#259 – Camille Eanga-Selenge
Camille is a graduate of Sheridan’s College’s Musical Theatre program. Theatre highlights include RENT, High School Musical, Hairspray, and The Book of Mormon.
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Camille Eanga-Selenge, Phil Rickaby
Phil Rickaby 00:02
Welcome to Episode 259 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. Thank you for listening. If you want to support Stageworthy consider dropping some change in the virtual tip jar, you can find a link to that in the show notes. Your support helps me continue to bring you great conversations in Canadian theatre. You can find stage where the on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @stageworthypod and you can find the website with the archive of all 259 episodes at stageworthypodcast.com if you want to drop me a line, you can find me on Twitter and Instagram @philrickaby and My website is philrickaby.com. My guest this week is actor Camille Eanga-Selenge Camille, welcome. Thank you, thank you so much for doing this. How, how are things? How are things with you during all of everything?
Camille Eanga-Selenge 01:22
Right now? All of the COVID everything?
Phil Rickaby 01:24
Oh, everything. There’s just like it’s it’s it’s beyond? COVID at this point, it’s like just the everything.
Camille Eanga-Selenge 01:31
Yeah, yeah, everything. You know what, it’s been pretty good. Um, my friends and I joked about this being like our only retirement that we’ll never get. So we’re just taking advantage of it as if you know, this is a time off that we normally would not get in the theatre business. And so I moved home actually, from Stratford to Ottawa for this little bit here. I came home to my childhood home, which is always lovely and strange at the same time. And I’ve just been I spent like the first few months just taking care of myself and not really doing much like making sure I wasn’t focused on keeping up any type of work style or anything.
Phil Rickaby 02:15
Camille Eanga-Selenge 02:16
and then I summer came and things were lovely. And now summer is leaving me and I’m so sad. But it’s been pretty good. It’s been a good time, good time for mental health, a good time for taking care of my body. Because we were doing heavy, heavy dance rehearsals. So this is it’s been a good six months or so.
Phil Rickaby 02:36
So you were like getting ready to where you you were like gearing up for a season in Stratford when everything happened?
Camille Eanga-Selenge 02:44
Yes, yeah, I was rehearsing for Spamalot. And Wendy and Peter, at the Stratford Festival, and the day that everything happened, I think it was like March 17, or something. We all showed up at our the Avalon theatre to get in the building to start rehearsals at you know, 950. And the doors were locked. And we were like, Hello, what’s going on? And then we got an email saying, Hey, guys, this is what’s happening. Everybody go home. And we’re just going to like, let you know what’s going on soon. But everybody just go home. So that was kind of the first time it hit was not being able to get into the theatre, which was such a strange thing to have, like 10 performers waiting outside in March, like, which is still cold in Stratford. Yeah. finding out that their lives are on hold. Basically, that was like the first day. Yeah.
Phil Rickaby 03:37
It’s funny because I used to, you know, did worked at a call centre, one point and occasionally somebody card would would malfunction, the door be locked, and somebody would be Oh, am I fired? So it’s like, they sort of like you show up for rehearsal and the doors locked? And you’re like, Are we all fired? What’s going on?
Camille Eanga-Selenge 03:53
Why? Because we’re using our own codes do like you have you have your own code to get in. And so that first person that typed it in was like, Wait, do I not work here anymore? Is that what?
Phil Rickaby 04:02
Camille Eanga-Selenge 04:05
Phil Rickaby 04:06
um, at what point did it? Did you realise that that? Like, this is it I guess I’m going home? I’m back home.
Camille Eanga-Selenge 04:17
Yeah, my mom had been, she had been paying more attention because she lives in Ottawa. So things were happening quicker here. And she had been messaging me for about a week just saying, like, are you coming home? Are you coming home? And like, No, I have a job. And I’m having a really good time. So I’m not gonna you know, drive six hours and I can’t leave like there’s no, nothing has said yet. And then we started having conversations about safety and stuff. And the festival took really great measures to make sure that we were continuously like taking care of ourselves and washing our hands and doing all that stuff. And then that first day that we stayed at home, we were just like, okay, let’s just see what’s happening. But I have This feeling that things were about to come to a halt, because I knew that we were safe in Stratford. And I hope everyone, you know, everyone’s been saying they’re still pretty safe there, that no cases have really happened there. But I had a feeling that we couldn’t gather, if places weren’t allowed to gather more than five people in a building, then there was no way we were going to have 35 people in rehearsal hall. And so I, I kind of jumped to those conclusions pretty quickly, just to come to terms with it so that I wasn’t stuck in like panic mode. I think that often, that’s kind of how I function. And I feel like it helps me get through actually changing cities a lot changing, you know, changing my environment, is just I see what’s coming next. And I’m like, Okay, this is the thing we’re doing. And for me, I think, pretty quickly after that first day, I was like, I don’t think I’m going back to work anytime soon. I didn’t know if it was going to last a really long time. But I was like, I’m going to be at home for at least a month or a bit. So let me just wrap my head around that and just think of like, Okay, what day do you want to move home? What day do you? How much are you bringing with you because my whole life looking at the house that I was living in? I also have a dog. So it’s like, Okay, what can we do with our pup in the front seat? Yeah, so I think I thought about that pretty quickly and then made the decision after they had to, we had the big phone call where they let us know what was happening and that things would be on hold for a while. I thought I was gonna stay in Trafford and just say, Okay, I’m gonna play it out and stay here for like, two months. And if we’re not back by two months, and I’ll come home, but after about half a week, I or sorry, a week and a half, I realised that it would be smarter for me to go now. And then just take that time at home that I would never get honestly, and come back when they let us know that they’re ready to come back.
Phil Rickaby 07:00
I think for me, in all of this the moment where I realised No, this is big. was when Broadway shut down.
Camille Eanga-Selenge 07:10
MM. MMHmmm. Yes.
Phil Rickaby 07:12
Yeah, I remember at that point, I was like, Okay, this is going this is big. This is affecting everything.
Camille Eanga-Selenge 07:18
Yeah, that’s because that’s never happened.
Phil Rickaby 07:21
Camille Eanga-Selenge 07:23
Wow, that was a big day. That was we were learning a tap number that day. So our brains were already like, a complete mess. And I remember everyone’s on their phones at the same time, just like I also have friends because I had worked on Broadway for a bit. So I had a bunch of friends in Mormon and Book of Mormon that had messaged me being like, so we’re not back to work today. We just told that we don’t have a show tonight. And they don’t know when we will be coming back. And that it was surreal.
Phil Rickaby 07:54
Absolutely. Well, especially. I mean, it’s like, for me not knowing people on Broadway. It’s a it’s an esoteric, it’s a ephemeral thing. Oh, shit, Broadway shutting down. But when you know, people, that’s, I guess that was like a foreshadowing of everything shutting down everywhere as far as theatre goes.
Camille Eanga-Selenge 08:14
Absolutely. Yeah, I think once once Broadway lays down to those rules. And you know, like the government, the the Ontario government, I would say was pretty fine. found they were pretty good with like, okay, we’re just gonna close everything down. I know, some people talked about how it took too long. But it’s a tricky thing. I don’t know. We don’t know the logistics. We don’t know what it’s like to decide that you’re going to shut down everyone’s life for 30 days, or, you know, like, so I couldn’t really complain about it. But I know that once that happened, it was a sign for all feeders to be on watch of like, what’s coming up for them? Because Broadway is kind of like it’s ever going it’s when would Broadway shut down? So if Broadway can’t stay open, then why would we be able to stay open and their theatres are honestly the theatres aren’t as, like, they’re not as big as ours. So if we’re talking about the person count, we have some theatres that are like, you know, an 1800 or 1600 seat theatre, whereas the theatre that I was working in with, like 11 or 13. So if it’s about how people can be in that building, safely, we’re definitely not staying open.
Phil Rickaby 09:28
What we like and I still feel this way that that like, as we’re sort of opening in some theatres, like, we can fit 50 people in the building and I’m thinking, you know, every show I’ve ever been in, in the audience for as the lights go down. People cough and that act has changed.
Camille Eanga-Selenge 09:49
Phil Rickaby 09:50
Now there’s no way that just like somebody’s coughing is just like a thing that you brush off.
Camille Eanga-Selenge 09:55
People. I mean, even walking down the street or like going to a store If someone costs around you, we’ve any there’s all those means about it about people staring at each other, you can’t sneeze you hold and everything. But in the theatre like I remember during Billy, we would laugh about some, for some reason a little shop people didn’t cost that much like we didn’t hear the coughing in the season a lot. But in Billy, we heard so much coughing, because just the way the theatre is shaped, I guess you could just hear everything. And just thinking about that happening. Like that wouldn’t be no one would feel safe. No, people would hear that like coughing every three seconds and no one would feel safe. And also those people would be terrified to cough, which might incite were coughing worse, you know, reaction?
Phil Rickaby 10:43
Yeah, it’s it’s a terrible situation, I think it’s going to be, you know, I unfortunate, we all know that that theatres are essentially going to be the last thing to open. Absolutely. Partially, because once everything gets to go ahead to open back up again, it’s gonna take like six months to get theatres was chosen them.
Camille Eanga-Selenge 11:03
Yeah. And I think, honestly, I, I love like, I love theatre, I love what I do. And I am okay with not being able to do it, in order for it to be safe to go back to it. Like I am in no rush to put to trial 50 people in a theatre and trial coming back, like to rehearsals just for people to get sick, because there’s currently no vaccine. So yeah, so if we’re just testing that, we’re just gonna be like, Okay, everybody, you know, you, you were going to do a show for two weeks, and you just can’t see your family for like, you know, those, that three week rehearsal period and all those rules that they have to set in place for us to all stay safe. And we’re gonna, you know, screen people ask them questions at the door, and all that trial stuff that they have to do like I want it to be. I know, it can’t be 100% based, but I want it to be as safe as it possibly can. I don’t want to go back because I miss doing my job. I miss it all the time. But I would rather people be safe and healthy. And I would rather my family, my friends, my co workers be safe and healthy than just run back to work because because we we miss it that much. Like it’s a terrible thing. But it’s kind of like a smarter reality, I think.
Phil Rickaby 12:28
Absolutely. And it’s one of those those, one of the interesting and unfortunate things is that like, you could be exposed to it. And because the person is asymptomatic, you may not know for several days that you’ve been exposed to it. So you can be passing it around and not know. So all this taking temperature and stuff is not a it’s not a fit is not is not foolproof, it’s it’s, you know, we have to we don’t want to put a large number of people in an enclosed space where a bunch of other people on stage breathe them intensely for
Camille Eanga-Selenge 13:05
Yeah. And I recently, someone had posted maybe two weeks ago or so someone had posted an article about how talking is no worse than singing. doctors are saying, and they’re like I you know, I hope we get to come back to work. And this is like such a great thing. And I’m like, okay, but they’re not saying that it’s six words. They’re not saying that, like everybody get back to work. They’re saying each no worse if you sing quietly also, I read the whole article. It was like if you the louder you sing, the harder you sing, obviously you spit and you know, but it’s not saying it’s safer. It’s just saying that it’s not worse. And I really, really hope that our artistic directors that like the people that are really in charge of our well being because that once they say hey, we’re coming back to work, we’re gonna bring it like we’re gonna open up auditions again and bring everybody back. People will come like performers will be like, I miss doing this. I also like living right now is very difficult. I imagine even with CES I don’t know what people’s situations are like I’m very fortunate to be able to come home and have a have a home that like my mom’s like not asking me to pay rent while I’m home. You know, I’m but people don’t have that. And people will walk to work and we’re just supposed to hope that like our artistic directors and producers have really paid attention to what’s being said and aren’t just seeing these articles and being like, great. We can go back look, singing isn’t as bad. It’s, I read the whole article and it ended with when you’re inquires or when you’re in groups, it is unhealthy for the people like it’s obviously unsafe for the people on the stage and like that is an important fact to pick when you are reading that article.
Phil Rickaby 14:56
Absolutely. Absolutely. Can’t go by the headlines you guys There’s no you know, that’s what we tend to do. We see we A lot of people don’t read past the headline. Well, it’s interesting because you know, as, as a performer myself, I don’t feel safe going to a theatre, I don’t feel safe being on a stage right now. Not just because because, you know, there’s a bunch of people who are breathing and all that stuff. And we’re all in this enclosed space. And I think audiences, judging from generally, what I see where people are still kind of avoiding each other.
Camille Eanga-Selenge 15:32
Phil Rickaby 15:34
I don’t think people are going to be in any rush to jump back into the theatre.
Camille Eanga-Selenge 15:40
Yeah, I, I’m a huge movie person, like I’m I love film, and the movie theatres have opened, and the thought of sitting in a space with recycled air while people are eating and people laugh and comment, and like, yes, you can pick your seats, and you can be socially distance and but you’re, but now it’s not mandatory. If you have popcorn, if you’re you know, and like, Who’s gonna put their mask back on when they’re done popcorn because no one’s paying attention. Like that alone. scares me so much. Right now, just that thought of being in a theatre that you can, you know, that’s trying to do their best to take, like, take care of us and productive. I have, yeah, I have no desire. If I knew a show was up, I just be like, Is it worth it? Like, is it Yeah, is it worth it for me to do that? Which is such a difficult conversation to have with yourself. And when you’re in theatre, because you want I know that half of I’ve had conversations, and some people are like, some people don’t care, like some people are like, I’ll wear my mask, all socially distance, I missed theatre so much, I just want to see it, like, bring me if you open up the theatres, I will show up. Some people are really supportive, and also just don’t have as much fear of what could happen. And the other half are just kind of like, oh, wait till there’s a vaccine, I’ll wait till let’s say, I’ll wait till it’s a smart thing to not just gonna, I’ve been We’ve been living this way for six months. And we have more liberties now than we did in the beginning. So I think that extra push of being able to go to the theatre, instead of just seeing it through videos and stuff, I think that’ll take more than just them being open and saying we think so. Please come.
Phil Rickaby 17:33
Yeah, and I think that even those people who, who are just like, if they open, I’m going, I don’t know, there’s enough of those to make it financially viable. No, to throw open the doors.
Camille Eanga-Selenge 17:43
Yeah, that’s the other part of it is, I, I have been lucky enough to work in such amazing calibre companies and theatres, that we have to consider, like, what will it take for us or for the theatre companies to hire, you know, 20 people, like, it’s probably not going to be 20 people to put on what calibre of show because what budget will they have based on the revenue that they’re and how high will the tickets have to be in order for them to make any money to even even if it was like non for profit, like if they just said, we’re not going to make money, we just want to make theatre? So we need to balance it out? Like, what is that amount that you have to pay your authors? You have to make tickets? And and what quality of work will you be able to do like obviously, the acting, the singing, the quality of the physical work will be brilliant, and the art will be brilliant. But there are there are things that will suffer. There’s also with that amount of money. It’s like when you have your backstage workers and the safety and all that stuff that might suffer as well, depending on what your budget is, like you might have less people, you know, less dressers less different different things that run a show right now, we might be lacking in that because there are cuts that will have to be made.
Phil Rickaby 19:13
Think about it. It’s interesting though, because I was just talking a little while ago with the director of the st. JOHN fringe the Fundy Fringe Festival and they went ahead with a hybrid in person slash digital Fringe Festival. And it’s you know, they’re in the Maritimes and there’s they’re able to open a little bit more. But they found that even as they were having having the size of their house, they required more staff to keep people safe to remind people this is how you’re going to go up the stairs. You can’t take the elevator you can sit over here, please follow this path the washrooms are over here, please do this. Like please wear your mask there. You need to double the front of house. Absolutely keep people safe.
Camille Eanga-Selenge 19:59
Yeah, even that like,
Phil Rickaby 20:01
that’s just not financially viable either.
Camille Eanga-Selenge 20:03
Yeah, you, you, you absolutely would. Yeah, that’s totally something like, if you think of the, even just retail or the grocery stores that we go to, that they have greeters, and they have cleaners and they have people doing all these jobs that didn’t exist before the pandemic that are mandatory. Now, in order for people to feel safe, and in order for it to actually be a safe place, and that is, that’s more jobs, you might bring down the rate of pay, but you are still hiring more people. And that’s more money.
Phil Rickaby 20:36
I like to take a step away from the Quran-times that we’re living in. And I want to talk a little bit about your theatre origin story. What was your first exposure to theatre? And how did you discover that this was something you wanted to make your life’s work?
Camille Eanga-Selenge 20:58
I have like such a, I feel like a crooked line of theatre origin story, because I am. I have loved dance. Like I feel like dance was my first love from birth. Like I my family is a very music, dance driven family. And so I was taking Afro Caribbean dance. I did it pretty much all of my childhood teenagehood. And when I was like, I think I was 16 or so I took technical dance, I decided I want to expand that. And I took some ballet and I did competitive for a couple years. But theatre and acting and singing like terrified me. I was so scared. It was such a vulnerable place. I found that I didn’t, I didn’t have that same fear with dance. There’s something about it that I don’t know, there’s something about it that the expression of it doesn’t give me the same amount of nerves. And so in high school, my high school theatre teacher, I wasn’t in theatre, I didn’t take acting. I didn’t take any vocal lessons or anything. He’s just like, I think you should try it for the play like you’re a dancer, and I feel like you would have a lot of fun to try it for Pirates of Penzance. And I did and so I did that when I was 16. I was part of that show. And then the next year was Hamlet, I believe. And I was like, Oh, I can’t act like I can’t be a part of that. No. So I did an audition for the next year. And then my graduating year of high school, they were doing Greece and he was like, I think you need to come back and you need to audition for the show. I have a part for you. Just do it. Meanwhile, I’m studying all sciences, all maths. I want to be a psychologist. But I want to study psychology as a science, zero acting zero, like art, anything besides dance on the side. And so I audition, I get the part of Rizzo in Greece, I had the time of my life, I had the best time. And when it was over, I had already applied to psychology as a science programme at auto au. So I was accepted. I had that all put away. It ended the show ended in like March, I think. And I was really sad for a while, like I missed, I missed the backstage culture. That’s a lot of fun. I missed rehearsals, I missed playing around, I miss singing on stage. I didn’t know I would miss it. And so I had a little talk with my mom and I was like, Hey, I think I’m gonna audition for theatre schools next year. I don’t think I want to go to psychology to the psychology programme. And she’s like, well, you have a scholarship. So you’re gonna go for a year, you’re gonna do the things. I will walk into these other programmes, but you will go to school next year. And I was like, Okay. And she was fully supportive. She like, she is a, she’s an arts person, too. She has. My mom has some, like, quietly all her life that she can sing. And she always took me to dance and took me to my competitions and was so supportive during the shows in high school. But she also wanted to make sure that I knew it was something I wanted to do, and it wasn’t just like a sudden change. So that’s why she made me not really made me but she asked me to continue in the psychology programme just for a year. And it could only benefit me She said I could, you know, transfer this over if I switched over into a different programme. So that was kind of the I guess Greece was the inciting incident into me realising that musical theatre was something I loved. That acting wasn’t as terrifying as I thought it was that singing on stage would only make me nervous before I touch the stage because I feel like I I turn into a different person when I’m on stage. And I audition to York for dance. I audition to Ryerson for dance my audition to share it in for musical theatre. And but I knew that Sheridan was where I wanted to go just because I had a creepy like a person who’s older than me from my high school that had gone there and he just Somebody’s wondering about it. And I was like, okay, that’s the programme I want to get into. But I’ll addition to these other programmes, just in case, there’s, you know, to have other options. And that’s Yeah, that’s where I got accepted. And I was like, great. This is where my future is, like I, I will, I love psychology, still, I think I will return to it at some point in my life, because I do have a love for it. And I have a love for therapy, I really want to mainly help people in theatre with therapy, I think, coming from theatre and knowing what we put ourselves through and watching what my friends have battled with, I would love to be able to help them or help future people with that. And I think it would help that I know, what we what we put ourselves through. While I helped them with that,
Phil Rickaby 25:51
Oh, sure. Because if you if you if you are going to a new psychologist or a therapist, and they don’t have any experience with the arts live with the theatre life, you may have to spend more time explaining what’s normal in your workplace, because they don’t understand it,
Camille Eanga-Selenge 26:13
which can already be a deterrent for going to therapy, just thinking you know, I would love therapy, but this person, like they won’t really get why they’ll try to understand but they don’t really get exactly where I’m coming from. Because the theatre world is so specific, the film and TV world to like they you know, they’re very specific on certain things that trigger us and what we spend our time doing, like, if you really think about it, we have put ourselves in a position where we are put in front of a group of people that we hope, will love us every day. And even if they love us, we might not get the job, like they could love us and be like, you’re so wonderful, but this is what we’re looking for. And we just have to like, move on and just carry on and go Okay, and the next one’s tomorrow at 10am. And the next one, five minutes later. And we openly asked for critique on our work. We we have to in order to become better, we have to have our directors, you know, let us know, different things that we can do to make our work better. And that is not a position that many people have to put themselves through in other forms of employment. And so I think,
Phil Rickaby 27:27
in a lot of places of employment, that’s the thing you would actively avoid.
Camille Eanga-Selenge 27:32
Having to apply for a job every, you know, three months, it’s not something people really want to do at all.
Phil Rickaby 27:39
Yeah, no, absolutely. Nobody wants to do that.
Camille Eanga-Selenge 27:43
But we do it, we chose it. And we do it. And we’re like, Yeah, great. This is healthy. This is totally natural. I love it.
Phil Rickaby 27:52
So you made a very sudden shift from the from going to do like psychology, psychiatry, like studying psychology, to the arts, and that a lot of people don’t make like a change quite that quickly. Aside from your mother, sort of giving you the laying her like, like putting her foot down and saying you’re going to go to school and study psychology because you have this scholarship did was there any other pushback?
Camille Eanga-Selenge 28:34
Not really. My like, she did it with full support of me still auditioning for schools and knowing like she tells me, I always knew you could do it. I always knew that that was something you would love. But I needed you to want to do it for yourself. And besides that conversation, like my family was all for it. My I didn’t really have much in my way of, you know, going down that path. I’m pretty lucky in that. No one there was no real pushback anywhere. And it wasn’t really quick switch. But I know this is part of my like personality, it might be part of my Virgo personality, I don’t know. But when I make a decision to do something, when I believe that I can do something, I just go for it. If it doesn’t work out, it’s fine. But I’m not someone to like tiptoe into things, hoping that they turn out well and just in keeping my foot somewhere else. I will often make really bold statements and my brother always tells me that I have like LeBron James energy or like Michael Jordan energy, we’re just like, yeah, I’m going to do this thing. And I’m going to get my degree here. I’m going to do this. And my mom said like when I was leading cared and I would just say people would ask me, What do you want to do when you you know, you’ll have your musical theatre degree? What are you gonna do with it? And I was like, Oh, I’m gonna be on Broadway. Like I think I’m gonna figure out a way to like, you know, audition for a Broadway show. And I’m gonna get on Broadway and I was 1920 at the time just casually thinking Broadway was like this super attainable, like, easy, easy thing. Especially it’s a different country. That’s the other part of it I, but I didn’t see, I didn’t see obstacles in my way. I was just like, it will happen at some point. And that’s like, that’s something I want to do. Or I would say, I will, you know, Sean Stratford festivals are really wonderful places that I’ve seen theatre and like, I will work there at some point. And those are the places this is before I even left school. So that’s kind of the energy, my I must have a, I do have a very supportive mom. And I think she knew how to make sure that I always believed I could do the things I wanted to do with work. It was never you can just have everything. It was like you put in the effort. Be smart about what you’re doing, and you can have that thing. And yeah, that was the energy I feel like I went into switching careers with, which I feel has been a pretty good, a pretty good switch so far. Pretty good, right?
Phil Rickaby 31:11
Well, I mean, as you know, you’re talking about going to like, knowing that you like be so confident that you’ll be on Broadway, and you went to Broadway pretty quickly after graduation.
Camille Eanga-Selenge 31:24
I did. I did. And as much as I say, I have that energy of like, I’m going to do the thing when it happens. I’m still on the floor, like, so excited. I I booked Book of Mormon, I think, three or four months out of school. And first I went to Chicago, I was joining the second national tour of Mormon. So I went to Chicago first, but that was still like, what is my world, I don’t even understand what’s happening. And I remember getting a phone call from my agent after being with the second national tour for a year. And he called me at like, 9am. And he’s like, hey, do you? Do you have any friends with like, apartments or stuff in New York? Because you’re going to need to, like find a place there and need a place for a while. And I was like, What are you talking about? And he’s like, Oh, well, they’re wondering if you want to go to Broadway in a couple weeks. And the even though I had said it so many times, like this is where I’m going to shock, the excitement, the like, unbelievable ness of it all still hit me the same way. And it still does when I talk about it. Like when people you know, ask me and I’m like, I know. It’s Yeah, it’s a real thing. Like I went to that place. And I worked on that.
Phil Rickaby 32:36
Yeah, and when when when your agent says, you know, would you like to go to Broadway? I mean, does anybody say no to that? I know.
Camille Eanga-Selenge 32:45
Right? Love. They love playing those, like the sweetest game. Like they know the answer. They know what I’m gonna say. But it’s such Yeah, the question is like, who says no, like, when would I make the choice to be like, No, thanks. I’m, I mean, I was very happy where I was. I loved my cast so much. I always say they raised me. I feel like, I grew up so much in Chicago for that first year. And I still talk to them to this day, like we’re very good friends. And I was very happy where I was, but I was like, Yeah, no, I’m going absolutely. When do I pack my bags? Like, I know. Yeah, it was amazing. It was amazing.
Phil Rickaby 33:29
Well, I mean, for me, you know, as a kid, I can remember listening to Broadway musical soundtracks or test recordings. And that was really my, my theatre gateway that sort of started me on the path was that, here’s these songs, but they tie together and they tell the story. Yeah. And then you go to see it on stage. And that was my entryway into the theatre. And so with that, like, the whole Broadway thing, that’s like, clouds partying, angels singing, you know?
Camille Eanga-Selenge 33:59
Yeah. But I you know, what, I find that I feel that way about almost everything that I do in theatre. Like, I remember when they asked me if I wanted to go to Australia. And as terrifying as it was to think, Okay, I’m going to be 16 hour time difference from my entire family and friends. And across the world. I still like the butterflies that I get from being asked to join a company of anything when I found out I got Stratford when I found out I because I did grease like was the grease was the first show I did back from Australia, back in Canada. And I remember coming back home thinking, I really hope I work. Like I really hope and my friends were like, Are you joking? Like you just worked in a huge company for five and a half years? I’m like, Yeah, but I just really hope that like, I’m, I can still get jobs and that like people still want to hire me because no one knows him tonight. And that that was genuinely my mentality coming back home and when I got grace, I was like, Mom, like I just so excited. And then when I got the panto, I was so like, every time I get jobs that I really want to do I like the excitement is the same. Yes, Broadway was like excitement and disbelief. I think I have a little bit of less a little bit less of disbelief when I just have excitement when I get like this jobs. But But yeah, Broadway was like, are you sure this is real? Like, this is a thing that’s really happening. I get to say this at some point. But I still get like, crazy nervous for auditions. And I still get insanely excited when I find out I book something it is. I hope it never leaves me. It’s, it’s exhausting. It’s exhausting to have those reins of range of emotions every time. Like the other day I found out, I was on hold for a commercial. And I did like it’s a hold. We don’t know if designated and I’m like, that’s okay. It’s a whole like, it’s my first whole. It’s because I hadn’t been auditioning for commercials for a while. I was like, This is exciting. Like, I went and told my mom and I texted my cousin. I was like, I’m on hold. This is great. I still get really excited for everything that I get to do. Yeah,
Phil Rickaby 36:10
that’s great. Did Did you find that I’m having Broadway, on your resume? open doors in Toronto. And you know what?
Camille Eanga-Selenge 36:23
I can’t tell. I think it may I think like someone reading my resume, perhaps a casting director might have seen that and thought, yeah, we’ll invite her in or something like I it’s not on the level that I can tell because I auditioned the same way I went through like the same processes, everybody. I feel like when I walked in the room, no one really brought it up as Oh, you were on Broadway, they might be like you were part of a woman. How was that for you? or How was that experience? But it didn’t? Yeah, I just felt like, it didn’t do anything like it didn’t open any doors that I didn’t know were already open. Which, you know, that’s only from my side of things. Because my agents might say something else, they might say something completely different. But from my side of it, I just feel like I came home. And I was I felt like I was working just as hard as I would have. If I had been working in Toronto for the past five years instead of in New York.
Phil Rickaby 37:23
I think that generally, that’s kind of a good thing to have happen. I think it would do something to your brain, if suddenly, people were openly treating you differently. Because you were on Broadway, you carry yourself into the audition in a way that really sort of changed you as a person.
Camille Eanga-Selenge 37:41
Yeah, I would never, I would never want that. I think I do think some people can have that. Like if you go abroad for a while and you’re working in, you know what I will say that maybe it carried in the way that I when I worked not in my auditions. But the company of Book of Mormon treated me so well. And they taught me what I was worth as an actor, like what I deserved. How I got like, there were special, you know, special days where we had ice cream trucks outside. I’m not saying companies need to give me ice cream trucks and just saying they really treated us well. And they told us what like, Thank you, guys, thank you so much for your work. And I had mics that were the colour of my skin and I had dressers who really took care of me. And so I had all these variances of goodness that when I came back to Canada, I was like, Hey, I know what we deserve. And so when I see something that was off, I would say something. I know that some of the rules are different, like one thing that we had on Mormon was we have resident directors, which are not common in a lot of Canadian theatre, they have the stage managers that kind of keep the show running and give you notes and stuff. And so that was a little bit of a change. Because I I didn’t know that. And I think I witnessed like a stage manager coming in and giving an actor a note. And I was like, do you want me to say something? Like, that’s not allowed? me to do like, No, no, no, that’s that’s normal. And I’m like, What do you mean, that’s normal? Do I have to get used to this? Like, I don’t, I don’t understand. But it makes sense. Because the the running time of the show, you know, is a month or two weeks. Why would you hire a resident director for three weeks? If we can’t keep a show together in three weeks, like what are we doing here? So there were a lot of things I had to adapt to that were just different and that was okay. But I think when it came to there’s a lot of stuff about being like a black musical theatre actor and skin tone types and mics and all that stuff. uncomfortable conversations that I need. Never had during Mormon that if it happened here, I’d be like, hey, that’s not okay. This is an okay. These are kind of just like our basic rights as actors is to, you know, have a pair of tights that match my skin tone. It’s just a basic right. And I didn’t mind doing it because I would like I worked with my cousin. And she would come to my room and be like, well, this happened. But you know what? It’s okay. Like, this is how this is kind of how I think things are run. And I’m like, No, no, like, I will go, I will go say something because that’s not okay. And I don’t think that should happen. Or I would hear stories from my friends and be like, Oh, yeah, they will they do this? Like, I get a beige mic all the time. And I’m like, but we’re not beige. So why would we? No one’s beige on? But, but why? Why are we accepting that just, you know, store a bunch of brown mics in your thing, because you will always have people have brown skin tone. So just have those accessible. So I might have come in and start a bit of trouble that that might have been where my time away had affected me a little bit. Is that I? I didn’t start trouble. I just didn’t accept things that weren’t okay.
Phil Rickaby 41:12
Yeah, I think I’m actually glad that you change the the sentence there because it’s like, Yes, because he was doing what was right. And I think the theatre establishment at times might look at that as causing trouble. But yeah, that’s just because they’re the theatre establishment, and they don’t want things shaken up. Mm hmm. And, yeah,
Camille Eanga-Selenge 41:38
it does. It’s a, it’s a conversation, I have a lot of like, a lot with my friends, because I know that they tell me their experiences, where they’re fearful of saying things because they want to work again. And they, you know, they don’t want to start trouble in quotation marks. And I’m like, I don’t, when it comes to you just feeling comfortable as an actor of colour, I don’t know why someone would think that you are causing trouble, but I can see why that’s the conversation that they would like, title it as. And we have to change that we have to it’s, it’s not okay to be in an environment where you like, love what you’re doing. And this is your life. But there are certain things that you don’t feel safe about. And one of them is like talking about things that make you uncomfortable. Like that can’t. That can’t be okay. We can’t No.
Phil Rickaby 42:31
Yeah, no, I, the whole, like, rocking the boat thing. I kind of feel like that, to me that started in theatre school. Mm hmm. Where we spent I don’t know you. I was at Georgetown college, many, many, many, many, many, many, many years ago. And we spent most of our time there. At least I did in fear. Yeah, fear that I was going to rock the boat be asked to leave and like, there’s just so much fear involved. And that’s no way to make art. But it taught me lessons. ingrained lessons in me that took years to shake about rocking the boat.
Camille Eanga-Selenge 43:13
Yeah, it um, one thing I actually didn’t think I would experience was, when I went to Australia, the fear culture in theatre there is even greater than it is in school. It’s just like, if you say something, this company will never hire you again. So never say anything. I watched my friends like struggle, even just what they like, we’re getting paid. And they were there like I can, I can’t pay my rent. But you know what, oh, like I have a boyfriend, I think we can make it through. And I would never ask for more, and their union wouldn’t step up for them. And that was really scary to see. Because I’m just like we, for what we do for the fact that we are like the face of your creation. And we get up there and we tire our bodies out, because we love it for three hours a day. And then we come back. And we do the same thing as hard as we possibly can. And especially in Australia, like those. It was mainly the Mormon boys, they work so hard. They were working so hard. And they and for them to feel like they could never say anything, if something was going on if something felt wrong or off that they were like, Oh, we would never tell our producers, we would never tell the production company like they they will cut you off and they will never hire you again, like that your culture of not being hired. It was really upsetting to see and I was just like, you’re like what’s your union doing? They’re like, I don’t I don’t know. Like are you know, they don’t really have a lot of things to protect us or a lot of ways to protect us and yeah, and it’s definitely a musical theatre school thing. I I’m just like flashing back to the things that I wanted to do or singing experience in school and being told, like, Oh, this is what this is better for you or like, you audition with, you know, this song way more than you’d auditioned for with this song and me just being like, okay, yeah, yeah, totally know what you’re doing. And like, I have no idea i’m here to learn. My voice is not built yet. Which is also a scary thing. It’s, it’s kids are starting to speak up my little cousin was she’s six years younger than me. And she graduated from Sheridan a couple years ago. And she was in a year where they really spoke up and they, you know, there were some terms that were inappropriate. And they would ask, Hey, do we really need to save this? Like, is this a necessary term to the sentence to the show? Can we change the words, and they were, they were big on speaking up about it, but at the same time, they’re students. And so they, like their voices aren’t fully formed. But they also know when something’s really important to them. And I think for educators to take advantage of the fact that they can mould these students and form their voices for them, and not give them the power to make the changes and give them the power to say, No, you tell me who you want to be. And I will build you into that person with you, I will work with you, to make you this amazing human that you want to be rather than saying, This is what I think you should be, and we’re going to build you into this. It’s Yeah, that is like a huge thing for me is, are watching our future being pushed down in different ways. And especially now that they’re even more vocal, and just like, take that and run with it, listen to what they’re saying. And they’re going to be the people that change theatre for us, they’re going to be the students are going to be the our directors and our actors that are creating these much healthier environments for us, and we should be supporting them, we should not be trying to make sure they fit our mould that we had from 1990.
Phil Rickaby 46:56
Yeah, and it starts I mean, that that starts in theatre school, because, you know, I remember the whole thing, they said, Well, you know, in first year, we will tear you down. And then in second year, we will build you up and in 30, will make you into an artist and I always felt like they did a really great job of tearing us down. And then they missed the other two parts. Because they’re like they have this vision of this is how we make an artist instead of like, finding out what kind of artists does this person want to be or need to be?
Camille Eanga-Selenge 47:29
Mm hmm. And that conversation like to, to let you know, because that was the same thing at Sheridan to let us know that, hey, your first year, it’s going to be really hard for you, because we’re everything you thought you were everything, that great person that you thought you were when you were in high school, and you might have been the top of the top, you’re not that anymore. And we’re going to make sure that you know that you’re you we are starting from the base. So any errors you have about about your talent, we’re going to make sure we chop that all down. And then we’re going to teach you after that, because we can only teach you after that. And yeah, they like I don’t know, I will say I spent three years I did a lot of learning and I grew so much and I am 100% like I am appreciative to my programme, I I was not who I am. Like, my art was not who what it was without my training was not trained at all. Like I didn’t take voice lessons. I didn’t take acting lessons at all, I learned so much in school. But I was shocked, like getting Mormon and knowing that a huge company wanted to hire me and that I had that talent. Like I didn’t know that in school, no one had built me up to say you’re going to work and you’re going to do really great things. And this is like, you’ll be fine. We’re going to we’re going to continue to build you up and you’ll be okay. Like I when someone wanted to hire me. I’m like, Are you sure? Because I’ve spent a full time thinking, I couldn’t do anything about this whole time thinking, I have to work and work and work and change this and change this about myself and quiet this part down and be like this person, this other person that’s you know, getting all these roles, like these were the examples. They were setting. I didn’t come out of school thinking, Oh, yeah, I can’t wait to tear this industry up. I can’t wait to get into those dance calls. And just like tear the floor up. I was just like, I hope I work. I hope I work. I hope this you know, I hope I didn’t waste this amount of time. And so getting that call. That’s mainly where most of the shock came from, was like, Oh, they like I can do this. They want me to do this thing for them. And that shouldn’t it shouldn’t come as such a surprise. It’s always good if it’s exciting. But it shouldn’t be like it shouldn’t have been such a shock for me that someone wanted to hire me and have me where No, and I think
Phil Rickaby 49:49
I think that in theatre schools. I know that when I was in theatre school, there was a handful of people who maybe got Canada who maybe got compliments and the rest of us got There is little, that positive reinforcement and I often think back and I think like, we came out of theatre school very broken. And, and and beaten down, and we had to unlearn so much of the lack of confidence in and as ourselves as an artist, it took years afterwards. And a lot of people that came out of theatre school with me they didn’t last long. Yeah, a bunch of them are like most of them are still not doing it. And some didn’t last long at all, because I think that they were too beaten down by the programme.
Camille Eanga-Selenge 50:39
Yeah, and you know, the, the theatre world, the film, TV, theatre, commercial world already tears you down enough, they already you already get messages back, especially in film and TV with, you know, all your hair is wrong colour or like this part of you is incorrect, or this thing you need to fix. And in theatre, you show up and you go, Hey, I hope you love me. And they’re like, not today. But thank you so much for showing up. We’re already torn down. So I think in their heads, honestly, I think part of it, they were like, we’re going to show you what the world’s like, no one’s going to compliment you. No one’s going to tell you know, that your audition was fantastic. But you’re not getting the job. They’re just going to have you do the audition, and you’re going to walk out and you’re going to have to continue on. But I think continue on knowing that you are worthy of your work. And then you have to move on. I think that that last part was what was lacking. When we came out. It was like, Oh, I have to just keep trying and trying and trying and hoping people like me. But I also should know that like them not choosing me doesn’t mean I am no longer worthy of doing my work. And I think people were just very tired out of out of out of school, they were just very exhausted from having to pick themselves back up all the time.
Phil Rickaby 51:57
Yeah. Yeah. And I think that there’s something about the the teaching method, that that that a lot of the teachers had when I was in school, and it sounds like a little bit when you were in school was was was old. It was it was, you know, some a different era of, and it was may have been the way that they were taught. And it’s Yeah, sort of borderline abusive in some ways.
Camille Eanga-Selenge 52:23
Yeah, I am. Yeah. Sorry. Go on.
Phil Rickaby 52:26
No, you could please go ahead.
Camille Eanga-Selenge 52:28
I was just gonna say that sometimes occurs not just in schools, but also with directors, which I think it’s kind of an obvious link to that. But they, they experienced a certain thing when they were a dancer, being like when they were growing up, and in this industry. And so they show up with like, the same kind of push pull attitude. I’m going to give you love, but I’m also going to let you know that you’re not great when you’re not great. And it’s going to hurt, but you’ll get over it like that same vibe. And I think what we’re missing is, this is how I learned these are the things that were not helpful, helpful to me. And I’m going to change those things. So that the people that I’m teaching are the people that I’m directing, don’t feel the way I did, instead of being like, I’m gonna put you what I put myself there because I are what I was put through because I got through it, and I’m stronger because of it. And we’ll also it’s kind of like it’s a parenting thing. Like it’s a when parents parent the way they were parented because yes, they’re like, I came out of it strong, so you’ll be fine. I’m in apparently the same way. It’s like no, how about you take what you really hated parenting from getting parented and go, Okay, how can I change this? So I don’t repeat this and my child isn’t experiencing the same thing that I had to struggle through when I was growing up. I don’t know if people take that time and I think especially right now, the faculty’s, like they’re bringing in more new people. But I think we there needs to be work done on having like the head of all the faculties just stay the same for 35 years. Like I unless they’re doing learning themselves unless they are continuing to show up and learn what has changed in our Theatre World. They’re going to teach us what they know from when they were experiencing theatre. And we’re going to come out into the world with a completely different, like knowledge of what’s happening. And we need we need more eyes. We need more voices. We need more minds, in our faculties to keep things just like healthy and current and good for our students right now.
Phil Rickaby 54:53
Yeah, it just because somebody has been in the role of the head of acting or even artistic Director for a long time doesn’t necessarily mean that the work that they’re doing is, is fresh, or that they like. You need new people new ideas in all of those positions to, to keep things healthy. And especially with when you’re shaping your minds, like people who come out of school and go into theatre school today are coming out of a school system that was different than then than when I was in school. Yeah. And they, they can’t be taught the same way that somebody was taught in the 70s, or the 80s.
Camille Eanga-Selenge 55:41
Yeah, it definitely. I think, the fear of change and the fear of these new people coming up that just want to come and like destroy your systems. That’s not really what’s happening. But that’s what being that’s what’s perceived as happening. And I have so many like my cousin, my cousin, Sierra Holder that I love so much, she is a voice of change. She, it’s funny that she doesn’t work to be in the sense that she doesn’t put herself in the forefront of all the conversations. But when someone asked to have a conversation with her the things that she says like she, I feel like she’s wiser than I am. And I always look to her for things. He is one of those young voices of change that people want to, like, push away immediately like, like the people that have been in the business for a really long time. They want to push that away, because they’re like, you’re someone new, who thinks, you know, you think you know, what’s what, you don’t know what I’ve been through, you don’t know what this business is like. And she’s like, Yeah, but I, I see what people have gone through, I see what you know, I have experienced specifically her older cousin, his experience, and, and I know, the things that I do not want to experience as I continue through theatre, and what I don’t want younger generations to have to go through. And I’m not coming at it to take your job, I’m not coming at it to ruin your systems. I’m just saying this is these are the things that we can do to make this culture the speeder culture better. Because I will say that my time off in COVID, like during the COVID period. I’m sure a lot of people have been saying like, is this what I want to do is this, like, if this happens, again, this is terrifying, this whole period of not working? And when will my job ever be safe and available again, and I didn’t have the conversation of is theatre what I want to do, cuz I know I love it. I know that like my blink. But I started to see things that I accepted as just facts and reality that that actually kind of hurt and actually, like didn’t feel great. One of those things being actors, like we’re not bottom of the rung, we’re not really, but we’re the last ones to know anything. And we’re the first ones to like, be let go when something happens where if you think of film, TV, commercial auditions, you find out that you have an audition a self tape that to do in 24 hours. And I know this will not change anytime soon. But my mind is just like you just found out you needed someone for this movie, today at three o’clock, and you need to sleep by tomorrow at 10am. That’s not I know that’s not the truth I know that you had this brief for maybe a week. And you’re just like, okay, but if you want the job, you will do it in the time that I give you, or else we will find someone else. And that the value that I feel like the system has, like that we are in the system is really hard to come to terms with and I’ve been having big conversations about it during COVID because I’ve just been like, with all the self tapes that have been requested of me. It’s just insane to me that that we are so low and so valued so little and that our voices, as much as they’re like, we want to hear from you and tell us what you want and get it into. And we are I say again, we’re like the in theatre we are what you see on stage, we are the vehicles of your work. We are also the first ones to be like go into any like in the pandemic we were the first one go, who are the last ones to find out what’s happening. Because everybody will find out first and then they’re like, okay, let’s tell, you know, the talent. And that’s a really difficult thing to change because the conversation is if we if you don’t want to do it, we will find someone else. If you don’t think it’s okay if you struggle with this There is another one of you. And yeah, that value that someone has placed on you, when you think I, I am the only one that is like myself. And that’s what I bring into the room. That’s what you’re told to also believe, like I you are the only person that has your voice, your danceability, your acting chops, your look, all of that you’re supposed to come into the room and you bring that in and then for someone to think, yeah, but if you don’t want to do it, we’ll get this person over here, because that’s fine. We can just have that in. Like that’s such a back and forth. That’s really hard to to get a hold on.
Phil Rickaby 1:00:38
Absolutely. Camille as we wind down one of the questions that I’ve been asking everybody since the pandemic and everything started is what has been giving you joy that gets you through the day. So what has been giving you joy every day.
Camille Eanga-Selenge 1:01:00
Oh, I have gotten back into my book. I love reading. I love stories. I love living in a different world for you know, an hour, two hours a day. And I’m reading a lot less now because I started working again and just getting a little bit busy, busier. But when I was like the first four months, I would wake up I would read for an hour, I would work out and have my breakfast and then I would read for another hour. I wasn’t even watching like Netflix and HBO and all that stuff that much. I was just diving into books I I’m halfway through the Game of Thrones Series. I love Game of Thrones. I’m in the Harry Potter series. I’m reading a lot of black author books, which is huge for me a lot of Toni Morrison and Tina hasee coats and just like jumping into people’s stories. And that honestly just makes me smile and smiley talking about it like I I love books. I love reading and I am. I’m really glad that I’ve had this time to come back to that because, you know, when you have a 10 to 10 to six day, I’m waking up I’m walking my dog. I’m eating breakfast and I’m out the door and I come home and I’m making dinner and I’m going to bed. I’m not I might read for 30 minutes, but I was reading like three books a day. I was I like I would have three books that I would read for two weeks. That’s how much I loved it. Yeah.
Phil Rickaby 1:02:34
Camille, thank you so much. It’s been lovely.
Camille Eanga-Selenge 1:02:36
Thank you. Thank you for having me on here. I’ve had a great time.
Phil Rickaby 1:03:02