#241 – Kate Smith

Kate Smith is Artistic Director of Skeleton Key Theatre. She originally trained as an actor and singer (Dalhousie University), and has performed on stages across the country. She is also an award-winning theatre creator. Her work with Skeleton Key Theatre has been presented at the Ottawa International Children’s Festival, the Magnetic North Theatre Festival, the Shenkman Arts Centre (Petrie Island), the In The Soil Festival, the undercurrents festival, the Fresh Meat Festival, and all iterations of site-specific theatrical event subDevision. In 2017, the company was awarded a New Chapter grant through the Canada Council for the Arts for its innovative outdoor multi-disciplinary ambulatory piece Swan River, and the show was later nominated for a Prix Rideau Award for Best New Creation. Kate is a freelance director and performer, and also serves as Artistic Manager of Ottawa StoryTellers. She is a Member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada.

Twitter: @skeletonkate



Kate Smith, Phil Rickaby

Phil Rickaby  00:02

Welcome to Episode 241 of Stageworthy I’m your host, Phil Rickaby. Stageworthy is a podcast about people in Canadian theatre featuring conversations with actors, directors, playwrights and more. My guest this week is Kate Smith. If you’ve been listening to stage ready for a while, or maybe you’re a first time listener and you’re listening through a link on the website, did you know that you can subscribe so that you never miss an episode. And you can do that? by searching for Stageworthy on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts and clicking the handy subscribe button, and then every week a new episode of Stageworthy will be delivered right to you. And if you subscribe, let me know that you’re a new subscriber. If you want to drop me a line you can find me on Twitter and Instagram at Phil Rickaby and My website is philrickaby.com and you can find stage really on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @stagworthypod and the website where you can find the archive of all 241 episodes is at stageworthypodcast.com. As I mentioned, my guest this week is Kate Smith. Kate is an actor and singer based in Ottawa and the artistic director of skeleton key theatre. All right, Kate. So, before I get into asking you about a skeleton key theatre and everything that you’re doing in Ottawa, my first question for you is, how are you doing with all of this?

Kate Smith  01:54

Well, that’s very kind of you. Thank you so much for asking. I’m doing surprised Well, I think I’m very grateful. I’m a parent, I have two children. I have a 14 year old and a six year old. And so, my husband, Patrick, who’s also a theatre maker, he and I have been home with these kids now for like three months, kind of becoming their de facto teachers while still trying to do our work. And so it’s been a it’s been a challenge, but I’ve been very grateful to have people around to hug. I have a lot of friends, you know, who, who, especially artists, but who live on their own. And, you know, well, I know, I think some people with children are thinking like, Oh, my God, I haven’t been alone in three months. Yeah, I know that the opposite is, I’ve been alone for three months. Yeah. And so I think that that’s probably harder.

Phil Rickaby  02:53

How is teaching going? How do you find trying to be your teacher Children’s teacher

Kate Smith  03:01

Uh. my you know what I so I do, I think many artists teach right? So I am an instructor, a drama instructor and so I work with kids all day long. And manda those kids love me. But when I go to teach my own kids, are they interested? No. So all of those skills go out the window. And, yeah, it can be challenging to get them to be motivated. And you know, my teenager wants to be on screens all day long. Because that’s the only way she can connect to her friends. And you can imagine being a teenager right now must be so difficult. Yeah, right. All you want to do is hang out with your friends, like screw your family, forget them, but you just want to be with your friends All the time. And so she’s dying right now. And then my, my little guy who’s in kindergarten, it’s, you know, zoom is a very poor replacement for that kind of interaction that they get, you know, when they’re climbing over each other and playing and, you know, the game is evolving and so we almost kind of we’ve sort of like have to run him every day like a puppy. We have to take him for like three walks home and just a little sleep at night. And, you know, he does maybe 30 minutes of what we call academic time a day, just about which is about I think what is recommended, but also kind of what he can tolerate. Yeah. And yeah, so so it’s it’s been difficult because I, you know, as my husband said, He’s kind of like you when you have kids, you’re not necessarily signing up to be the teacher of those kids for 18 years like course you’re not so it’s kind of like Yeah, not only did our sort of schedule change and of course, I mean, our productivity as artists and as people trying to work and you know, continue to feed said children are productivity has been greatly reduced, right? Just because, you know, they’re around and they have needs and your paramount to anything else we would be doing so So it’s just, yeah, it’s just, it’s a whole new world. But again, I am getting to spend more time with my kids. I was previously only seeing them a few hours a day, right in the morning, and then after school, and then it’s dinner in bed, and now it’s like we get to actually, we’re biking to, you know, we live in Ottawa and Ontario. And it’s, we’re so fortunate to have so much green space. So, you know, we’re taking bike bike rides to the ornamental gardens in the central experimental farm, like we have a farm in the middle of our city, near our house. It’s very weird. And very cool. So, you know, there and going on nature walks in the greenbelt. And so there are a lot of other sort of beautiful moments. And I, just before all this happened in March, I had a had a panic attack for the first time and I had never had a panic attack before. And I was like, overwhelmed by all of the projects and all of the things that I was doing. And I think this you know, and then this happened, and then everything All my contracts disappeared within about a week. So the opposite problem, and I think that this has been a really great reset and a really great opportunity to really reflect on the pace of life. You know, and seeing my kids for only a few hours a day, and then you know, going from project to project a project and overlapping all my work because we’re trained to do that, right? Yeah, feminine. We have to as artists in theatre school, like if you’re not working, you know, you’re, you’re failing or you’re not going to. And sometimes I think we just, I know that I was working at this incredibly hectic pace, just caught in the hustle. And so this has been, you know, I feel like. I don’t know if I’m as optimistic a person that I’m coming across right now, but I think that it’s been a really great opportunity to sort of be like, was that was that healthy? And this is when this temporary situation is over. Have I learned something or am I doing gonna throw myself back into everything that’s been postponed and end up in the exact same situation. So I’m, I’m hoping that it’s the former.

Phil Rickaby  07:09

It’s an interesting position though because you know, I’ve, you’re not the only person that I’ve spoken to who’s like used to the hustle, the constant like looking like always chasing the next gig. And now there’s nothing to hustle for. And I know a few artists that are that are struggling a little bit with that, or at least they were, I think after almost three months, you start to get into a bit of an equilibrium, but they still have all of the questions about like, What does everything look like when when this is over? And how much like do I like what’s happening now? Do I feel calmer? It is a bit about reevaluating the life and what you’ve been putting into it.

Kate Smith  07:51

Yeah, well, it’s so funny because I actually yesterday, my husband and I right now I’m doing like three hours of work in the morning. We like tag team. lunch and then like he does if you are so work and that’s kind of how we’re surviving and when I came from from my very intense productive three hour working session in this sort of dank basement corner where we take turns working I was like, man I really hustled today and it was just like rediscover feeling that used to just be the normal thing but I was hustling because I’m, you know, probably like many artists sort of adapting a lot of the things that I would normally do a lot of my activities into a virtual or online format. So you know, I was adapting all of skeleton keys in school and community workshops yesterday and reaching out to the NPC to offer sort of live streaming workshops through them and then even this week, you know, skeleton key held auditions virtually for the first time so you know, the the hustle. I think the hustle is real. I think the hustle is still there. It’s just It’s just sort of morphed. And there’s like, two groups that I can kind of see forming, which is and I sort of, you know, shift back and forth between them, but the group that’s like, I, you know, my momentum is non existent and I don’t feel creative or I don’t feel inspired to create I feel depressed or, you know, like, whatever that is, like just not feeling that inspiration. And, and then the other group that’s like, highly motivated to do everything right away and be ahead of the pack. And, you know, I kind of I’m sort of like a pendulum swinging between the two, you know, but yeah, it’s it’s a it’s a strange time. So I would say, the hustle is like, maybe not as consistent, but I do. It’s still sort of rearing its head.

Phil Rickaby  09:49

It’s interesting, because when this all started, there were all of these posts, but if you don’t come out of this with a new skill or a new side hustle or also the Shakespeare wrote King Lear when he was on lockdown and all that stuff and, and that’s kind of like Yeah, but how long was he in quarantine before he was like now I can write, you know, like this, this whole thing is is like there there’s like this permeating feeling of anxiety in the world and how do you create in the midst of that? I think I’m finding that as time goes on, I’m starting to feel a little bit creative, but it has taken almost three months for me to get there.

Kate Smith  10:34

Well, I mean, there’s uh, you know, first of all, whoever said if you don’t come up with a new skill like fuck that person; must be nice. Whatever your life is. It must be nice to not have any concerns. But but because like because again like with children, I’m just kind of like with I don’t have time for needlepoint right now. You know, like we’re barely getting through a day. But… sorry, I just lost my train of thought. Talking about new skills and then talking about creativity. Oh, the length of time like getting to that point. God, it’s Yeah, there’s a there’s a global pandemic happening. Like, I don’t think a lot of people, people in countries where we had time to prepare, you know, and so, you know, there’s a camp that’s like making, you know, making finger puppets every day and like yoga and like finding things to do and fill their time it’s like, and then the other people are dying. So there’s a lot of, you know, crazy stress and pressures. And I don’t think that a lot of people, a lot of people in my network, I don’t know, you know, if I can speak for people in Ottawa or in Canada in general, I don’t know, because different places are hotspots, but like, I just – sorry, I feel I’m not caffeinated.

Phil Rickaby  11:54

That’s alright.

Kate Smith  11:55

Are we able to cut out stuff? Do you edit it?

Phil Rickaby  11:58

I don’t usually but I can get If somebody requests that I edit something out I can I can look at doing that.

Kate Smith  12:03

 I totally, totally, totally space without my caffeine. I just

Phil Rickaby  12:08

Why are you doing th is without caffeine. Can we can we talk about that? What happened?

Kate Smith  12:12

What can I tell you? I got up this morning very, very early to watch a funeral. A family member of mine passed away that’s living in England. And they were ill already but ultimately of COVID-19. And so I got up at very early in the morning to watch a live stream of a funeral this morning. So maybe this time we’ll forgive myself for being slightly scatterbrained.

Phil Rickaby  12:34

I think that’s okay. And I’m sorry for your loss.

Kate Smith  12:36

Thank you so much. That’s very kind. It’s been what think, but it made me think still, about, about lightness, and about the funeral that that livestream video will be available three days from now for family members and friends who weren’t able to make it because of the time difference, but I felt like it was really important for me to get up early. To, to bear witness to that event in real time. Yeah, um, you know, it was afternoon for them. But to, even though that I could not be seen, like it’s just a, you know, a single shot live stream from above of, of the, the minister or of the funeral director, whoever that person is and, you know, of the, of the coffin and of the family. It was it was still it was very moving and a few times, you know, the speaker sort of referenced family and friends who were watching from from a distance and also from Canada because a large portion of the family moved here and yeah, there was something about being there being present for that moment as it was happening. That I felt I felt was really critical and that I felt like I hoped that those people, even though there was there were only six people in attendance. And what was the statuses, none of the different households could hug each other. So, you know, there was no physical comfort being offered. Just because they can’t, you know, and they just lost somebody from from that very thing. So, and my cousin was actually supposed to get married two days ago, and instead they’re having a funeral. And, yeah, it was, it was just really interesting. It just really made me think about likeness because you think about the future of our art form and what we do and I think anytime something happens, anything, you know, like Netflix, it’s like it’s gonna kill the theatre. And I do. I do think that, you know, the world obviously has changed countless ways over the last 2000 years or, but I think, you know, I just feel that our form and the craving for lightness and that human need for it is injuring and so I don’t have fear about coming out the other side of this temper. Every situation that my art form is no longer going to be relevant. Just because, you know, I I got up so early today because I felt like I needed to see something as it was happening and I needed to be part of that ceremony and that experience and that honouring

Phil Rickaby  15:18

you know, it’s so interesting you talk about the, you know, the how long you know, Netflix really killed the theatre. We people have been talking about the death of theatre for about 100 years now. Yeah, you know, only that long do well, I mean, because radio would kill theatre and then and then TV would go radio in theatre and then move or sort of movies we kill radio and theatre and then TV would kill movies and radio and theatre and all these things. And there’s room for it. And they’re all unique experiences. But theatre is that thing when when when you see people in a room and they’re watching it, watching something happening on a stage in front of them. That is a completely different experience than watching it on a screen, whether it’s a movie screen or a TV screen or a computer screen. There’s something about being in that room that is completely energising and and magical. And people really feel the difference. I’ve watched, I remember, I was working as an usher in a theatre, and they were doing this big budget production of The Wizard of Oz. And kids would come in and be like, Oh, I thought this was a play, but it’s a movie and I you know, all this stuff. And then when the scrim went up, and the play started, you would see people experiencing what it was like to see the people live on stage for the first time and realise that that’s a magic thing.

Kate Smith  16:42

Mm hmm. Yeah, it is. Well, go ahead.

Phil Rickaby  16:47

No, you go ahead, please.

Kate Smith  16:49

I was just gonna say that. What makes me so excited like my my heart’s still, like flutters, like, skips a beat, maybe it’s a medical condition, but I think it’s excitement when the lights go out in the theatre. And just before everything starts like, and this is this is decades of doing this, right? And I’m still so excited, because something could go horribly wrong in front of our eyes. And also whatever happens in that moment unifies all of us because we are all bearing witness to this thing at the same time. And I always feel so much better. This is this is terrible. Like, I always feel so much better when I go and I see like we were in New York City last summer and saw a bunch of beautiful shows like great work. And we were there for the infamous I don’t know if you read about it. We saw betrayal with Tom Hiddleston of you know, Marvel Avengers fame. And we were there for the infamous reported on cell phone incident where a cell phone so it’s very intense three actor played come from the West End that feature to you know, to big film stars. This really It was sold out. The ushers going up and forth, back and forth before like, if you have to go to the bathroom go, No, no readmittance and I’m like, I’m gonna piss my pants but I am not walking out of here. Like, who was wearing a diaper in here. We were all like we were like we are in for this moment. And we got incredible seats. And like it was just breathtaking. Like so well, so well acted so well performed. Just you know, like they were just building to this climax and at the climax, so it’s, you know, finally, I hope I’m not giving anything away, but it goes in sort of reverse order. The husband finally sort of figured out this affair is happening between his his wife and his best friend. And in that moment, a cell phone goes off cell phone ring. And you know, there’s been so much like the ushers were like, on it, they were like, turn off your phones, put on your diapers, get ready to walk in the doors get get ready for this show. And the cell phone somehow still goes off and it doesn’t just go off. Like a little bit or nobody gets it, nobody gets it. They let it ring the entire length, the duration, it is at maximum volume. And it’s the end. It’s like honestly, I think it’s like the hamster dance or something. It’s like the dee doo dee dee dee dee dee, like it’s the least appropriate ringtone ever for for anything. But for this moment and for this play, and they’re in the front row, and you can just see the actors just freeze. And then the woman under her breath goes, is that a cell phone? Like you could just the actress and Tom Hiddleston was literally crying while it was happening, which I think led to that headline like cell phone makes Tom Hiddleston cry. He was already working. But anyway so that happens and you know every I’m horrified but also fascinated. You know, like this is a live moment like somebody just let a cell phone go off. Well, Tom Hiddleston was like downstage centre You’re crying right in front of them. What’s gonna happen? Hmm. A minute or two passes the very professional they regain their composure. And then it goes off again, though. hamster dance again full ddddd full full ring like 30 seconds. And at this point the audience and it’s in New York. So I don’t know how many New Yorkers are actually there, it’s probably worse, to be honest. But people start to vocalise the audience starts to turn, and to self police sort of police, right, and they’re going to turn that off, you know, remember grumble grumble, you know, like, there’s like an ad like, annoys people doing this and, yeah, so that’s subsides, you know, so it’s actually longer interruption now, because the audience has had to react to the cell phone. And then it happens, like I shoot, you know, it happens again, like a third time, like, like, I don’t know, like 10 minutes passes. So you think but no one’s relaxed anymore. Right? It’s interrupted. It’s, it’s poked a hole in the bubble and every once was cut a little bit on edge. Cuz we’re not sure we don’t trust that person now. And it did, it went off again. And when it went off the third time, it was like a bomb went off in there, because I have never in my life heard an audience slip out the way that they flipped out during this thing. Wow. But they, they were roaring and somebody shouted, throw them out. And just like just absolutely turned on this person like just it was it was crazy. And it was so loud. Everybody reacted everybody was shouting. And the actors again, which is very, very cool. Like I mean, I don’t know how they, they kept their cool, they were great. But it was so amazing that this audience just absolutely lost their minds. And the it was in solidarity for the actors, right? Because we were so it’s so compelling. Yeah. And the absolute like outrage at having this live moment, this beautiful moment that we were all so prepared to take this journey together at being interrupted by by sort of like one ignorant person who was maybe hard of hearing or doesn’t know how to work a cell phone and maybe shouldn’t own one. But it was just like, Yeah, I will. I’m actually kind of a bit shaking telling the story because in the moment, I feel I like, I covered my eyes and I put my head in my lap like I couldn’t even Yeah, I just was so stressed for for the actors. But then also I was in this mob, all of a sudden, I was part of a mob that were just freaking out. But that doesn’t happen in a live stream.

Phil Rickaby  22:45

No, no, you know, one of the things that’s interesting is you were saying maybe this person doesn’t know how to work a cell phone, maybe they’re too old. Working in the usher in a large theatre. I know there are two kinds of people who forgot to turn off their phone. Mm hmm. First first person and the person that’s an okay person. And then if their phone goes off, they realise that they have messed up and they essentially dive for their phone to put it on silent, turn it off, whatever. Okay, but that person is there, there are fewer of those people than the worst type of person whose phone goes off and they sit there staring dead ahead knowing that it’s their phone, not doing anything, their lips pursed, they are determined not to react. Maybe if I don’t react, nobody will know it’s my phone. But everybody knows it’s them because everybody else around them is looking around. And it’s the one person who isn’t looking around.

Kate Smith  23:36

That’s how you can That’s how you know. That’s how you know for

Phil Rickaby  23:39

sure is you’re like, Hey, you and they’re like, just staring straight ahead. They will not acknowledge it. It’s their absolute worst.

Kate Smith  23:46

Oh my gosh. And there’s so many warnings, there’s warnings. It’s written down. It’s spoken to you. It’s a generally accepted rule and form of etiquette.

Phil Rickaby  23:58

Dear Evan Hanson had the best way of Getting people to to turn off their phones because I think one thing we found we can get people to turn take out their phone. They can’t forget to turn it off. Mm hmm. And what dear Evan Hanson did was they like at the beginning of the show right before the show starts. There’s the sound of a cell phone going off. He wants the audience pull out their cell phones, and then it’s more cell phones. And then there’s a message to turn off your phone and everybody has their phone in their hand. Right. And so everybody turns it off. And it was brilliant. perfect solution. Exactly. But you have to almost you have to find some way to get people to pull out their phones and then you’re okay. But right. There’s always there’s always somebody in the theatre that doesn’t.

Kate Smith  24:44

What about what about the pagers? No, I’m just kidding.

Phil Rickaby  24:49

No, that person is way too old.

Kate Smith  24:51

That person is a surgeon. So reception

Phil Rickaby  24:53

That person is a sugeon. Yeah, well, that that person’s pagers stay on, they have to rush out to do surgery but

Kate Smith  24:59

they’re a little Literally saving lives. Yes.

Phil Rickaby  25:03

I want to sort of shift gears a little bit and I want to talk to you about your theatre origin story. Which is like what is it that brought you to the theatre? What What made you want to be an actor? What was their your road to where you are now? Oh, it’s like

Kate Smith  25:25

I felt like Wolverine when you call it that, man. Absolutely.

Phil Rickaby  25:28

I love it. I love love because actors are superheroes. Let’s hear your origin story. What? What happened to turn you into Superman or Lex Luthor, depending on how your career has been?

Kate Smith  25:39

Oh, well, I think we’re all Superman and Lex Luthor. I don’t know. You know, it’s so interesting. And it kind of harkens back to the work I think the skeleton key theatre is sort of starting to get into more but I was I was very determined from a young age to be a marine biologist. So I did scuba diving classes, and I Went to the United States to work at a SeaWorld there to like to work with marine mammals and, and so I applied to Dalhousie University when it came time for for university to go and study there except I’m really not very good at math. I’m not skilled, nor am I confident, which I think are maybe equally important as being good at math. And then

Phil Rickaby  26:24

Did nobody mentioned the math, requirement at any point during your marine-  I’m going to be a marine biologist period?

Kate Smith  26:31

No, I mean, I did have to, I did have to do it. And I did take math all the way through and you know, it was so dutiful. Like I was just like, okay, I’ll do it. It never brought me joy. It only brought me anxiety and self doubt. And I you know, I never took I never took drama in high school, like I was so determined that I was going to do this other path. And yeah, in my final year, in Ontario, we had at the time OAC like, kind of grade 13 to prepare you for university in my final year, I ended up failing a calculus class and then it kind of audited it, and then I couldn’t take it again. And I just ended up throwing in the towel and saying, you know what, this just isn’t. I can’t do my whole life like this. And it’s scuba diving too. If you screw up math, you can die. So becomes high stakes math. Yeah. And so that was that was concerning. And I because I was very good at the biology components because it was a lot of memorization. It was a lot of and it was evolution and you know, its own origin story. And it made sense. I guess there was almost like a narrative there. And all those pieces fit together. And so I was very, very good and very competent, those competent at those things, but the math piece, it just did me in and so I still ended up going to Dal and I took in my first year I thought, Oh, fuck now I don’t know what I want to do. I’m going to take a whole bunch of different things and I took theatre kind of like I was like, Oh, this will be fun. And they have a it’s a four year programm. They have a three year conservatory style programm or they did at the time. And at the end of your first year, you can audition for it. And over the course of the year, I guess I just feel I never thought it was a real job. I’m not convinced it is still, but I, I had never really considered it but when I actually reflected on my childhood and what brought me joy, other than the sort of, you know, that sort of nature aspect and that scientific exploration, I was like, Oh, yeah, I’ve been hosting talk shows for family and friends. For years. I have been making videos. I have been singing, you know, like doing all these things, but I just never had framed it. Like I said, I was never a drama kid. So I came to it very late. I think I was about 18 or 19 when I sort of was like okay, well maybe I’ll try that. they’re offering at a university surely being responsible university that this is some kind of a career path. So I auditioned for that programme and I got in and then I was then I was fully immersed in that world and I haven’t looked back since. And

Phil Rickaby  29:18

before that, you been to theatre? Had you seen plays? Are you were you was your family, a regular theatre going family or was completely new?

Kate Smith  29:27

No, no, we my mother, you know, is a big, big fan and a big patron of the arts and of theatre and we she would always take us to things growing up like Mr. dressup live. Sharon Lewis and Bram you know, those kinds of things. Being in Ottawa, we’re very fortunate cuz we have the National Art Centre up the street and the great Canadian Theatre Company, but we also have a lot of museums that have a lot of programming, you know, for kids, and there’s a lot of road houses and things that come through. And so we weren’t we I wasn’t exposed to those things. But I just that little button had never been pushed, I had not been activated. To be like, this is a thing that I could do. And I had never sort of it just had never occurred to me. And and then it did. And then once it did, I don’t feel like I have any other skills.

Phil Rickaby  30:22

And when it did when you had to break it to your parents that you were no longer going to be a marine biologist. How did they How did they react?

Kate Smith  30:32

I mean, I think that it was no secret that I was not great at math. That was, you know, that was well well established. But I think I don’t think anyone was expecting the theatre. But I think you know, my mom, my dad is a pastry chef. So he trained in Europe and he can you know, he makes wedding cakes like that was his that is his job and he made all of our wedding cakes and and my mother I was an English teacher and then later vice principal so I think and again like a fan of the arts so they weren’t totally freaked out by it I think my dad was like well good just get your ba and then you can go to teachers college like that was very like to a stable career that has served her family well. And and I was like wow I have such massive respect for teachers. I can’t do that job. It is too hard as I am learning

Phil Rickaby  31:25

So many of that right now and how many people were like oh, I could never do that job and now they’re like, Oh, I could never do that job.

Kate Smith  31:33

Oh, no, like No way. No way. Thank you. Well, I mean, they have like, you know, 15 million other children. I only have two. To worry about 30 or six year how many but yeah, so so and then the kind of the rest is history. I I got a gig my my very first summer in theatre school at Shakespeare by the sea and Halifax and work there for a for two seasons. I was I was Throw in a bit of a wrench because part of my in a very critical part of my my origin story is I unexpectedly became pregnant in my final year of theatre school. And that was a really tough conversation because no student had gone through that programme before with that circumstance and there was right. Can we do this? And, but the Can we do this actually came for me, because all of the staff and all the female stuff at the time were like, yes, whatever you need, we’re gonna make this work. And as it was, I went and I had my daughter over Christmas break, and then I came back and, you know, I got my degree, and I finished my programme and everybody was very supportive. And, but it was kind of insane. Like when I look back now I’m like, Oh my God, who would do that? That is so difficult. What was I thinking?

Phil Rickaby  32:49

I have to tell you, I was in theatre school when I was in my first year of theatre school, one of the women in the class ahead of me She also became unexpected Pregnant in her second year, near the end of her second year, and so there was all the whole discussion, what am I going to do, she decided to go through with it. And when she came back for her third year, essentially the entire school became her babysitter.

Kate Smith  33:13


Phil Rickaby  33:14

We all everybody had at least one experience of Oh, I’m taking the baby for tonight and looking after the baby during rehearsal, even if it’s just sitting in the green room in the theatre with the baby and so it was like, this baby became like the school’s baby for that period of time and we just sort of all sort of pitched in to care for the child throughout that school year allowing her to finish theatre school. And, and and to go on after that, but it was because everybody pitched in and she was able to get through this conservatory programme through to the end.

Kate Smith  33:52

It’s so beautiful and it really does take a community it takes a village and, and I have to say like I had a very similar experience where because I was in Halifax and I don’t have family there. And so, you know, I really have such deep gratitude to all of my friends and my my classmates who helped me in the same way because I absolutely couldn’t have done it and my teachers as well, um, I had a teacher who’s now based in Toronto, Peggy Redmond, who was actually present at the hospital when my, my daughter was born. And she, she was just incredible in helping and babysitting, you know, when I had to be in rehearsals and those kinds of things. So, yeah, the whole, the whole staff and all of all of the, the other students were so instrumental in my being able to finish that and frankly, in that way to my, you know, success today like to be that was, you know, 15 years ago, and I’m still working, and I know that that doesn’t happen all the time. So I’m very grateful for that. And I think that, you know, in terms of that part of my origin story, not only learning that I can’t do it myself, like we all have to help each other But it really just motivated me even more to achieve, you know, my goals and my dreams because I thought now and now I have a kid watching me. Yes, right. So I don’t want my kid. My the lesson to teach my kid is, well it was hard having you so I gave up and got whatever job that makes me happy. And it was more like I just I hustled and I busted my butt. And you know, and I’m still and I’m still working. I honestly think that the measure of success in this industry is like, are you still doing it? Ever? Because it’s hard

Phil Rickaby  35:35

it’s interesting because I think in some for some people, I think people who maybe did not spend a lot of time in theatre was not for them anyway, they would think, okay, I’ve had a child, I can no longer do this thing. I have to get quote unquote, real job so that I can provide without thinking like as you did, the important thing is I show my child that by through demonstration. They Whatever they set their mind to they can do.

Kate Smith  36:03

Yeah, it’s I mean, uh, gosh, like, you know, I’m sure, like many artists, like how often do you think about quitting? Right, like, you know, once a month or once a week or depends what day it is. But, but yeah, it’s just so. I just think it’s so important. And, you know, it’s not like my kid, you know, my older daughter at any point has been like, well, Mom, I really respect your decision to continue with your dream in this unstable industry. But, you know, hopefully, when she’s an adult, she’s able to reflect to be like, yeah, you know, what, even though it was difficult, you know, my parent continued to, to persevere and you know, and I think it depends to how how people how we choose to define success for ourselves as well. Like, is it financial success? You know, is it artistic success, critical success? Yeah, or just, you know, Surviving, which is so, so noble and so amazing to be able to achieve like to be to call yourself an artist and to derive your, your living or part of your living from that is a massive triumph. Because it is so challenging, especially in Canada. In Canadian theatre, it’s extremely difficult, right?

Phil Rickaby  37:22

speaking of – I have a couple of questions, and I want to talk a little bit about both. Some of the things that you mentioned to me about Skeleton Key Theatre, about how the some of the work that you’re working on and how you’re dealing with that work in this quarantine age.

Kate Smith  37:41

Is it old enough to be an age yet?

Phil Rickaby  37:43

I don’t know. It feels like it. Yeah, time has no meaning. So I almost have, I think I’ve referred to it as an era without meaning to just because it feels both super quick, but also long,

Kate Smith  37:57


Phil Rickaby  37:59

So you’ve got You’ve got deluge, a rock concert and the Hansel and Gretel project. So I want to know about those, but also, like, what’s the state of those given the current situation?

Kate Smith  38:11

Yeah, well, um, so you know, like I was mentioning earlier doing the doing the hustle to kind of get like the skeleton key, that drama workshop component is a way that we can kind of continue to get earned revenue. So kind of getting that piece in place. Like many organisations across the country, we were really fortunate that our funders have been really flexible and really supportive as well as we move forward and our activities change. We were supposed to do a show in July in Smiths Falls, Ontario Swan River, a large outdoor ambulatory show that we do in the landscape, and that of course, has been postponed to next summer. So in the fit in the face of sort of having to have this physical distancing, the way that we’re still moving forward. We’re a project based company and so we always have something in the something in the pipeline and things that different stages of development. So the Hansel and Gretel project, which is sort of the the youngest project that we have going takes place right now the idea is that the audience actually our cast is Hansel and Gretel. Because something we often do in our work in our immersive work is we cast our audience. And they hold hands and are released down a path in the greenbelt into a forest. So we just released them into the woods free and as they walk down this path, they encounter different helpers and hinders in the story and spirits, animals and in our in our cast, you know, of course, we can’t do that right now. But what we are doing, we’re still very fortunate because we’re able to walk those paths. The NCC or National Capital Commission that manages those those spaces and those properties is, you know, we’re still allowed to go into those and so I can continue to do my work right now independently as a creator And I was very fortunate before all this happened to back at the beginning of March into February, I went with a team of scientists and biologists from the NCC and, and took a walk and with historians and learned all about the land, and this and the space and the history of the land and the Algonquin territory that we are so fortunate to be able to live on and to experience and to and to create our art on. And it was incredible. So I’m you know, I’m transcribing those, those interviews from our walks and taking photos and doing all of this sort of planning so that once we’re able to gather again, with our artistic team, we can really hit the ground running. So so I’m still able to kind of be in that natural environment, which you know, is so incredibly healing. And again, I’m really fortunate to live in a city where I have this access to this green space that’s just a bike rider, you know, a short car ride away. So that’s how that that helps. So Gradle project is still continuing to kind of move forward. And then and then who knows, because of the fact that it is a very small show for very few people at a time. I’m not sure how that will translate when the production when we actually get to production and if things are physical testing measures are still in place. It actually, a processional show is a kind of show that can happen. So that’s interesting to think about, you know, just be on live streaming, but what can you do? What can you do in your own space and in your own community where you can continue to perform I think I’ve seen artists in Toronto doing this right. processional type stuff, like going down the middle of the road on a bike. And, you know, and doing work, because, you know, like I was saying about the funeral experience, or, you know, we’re missing the likeness, the life component. And then for our next project, that’s a little further that’s, you know, closer to production deluge, which is a rock concert about rising seas and about climate change refugees. My, my main collaborator, Scotty Irving, who’s an incredibly musician, we work together on Swan River. And he’s also a member of this amazing band The peptides, which if you haven’t checked them out, please do. I don’t know why they’re not famous. They’re the next Arcade Fire but only in like the number of artists. But like very funk, like very different style. But anyways, the peptides are awesome. And several of them are actually working on this. They’re part of our band for the show. So we’ve kind of stolen a few of their members is very generous. But you know, Scotty and I have been we just conducted auditions over zoom for for another actor for the show, actor singer. So that was really cool because we were able to see all these actors from across Canada. So it was neat, it was felt very just even having the auditions felt like a very hopeful act, that we were still able to move forward on our timeline. Connect with these artists. Basically, just like People send me beautiful songs all day, like the other day and it was so nice. And yeah, and we’re still trying to pay people and give people work and move forward, you know, in this time so right now we have a workshop slated for November, and to premiere for February whether or not those will happen or in what form I’m not sure, it might end up being more of an intimate concert cabaret style, like, I don’t know how we’re going to have to be spread out from each other. But another thing that we’ve we actually integrated into our project was we want to record the record all the songs as a concept album, essentially. And so, if this if this does, you know, if this era does drag on, you know, we can still find ways to record our, our parts and our sections individually, and then create that album. And, and that can be that can be a way of disseminating the work and telling the story like the songs are very storytelling. based and so that can be a way of distributing that work in a time where we’re not necessarily able to tour it yet. So as an alternative form because I know music, I think does lend itself better to, to this kind of distance format than than theatre. So-

Phil Rickaby  44:18

There’s a great history of shows that were concept albums. Mm hmm. Before they were shows right back to Jesus Christ Superstar. And they Miss Miss Saigon and Hades town. So there’s like, that’s, there’s a long tradition of that. So if that becomes the way that that can be presented, it still doesn’t mean that the show doesn’t have a theatrical future.

Kate Smith  44:43

Yeah, absolutely. I just just an interesting side note, you mentioned Miss Saigon. That teacher Peggy Redmond, that was president my daughter’s birth train went and worked with Lisa longer when she first started. Just a fun fact to throw in there. But yeah, the the music is just Think like wood sculpting. We’re really interested in working with artists from all different disciplines and it’s been so it’s really enriched our process. And we tend to work in a bit of a flattened hierarchy where artists can feel comfortable to kind of contribute outside of their field are their specialisation. So we’ve had for one over for instance, we had an incredible visual artists Mark Walter, who builds these giant sculptures and he actually ended up building all these giant swans for us out of reeds and sticks collected from the auto River. And at one point, we were doing a composition so an improvised scene, and he started choreographing it. He’s about seven feet tall, and I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that. And he he said, You know what, I always wanted to be a dancer, but I was too tall. But I would love to come in this evening. Because the stakes are low when you’re when you’re composing a scene because you keep what you like, and you discard what doesn’t work and, and so I said, Yeah, Mark, you should choreograph this. And that choreograph movement actually made its way into the final production. Because it was so beautiful. And it was so sensitive, like to what was happening. And, you know, you could see that even though he’s not a trained choreographer, he’s still an artist, and who knows how to tell a story. And he is so sensitive to not only the landscape in the environment, but to those emotional components and to how the body moves in space. And it was so beautiful, and I just think that that was, you know, those kind of unexpected collaborations where artists were like, I don’t need to feel boxed in. You know, I’m not just coming in as like the movement guy. I can also help to build this puppet or help me this set deck or whatever. It was like, it’s like when you’re a kid, and you’re making a play with your friends, and everybody just does everything and it Yeah, yeah, fun. And that’s kind of what we ended up doing in our rehearsals. And because of that we don’t have, there’s not a lot of toes stepping, because people are really respectful. And people are also making generous offers, with the acknowledgement that you know, there are, there are people who that is their specialisation. But it’s been really successful and I’ve really enjoyed it. So, yeah, I think that that the having the different disciplines really opens up different possibilities and ways of thinking about it. So instead of just thinking, you know, I’m in theatre, and and this is what it’s capable of, or whatever, you know, if you reach out to, to that, what are they doing in music right now? Or like, what are visual artists doing? And what are different ways we can connect with our audience that might be sort of outside of what our initial sort of thinking about that might be?

Phil Rickaby  47:55

I think there is so many interesting possibilities that can come when you mix disciplines and you try to put them together. Because you know, theatre has physical limitations. What can you do to elevate it out of that and what, how can you use other disciplines to, to sort of cheat around to work within? The limitation of being like in a single space is really quite fascinating to think about, about how you can push those limits. And of course, there’s also the digital question right now because, you know, the the video is never going to replace theatre. But it’s what we have now and so how can you work with those disciplines to create something that exists now live and, and is, you know, as close to theatre as we can get when we’re stuck in our homes,

Kate Smith  48:52

like this is the thing too is because we’re so used to having these beautiful things and have offers broadcast into our home. Now we have, we have movies, they’re incredible. Like when they started making movies, they didn’t realise movies, were going to eventually look like this. Like, right, so incredible. And so you just can’t. You just can’t compare basically, when you’re live streaming what looks like archival footage into people’s homes, it just doesn’t cut it, even if you are really, you know, a big supporter and you want to be there and you want to watch it, it’s not the same. I do love the lightness aspect. I like when you know, the shit hits the fan or goes wrong or, you know, you see the artists in their living room and it’s a mess. And, you know, like, there’s something kind of fun about seeing that. But it’s, you know, it’s not going to compare, and I also kind of, I haven’t, you know, in my mind sort of reflective three months here thinking, What’s the hurry? Like if this is a temporary situation? I realised that it has obviously like financial impacts for people but but in terms of like getting art out into the world. Do we have have enough content to sustain us for this, what again, like, it feels like it’s forever, but it is a temporary period. And you know, and I can’t I can’t tell you if it’s gonna be three months or eight months or 18 months or whatever, but it’s it’s not going to be forever Even though it feels like it. So there’s the, you know, we were talking about earlier that expectation or that feeling or that anxiety being caused by that expectation that we are going to continue to create, that we are going to continue to move forward, like nothing’s happening, we’re just going to put it on a live stream. And, you know, why? Why do you need to live stream something that’s beautiful in person, like, Can you hold on to that thing? Or is there a way to release that thing? Or get people excited about it? in a in a different way? That doesn’t kind of like blow your load for the show, essentially. Yeah, you know, like, I guess, Mike, one of my questions for people that are feeling that way is you know, what, is the hurry? Why? You know, why? Do we feel like we need to birth these things into the world? During you know, right now like because it helps us feel connected because we feel obligated to by our funders or the timeline, we’ve set arbitrary timeline now that we’ve set for ourselves or, you know, are there other ways for us to engage with our audiences and with other artists in a way that isn’t necessarily expecting a product? Like that’s why I think the development actually in that creativity that the development component is working really well for skeleton key right now and for myself as an artist, but you know, next week we’re doing developing a I’ve been a part about several online like zoom play readings and workshops, which, which are actually have been successful and are interesting and again, helped to develop and move the work forward, but there’s no expectation that, you know, we’re not making it for a live stream, we’re making it for the eventuality of the return of live performance and events. Yeah, I wonder I sometimes think about the frenzy to produce and to put stuff content out into the world when we have so much content, like I could watch Netflix or read all the books in my house until I’m dead. And there will be enough content, you know, and if the unique and special thing about what we do is doing it live, and if everybody we know is craving that live connection, you know, is there is there and can we be patient? I don’t know. Like, I also want people to not starve.

Phil Rickaby  52:34

It’s a good it’s a good question. I mean, the problem is that a lot of this stuff, you know, early on, in March, there was a lot of rushing to get stuff online. A number of shows had been cancelled. And so it was like, Can I let’s get the cash together. We’ll do a reading of the play. Let’s do what we can and some very hurried attempts to get video or their, their, their whatever it was live streamed. But I think as time goes on On that there are things being written and created Now that may some desert like belong on the stage. And some as an initial iteration you could do them, you know, now and maybe maybe sort of with an eye to how does it look now how does it look then when you put it on the stage, but also so many of these things are being done for free?

Kate Smith  53:25


Phil Rickaby  53:27

And so it’s not a matter of like putting bread on the table because we’re giving it away.

Kate Smith  53:32

It’s Yeah, it will. We’re not being able to monetize our art form right now. Yeah, because there’s so much competition, right? There’s so much free content that people are making available online, which is great. It’s so nice to have accessible content. You know, we talk about accessibility all the time in our forum and so like, assuming that somebody has a device or and an internet connection, which of course many people still do not they you know, use a library or something like that, but You know, it is allowing it into people’s homes. But, uh, yeah.

Phil Rickaby  54:08

As we sort of like start to get to wrapping up here, one of the things that I’ve been doing in these conversations in the quarren times or whatever we’re going to call this, um, I, I’ve been asking people, what is it that is giving you joy that’s getting you through each day. So for you, what is the thing or the things that are giving you the joy and the energy and the drive to get from one day to the next?

Kate Smith  54:40

I always feel feel pressure as a parent and be like, Oh, the kids

Phil Rickaby  54:45

don’t have to feel that because I often I’m waiting for the parent who’s like honest enough to be like anything but the children. I love my kids. But, you know, like, if you could we can take as a given that your kids bring you joy.

Kate Smith  54:59

Sure. Great. Great. Good good. They’re not gonna they’re not gonna listen to this they’re not gonna sit

Phil Rickaby  55:05

even if they do even if you do your kids you give your mother joy

Kate Smith  55:09

Okay, come on you know I think be like the healing space and the beauty that the green spaces are providing like I’m so glad that the seasons have shifted and that we can be outside and you know we can wave to our neighbours and walk the dog and you know like be by a river and look into it and all these kinds of moments in nature or if you’re in a city like just even green spaces or peaceful spaces a tree you know where we can kind of I don’t know I feel like a greater connection to to the Earth right now. But my god it’s like a feat. Edit that part out though. But but um So being in nature and then just Also, my art is is really giving me life right now. I feel fortunate because I am, I am feeling creative. I’m feeling like I don’t have a I have sort of like a surge of creativity right now. And I, you know, I know it can kind of go either way. So I feel very grateful for that whatever that little Muse or animus or whatever that thing is, is kind of hovering around me or my house right now. Because, yeah, it makes me excited. It makes me feel it gives my time structure my day structure it. It helps me you know, like, have all my little all my trivialise my own projects, I have all my projects that are separate. And I’m like, Okay, I’m going to think I’m going in as a creator for this one, or now I’m becoming a playwright for this one or now I’m shifting to thinking about directing these ones. And so it’s exciting for me to be able to kind of be a little bit more free with my time and in the same way find that structure and setting up working with artists and it also I, you know, zoom fatigue is real, I just need to say it is a real thing. But it is nice to go into a workshop scenario where we all have we’re all focused on one thing and that is telling this story and making this production beautiful. And so working with other artists together, having that sort of unifying thing like makes it feel normal like doing art right now makes me feel normal and makes it feel like for a few for a few hours or for a few minutes I forgot that the world is shut down and that I can’t walk up the street for a coffee and that I haven’t hugged my mom in a problem going on for months actually because she was gone before this so you know I focusing on the theatre right now is really helping me to think about Yeah, what what brings me joy, what gives me joy and and forget about the other things that are happening.

Phil Rickaby  58:02

Thank you so much Kate has been wonderful.

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