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?
CAROLINE TOAL: I am an actor. I take the playwright’s work and I attempt to make it come alive. The writer will give me a character and it is my job to take that person off of the page and make them real. It is my job to find out why that person is doing what they are doing in the story. It is my job to tell their story. It’s my job to feel what they feel and think what they think and take the audience on a journey as to why this person does what they do to serve the bigger story.
JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?
CT: Through my work, I try to capture the idea that people are intensely complicated. With all my characters, I strive to show the “good” and the “bad”. I really like showing the bad. Ultimately, my belief is that people just want to feel for other people and connect with other people. They want to relate to the people and characters onstage and potentially feel less alone. I want that for everyone watching my work. I try to make my work all about connection and love. I am always striving to connect with the other person I am acting with and also to find the parts of them that I love. I want the audience to feel and escape their life for a bit. That’s all. I escape my life for a little bit because I get to focus on someone else. I want to take everything I feel and put it out there for other people to feel.
JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?
CT: I’ve been doing creative work all my life, so I can’t really remember a time when I wasn’t doing creative work. However, I will say that when I find myself in a time between contracts and I’m not taking care of myself and nurturing my artist, I turn into a completely different person. When I’m spending days not being creative I am unhappy, jealous, easily depressed, tired, and negative. I don’t feel like the person I want to be and I am definitely not my best self. Figuring this out has been super important to me. When I’m creating my own art, I’m happy, purposeful, joyful, I’m a better friend, a better child, I have more energy and am positive. Being creative means being the best I human I can be.
JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?
CT: Money is the first thing that comes to mind. Finding a job that gives me enough money and keeping my spirits up and remembering that I am an artist first is difficult. Our society is not set up to cater to artists, which is fine, it is what it is – but it makes it very hard to remember that artists are valuable and important too. The artistic lifestyle is the only one I seem capable of living, so being free and not having commitments to other non-artistic things all the time is very important to me. The balance of making money to live and still doing my art is very hard. It took a long time for me to value myself as an artist and to put a price on my work as well.
JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?
CT: I would like to attempt directing and stand up comedy. I want to do stand up because it seems terrifying but I know the rush I would get from it would be amazing. I’m beginning to discover that I am a rush seeker. I want to attempt directing because I want to learn to tell as story from a greater, broader standpoint – not just the view of the character. I think I would particularly enjoy directing for camera. I also want to try DOPing. I have zero experience. I kind of just want to try everything before I die. Swimming with sharks, polar dip, backpacking, living in a commune… truly everything. May stay away from base jumping though. Seems like a sure way I would die before my time.
I’d like to do more Shakespeare, but I’d also like to keep playing dark, emotionally fucked up characters. I like that kind of stuff. I like playing characters who are messy because I am – we all are. I’d also really like to get more into on camera work. It almost feels like a different craft and I’d love to explore that more.
JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?
CT: I think there are many things that are difficult for an outsider to understand, but I think the biggest would probably be that our career is 24/7 job. There are no set hours and I am always thinking about work. It’s hard for me not to always be thinking about art and creating. Personally, I think it’s hard for others to understand my passion for what I do. It can often verge on obsession when I’m working on a show. I am pretty obsessed with my craft and that can be good and bad.
JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?
CT: When I was a kid, I would go to see my best friend’s Dad in community theatre in Orangeville where I grew up. I remember watching Oklahoma and wanting to be up there being a different person too! From there, when I was about 12, my parents put me in the Young Company at Theatre Orangeville. An incredible person by the name of Pablo Felices Luna was directing our shows and I was so taken by how he treated a bunch of children as if we were real, serious actors. He really is the reason I am an actor. We did the Hobbit the first year and I starred as Viola in Twelfth Night the following year. I was hooked! I became a little Shakespeare nerd at aged 13.
JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?
CT: Being nominated for a Dora for To Kill A Mockingbird was a huge accomplishment. Even being cast in To Kill A Mockingbird at YPT was a huge accomplishment. It was my first big professional production. Also, I am just really proud to have worked with so many of the talented artists that I have worked with throughout my career thus far. I have just come off working on Blackbird at Theatre Aquarius with Randy Hughson and Marcia Kash and they were both incredible and I learned so much from being close to their experience and talent.
JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?
CT: I would ask a young actor: “Are you good at handling highs and lows? Are you good at keeping yourself motivated when there is no work to be done? Are you prepared to live frugally? How much do you love it? Are you good at anything else that you love as much?”
JS: Of what value are critics?
CT: It’s hard to say what value critics are. It’s a complicated question for me. For my own personal work as an actor they are of very little value – however, if a show that I am in gets reviewed well and I get a mention that can be very helpful. I think it can be really helpful to have good press and a professional opinion to promote/sell yourself. However, I think any artist would agree that it is just one person’s opinion. Whether they are an expert in theatre or not, it’s just their opinion. If someone doesn’t like your work… that’s that. Nothing you can do about that. But maybe there is a 9-year-old kid who loved the show. Or a 72-year-old woman who got something out of the show or felt moved by your performance. That’s the thing that matters to me. There are loads of times that I have to remind myself that theatre is not for the critics. It’s for the audiences.
JS: What do you ask of your audience?
CT: I ask my audience to TURN OFF THEIR PHONES for the love of god. Be respectful that we are humans up here trying to focus – although, I do love vocal commenting if it’s engaged.
JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?
CT: Hmmmm… I’d like the arts to have more money. I’d like theatres to program a wider range of shows. It’s already starting to happen, but I love seeing stories from people who have vastly different experiences than I do. I grew up in Orangeville, Ontario, which was VERY white and Christian. I LOVE seeing shows that reflect a completely different upbringing than I experienced. I crave stories of different cultures.
JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?
CT: I’d re-do theatre school. I would re-do this recent show, Blackbird. I would re-do most of the shows I’ve ever worked on. I would re-do every on-camera audition I’ve ever had in my life. I would re-do all the talkbacks at YPT because children are fascinating and I love the way they think.
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?
CT: I have been in some media and it’s interesting. I don’t mind it because it’s about my work and art. If it was about me personally, that would be weird, but I like when people talk about the theatre that I am a part of.
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
CT: I’d like to go to the Grand Canyon because I’ve never been to the desert. I want to check one of the wonders of the world off my list and I want to experience that different type of heat. If I had to go back somewhere, I would go back to PEI and/or South America. I visited PEI when I was a child and don’t remember it well so I’d love to go back and experience that again. I feel I would fit in pretty well on the East Coast. I’d like to go back to Rio because it gave me incredible culture shock and I think I need to be reminded of that again… also it’s beautiful and the people are amazing.
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?
CT: I worked on Blackbird at Theatre Aquarius and it was an incredible experience from the people I worked with, working in an A house, working on that challenging play, experiencing Hamilton. All of it was incredible. I still can’t believe I was cast and that I got to work with the amazingly talented artists that I did.
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?
CT: It gives me hope that different, more diverse stories are being told. It gives me hope that casting is now more diverse. It gives me hope that we are seeing messier more complicated stories on stage. It gives me hope that women are now being allowed a bigger place in positions of power. I’m disappointed by the lack of money.
JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?
CT: I am constantly surprising myself by who I am and how quickly I change. If I had to choose one thing currently, I’d say that I surprised myself by loving working out. It helps me mentally and I love the feeling of my body getting stronger. I’m 27 and a few weeks ago I stepped into a gym for the first time. Knowing myself beforehand, I could have never predicted that I would love it so much. It’s wild.