BRUCE DOW: Bruce Dow is an award-winning theatre artist and educator, best known for his 4 featured roles on Broadway; his 12 seasons as a leading member of the Stratford Festival acting company; and his Dora Mavor Moore award winning work with Buddies in Bad Times Theatre Company (the world’s largest and longest running LGBTQ2A theatre).
JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?
BD: I try to exemplify honour, honesty and fairness in my life, and hope that that is reflected in my work. Sometimes you need to show life’s underbelly in order to best demonstrate its beauty – that whole Oscar Wilde “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars” thing.
JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.
BD: Judy Garland – the greatest singing actor of all time.
Kurt Weill – a composer who wasn’t afraid of using ugly noises to show our deepest humanity.
JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?
BD: I think, like many actors, I began in the profession in seek of praise and attention.
Now, that matters so little to me. I’m really more interested in what I believe to be the true
purpose of the theatre – to explore the human condition. Regardless of belief systems, none of us knows why we are here.
JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?
BD: Time and money. Art doesn’t just happen.
JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.
BD: The first major turning point in my life was coming out as a queer person. My life has long been divided between my desire to be the dutiful son – the one my family wanted – and in being who I am and living for myself.
It’s a long journey. I’m still on it.
JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?
BD: That being queer is not a catch phrase, nor a lifestyle. We are ALL different. But being queer makes you inherently different to everything our society supports and encourages. It’s been a long road from the ‘80s and the AIDS crisis to achieving some visibility and tolerance. But don’t fool yourself. Acceptance and understanding are still a long way off.
JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?
BD: As a child, I was driven, out of fear of my narcissistic father (laughing – but wish I were kidding!) to live in a world of fantasy/make-believe. Imagination was my friend and solace. Not as pathetically sad as it sounds – I had a great time!
JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?
BD: It’s hard to “attempt” new things in a world that is so driven by labelling and compartmentalizing.
I have had two original musicals produced as composer/lyricist – and I’m working on some new ones.
I look forward to presenting myself more as a creator. As an actor, I have been able to break the mould of “funny-character guy” thanks to a few think-outside-the-box directors – to whom I shall be forever grateful!
JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?
BD: Cabaret and Into the Woods at Stratford allowed me to first break the mould I felt I was being pushed into.
Directing for the National Arts Centre, and my work with Buddies in Bad Times helped me to feel some sense of national context. While, of course, working on Broadway and in Washington D. C. have allowed me some international context. I’m not famous. But I can hold my own in a number of circles and that gives me a nice sense of self.
JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?
BD: Get training. Learn to take direction. Never direct another actor. Although an actor needs to learn what market they will be working in, and to understand what kind of characters you will be asked to play based on your age and appearance, don’t let them put you in a box. Know your “type” and fight it every day of your life.
JS: Of what value are critics?
BD: I’ve known a lot of actors who don’t read reviews. I think that’s bullsh*t. While an actor should not allow themselves to be influenced by either a good or a bad review, it’s your job to know what is being said about your work.
JS: What do you ask of your audience?
BD: A lot. But, I also know that if I’m not giving them a lot, I have no right to ask for their attention.
I love student audiences. They are the first ones to praise you for good work, and/or to call you out on your pretentious bulls*t.
JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?
BD: In their efforts to remain ever politically forward, too often arts groups will undervalue good, solid, simple work. Trying to be ever-important undermines a lot of what I believe we should be doing as artists.
JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?
BD: I have zero interest in reliving anything. I have a lot I’m proud of, but I’m a different person now. Move forward or die!
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?
BD: I feel it is my role to demystify the precious in being in the public eye. I’m just a guy. I have a skill set. And while I am very serious about what I do, I don’t think there is any reason to underline that as a public message. The only times I’ve run into any trouble with it is when people either assume they have a right to know things that are private and make huge intrusions into one’s space, or when I am making friends with someone who has known me as an actor first: it’s hard to get past their preconceptions. Do they like me? Do they like Bruce Dow. That can get weird, ‘cause I never seem to see it coming.
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.
BD: I would love to go to India. I think there is something spiritual and challenging for me there – it’s not more than a feeling so far. And I would love to go back to Hawaii. It’s a magic place. Even crazy Oahu has another-worldly feel to it.
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?
BD: Stratford star Graham Abbey has recently taken over a small summer theatre company two hours east of Toronto – the Festival Players of Prince Edward County. I will be serving as Director of their Academy for Young Actor Training. I feel very strongly about the need for there to be a training ground for young artists in-process or completing their formal training at a college or university.
Also, I have three new musicals in development with theatres across Canada – but, we’ll wait to start blowing the horn on those! lol
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?
BD: I find hope in the support being given to new and emerging artists. It’s a kind of support that didn’t exist when I was that age, and I find the level of talent and skill coming out now is so exciting. What I find depressing is the turning away from the elders in our community. A lot of gifted people with a lot to teach – and a lot still to learn themselves – are being shunned in favour of the new and shiny. It’s a double-edged sword. An artist of 75, for example, can be an emerging artist in a new field – or they may just have a lot of information and skills to share. New is great and needs to be supported – but new is not always best.
JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?
BD: I don’t think I’m that interesting. lol