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  • Natalie Wisdom

Anthony MacPherson, Toronto-based Professional Actor/Choreographer/Educator.

[Interview Date: November 19, 2020]

Matilda National Tour, The Wizard of Oz, Stratford Theatre Festival and more.

Where were you on March 12, 2020, the day theatres began to shut down? And what was the week leading up to it like for you?

I was actually still in rehearsal on March 12th, 2020. We were in rehearsal for the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario. We were doing two shows in rep: Wendy and Peter and Spamalot. I was Swing/Dance Captain for Spamalot, and we were doing sword etiquette and fight rehearsal for all the knights on the 12th.

I remember that week, there were rumblings. And we were doing a show about a plague, so it was very apropos. It was looming. And my partner, at the time, works for Mirvish Productions, which was one of our producers for Matilda in Toronto. And Mirvish was still doing shows, but they were starting to reduce house sizes. And it definitely was coming, but it still hadn’t quite hit; so, we were moving on, as needed. And then, when Broadway got shut down--our Choreographer and Associate work a lot in New York- they were getting buzz from the community. And they were like, “We don’t know what this virus is; we know that it spreads through contact.” I remember, through Friday the 13th, we were doing contemporary dance with the choreographer out of Toronto for Wendy and Peter. Modern dance- contact, improvisational-- lots of creative work. And so, there was a lot of touching, lifts, partnering, trios… And we came in to rehearsal on that Friday, and we did what we had already accomplished in the show; but we couldn’t touch each other! So, we would mark the lifts… And there were all these rumblings, and then there was sanitizer everywhere.

And then, Saturday, we were back in Spam, and every hour, on the hour, Stage Management would stop us, and we would wipe down the room, and sanitize. And we would go and wash our hands. We were having company meetings, once and twice a day. And Sunday was our day off. And I always ran a physical warm-up on any morning we were starting Spamalot, and they told us not to come in. They said, “Go home. Rehearsal is canceled Monday morning.” I think that was the day it was canceled for the week, with further updates. A bunch of us just went to the liquor store. And I remember spending $90 on booze.

And we went right into a lockdown. It happened overnight. You went to the café, and they were like, “Get your coffee beans, because we’re closing at 3 PM, and we don’t know when we’re opening again.” So, our 'March 12th' was March 16th.

Did you initially anticipate that live theatre productions would be closed for this long?

At the time, I didn’t. Based on the festival, and where it is; it was like, “We’re in Canada. We’re so safe. It might happen other places, but it won’t happen here.” Sort of that naivete.

We were given the week off. And then, “It’s gonna be a month. We’ll have the show running in May.” And, I think as performers, we understand down-time. We understand being unemployed, but we always have that next thing we’re looking forward to. So, it was like, “We’re gonna be back in May.” And then, as time went on, it was like, “Definitely June… Sets are already built; costumes are built.” It was a huge season at Stratford. It was like, “We’re gonna reduce,” but, “Is our show going to be a part of it?” It was a bit of ‘touch and go’ for a while.

But you had that hope. I’m quite a hopeful person, so I was like, “Yeah, we’re totally gonna come back.” And I made the decision to move back to Toronto in May. And then, I fast-tracked into a completely different life. I’ve been home in Nova Scotia since November. I didn’t take the time to mourn what happened, because we’re so resilient, as performers, that we enter survival mode. And so, we don’t take as much time to process and sit in what has happened to us. And I definitely switched that on. And I’m only now starting to process the amount of loss that I experienced.

And I was in this awesome relationship, and we moved in with each other. And I started working with my friends, who have this thriving bakery in Toronto, that is exploding. And I became Assistant Manager, and I was living this amazing life in Toronto that I never thought I’d have. My great group of friends; my dog; and my partner. And I latched onto all of these things, and this idea of stability that we so often don’t feel, in the traditional sense, as performers. I was okay, at the time, with not performing. I was okay with the loss, or so I thought; because I was gaining all these things I wasn’t used to having.

But then, that blew up in my face, and then, I moved home! So, now I’m processing this major break-up and with that, also my break-up with theatre and the arts and my career.

What has the atmosphere been like in Canada during this pandemic, especially in regard to the arts and live entertainment industry?

In the beginning, there was a lot of optimism. There are two sides, specifically within the arts community. There’s the major pivot and the impulse to move into a second career, or really turn a hobby into something that is more profitable. Something you’re more passionate about, as a business. And there are those that are creating and delivering online content.

Stratford; a lot of works for them have already been filmed. Another festival I work at, the Charlottetown Festival; they did this postcard series, and they actually teamed up with other companies to curate these videos and expose various island artists and what they do. They also did singer-songwriters, and they were at a brewery. And they did dancers.

But I have felt so uninspired. I didn’t take a dance class until maybe about two weeks ago now. I just started teaching again. Once it all went away, I lost my mojo a little bit. I know a lot of friends have as well. And I really commend and admire people who have continued to create in these times. To me, connecting over Zoom or connecting digitally just doesn’t access the same thing that being in the room does, for some reason. I guess I did turn in on myself, then. When the medium, itself, does not exist right now, I’m not inspired to invest in it. And I haven’t been inspired to explore how it can be different, I guess. At what point does it remain theatre or does it simply turn into film? How can you maintain the core values of theatre and present it?

But I think the atmosphere, overall, has been supportive. The atmosphere is positive, and there’s a lot of innovation happening, and people are wanting to work to simply work. It definitely calls out to artists, in a way, like, “Do you want to create just to create?” Getting back to the love for it. The atmosphere has been, “Do you love it? And if you do, we’re going to make it happen, regardless.” People, I think, just want to be involved, and want to save it. There is a lot of hope from the actual institutions, and the companies. There is a lot of hope.

Have you made any big decisions as a direct result of the pandemic? How have your priorities changed, if at all?

A huge decision, I initially had made, was to move to Toronto and pursue a relationship, which has now failed, or has gone its own way. So, I made another big decision, because I moved back home to Nova Scotia, just outside of Halifax. Now that I’ve moved back home, it’s trying to figure out: “Ok, you need to get a job right away.” Or, “You need to go back to school.” But now that I am here, my priority is to not rush anything, and my priority is myself right now. It’s about family and connection and figuring out what this next decade looks like for me. My priorities are realigning, and (I’m) recalibrating my goals. I feel like I’m in a safe space to do so. I’m prioritizing not making any big decisions, because I think I already have.

What have you been doing over the past several months to stay sane? What has helped you the most?

To stay sane, I rescued a dog in December of last year! So, one thing is having that responsibility and going for a walk with him every day. Having that responsibility has kept me sane, and his unconditional love. And also, his need for me to care for him. I have to wake up, and I have to let him out. If I want to stay in bed, under the covers, he has kept me going. No matter what, I have to wake up and be there for him.

Physical exercise, whether it’s a pandemic or not, has always kept me sane. The gym, and working out. Definitely. Those endorphins. So, my dog and fitness.

What has been the hardest thing for you during the past months since the shutdown?

It’s hard for me to see people that are selfish and unable to care for their neighbor or grasp the seriousness of it. The relationship was hard and moving out was hard; and I think there’s been people who have been super inspiring and stepped up. But also, just to see people being selfish is the hard thing.

I was super homesick the first month, and they were talking about ‘bursting the bubble,’ because I come home to Nova Scotia twice a year, no matter where I am. But the hard thing was because people weren’t behaving, I couldn’t get home to see my parents, which is kind of all I wanted.

What positives, if any, do you think have come out of this time of quarantine?

I think I will have a stronger sense of self and focus on what I want these next years of my life to look like after this pandemic. And it’s really reconnected me with people in my life that I truly, deeply care about. Those relationships that you take for granted, that fall through the cracks, or are such strong bonds that you don’t necessarily need to connect or stay deeply rooted. It’s brought a lot of important people to the surface.

And then, another cool thing, a cool career thing- I did Motion Capture a few times. It’s when you put on a body suit, and they capture your body motions for animation, for CGI and stuff. I did that for a really cool studio in Toronto for a couple projects. Somehow, in all this madness, I found a new subsect of the industry that I felt really proud about and want to pursue further. MoCap for short. Motion Capture. They map your entire body into a computer. I hope to do more of it. If and when I make it back to Toronto, and if it’s still going, I’d love to explore more.

Oh, and I bought a bike! And I biked everywhere this summer. I love my bike; that has kept me sane. I didn’t ride transit, so I didn’t have the stresses of that.

What guesses do you have regarding what theatre may be like when it does come back? In what ways do you think it will be different?

I think people are going to want to participate. I think there are going to be audiences that want to go. And sadly, big musicals will be the last thing to come back.

In Halifax, the original theater I grew up training and performing at here; they always do a one-man Christmas Carol and there’s another actor that does some puppetry. They’re presenting it with 50 audience members and live-streaming it as well.

I think we’ll see a lot of one-person theatre. I think we’ll see a lot of outdoor, more immersive (theatre), in the immediate future. I think it will be outdoors, immersive, small casts; and I think that musicals, in their traditional way, will have a hard time coming back.

I don’t know what it’s been like in the states, but in Canada, during the pandemic; there has been a lot of conversations about representation and Indigenous Black and POC representation within the industry. And I believe we now have a responsibility, in this time of rest, time away from theatre. We can’t just have those conversations and come back and be all normal again. I hope that (those) who are making theatre and participating and delivering theatre are going to make it look different for the better. I think the work is going to become more diverse and political, and it will inspire a lot of self-made work. Reflective work. A lot of politically charged work and diverse work; which is awesome.

What do you miss the most about live theatre?

I miss that connection, and I miss that inexplicable, unattainable and profoundly fulfilling thing that doesn’t exist without live theatre. I miss that connection; whether it be between you and the work, you and your fellow performers, you and your fellow creatives, crew, audience. I miss that energy exchange. And I miss just telling stories. I miss being a storyteller in that medium.

What is the thing you’re most excited to do when live theatre is back?

The rehearsal hall. I’m that loser that just loves rehearsal! I know people are like, “Ugh! Just get me to the show.” I just love rehearsing, and getting it wrong, and doing it again! I miss that structure.

I also just want to go see my friends. I want to be an audience member again. I think we take it for granted. If we have been privileged enough to be in a show, you become such a critic. I think my critical eye is going to be so much less. I’ll be excited to go back to theatre, and just see theatre again, and not be critical. I’ll, likely, be inspired to do or see things, or work on some projects that I maybe wouldn’t necessarily have done when the pandemic started. I measure success within the industry differently now.

What advice do you have for young Broadway hopefuls during this time?

I would say that we need, more than ever; we need the new generation right now. And that things are going to change. And I think what’s super exciting is that whoever you may be… If they’re young and haven’t pursued post-secondary- haven’t gone to college- you’re going to come into a bigger and better industry once we have survived.

Before the pandemic, or in it, in order to pursue it you have to love it. Because you could lose it or never attain it, at any point. But we need the new generation to learn what it’s going to look like. But, also to kick-start it in ways that we may need to have it reinvented for times to come. Take this time to attain and educate; not just what came out within the last five years, but really go back to all the classics.

Don’t give up. And if you love it, go for it. We need the next generation to carry us through, because we’re going to come out of this. And us old folks in the back; you have to tell us how it’s done now.

Lightning Round:

Favorite Broadway Musical: West Side Story

Favorite Broadway Play: A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime

Favorite role you’ve played: Riff in West Side Story

Dream role: Will Parker in Oklahoma

Favorite Movie Musical: Chicago

Movie that you think should be a musical: I still hope Disney does Hercules!

Favorite Dance Step: I love a lay-back (back bend) and a good ol’ “chop, chop” from Matilda.

Favorite New York Restaurant: ROKC bar in New York.

Favorite Toronto Restaurant: Shahi, a Thai place.

Favorite Dance Icon: Cyd Charisse

Favorite Dressing Room Item: A robe or a onesie.

Favorite city on tour: I love Chicago and San Francisco

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