Courts of Kings Louis XIII, XIV, and XV. They are responsible for the orchestra as we know it today thanks to their organization, make-up, performance practices, and repertoire. We refer to them ever-so often in passing, but many specifics are still lost in the mists of time.

It matters to me that we take time to unpack even the things that we think we know about; there are always surprises. I hope that the finished product of an hour-long Early Music Show gets the grey matter going and whets the musical appetite for more. Ultimately, I want people to ask more questions.

Why should it matter? Because knowledge matters. Artistic knowledge enriches, and it’s a collective task. I couldn’t put it better than Tom Stoppard in Arcadia: “We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind.”

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

HF: I get depressed every time music education is labelled non-essential, or an add-on for privileged kids. The enormous benefits from both the art and science of music have been proved time and again, but it seems that’s not always enough to keep music in the core curriculum. My heart sinks when I learn that national music organizations hold courses in school holidays of private (fee-paying) schools, thus excluding state school students and fostering the perception that classical music in particular is elitist. It’s not, but that attitude can easily trickle through society.

On the flip side, I have hope when initiatives are put in motion that have very real, incredibly positive effects. Take the BBC’s 10 Pieces. In its third year, the concept of school students exploring the context and construction of a manageable, hugely varied, set list of works through online resources and live performances energises and simply makes music accessible. There’s very, very rarely any need to dumb down classical music. It just needs the right platform.

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

HF: There was time when I rode a horse through a McDonald’s drive-thru. Regularly.

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ELISA CITTERIO: THE VIOLINIST AND NEW MUSIC DIRECTOR OF TAFELMUSIK STATES, “MUSIC CHANGES US AND ACCOMPANIES US IN EVERY CRUCIAL MOMENT OF OUR LIVES. MUSIC IS COMMUNICATION, IT’S A UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE WITH THE ABILITY TO CROSS PHYSICAL OR MENTAL BOUNDARIES.”….A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS….SEE/HEAR TAFELMUSIK’S FOUR WEDDINGS, A FUNERAL, AND A CORONATION NOVEMBER 29 TO DECEMBER 3

Photo by Monica Cordiviola

JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

ELISA CITTERIO: My many years of study and my encounters with mentors and masters have left me with a great passion for teaching. On the one hand is my specialization in early repertoire on period instruments, which has culminated in a schedule full of events concentrated in baroque and classical music; on the other hand are my years in one of the world’s most famous orchestras, La Scala. Both paths have been reciprocally stimulating and enriching.

JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

EC: Music is a primary need for us humans. Even prehistoric drawings depict rudimentary musical instruments, suggesting that food is not the only thing required for our sustenance. Music is something that our bodies, minds —and for those who believe — our souls, need. Music changes us and accompanies us in every crucial moment of our lives. Music is communication, it’s a universal language with the ability to cross physical or mental boundaries.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

EC: My mother, because she taught me that the best teaching comes through example, and that we never stop learning. My teacher Dejan Bogdanovich, whose every note and every word are gifts that have been etched into my heart. His extreme humility is on par with his greatness, and this is part of his teaching.

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

EC: My first orchestra rehearsal, I was 13 years old. The collective breath and the magic of being surrounded musical harmonies. An indescribable emotion that has left its mark on my journey.
Also, the birth of my daughter.

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

EC: We musicians don’t produce a material object, and no two concerts are ever the same.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

EC: Winning the audition for the orchestra at La Scala wasn’t easy, and it was even more challenging to maintain my passion for the research, study, and practice of early music. Leaving La Scala to become Music Director at Tafelmusik is certainly something I’m proud of.

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

EC: Study certainly helps one reach a level of confidence in one’s own abilities. However, given the importance of sharing and empathy in this kind of work, it’s fundamental to learn how to manage interpersonal relationships, both on and off stage.

JS: Of what value are critics?

EC: I’ve come across reviews for the same concert that are very different from each other. It’s difficult to give an unequivocal opinion, but a classical music review reaches more people than word of mouth from people who attended the concert A good review includes concepts, good writing, and spreads a message about culture. A poorly written review can be more reflective of the critic’s personal tastes rather than reflecting a subjective listening experience. In any case, without critics we would lose an avenue for communication and interesting feedback.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

EC: I’ve been fond of noticing how in certain countries, the age of audience members varies quite widely. In general, I appreciate the audience’s participation, which may be manifested through silence, or sighs at the end of a piece, sometimes smiles, and from the audience’s ability to express its emotions through a standing ovation or rhythmic clapping and shouts of “bravi” at the end of concerts.

Some audiences are more reserved, while others are freer. I remember concerts in Argentina almost 20 years ago: several very young men, who after having applauded and yelled “bravi” at the end of the concert, waited outside the stage door to shake our hands. I’m not sure their reaction was as much about the quality of the playing as it was about their capacity to freely express their joy.

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and in the arts?

EC: There are two sides to every coin. Recording has its pros and cons: millions of CDs and DVDs are a sign of our times, but in a recording the sound gets compressed and it completely loses its unique and natural relationship with the listener. In my opinion, this sets up unrealistic expectations for live concerts.

I question the hectic pace that many musicians are subjected to — tours, concerts, and not enough time to time to study or find inspiration.

I question theatres and concert halls that close their doors to young children.

I question effect without affect.

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

EC: I’ll never stop being thrilled by playing music with others. I love sharing. I don’t have prejudices. I like to take risks, even on stage.

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KRISZTINA SZABÓ: MEZZO REMEMBERS: “I BEGAN HAVING AN ALLERGIC REACTION TO PLAYING THE PIANO – MY HANDS STARTED TO CRACK AND BLEED WHEN I PLAYED….IT WAS DURING THAT TIME THAT I ABANDONED THE PLANS TO GO TO TEACHERS’ COLLEGE. INSTEAD, I THREW MYSELF OFF THE METAPHORIC CLIFF INTO THE UNKNOWN ABYSS BY SAYING TO MYSELF AND THE WORLD: “I WANT TO BE SINGER”……A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

KRISZTINA SZABÓ: I stole this from my own website bio, but I think it answers the question appropriately! “Krisztina Szabó, Hungarian-Canadian mezzo-soprano, exemplifies today’s modern singer. She is vocally versatile, possesses excellent stage prowess and paints vivid character portraits on both the opera and concert stages, and is well-known within Canada as a passionate interpreter of new music.”

JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

KS: I’m not sure what beliefs I necessarily express through my singing. I try to infuse each performance with as much honesty of emotion as I can while being faithful to the text of the piece and the intentions of the composer.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

KS: I had the honour of meeting Maureen Forrester as a young child in the Toronto Children’s Chorus. She was a true Canadian icon – an incredible voice with an international career, but down-to-earth, warm, easy, with an amazing sense of humour. I admired her so much, and the more I learn about her, the more my admiration grows. She had an extraordinary career, a large family and still managed to be kind and generous to everyone she encountered. I think that says so much. And I greatly admire Barbara Hannigan, Canadian soprano and conductor. To witness her evolution as an artist has been truly remarkable. She is fiercely intelligent, unbelievably open and daring as an artist, ambitious, talented and has remained thoughtful and generous as a person and colleague.

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

KS: I honestly can’t remember a time when music was not a part of my life, so to say when it “began” is a challenge… being a musician, being a singer, simply has always been who I am. I have always thought, and I now tell my students, what a gift it is to be a singer because it’s a lifelong journey, always evolving and changing, and it provides a unique opportunity for self-exploration. I feel like my evolution as a singer and as a person have gone hand in hand.

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

KS: There are many challenges to living life as a self-employed classical singer. The three things that leap to mind are health, financial stability and loneliness. As a singer, if I am not healthy, I cannot sing, and therefore will not be paid. There are no “sick days” for singers – you can either sing or you can’t. Consequently, I have figured out how to sing through illness and, (knock on wood), in 20 years of singing professionally I have yet to have cancelled anything due to illness. But, that comes at a cost – singing through colds, singing after having spent the night in emergency with food poisoning, singing with a slight fever… all this is taxing physically as well as mentally. And the paranoia about staying healthy can be all-consuming – ask any singer what their regimen is for staying healthy, as well as for dealing with illness, you will find that they have quite a comprehensive answer for you! As for finances, when every year looks entirely different from one to the next, depending on what contracts have been booked, it is extremely challenging to find any sense of stability, and sense of peace about what the future holds.

And as for the loneliness… as I write this, I sit in a hotel room away from my husband and daughter, contemplating the next few weeks I will spend on the road, and the contracts in 2018 that will take me away from my family for at least 4 months of the year. I am fortunate to have a husband who works in the arts, and understands and appreciates what I do, but it is challenging to have a family life when there is so much time spent apart. And though the other singers and musicians that I meet on gigs are often lovely people, a lot of my time is spent doing exactly what I am doing right now… sitting alone in my hotel room. I just read a quote today from renowned mezzo-soprano, Felicity Palmer, that sums up the challenges of being a singer: “You need to look at whether becoming a singer is a life or death issue because if it isn’t, it’s a tough kind of life.”

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

KS: The most significant turning point I have had in my life I would say happened while I was in university. I began my studies as the University of Western Ontario (now Western University) as a piano major enrolled in the Music Education programme. I had plans on being a high school music teacher. My strict Hungarian father had reservations about this plan – he had hoped I would be a doctor or a lawyer, so doing this degree at all was a challenge to begin with. I met my voice teacher, Dr. Darryl Edwards, while at Western and began taking singing lessons with him on Saturdays, outside of my degree programme. I had always sung, but had never taken a private singing lesson until I met Dr. Edwards.

In my second year of university, I began having what I would say was an allergic reaction to playing the piano – my hands started crack and bleed when I played. I had to defer my jury that year. It was sometime during that time that I realized that I would much rather be a voice major, so in third year, I changed majors from piano to voice. But it was in 4th year university, that I began to really question whether or not I wanted to be a music teacher at all. Performance opportunities at the university presented themselves, and something in me clicked. It was like I knew who I was when I was singing on stage – it somehow felt like I could finally express the truest version of myself… and it was an addictive feeling. I went on to defy the wishes of my family, and defy the expectations of pretty much everybody else that an Education major would be able to make a career as a performer, and I abandoned the plans to go to Teachers’ College. Instead, I threw myself off the metaphoric cliff into the unknown abyss by saying to myself and the world: “I want to be singer”.

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

KS: I don’t really think “outsiders” understand what a complicated set of challenges I have to face as a singer trying to make a life and a living as an artist. As I mentioned, there are no sick days, there is very little (except a little bit through unions) in the way of a pension plan. My life looks entirely different from one day to the next – this is not necessarily a bad thing, but does not make for a sense of calm and stability. Performing makes for adrenaline highs and lows that are very taxing on the body. Being a singer and having a family is extremely challenging – having a child at all was terrifying because I thought that perhaps it meant that I would no longer be able to have a career, that I would thought as “not committed enough” because I dared to have a life outside the career.

I have to learn a crazy amount of music. I have to be impeccably prepared for each contract in hopes that the company will not only like me, but that they will like me enough to hire me again. I have to get up in front of people and open up my soul sometimes when I’m not well, or facing personal challenges – for example, when my father passed away, I was in the middle of an opera contract and had to sing that final show. I face constant criticism, I have to hustle to get work, I have to make sure to stay relevant as I age in an industry that increasingly values youth and “the next superstar”. It must seem like a very strange and bemusing life to an outsider!

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

KS: Like I said, being a singer is just who I am. As a child, I sang all the time around the house, and teachers at school noted my singing ability and often put me forward for solos at school events. In Grade 3, my teacher sent me to audition for the Toronto Children’s Chorus, which really began my more concentrated involvement with singing. And around the same time, I had begun piano lessons. Once I was more formally involved with music, it became my life.

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

KS: I would love to sing the role of Octavian in Strauss’ opera Der Rosenkavalier… it is a dream role of mine, and it would be lovely to have that dream realized one day!

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

KS: Personally, my most meaningful achievement is of course my daughter. Professionally, being able to say that I have been singing professionally for 20 years – and that I’m not done yet! – is my most meaningful achievement.

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

KS: I have been asked by young singers for advice on this matter, and I respond by first telling them my story. I tell them of the challenges I have faced, and the joys as well. I tell them what people told me “If you want to do anything else, do it. But if singing is absolutely the only thing you want to do, then go for it.” I tell them that they will get advice/criticism/feedback from pretty much everybody and his brother, and that it is really important to find your own voice, listen to your own instincts and know what is true, what is right for you.

JS: Of what value are critics?

KS: Nothing stings more than bad review or a review that doesn’t even mention (shock! horror!) your performance. Some of my colleagues do not read reviews because they say: “If you believe the good ones, then you have to believe the bad ones.” I am masochistic and read everything – also, one has to put the good reviews on one’s website! I really have to remind myself that a critic’s review is simply one person’s opinion – sometimes I read reviews of performances I have seen myself and totally disagree with what has been written. But reading my reviews has definitely toughened me up, and made me come to peace with how I feel about my own performance, who I am as a singer and what I have to offer.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

KS: All I ask of my audience is to be open to the experience of what they are about hear and see. And maybe pre-open those candy wrappers and turn off their cell phones! Oh, and also, please don’t look at me with a look that is totally disgruntled and/or bored… I can see you and it’s very distracting!

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?

KS: Well, there is so much I would change in the world – there is so much going on right now, frankly, it’s overwhelming. But with the recent happenings in Hollywood (i.e. the Weinstein case), it has made me think about women’s place in society and in my career specifically. Its time that women were truly valued as equals to men, that women were paid the same as men, that harassment was not something I have to teach my daughter to expect to happen to her.

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

KS: If I’m being greedy, there are many experiences I would love to relive. But the one that pops to mind from recent memory is singing The Woman in Erwartung at the Canadian Opera Company. It felt like the culmination of years of hard work, singing a role that was an absolute gift in an amazing production I had long admired, with a company that has nurtured and supported me from the beginning, doing it in my own home-town. It was a sweet moment that I would happily relive.

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

KS: I’m not sure how “presented” I am in the media. I do my work, its get reviewed, and when companies are looking to promote shows I am in, I will obviously do any and all the publicity. I don’t really think about that too much. Its odd when someone recognizes me – I like to think of myself as a working singer and I’m always surprised if someone knows me from my work.

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why

KS: I am still dreaming of a Caribbean vacation at some point in my life that has yet to happen – sun, sand, beach and a little time off would be lovely! Iceland was on my bucket list, but my family and I went there last summer, so I can cross that off. Hmmm… I would like to go to Japan. It seems like an incredible place, and I’ve always been fascinated by Japanese culture.

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us?

KS: Last week, I was in Montreal with Ensemble Contemporain de Montréal singing Ana Sokolovic’s Pesma. As I write this, I am in rehearsals with Arion Baroque Orchestra for a concert for the Montreal Bach Festival. After this, it’s Messiah season – with Vancouver Early Music, Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra and Toronto Symphony Orchestra. And in the new year, the first half of the year is dedicated to British composer, George Benjamin – first singing with Opera Philadelphia in his opera, Written on Skin, then débuting his new opera, Lessons in Love and Violence, at the Royal Opera House in London, England. I must admit that I am excited about all of it – I love the variety of music that I get to sing – from Bach to contemporary – and I love the people I get work with… its all quality music-making with talented musicians, from small ensembles to large orchestras.

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

KS: A few years ago, it seemed like there were a lot of opera companies and orchestras going under which felt very disheartening. But I feel like there is a new movement in music – of doing smaller projects in unique venues…companies like Tapestry Opera and Against the Grain Theatre (Toronto) who are revolutionizing the music scene by, as AtG writes, “presenting classical music in innovative ways and in unusual venues.” This movement excites me – the hunger for classical music is not gone, it is perhaps transforming. I for one am excited to explore this transformation, as an artist as well as audience member. And this does not make large operas or orchestral experiences less relevant – I think these more intimate experiences will serve to spark and feed new audiences, build a new following and get them excited about classical music so that going to an opera or orchestra concert will be a natural progression of that excitement.

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

KS: I don’t that I’m particularly intriguing! Maybe the most surprising thing about me is that I consider myself an introvert. Performing in front of a large audience is completely natural. Talking to people is not so natural!

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JULIE PONESSE: THE ARTIST AND PHILOSOPHY PROFESSOR EXPLAINS: “ONE OF THE THINGS THAT MOST DEFINES AN ARTIST’S STYLE IS KNOWING WHEN TO QUIT A PAINTING…..IF THERE IS A PARTICULAR IDEA I’M TRYING TO EXPRESS IN MY WORK, IT’S THE IDEA THAT A WORK OF ART IS DEFINED AS MUCH BY WHAT IT LEAVES OUT AS WHAT IT INCLUDES.”

JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

JULIE PONESSE: I am a Canadian artist, focusing mainly on landscape and architectural painting, and I regularly teach painting workshops. I am also a full-time Philosophy professor. The latter was my first career. Painting came a little later.

JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

JP: To be an artist is to be constantly reimagining and re-presenting to others the way one sees the world. To be a painter is to do this in visual terms.

About a year after I started painting seriously, I had to write an artist’s statement. I dreaded this because I didn’t feel there was a discernible theme in my work. I felt pressure to push myself in the direction of painting with a particular message in mind and I worried that the paintings were unimportant if they didn’t convey a particular, unified message. After a while, I realized that it’s okay if my paintings simply tell a story about what I am most excited about, visually, at a particular moment.

Having said that, I think one of the things that most defines an artist’s style is knowing when to quit a painting. One of my favourite quotations about painting is “A painting is never finished—it simply stops in interesting places.” If there is a particular idea I’m trying to express in my work, it’s the idea that a work of art is defined as much by what it leaves out as what it includes.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

JP: Dennis Hudecki. He was my first Philosophy professor and the first teacher to express real confidence in me as a thinker and a creative person. This confidence pushed me beyond a lacklustre elementary and high school education, and into a deep love of learning in my 20s. Whenever I tackle something new in my life, I can hear him urging me on, expressing amazement, encouragement, and support. Being able to do that for someone else is such an amazing gift. I think we all need someone like that in our lives. Or at least the people who have it are very lucky.

My parents. (I know, that’s a bit of a cheat since it’s two people but it’s true!) My parents have been a great force in my life, doing as much to set an example as providing support and love. Both of my parents have an unwavering sense of integrity, and stick to who they are even when it might be easier to take a different path. They are also great at making everything seem special. Big things like Christmas and Birthdays, and even little things like weekday breakfasts. I think this has had a big impact on my ability to see beauty in surprising places. That they are creative people in their own rights didn’t hurt either.

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

JP: This is a hard one to answer since I feel that I’ve been doing some form of creative work my whole life. One thing I do feel about creative work—the work of the imagination—is that it’s a necessity for me. I think Western culture, and Western education in particular, largely trains creativity out of us and that’s hard on those of us who have a creative impulse.

There was a time when I thought I had to be more practical in order to succeed in life. I remember when high school friends started getting well-paying jobs in computer and tech companies. I think many creative people feel this way and spend a lot of time trying to convince themselves that art is frivolous or indulgent, and should be put aside for more serious pursuits. I don’t know if creative people are as likely to be materially successful in our culture, but I know I’m much happier for not trying to talk myself out of pursuing a creative life.

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

JP: I think the biggest challenge as a painter right now is how to balance creative sincerity with the demand to sell work. I think creative work of any sort is still largely devalued in our society, and so artists struggle with how to make money. One theme I notice among artists who sell well, in Canada especially, is that their work is heavily stylized: every painting looks almost the same but just tackles a slightly different subject. Maintaining that level of stylization—a kind of brand identification, I think—is somewhat at odds with trying something new, branching out.

I do think that creating predictable work that fits into a recognizable style sells. But it’s not what keeps my creative ‘juices’ flowing. I don’t want to feel like I am making art on an assembly line. I want to keep pushing myself out of the comfort zone. I want to paint subjects that are typically difficult for me. I want to see colour in new ways, blur edges almost to the point of confusion, and be brave enough to subtract just a little more detail.

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

JP: Not many people know this about me but, when I was very young, I lost my only sister. Perhaps it’s an odd thing to have one’s turning point be at such an early age but it has had a big impact on how I see the world and how I approach things in my life. It made me very sensitive and also very appreciative of little things. These are skills that are indispensable for the artist since they make you aware of—look closer at, ask questions about—the subtleties in your environment. They make you slow down or even stop and really look at what you are seeing, and think about why little things matter.

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

JP: People often say, when they view my paintings or watch me paint, that it looks so loose or effortless. I think it’s hard for people to understand how much work goes into getting to the point where it’s possible to make something look easy.

Carol Marine, a wonderful daily painter from Oregon, tells the story of how she responds to people who ask “How long does it take you to finish one of these paintings?” Her answer: “20 years plus 2 hours” (it took her 20 years to get to the point where she can paint one small painting in 2 hours). That’s so true. Last week, I painted a quick little plum in a workshop. It was loose and free but it really captured the essence of that plum, and I thought to myself, “I never would have been able to do this a few years ago.” But the point is that it took years, and a lot of hours and practice to get to the point where I could do it (relatively) effortlessly.

(By the way, painting is never effortless. Not for me anyway. But it does start to feel a little more natural after a while.)

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

JP: I don’t think I remember a time when I wasn’t doing something creative. Even when I was 4 or 5, I remember cutting and colouring cardboard boxes to make a little house. I still have ambitiously conceived (but so far incomplete) crochet projects from that age, and half-stitched doll clothes. A big part of what drew me to Philosophy, actually, is its inherent creativity: thinking through a problem, and devising as elegant a solution as possible.

Perhaps a better question for me is why did I begin to do creative work in a professional sense? I loved my career in Philosophy. But as I taught and researched, I missed painting. I missed telling a story visually, in a limited space. I missed mixing piles of paint and staining the canvas with a colour I had made myself. I remember driving down the highway and noticing a field fade into the horizon and wonder ‘how would I paint that?’ I’m sure I had those thoughts for years before I decided to try and paint what I saw. My first painting as an adult was of a little cottage in Bayfield, Ontario. I set up my easel in the park across the street and did a quick little 5×7 study. The roofline was all wobbly and I’d forgotten most of what little I knew about perspective and colour mixing but I managed to capture something of the way the light dappled the roof that day. I still have that painting.

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

JP: I would love to become a better plein air painter. It is so invigorating to try to capture the essence of a scene that changes so quickly—sometimes in a matter of moments. I think you can learn so much more about your subject by painting in this way than by working slowly on a piece in the studio from a photograph. I know that doesn’t count as something I “haven’t attempted” but I’ve done it so little that the thought of it still feels like a new challenge but in that ever-so-slightly-nauseous-but-giddy-sort-of-way. Now that we’re into -10 weather, though, I may put this on hold for a few months!

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

JP: This will seem like a dodge but I don’t think I’ve had my most meaningful achievements yet. Perhaps I am overly optimistic about the future, or not sufficiently proud of the past, but I have a feeling that the most productive, meaningful parts of my life are yet to come. *Fingers crossed.* Ask me again 10 years from now?

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

JP: A philosophy professor of mine once told me that the advice he gave to those considering a career in Philosophy was “If you can imagine yourself doing something else, do it!” I think the idea is that the creative life—of whatever form—is hard. There is no coasting or coat-tail riding, you have to be resilient when you are least able to be, and there is the constant fear that the flow of ideas that has supported you up to a point will one day run out. But despite all of that, artists who love what they do will tell you there is nothing they would rather be doing. So, I guess my advice to a young person would be to ask this crucial question: “Could I imagine doing anything else?” If the answer is ‘no,’ then pursue it wholeheartedly come what may.

JS: Of what value are critics?

JP: I think critics are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I worry about people attaching too much value to what critics say as though an expert’s opinion is a good substitute for personal preference. I think it makes less sense to talk about good and bad art than art that speaks more and less to us.

That said, I think critics can help to educate the public about why art in general is of value and why, given the sheer volume of mediocre art in our culture, there is a difference between mass-produced art and art that is the result of careful study of one’s subject. I think the critic can also help us to understand why the process behind creating an original work of art—often, the result of many years of study, practice, and trial and error—impacts its value.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

JP: This one is pretty simple. Stop, look, and see if it speaks to you. If it doesn’t, move on and search for something that does. If it does, let yourself enjoy it, and maybe ask yourself why you like it. Feel free to like what you like. Welcome art into your life. Support the arts and artists in society. We will all be better for it.

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?

JP: Oh, don’t get me started about the change that is needed in the world. Could I get another 20 answers for that? If I stick to the arts, though, one of the things that worries me most is the homogenization of tastes and preferences. I worry that the internet, and social media in particular, has made us more self-conscious about whether our tastes are ‘in step’ with those of others, and more worried about whether our artistic preferences will be accepted by others.

I do think this can be offset by creating a greater appreciation for the arts in society, especially by helping children to develop their own tastes early on. A friend of mine, who has a 12-year-old son, has a wonderful idea. Every time they go on a trip, he gives his son $50 to spend. But there are two conditions: 1. He has to spend it on a piece of art, and 2. He has to explain why that piece speaks to him. I think that’s brilliant! My friend is not only teaching his son that art has value but is using art as a way to help him figure out who he is as a person by helping him to figure out what he likes and doesn’t like.

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

JP: Last spring, I participated in a ‘quick paint’ competition at a local plein air festival. We had two hours to paint a bustling Saturday morning market scene. Wow, those two hours just flew by! I was so focused on observing and processing what I was seeing that it felt like only a few moments. To top it all off, I won the contest! I wouldn’t mind reliving those 2+ hours again. But, of course, doing so would only take “a few moments”!

JS: 16 Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

JP: Hmm, I’m not sure I have a much of a media presence but, if I did, I would worry a bit about it. I am quite private and I value anonymity a great deal. I think I tend to present myself piecemeal to the world. I wouldn’t say people get a false impression of me, but they are likely only to get one chapter at a time. To push the metaphor, few people get to read the whole book in one sitting. In many ways, I am a person displaced from another era, one in which news traveled slowly and arrived by post rather than by ‘mouse’ click. I do have a social media presence, and I value the connections with other artists which that makes possible, but it all still feels a bit unnatural to me.

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why

JP: Scotland. My ancestors on my mother’s side are from Scotland and so I feel a connection to the place and a desire to see where they came from. But I am also just intrigued by the rugged, prehistoric quality of the land.

Vermont. I have been there many times but could go again and again, and never tire of it. It’s hard to explain why. There is the obvious beauty of the Adirondacks, with their waterfalls, wildlife, and blankets of green rolling over the mountains, but there is something more than that. It is a cozy place, and that will always draw me.

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us?

JP: I am nearly finished painting for a show that will hang early next week and open next Friday. It is a show of largely architectural pieces, scenes of and from the streets of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Initially, I thought this would just be about painting the architectural features of Niagara’s streets, but it became much more than that. Several of the pieces are nocturnal (or night) paintings, which I only started to do a few months ago. I also incorporated humans and animals for the first time. Eeek! But perhaps the most important thing that came out of these pieces, by accident really, was trying to create a sense of the viewer being in the piece, herself. And this made me think a lot about the significance of place, why it matters so much, what we have lost when we are displaced or have no place to call our own. I hope the pieces in this show speak to the viewers’ sense of place and give an instant impression of the mood of the places I have painted. I hope the viewers feel transported for a little while to the scenes in the paintings and have good memories, maybe, of places that have had meaning for them.

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

JP: I mentioned earlier that I think there is a general lack of appreciation for the arts in society. That is a depressing thought, but perhaps not an uncommon one among artistic people. That said, I think there is a growing amount of interest in personal artistic expression, in people who want to do art themselves. (The “Paint Night” phenomenon is a case in point.) I wonder, though, if this is helping or hurting the wider artistic community. I worry a bit that this ‘how-to,’ consumer-oriented form of painting gives a false impression as to the ease with which art can be created, but I also wonder if it is a first step towards the public becoming more interested in art, itself, and in the artistic process. We’ll have to wait to see how this plays out.

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

JP: To be honest, I don’t think I surprise myself very often. For the most part, I like the things and people I did when I was much younger, though perhaps I’ve discovered better, more interesting, or more fulfilling versions of these, and in surprising places.

One thing others might find surprising about me is that I really love flaws. Cracks in old plaster. Wobbly rooflines. Brushstrokes that are never quite straight…or complete…or in the right spot. There’s so much beauty in imperfection.

One last thing. I find it quite surprising that I’ve done some things in my life that make others want to interview me. I hope I haven’t disappointed.

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JANE PERRY: ACTRESS RECALLS “IT TOOK ME A VERY, VERY LONG TIME TO FIND A WAY TO KEEP MY OWN PSYCHE AND THAT OF MY CHARACTER SEPARATE. I FELT ALMOST DRIVEN TO BATTER MY OWN MIND WITH MY CHARACTER’S THOUGHTS AND EXPERIENCES. IF I DIDN’T DO THAT, I FELT I WASN’T WORKING HARD ENOUGH. THAT DID A NUMBER ON MY MENTAL HEALTH.” …. A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

JANE PERRY: Jane has worked as an actress in film, television, voice over and on stage in both the UK and Canada. She spent five years at The Shaw Festival, and has enjoyed many roles onscreen, including the character responsible for the X-Files being called the X-Files.

JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

JP: I believe that it is a great gift to show the imperfections and the vulnerability inherent in being human. We have an instinct in our day-to-day lives to actively hide these aspects, not realising that in doing so, we cut off a part of ourselves. Our complexity, fully realised, gives us access to many things; our anger, our sadness, our shadow side. The acceptance of these perceived negative qualities can provide us with tremendous drive, power, empathy, growth and compassion. When we see the hurt, the sadness, the wholesale imperfection of a character on stage or in a film, it can give us a means of relating and finding resonance with that. We realise that we’re not alone: What we experience is the experience of many, if not all. I always hope with my work that by being honest with these sides of myself, and really allowing them to show, I’m at the same time saying “Look, it’s ok, our imperfections give us an opportunity to expand, and evolve. Look what can happen if you embrace them”. Although sometimes a character’s journey is more of a warning: look what can happen if you don’t.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

JP: I’d quite like to have a chat with Queen Boudica. I’m fascinated by female warriors and she’s one that really sticks out in history (there are not too many to choose from). She loses her husband, her daughters are raped, she’s publicly flogged, humiliated and betrayed. Does she say to herself “Gosh, that was a bit much, I think I’ll retire from public life”? No. She grabs her daughters, amasses an army and heads out to fight tooth and nail for what she feels is rightfully hers. What a woman.

I also have great respect and admiration for so very many actresses, but because there isn’t enough room to mention them all, I’ll pick Frances McDormand. She has so much authenticity in her work. She is brave and is not afraid of not being liked. She is fearless in an industry where there is so much pressure to not to get old. She’s aged gracefully and I think it sets a most welcome and good example. I always feel inspired by her.

JS How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

JP: Good question. I’m not sure I have much perspective on this, as I have been an actor my entire adult life. I will say that as I’ve progressed through my career, I’ve had to answer some questions about my own confidence, and why I wanted to be an actor in the first place. I struggled so much with a negative self-perception as a younger person. There is no doubt that I sought the refuge of playing a character as a way of escaping myself. Gosh I found that such a relief! But of course, it caught up with me, and did nothing to heal the real problems lurking in the background (and the foreground too I’m sure). I made a move towards trading in my insecurities for better qualities and aligning with a more positive sense of self.

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

JP: I have struggled in the past with boundaries. I guess there’s something in my make-up that attracts distraught, vulnerable or damaged characters. There is of course much to be enjoyed about playing axe-murderers, jilted women, and the like. But it took me a very, very long time to find a way to keep my own psyche and that of my character separate. I felt almost driven to batter my own mind with my character’s thoughts and experiences. If I didn’t do that, I felt I wasn’t working hard enough. I really don’t know where I picked that one up from! What I do know is that it did a number on my mental health, and I had to regroup and find a different way. I now have a little signal, like an internal red flag that pops up when I venture into unhealthy territory. I listen to it, I trust it, and I remind myself that the audience has no idea what fresh hell I’m going though in my own mind as I play my role. So why bother? My experience is actually totally irrelevant. All I’m called upon to do is to play the role well, and let the rest go. It takes a lot less energy and is much more fun and life-affirming.

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

JP: A major turning point in my life was getting bad reviews. I’d always coasted along, receiving relatively good press and good feedback for my work. And then suddenly I was in 2 plays at the same time, and got massively slammed for both. I found the experience so deeply painful and felt dreadful every time I stepped on stage to perform. I began to realise however, that, if I was to be honest, I wasn’t really as grounded in my work as I could have been. I was too keen on what others thought, and had wrapped my self-esteem up in the good praise of my peers, the critics, my director, etc. I hadn’t really been aware of this until that bad press started to stream in. As a result, I started a process of seeking that confidence from within. This meant really being clear about my gut instinct, and allowing myself to listen to that. Trusting that I am enough - that I’m a perfectly valid and reasonable vessel to hold the experience of my character. Somehow, by doing so, I cared less about what others thought, which ironically made the collaborative process more streamlined, because I was less attached to the outcome of my work. My criteria shifted from “Oh God, I hope people like me!!!!” to “I will do the best I can. I will be as brave and courageous as I can be. I will be generous and always aim for authenticity. And I will have a joyous time doing it”. Such a great lesson.

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

JP: I think it might be difficult for an outsider to understand why I might pursue a career that has no job security, no benefits, no guarantee of a regular paid income, and no retirement package. I think it might also be hard to understand why I might agree to do work that doesn’t pay very well, even though I’ve been in the business for 20+ years.

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

JP: I come from a family that was perhaps not as expressive as it could have been. Somehow, I ended up being a bit of sponge, soaking up all those thoughts and feelings that were left unexpressed. I needed somewhere to put them, and the stage and the screen felt like a pretty good repository. When I discovered acting as a young person and came into contact with other creatives, I felt like I had found my long-lost tribe – one I still feel so honoured and happy to be a part of.

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

JP: I wonder sometimes if I have a writer in me. Being an actor is a wonderful job, but also an intermittent job. I’m presently in the UK, and we have BREXIT looming over us, which has created this terrible sense of uncertainty in our industry (as well as many others of course). Consequently, work has been very slow for many. I think investors are a little shy of having much to do with UK based projects, until we really know what’s what. Or, maybe it’s just that I’m on the cusp of 50, and there are fewer roles for an older North American woman in the land of tea and crumpets. I really don’t know. The point is, work comes and goes. Wouldn’t it be great to self-generate my work, indulge in my own creativity, by doing exactly what I’m doing now: typing out a few words on my computer, with the cat snoring beside me, a cup of tea and my own imagination.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

JP: I am really proud of the time I spent at The Shaw Festival in Canada. It was such an honour to work there with so many talented crew, directors, designers, and of course my fellow actors. I also have really enjoyed the array of people I’ve met working here in the UK. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Daniel Day Lewis, Paul T Anderson, Isabelle Huppert, Jude Law, Tom Hanks, Tom Tykwer, Neil Jordan, Jim Sheridan, etc. That has been so much fun and I’ve felt very inspired by all of them.

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

JP: I am always one for nurturing the dream of creativity in anyone who feels the call. So I would say to a young person who wishes to get into this field: go for it, with all your heart! And while doing so, get some great training so you can learn the skill of being an actor, learn how to use your voice, your body, learn how to analyse your text, and how to be authentic. Find a community of like-minded, positive, people. Invest in them, and they will invest in you. And don’t give up!

JS: Of what value are critics?

JP: I think critics are of value in that they can help to raise the profile and can draw audiences to a production, provided they give a positive review. If it’s damning critic, then this can be really quite devastating, especially in the theatre. I don’t always agree with critics and their assessment of a play or a film. But I do still think they are necessary – they are a part of the machine. My only request is that they know what they’re talking about. That they have some level of background in the theatre, and haven’t just come off the sports desk – especially if they’re reviewing for the broadsheets or major media outlets. Having said that, everyone is now a critic, with the advent of on-line blogging and social media. We’re getting all kinds of takes on what is presented to us, and maybe that’s a more democratic, levelled approach. I also find myself reading reviews after I’ve seen something, as frequently there can be a bit of a back story or information about the production that I might not normally have access to, which can be quite interesting and enlightening.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

JP: Sit up, listen, turn OFF your phone (don’t just put it on silent), and please don’t eat potato chips during live theatre.

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?

JP: Oh, let’s see…. I notice that Isis hasn’t put out any good art for a while. Nor has the Taliban (although I’ve never been to this part of the world, so I’m happy to be set right if my perception is incorrect). Indeed, they seem quite intent on grabbing a sledge hammer and a chainsaw and destroying it. Lest you think I’m suggesting that all points West of the Middle East are perfect, I also feel deep concerns about Trump threatening to completely eradicate the National Endowment for the Arts. In other words, I get uneasy when I see a complete lack of regard for the Arts, no matter where this happens, and who perpetrates it. Where there is a hatred of the Arts, there is a hatred of self-expression and freedom. It is accompanied by a harshness, and a heaviness that leaves little room for joy, empathy, compassion, childhood. If there is no art in a community, it is a bioindicator of something gone very badly wrong. Hardship, war, economics, ideologies, a lack of opportunity, and dogma. Art is not therapy, (although it can be) but it is certainly a source for healing, for reflection, a celebration and a recognition of our ourselves. I can’t imagine a world without it, and I am grateful for it every day, from the busker who plays a beautiful tune on the London Underground to those great paintings that hang in our National Galleries to the dancer who captures something so exquisite and true that it defies language.

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

JP: I loved playing Rosalind in As You Like It. I had the pleasure of playing her twice: once at theatre school, and then again at Bard On The Beach in Vancouver. I just love that character. She is so proactive, she loves, she’s jealous, she’s full of insecurity, passion, drive, joy, sadness, grief, and loss. She’s the “full meal deal” and I could live in her sphere forever. Speaking Shakespeare’s text was akin to being in love, for me, and I would be happy to do so for the rest of my days!

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

JP: I find it quite fun really. I have to say I don’t pop up that much, as I am by no means famous, and mostly work as a day player (supporting characters) in film and TV here in the UK. But from time to time, someone will stop me and say “oh gosh, I know you from somewhere. Where have we met?” Also, I do play a lot of bad-ass characters in computer games, and sometimes my voice will pop up in a game that’s played by my step kids or the younger people in my life. This gives me an invaluable dose of “street cred” which I’m pretty sure I would otherwise definitely not have!

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why.

JP: I’d love to go to Iceland. The land of fire and ice. It sounds so anachronistic and unknown. Plus, Björk came from there…so there’s gotta be something mystical and special about it. And I am always keen on returning to the mountains. I grew up in Calgary, Alberta and am always stunned and humbled by the beauty and the majesty of the Rockies. I would also love to go back to Taormina in Sicily and see a production at the Teatro Greco - what an amazing setting with Mount Etna, gently puffing out plumes of smoke, as a backdrop.

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us?

JP: I shall shortly be working on a short film called Satori. It’s the first independent film project by the very talented cinematographer Adam Batchelor, whom I met while filming “The Beyond” in the UK. It is about Mother Nature saying “enough is enough”, and taking control of the earth in a way which human beings find almost uninhabitable. For the few that do survive, it is a reckoning between survival using pure force, technology and weaponry versus working with our instincts, not fearing the unknown and approaching an uncertain future with humility and wonder. As far as I can tell, it’s all very timely in terms of what’s happening to our climate. It seems to me there’s an imperative to make changes RIGHT NOW. However, that message is being met with the equal and opposing force of denial, the consequences of which I fear we are already experiencing.

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

JP: Well. I think it’s an interesting time to be in film and TV, as the medium by which they are both presented is in the midst of a massive shift. The internet, Netflix, Amazon, online content such as web-series and podcasts, etc. have certainly challenged the cinematic experience, and long gone are the days when we might have rushed home to see our favourite TV program. Television has produced some of the most extraordinary work I’ve seen for a while. As a viewer, I find this exciting and engaging. It’s brilliant the way technology has opened things up. We can make our own work in a way that would have once been entirely prohibitive from a cost point of view.

As for what I find depressing, as mentioned before, being that I’m in the UK, I’m really concerned about BREXIT, and the impact it is having in the arts (and life) in general. These days funding for feature films and TV and some theatre tends to come from many different sources. And in the UK, this includes funding, not to mention creative input and support, from other European countries. I can’t help but feel that BREXIT pushed the British public into a simple “yes” or “no” answer to a question that was extremely complex. It was so reductive, and now, we’re in a sorry mess as we try to sort out what it all means. I’m sure the arts will survive, they always do, but I think there may be some rough waters ahead.

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

JP: I love the experience of coming alive when I’m working with a team. Whether that be with my sound engineer during a voice-over session or in the rehearsal hall with a Director and a group of actors. It instigates a creative high that seems otherwise inaccessible. This I find surprising (and yes, a little disappointing) and I am intrigued by why the creative impulse is more or less latent when I’m working alone (for example, when I sit down to write). I have a deep respect and admiration for those artists who are at their desk or in the studio, toiling away solo as they write or paint or what have you. But, perhaps that’s just how I’m made? Creativity is a curious beast sometimes…

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PETER KRANTZ: THE BUSY ACTOR STATES “SOMETIMES WE WONDER IF THE PUBLIC REALIZES HOW MUCH WORK HAS GONE INTO MAKING IT SEEM LIKE NO WORK. AND FOR SOME OF THE WORK, HOW MUCH OF A COST, EMOTIONALLY AND PHYSICALLY, THE ACTING IS. I DON’T THINK MANY OF THEM UNDERSTAND THAT”….. A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

PETER KRANTZ; I am a Canadian actor, working predominately in theatre. I have also many television and film credits, but my main focus has always been live theatre, most of it in the classics. My first professional contract was with the CBC for a television pilot in 1978. I have been acting for almost 40 years.

JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

PK: To be an actor is a constant learning experience. We study life, and try and express, in many different ways, the human condition. We must be open to everything. Our belief is in man, his ability to create art, and to give meaning to our existence.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

PK: Christopher Newton. He was my first real mentor and the father of much of what we like to call repertory theatre here in Canada. He founded Theatre Calgary, moved on to the Playhouse in Vancouver and then over 20 years at the Shaw Festival. His vision of an ensemble of actors was the real success of his years at the Festival, and was the reason I worked there for 28 seasons.

Neil Munro. Apart from being a fantastic actor, Neil also wrote plays, and then became one of Canada’s leading theatre directors. He used a different method for approaching the work and inspired many with his humanistic bending of rules, passionate and intelligent directing. I was lucky enough to be in 8 of his productions.

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

PK: I have been doing creative work for most of my life, so I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t. Beginning in high school, where I had a penchant for creative writing and drama, then Ryerson Theatre School, and then work in the arts for about 16 years straight. I took a few years off in the 90’s raising children, getting divorced and working a real job. When I got back to acting I believe I had improved having taken the time away. Don’t know why, maybe just growing up, getting knocked around for a while. At any rate, most of the great roles I was blessed with came after this time and so for me that was my big change, living in the real world, then getting back to creative work. I think it gave me an appreciation of how hard it is for the great majority of people who work in dead end jobs, or lifeless careers, trying to get ahead or just keeping their heads above the water. I like working class people and working with them and observing life away from the theatre, this gave me a life lesson I had not had early in my career. I had started working on a CBC pilot before I had even finished theatre school.

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

PK: An actor has some of the biggest challenges as a creative being. He is dependant on many others for his artistry. Just getting hired is of course our biggest challenge. There have been times when work has been scarce for me, but I have also been one of those lucky actors to have had long-term work for a number of years. For many talented actors scarcity of work is the supreme challenge. Then after being hired we are still dependant on a script, a director, a designer and finally an audience. All of these can help or hinder our creativity. So, lots of challenges.

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

PK: One of the key turning points of my life was in the summer of 1999. I had returned to the Shaw Festival after a six-year hiatus. I had a solid season playing Maxim de Winter in Rebecca, directed by Chris Newton and George in All My Sons, directed by Neil Munro. Rebecca was a fantastic hit, but I never felt comfortable all through rehearsal. Chris didn’t seem to know what to do with me, and I was beginning to wonder if coming back was the best thing for me. I did my best, Severn Thomson played the young Mrs. and Sharry Flett stole the show as Mrs. Danvers. My second show was a life changing event. Miller’s All My Sons. From the first rehearsal I knew somehow this was going to be different. Neil’s approach helped me relax into the part, and maybe for the first time I realized how important listening was to the art of acting. Neil gave me confidence and a new look at myself and the work. We worked together seven more times and I believe his entering into my life was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

PK: Many times we hear the question “How do you learn all those lines?” It’s a fair question, the majority have tried to memorize something and found it impossible. It’s never been a problem for me but I understand the awe we seem to inspire just reciting something from memory. No, the one thing I think outsiders wonder, and often ask is, “So do you do this for a living?” Or, “So what else do you do?” It always stumps us. Especially if we have been a veteran actor at the Shaw Festival and someone is asking this question at a talk back after the show. Did I seem that amateurish? Was my acting so seamless that it didn’t look like work? Can you regard acting in a play as work? Isn’t it just fun and games? The old “rogues and vagabonds” denigration. Sometimes we wonder if the public realizes how much work has gone into making it seem like no work. And for some of the work, how much of a cost, emotionally and physically the acting is. I don’t think many of them understand that.

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

PK: I was mostly aimless in my early youth. My parents moved around a lot. We grew up in an affluent neighbourhood of Toronto, Rosedale, but moved every few years. My father was a television writer when I was young, had a few CBC hits, wrote and created Razzle Dazzle, eventually moved into news, and then producing. I met creative people early in my life, but had no spark then. In fact, I failed grade 10 entirely. Spent most of my days in the local pool hall down the street at Sherbourne and Wellesley. Was taught a mean stick by a short pool shark with a pool cue for a cane. Wish I could remember his name. Anyway, got caught up with whatever else goes on in pool halls, which ended up bad, addicted to speed and pan handling on Yonge St. This is the 70′s man. Figured it out. Got cleaned up.  Then in grade 11 I fell in love for the first time, discovered literature and poetry, and wanted to be a writer. My father got a job he couldn’t refuse, heading the CBC news for Atlantic Canada so we moved to Halifax. I pined for my new love, and wrote, but then was coerced into auditioning for a play at my new high school. I got the part, had a wild success, played another part at Dalhousie University with real actors, auditioned for Ryerson Theatre School and the rest is history as they say.

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

PK: I want to direct. I always have, but I always got acting parts, and it is hard to meld both. Some have, and done well, but I was too worried about keeping my acting career. Many actors who have worked with me have always asked my why I don’t direct. I had a reputation for throwing my two cents in, but always because I could see how something could be better. I think I have an eye and an ear for directing and intend to pursue it in the future. In my experience, the best directors have all been good actors as well.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

PK: That is an easy one. My two children.

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

PK: Be creative in any way you can. Do it because you love it. Do it because there isn’t anything else in the whole world you would rather do.  Don’t do it for the money. Don’t do it because you want to be famous. Don’t read your reviews.

JS: Of what value are critics?

PK: I think they are necessary. I think constructive, healthy criticism is good. Unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of critic writing today. Many follow agendas, show bias, and display downright ignorance of what good work is, and indeed, what their place in the creation of theatrical performance is. Because they have a place. Not as much as our respected actors, directors and dramatists, but they do have a value if they are any good. Exposing what is inferior, praising what is worthy. Help truly relevant and good work to have its due.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

PK: Unadulterated devotion. Kidding. I guess what any actor asks for from an audience is just to listen. If you do, hopefully if we are any good, we can do the rest. If the material or our performance makes it difficult for people to do that, we expect their good grace and hope they accept at least the attempt.

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?

PK: There has to be more of an appreciation of teaching about the arts in our education system. While I had the luck of having theatre arts courses, many institutions have scaled back, theatre, music and many of the visual arts programs and concentrated on technology and maths. I was also lucky that I had a European mother who loved classical music, and art. Many people don’t have much of an artistic bent, but there are many that do, who are persuaded that following any dream in the arts is a recipe for poverty. It is for the most part. I am one of a very lucky few who have made a fairly consistent living in theatre, for many it is a constant state of unemployment followed by some temporary work followed by more unemployment. I do think more, not less art is needed in this world. Studies have shown that kids exposed to arts early, do better in whatever chosen field they may end up in. If we do that, more kids will follow their dreams, creating more audience along the way, which will create more revenues to allow people to make a living in the arts. In turn that will again inspire those wondering what to do with their lives. One big artsy circle. Its a win win.

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

PK: Play Elwood P Dowd in Harvey again. Actually I did reprise my performance at the University of North Colorado, and would do it again and again if the opportunity arose. Jimmy Stewart, who starred in the movie of course, played him on stage well into his 70’s. When we did Harvey in 2010 I really had no idea that it would be the hit that it was. I know I was probably about the 3rd or 4th choice for the part. For the first time in my career I actually asked for the role. I never liked to because on the one side if you are no good, it’s your fault for wanting the role in the first place, and if you are good, you take away the director’s brilliance in casting you. I didn’t ask for it because I knew what a brilliant play it was or had a burning desire to play Elwood, but mostly because a couple of my peers had persuaded me that I was right for the role. Joe Ziegler was directing so I reached out to him, and it turned out that he too was touting me for the role. I found out later that Joe was offered to star or direct and he chose the latter so that is how I lucked into the best part of my career. I began to love Elwood, his softness, his gentlemanly way, his inner pain but outward belief in the decency of man. Who wouldn’t want to relive a performance when a gigantic roar and an instant standing ovation greeted every curtain call!?

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

PK: It is kind of a mixed blessing. On the one hand we need the media to have a presence in the industry, to keep our names floating about. On the other hand, too much exposure can typecast you, good reviews can go to your head and bad reviews can hurt. Sometimes permanently. For me, I am inherently shy and so being made public in the media can sometimes be traumatic. We can also be the target for the sake of political ends. I did a production at Theatre Calgary when Ralph Klein was mayor. He had had some press for his “creeps and bums from the east” comments concerning the raise in the crime rate in Calgary. The reviewer for the Calgary Sun used the quote in his pan of our play, Criminals in Love by George F Walker. He had had an ongoing feud with the theatre management, Martin Kinch who was from Toronto and who he didn’t like. So along with the playwright and fellow Ontarians, director Bill Lane, Rolly Hewgill, Gail Garnet and myself, we were open targets. The words I remember from the review were, “So Mayor Klein was right, not only is the east responsible for all creeps and bums on our streets, now it’s responsible for what goes on Theatre Calgary’s stage.” I wrote a letter to the editor complaining that it sounded like the reviewer was comparing us to creeps and bums, not to mention criminals, which he surely was, even though we were just actors trying to do a play! I demanded an apology. The letter was printed, and I got a written response from Mayor Klein in which he apologized for his misinterpreted remarks but I never heard from the reviewer.

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why.

London, England. I need to go to London. One place I have never been. It being the centre of English speaking theatre. History is one of my passions. I had an inspiring history teacher in Grade 9, and it was all about the Kings and Queens of England and feudalism, the middle ages. First time I actually enjoyed school. I love art, the renaissance and impressionistic eras are favourites and sometimes instead of going to theatre I will go to a gallery. So, London is very big on that list. One place I have been to and intend to go again is Amsterdam. I have family there, but not only that, the best artwork ever created in my humble opinion. The Golden Age in Dutch painting produced two of the undisputed masters in Rembrandt and Vermeer and then the king of Impressionists van Gogh.

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us?

PK: Last summer I worked on a new Norm Foster play called Lunenburg at the Foster Festival in St. Catharines. It was my first exposure to a Foster play and it was extremely pleasant one. Norm has just been awarded the Order of Canada, and as you may know is one of Canada’s most prolific playwrights, which has exposed him to the criticism of being a little lighter fare. Some like to term him Canada’s Neil Simon. Not so with Lunenburg. It had heart, good writing, well drawn characters, and lots of laughs. It was one of the hits of this growing festival. Originated by the tireless general manager Emily Oriold, and the Artistic Director Patricia Vanstone, it will be putting on its third year in 2018. I will be part of that season, in another new play TBA. They will be doing four plays next year, two new and two classic plays of Norm’s. Having worked on Lunenburg and hearing other actors’ experiences of working on his earlier classics, I am beginning to term Norm Foster’s work as definitely underrated. They also have plans to add more new plays by other Canadian writers to their future seasons.

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

PK: People will always create art. That is inherent. Whether we support it or not. Art expresses who we are. It is our culture. We celebrate it enough to build galleries and concert halls and theatres. But now attendance is down, across the board for live theatre, music and dance. Even the movie theatres are suffering. You can download anything you want, at any time, right from your living room. The general recompense for your creation, if you are the creator, is minuscule after all the big wigs have taken their share. In the theatre, production costs have mounted with unionized workers and increased support workers as well as actors’ salaries to make ticket prices beyond many peoples’ budgets. Another aspect of change has to do with the younger actor of today. He or she represents a swath of our society, one that has to be reflected with diversity on the stage. But because of the sheer number of new actors coming out of more and more training grounds, the pool has grown, the youth are kicking at the heels of the newly middle-aged and forcing them into fighting the older actors for the older actors’ parts. Many who may have continued working in the past, are forced into sporadic work or retirement. Its a double-edged sword. We want the youth. We just want them to be patient, like we were, pay some dues, and watch and learn. They’re too busy looking down at their phones connected to the universe or watching over their shoulders for the next wave coming after them. In the end I think the audience is who suffers. Of course, you can blow everything up, women can play men, men can play women, young can be old, old can play young. It is my belief that classic plays, and in fact most plays work better when they reflect the authors intent, and much of that would be reflected in its casting. So, I guess what I am saying is, it is fantastic that we have a young burgeoning diverse arts community, but let’s not forget about our older members and our audience.

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

PK: That I got through these twenty questions. Kidding again. It was actually sort of cathartic.

Since I have been talking about myself for the last nineteen questions you would think I would be used to it by now. Not. I think a big perception about me is one of supreme self-confidence, bordering on arrogance. Used to be termed cocky. In reality, like most creative people, I am shy and self-critical. I think sometimes I haven’t really done anything, but then I look at my resume and suddenly tell myself that is a lot of plays you have been in. Many more than you thought you would be in, and many more than a vast number of talented actors. You have been celebrated, and berated. You are a good actor. And that is all you ever wanted to be known as. Wish there would be more work right now for a good actor!

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JOËLLE MORTON: THE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR FOR SCARAMELLA CONCERTS IN TORONTO (SEASON OPENS NOVEMBER 11) DECLARES “THERE IS LITTLE THAT GIVES ME GREATER PRIDE THAN SEEING THE FLICKER OF LIGHT THAT COMES ON IN THE EYES WHEN SOMEONE IS ‘TOUCHED’ BY AN IDEA, OR AN IMAGE, OR A SOUND……NOT EVERYTHING OF VALUE IN THE WORLD IS CREATED FOR THE PURPOSE OF MAKING MONEY.”…… A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

JOËLLE MORTON: Performer and teacher, specializing in historical double basses and violas da gamba.

Curator of the Hart House Viols, artistic director for Scaramella Concerts in Toronto.
Internationally respected scholar and writer, known for internet presence and numerous publications including performing editions and historical studies relating mostly to large bowed bass instruments.

JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

JM: Playing music and transmitting historical information are forms of direct communication – with dialogue that is both internal to myself, and with others of my musician colleagues, and ultimately with an audience. Pitches and rhythms, as well as words and images, are just the ‘framework’ for communication, and while those things remain more or less the same from one reading to the next, the message(s) that they carry, or that can be found, and the journey(s) that they take, are ever changing. For me, the greatest enjoyment in making music is in that exploration, and the many people that I meet and share experiences with and become close to, as a result.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

JM: There are so many people, teachers, mentors, family and friends who have influenced me, but the ones I’ll single out here feel particularly meaningful at this particular time in my life. The first is my paternal grandfather, Raymond Fancher Sr. who was one of the most generous and selfless people I have ever known. Though his own life was far from easy, and he never lived above a blue-collar status, he always looked on the bright side of life, and I never heard him express a bad word about anybody. His favourite toast was: “Lucky us” and indeed, I feel incredibly lucky, believing that I inherited some of his positivity and optimism. The second person I’ll single out is Randall Cook, recently retired professor of renaissance bowed instruments at the Schola Cantorum, in Basel, Switzerland. He’s someone I know more from the influence he has had on a number of my friends and colleagues, than from my own personal interactions (though he’s been magnanimous to me on a number of occasions). As a person and as teacher, Randy’s words and actions are filled with immense kindness, enthusiasm and joie de vivre, and those traits are infectious, and further reflected in the words and actions of his many devoted students and friends. He’s a true inspiration to me.

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

JM: The first decades of my musical training were spent trying to acquire technical skills, so that I could be the ‘mouthpiece through which a composer speaks.’ And I now specialize in early music, seeking to best of my ability, to recreate the sounds and approaches of previous times. But increasingly as I become older, I feel that I have ideas and visions and concepts of my own that I want to express and I feel less and less apologetic for putting my own spin on things.

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

JM: Having and maintaining the physical technical skills to bring the music (and writing) to life the way that I hear it in my head. And communicating it in a way that resonates deeply, and positively, with my colleagues and audience.

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

JM: The death of my mother when I was 21 made me very conscious of my own mortality, and the importance of not putting off doing things that are genuinely important to me. It may sound trite, but I try to live every day as if there might not be a tomorrow.

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

JM: Being a performing musician is STILL hard work, and requires hard work, every single day. It may look like it’s easy to the outside world but that’s only because the external world can’t hear the voices inside my head! I practice and think about my craft every day, not just to maintain what I can already do, but to be able to get closer to being able to do, or to do better, all of the things that I can conceive of.

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

JM: I can’t recall a time when the arts weren’t central to my life – in particular, literature, the visual arts and music, have always been ‘essential’ components of my life. They are like a lens, through which I see and understand the rest of the world. In and of themselves, they bring me huge pleasure. I cannot imagine life without them.

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

JM: I would like to run a marathon. I can visualize what would be involved in ‘being able’ to do it, which is what makes it seem both attainable, and at the same time, completely exhausting and impossible. Perhaps more importantly, this dream goal serves as a metaphor to me, with the idea that if one works hard and methodically, over time one can achieve monumental results. I know that I may never actually run a whole marathon, but if I keep aiming and training for it I’ll have grown stronger, and seen a heck of a lot of the world on my daily runs. All this from the perspective that sometimes the journey itself turns out to be considerably more valuable than the destination.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

JM: There is little that gives me greater pride than seeing the flicker of light that comes on in the eyes when someone is ‘touched’ by an idea, or an image, or a sound.

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

JM: There’s very little gratuitous glamour to being a musician or artist. If you can possibly conceive of doing something else with your life, do it. Only go into the arts if you can’t imagine your life without them, and are willing to endure whatever life throws at you for the sake of practicing your art.

JS: Of what value are critics?

JM: They give you an external perspective of how your vision and abilities are received publicly. There are times when that is useful information, and other times when you have to simply grow a thick skin, ignore it and stick to your guns.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

JM: I don’t have any sense of entitlement as to what my audience might do, but my hope would be that people listen ‘deeply,’ and respond ‘genuinely,’ in whatever way my art inspires them.

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?

JM: I would wish to quash the myth that art is a business and needs to subscribe to a business model in order to be deemed a success. It often costs a great deal of money to be creative: for materials, for the time to gather vision and expertise, and to then present art to the world at large. And while the vast majority of people in the world won’t take the time to think about an artist’s creative process, it’s not fair to overlook it, or undercut it. Not everything of value in the world is created for the purpose of making money. And just because an artist makes their art form ‘look’ easy doesn’t mean it ‘is’ easy.

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

JM: When I was in high school and had been playing the double bass for just a year or two, I went to a dress rehearsal at Massey Hall, where the Toronto Symphony played Dvorak’s New World Symphony. It was the first time I had heard that piece and it was absolutely thrilling to me as the sound filled out into the mostly empty hall, making the wooden seats up in the upper levels rattle. I knew then and there that I had to ‘be part of’ that kind of ‘collective’ sound. Playing music WITH others is so incredibly satisfying! This pursuit has been central to my life ever since, but ah, if only, if only, if only, I could relive the discovery of that simple concept again, for the very first time…

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

JM: Actually, I’m shy, and media attention makes me a little uncomfortable! But like anything, the more you do it, the more you get used to it. In spite of that, to this day I still feel like I’m ‘putting on a performance face’ when I am called on to interact with the media. I feel more like the ‘real me’ when I am creating art, rather than when I’m trying to explain it. If I had the ability to say what I need to say in words, I wouldn’t need to play music.

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why.

JM: I have never been to Venice, and have long wanted to go… perhaps next summer. 16th and early 17th century music and musicians who are associated with Venice are of huge appeal to me, and I would like to walk that city, making myself part of its history.
I would also love to go back to St. Petersburg – I visited it as part of a youth orchestra in 1988 (when it was still called Leningrad) and thought it was the most visually stunning city I had ever seen. No other place has topped it since then.

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us?

JM: The last few years my research has centered on the history and music for something called ‘the viola bastarda’ that was written roughly during the period of 1550-1650. This is not a specific type of instrument, per se, but a very virtuosic style of music to be played on a large bowed instrument, and it seems to have been created by household members (and quite a few of them, women) for presentation in private homes. It’s some of the very first abstract music (i.e. not based on a text with words to depict a story), and some of the very first music that was ever ‘presented’ in formal performance, for an attentive and educated audience, outside of the church. I’m extremely intrigued by the ‘people’ who created this music, and the more I learn about them, the more they start to feel like family. I greatly enjoy trying to visualize what they were like as individuals.

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

JM: In early music, it is incredibly wonderful how many documents are coming to light because people know to search for them, and then make them readily available, often in electronic format. It makes research from remote locations like Toronto a lot easier, and offers a performer vast quantities of wonderful music that hasn’t previously been recorded to death. How wonderful to be able to hear things for the first time, and to make one’s own decisions about interpretation! On the flip side, there’s a prevailing attitude right now that with the ease of today’s technology and the internet in particular, that everything should be handed off to the public for free – recordings, musical scores, paintings, etc. The general public now expects to be able to ‘consume’ most art without paying anything for it, which places a huge burden on individual artists to fund themselves. I sometimes despair wondering how artists will survive after a few years of that, when their own private resources run out.

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

JM: I don’t know – is there anything intriguing or surprising? You tell me… However, no matter how many years pass, I find there is still an endless supply of things to experience. My hair still stands on end when I listen to music, or read a beautiful passage of literature, or see a fascinating work of art, and these things positively delight me so that I want to jump up and down with sheer joy! But then, I suspect many people who are reading this also feel that way about the arts and things in their lives. That makes us all part of a wonderful and special club. Lucky us!

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TWYLA FRANCOIS: ANIMAL CRUELTY INVESTIGATOR AND ARTIST EXPLAINS THAT PAINTING “WAS REALLY JUST AS A WAY OF COPING WITH WHAT I WAS SEEING IN THE FIELD ON INVESTIGATIONS. NOW, I USE ART MORE AS AN EDUCATIONAL TOOL TO HELP OTHERS SEE NON-HUMAN ANIMALS AS FEELING, THINKING BEINGS WITH THEIR OWN IDENTITIES” …… A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

TWYLA FRANCOIS: Animal cruelty investigator and painter uses art and investigative evidence to challenge our basic beliefs about farmed animals and foster a sense of compassion, respect and justice for all animals.

JS:  What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

TF: Through all of my work – investigative and artistic – I hope to convey the worth of farmed animals and alter the way we see them. For example, in a series of paintings called “The Recasting Series”, I feature people lovingly holding chickens and other farmed animals in the same way they would companion animals. As social beings, when we’re faced with an ambiguous situation (which, I believe, is often the case with farmed animals) we look to others to determine how we should react. Seeing someone showing the same level of affection for a chicken as they would for a dog or cat allows people to more clearly recognize that farmed animals are just as capable of experiencing joy and pain and therefore should be afforded the same level of protection.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

TF: My mother, who taught me that all beings deserve the right to life, and everyone who actively fights for animal rights and welfare in a society that has difficulty accepting this message.

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

TF: When I began painting, it was really just as a way of coping with what I was seeing in the field on investigations. Now, I use art more as an educational tool to help others see non-human animals as feeling, thinking beings with their own identities.

JS:  What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

TF: My biggest challenges are transferring the images in my head to canvas, and walking the fine line between creating art that is compelling enough to draw viewers in and help them understand the concept being conveyed while not overwhelming them with graphic imagery.

JS:  Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

TF: In 2004, I was rushed to hospital for an emergency surgery where stage IV tumours were found in my abdomen. I had to have a second surgery and six months of chemotherapy. Faced with the very real prospect of dying, I was forced to re-examine my life and decide whether I had done anything to make the world a better place. I co-founded a small, non-profit animal rights organization, became a vegan and completely changed my life. I’ve been an investigator — and more recently an artist dedicated to ending animal suffering– since.

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

TF: Abuse of farmed animals has been so normalized in our society that people don’t realize (or want to realize) the extent of it. This understanding becomes even more difficult with animal products like dairy and eggs because people don’t connect pain with production. What consumers don’t know is that the suffering of these animals may be of even longer duration than those killed for meat. For example, “broiler” chickens raised for meat live less than two months while chickens used for eggs are forced to live a life of intensive confinement and exhaustive production for nearly two years. In the case of dairy, in order to produce milk a “dairy” cow must be kept nearly continually pregnant. Her life is an unending cycle of sexual exploitation (by invasive artificial insemination), deprivation, and heartache, having calf after calf taken from her just hours after birth. The bond between a mother and her calf is strong and both mother and baby cry for days after their forced separation.

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

TF: I really only began painting shortly after becoming an investigator and did it as a means to cope with what I was seeing in the field. The imagery seared on one’s brain after an investigation can be haunting and difficult to shake. Painting allowed me literally paint the images out and put them onto the canvas, freeing my mind up to then return to the field.

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

TF: There are a number of different techniques I’d like to explore. For example, overlays. I have a concept that I would like to paint that would show a protective mother hen with a chick and an egg. I would then have a light overlay of the hen’s “parts”–legs, breasts, and wings (i.e. things chicken consumers would recognize) in their anatomically correct positions. The goal would be to help connect consumers with the once-living, feeling being.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

TF: To me, the most meaningful achievement I’ve been a part of has been the mass exposure of what conditions are like for farmed animals. When I started conducting investigations industrial animal agriculture had really only been in practice since the 1990s, leaving many Canadians with the impression that the cruelties they saw in American media reports or online simply couldn’t, and didn’t, happen here. It was a challenge just to get the media interested enough to show my footage. Those first few exposés really changed the landscape of understanding for Canadians. They could no longer claim it wasn’t happening in their own backyard.

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

TF: I think most anyone has the capacity to be an artist – it’s simply a matter of studying details, practicing and mulling over different concepts in your brain until they coalesce into something that you hope others can understand. My sense is that investigations may be a bit more difficult for most people. I recommend that anyone interested in doing investigative work learn and understand the laws covering farm animals. They should recognize that those regulations are never proactively monitored (i.e. Canada does not inspect farms for compliance) and almost never actually enforced even when violations have been brought to the attention of officials. However, if you know the regulations, you can cite them, which often helps convince those charged with enforcing them to actually do their jobs.

JS: Of what value are critics?

TF: Critics are important in society. Without them, social justice issues wouldn’t be in the public eye as they are today. When I personally face criticism of my work, I check to see what might be driving it. Does the person doing the criticizing profit off the lives and deaths of animals, or is their resistance due to their discomfort with the topic? If I feel they have a valid point, I’ll take their comments into account to see how I can more effectively advocate for animals in the future, but I never let them compromise my work to fight for the rights of animals.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

TF: I’d like my audience to question what they think they know about farmed animals and really see animals for who they are as individuals. If people can recognize that all animals – farmed and companion – are feeling, thinking beings, it makes it harder for them to support the production and consumption of animal products.

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?

TF: This one is easy and my life’s work – eradicating animal cruelty in all its forms: the use of animals for food, clothing, research and testing, and entertainment. The harmful use of animals in art is sadly nothing new but seems to me to be the very lowest form of attention-seeking artists can employ. Abusing animals in the name of art doesn’t show how creative an artist is, just how callous and cruel they are.

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

TF: I would like to go back to when I first started painting. It was a painful time emotionally but it was also a very urgent and pure feeling that wasn’t constricted by any sense of having to follow rules. I’ve never been formally trained but as I’ve continued painting I’ve studied techniques and while they’ve been extremely helpful, they’ve also confined my work somewhat.

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

TF: I’ve been fortunate to have a good working relationship with the media who have helped provide exposure of the horrors inherent in animal agriculture through investigative reports and documentaries. They have treated me and my work fairly and provided important coverage of an otherwise hidden issue. I’ll be forever grateful to them for that.

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why.

TF: I backpacked through Costa Rica in the early 2000s and chose the country because it still had four species of primates in the wild. After climbing what for me was a high mountain, I arrived at the top and sat under a tree which held a juvenile male howler monkey. He was lazily eating some fruit he had picked from the tree, dropping the pit to my feet as he ate. We both stared out together at the same beautiful sunset over the water. It’s difficult to describe but it was such a peaceful, unifying feeling being with him. I would love to return one day or travel to another destination with wild monkeys.

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us?

TF: I’m really enjoying working on a Monkey Wrenching painting series. The goal of it is to inspiring others to see how effective they can be in acting for animals. The series features people of all ages rescuing animals and all bear the Monkey Wrenching logo I developed. Some are tongue-in-cheek and subversive like Rosie the Rescuer (my take on Rosie the Riveter), others are classic images in the animal liberation movement (YOUR FACE HERE) but all of them bring me joy to paint.

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today‘s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

TF: The rate of growth of animal rights art and vegan artists is incredibly heartening. I’m part of a group called The Art of Compassion that is comprised of incredible vegan artists from around the world. There’s a surprising demand for our work all over the world- we’ve had showings all over Europe as well as Russia, Israel, and soon, China!

What I find depressing is the continued harmful use of animals in art. What’s different now from when I noticed artists first doing it in the ’80s though is the response from the public. A recent show at the Guggenheim which was set to feature three pieces involving animal abuse generated nearly 800,000 signatures on a petition demanding their removal. The Guggenheim cancelled the exhibit but unfortunately cited artist safety as the reason. I’m optimistic that we’ll see a day when galleries and museums recognize that animal abuse is not art.

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

TF: Probably my tenaciousness. A fellow activist once called me a bulldog. I wasn’t sure how to take it at the time but now it’s a point of pride. I’m committed to advocating for animals for the long haul.

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