#284 – Daniel Fong
Daniel Fong is an actor, singer and mostly coordinated mover bringing light and laughter from his hometown of Calgary, Alberta in Treaty 7 territory. With his mixed-race background, Daniel’s work centers around the breathing of life into new works, and reimagining treasured stories in contemporary ways. Daniel received his training at Grant MacEwan University (Class of 2012) and was the recipient of the Stephen Hair Emerging Artist Award for 2019. Using his music, heart and energy he hopes to help lead his local theatre community into the next chapter of its journey.
Selected Acting Credits include:
The Paper Bag Princess (StoryBook Theatre); Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, Twelfth Night, DiVerseCity (The Shakespeare Company); Gutenberg the Musical! (Lunchbox); A Christmas Carol (Theatre Calgary); Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, The Skin of Our Teeth (Rosebud); US (The Globe Theatre);The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe, Fortune Falls, The Circle (ATP); [Title of Show] (Birnton Theatricals); A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare by the Bow); Journey of a Lifetime (Quest Theatre); Spring Awakening (ACT) Film/TV: Fargo, Wynonna Earp, Mutant World, The Dorm, Forsaken, Klondike.
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Daniel Fong, Phil Rickaby
Phil Rickaby 00:01
Welcome to Episode 284. Start again. Welcome to Episode 284 of Stageworthy, I’m your host Phil Rickaby. Stageworthy is a podcast about people in Canadian theatre featuring conversations with actors, directors playwrights in more. Thank you for listening. I just want to take a moment to remind you about my patreon in support of my work on a new audio drama for the holidays. For those who don’t know, Patreon is a membership platform that helps people like you support creators. For a monthly subscription fee that goes directly to the artist you can help a creative like me make something new. For me, I’m taking my subscribers along with me on the entire creation process. Through posts video and live stream. my patreon subscribers will come with me for the entire process, from brainstorming to writing to recording right through to the release of the project. And for some subscription levels. I will even create a special early release version of the project just for them. You can find you can subscribe and follow along at patreon.com/philrickaby. If you’ve enjoyed listening to Stageworthy and listen on Apple podcasts, please consider rating the podcast with five stars. And if you’re so inclined, you can also leave a review your ratings and reviews do actually help new people find this show. And if you know someone that you think will like stage where they tell them about it. Some of my favourite podcasts he came my favourites because someone I knew told me about them. And remember, you can find and subscribe on Apple podcast, Google podcast Spotify and everywhere you find podcasts you can find Stageworthy on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @stageworthypod and you can find the website with the archive of all 284 episodes at stageworthypodcast.com. And 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 Calgary based actor and singer Daniel Fong. Just for me, just if you could describe if somebody came up to you and said what is it that you do? How would you describe your artistic practice?
Daniel Fong 02:35
Ah, I am a silly, ridiculous actors, singers semi coordinated mover, who likes to create things with his friends and make people laugh a little bit.
Phil Rickaby 02:49
So you lean more towards that towards the comedy aspect or,
Daniel Fong 02:53
I mean, I love all aspects of it. I think I just naturally have more of an inclination towards comedy and being silly. I mean, I love dramatic shows, I love that kind of thing. But if I’m gonna spend the rest of my life I might as well be laughing as opposed to that tearing my heart out in front of strangers.
Phil Rickaby 03:10
And you know, in a lot of ways comedy can be it’s a lot more fun. You certainly get a more immediate feedback from your audience.
Daniel Fong 03:16
Oh, so much more gratifying. Yeah. And that’s what I’m in it really, really, that’s what I’m in it for is the instant gratification.
Phil Rickaby 03:22
I mean, if anybody, any of us say that we’re not in it for some form of gratification from an audience. We’re kind of lying.
Daniel Fong 03:29
That’s, that’s I think what draws me to theatre a little bit like in a deep, selfish, deep down way is that you get that kind of instant feedback with an audience if it was film or something, you know, like, eight months later, someone comes up and is like, Hey, you did such a great job. It’s not the same.
Phil Rickaby 03:45
No, it’s not. It’s not I remember, the first time I did a film it was it was like it was a comedy. And the feeling of emptiness in like delivering what was should have been like a killer line that would bring the house down. In a theatrical situation, you get you say the line and you’re like, this is really a disappointing situation.
Daniel Fong 04:06
Yeah, it just leaves you a sad insight not to not to be mean to anyone who likes film. I totally love the medium. I think it’s very exciting and everything, but I’m just, I need that kind of connection with people. I
Phil Rickaby 04:19
think I’ve always felt more drawn to the to live theatre than to than to film there is just it is that even if it’s not comedy, you can feel the room. Like you can feel when the room is like right there with you. You can feel when you lose them. You can feel so many things that you can’t get out of film.
Daniel Fong 04:43
For me, I find the stakes are so high in theatre because it’s like, at any moment, anything could go wrong, and then everyone has to fix it right. Whereas on film I just find like the stakes just comes from the sound of money in the background burning as you’re doing. take after take out Just as you’re just watching 1000s of dollars flow away, you’re like, oh, man, I should really get this line right? Or
Phil Rickaby 05:05
Daniel Fong 05:06
everyone is gonna lose their patience.
Phil Rickaby 05:08
there’s something, there’s something about that moment, like when something does go wrong, even if it’s like somebody drops a pen, or something on the floor. And as an audience member, you sort of like, you certainly lean forward, like, this is somebody I know, this isn’t blocked to somebody’s going to actually pick up the pen. Whoever picks up the pen is automatically my hero. Come on, somebody pick up the pen, you know.
Daniel Fong 05:28
And there’s something about like, when you’re at performer, watching other performers fix things on stage is very exciting.
Phil Rickaby 05:36
It’s so satisfying to see something go wrong, and have somebody just come along and like in character, like pick up the pen or whatever, and you’re just like, You are my hero, right. But yeah,
Daniel Fong 05:47
I watched this, like, hilarious version of was Legally Blonde at stage West here. And they had they were doing the whip, like get whipped into shape number. And they had for whatever reason, they decided they had these like, bead skipping ropes like they were beaded, skipping ropes. Oh, Whose call it was, I think maybe it was to get the sound on stage. Like it had a very nice sound when impacted for anyways, of course, I was there on the night that one of these just shattered everywhere. And it was like 1000 little beads all over the stage. And just watching all the actors just like grind to like, sudden stop for like, a millisecond. And then everyone’s like, okay, we’re gonna fix this. I’m like, some guy comes out with a broom, sweeping character. And like, it was so great to watch and clean it up. And like, you’re just dying inside of the audience watching that happen, right?
Phil Rickaby 06:41
So we’re gonna do something about like, as an if you’re a non theatre person, and something goes wrong on stage. I wonder if, if, like, you’re thinking to yourself, just why why doesn’t somebody just pick that out? Like, like, why does somebody just do that? And as an actor, you’re like, you know, that feeling of like, that’s not what I’m blocked to do. I’m not supposed to do that. But there it is. There’s like this, this moment of like, there’s that fear of like, I’m gonna steal focus, but really, every single person is staring at that pen on the ground. Absolutely. Absolute, especially because everybody has been like, stepping over it for the past, like four minutes, like, deliberately just stepping over it. Yeah. Daniel, um, as far as you’re, one of the things that I’d like to talk about on on stage really is everybody’s origin story. I like to we’re all comic book characters were the heroes of the story of our own life. So as a theatre artist, what’s your origin story? How did you get drawn to theatre? How did you decide that was going to be the thing you do?
Daniel Fong 07:43
Yeah, um, I mean, I, I really enjoyed doing theatre growing up. Like it was just, it was fun to do. But it was never a thing that I really considered doing as a career. But I always grew up watching my oldest brother, I’m the youngest of three brothers, I grew up watching my oldest brother do a lot of theatre, and I really looked up to him. And so I was like, front row of all his performances and his biggest fan and everything. And I would crash all his cast parties and embarrass him and everything, right. And so I don’t know, I just grew up watching him. And I, that’s kind of what drew me into it just to start because I just I wanted to be just like my brother. And then I kind of as time went by, just developed a really great, just love of the people in theatre, like it wasn’t like, I don’t know, some people get really drawn to various aspects of the thing. And for me, it’s always been community and the people that I get to spend time with. And so then, like, high school was coming to a close and it was time just to look for universities and everything. And I hadn’t, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. And then because theatre had always just kind of been my way to like, escape. You know, I always assumed I was gonna go into something else. And yet, theatre is just kind of where I went to have fun and breathe. And then it was actually my mother, who was like, I think you should go into theatre for university and I was like, well, that’s a ridiculous idea. doesn’t make any sense.
Phil Rickaby 09:06
You’re gonna reverse from the the, the more common story that I hear is where somebody is like, I’m going to go into theatre and their mom is like,
Daniel Fong 09:14
I know what kind of mother knowingly thrusts her child into a life in the arts. But I mean, she was right, I think and she, we looked at programmes and things, and I ended up going to the grant MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta. And yeah, I remember looking at the programme, and I was like, This seems amazing. And yeah, I went and spent some time there and then came back home to Calgary and have been working as a artist ever since.
Phil Rickaby 09:41
Now, before you made that decision for your mom sort of thrust you towards Theatre School, where you just sort of going through high school assuming that at some point, it would come to you like some kind of like, the heavens would open and it would be like you were going to be an accountant or something like that. Whatever.
Daniel Fong 09:58
I’m trying to think back and it’s like I had so many random like growing up, like my first job I ever wanted to be was a marine biologist. Right? And because I we would go for vacations out to the coast and I would just basically spend every summer just like knee deep and tide pools playing with creature disturbing creatures in their natural home. And, and then I found out that like, you know, a marine biologist really doesn’t do that and spends 90% of their time in a lab. And so I was crushed. So then I was like, Okay, I’m gonna be a baker, because I love baking. I love cooking things. I’m like, amazing. And then I found out that Baker’s have to wake up at like, five in the morning, and I’m a very naturally nocturnal person. And I was like, Ummm… dang I’m gonna need something else. And yeah, I don’t know. I, I guess yeah, I really just kept looking at things and nothing was speaking to me. And I think it was because the answer was right there in my face. And I just wasn’t considering it.
Phil Rickaby 10:55
Yeah, I think there’s, there’s so many times when, when somebody It is so obvious to everybody except us, you know, like the idea of, Oh, I love doing this thing. It makes me you know, it’s this thing that I love it. I love the community, I love all these things. What am I going to do when I grow up like,
Daniel Fong 11:12
well, and I think it’s this weird. I remember this weird pressure in high school, it was like, you had to be a doctor, you had to be an engineer, especially like an Alberta I don’t know about everywhere else. But it was like, there are certain things it’s like, you have to do that to succeed here. And it never occurred to me that my job could be something that I loved. Really, like it truly seemed like I had to work really hard at something I didn’t like, so that I in my spare time, I could maybe do something that I liked. Yeah,
Phil Rickaby 11:37
I haven’t been I haven’t been in high school in a very, very, very long time. But when I was I know, I know. But when I was in high school, very similar. It was like all about like, you know, you’re going to go to university, and you’re going to get a degree and, and and you’re going to do all of these things. And I’m sure that you could be a doctor, you could be like, this sort of thing. And I remember going to the guidance counsellor, when I was they were like, you know, we’re gonna figure out what you’re going to where you’re going to go to school. And I remember saying, like, I’m going to be an actor and the guidance counsellor went, huh?
Phil Rickaby 12:13
like, they didn’t know what to do.
Daniel Fong 12:15
Yeah. Well, I mean, it is. It is such a strange career. Right. And it’s very hard to explain. I specifically because it’s tax season right now, it’s very hard to justify and explain what it is you do. to people that don’t quite understand sometimes.
Phil Rickaby 12:33
Well, I mean, that’s certainly that’s certainly the case. As far as as far as taxes go, and it can get like you I’m, I’m relatively lucky, I have a day job and I do a lot of Theatre on the side. My taxes are super simple, because I have a day job. And it makes things really easy. But then I see people posting like, like their floor covered in receipts. And I at that point, I’m like, I made the the right choice.
Daniel Fong 13:00
I my fiance’s an elementary school teacher and we just find your like, neatly organised all our taxes in the last little while, but it is it’s so painful to me because she has like four little slips of paper neatly tucked away. And then I have a full on binder like, yeah, just like giant clip booklet of stuff. That is just ridiculous.
Phil Rickaby 13:19
Yeah. It’s been like, the many years when I’ve sat down to do my taxes. It’s like, one form plugin number. Do I owe anything? No, no, but but then, but then, you know, I spend many hours out of the day not doing the thing that I particularly love so it’s a trade off.
Daniel Fong 13:38
Yes. Yeah. It’s trying to find those trade offs. Right. And –
Phil Rickaby 13:43
when you when you were at the theatre school, was there a particular aspect of it that you were drawn to? A lot of people that I’ve been speaking to lately, they find they were drawn to the creation of theatre and things like that, or was there something that that you particularly felt yourself drawn to,
Daniel Fong 14:02
I just, I really, I liked all of it. And I think because a lot of it was new, like I wasn’t someone who really got into theatre at a young age, and was like, This is my thing and train for it for forever. So I kind of threw myself in the deep end because I went to grant MacEwan for musical theatre, but I hadn’t really song too much before that and I had done a lot of martial arts, but I hadn’t done much dance or anything. So really, I came into a musical theatre programme is just pretty much an actor. And so there was such a wealth of things to practice and, and I think that really vibes well with my kind of personality where I just, you know, I love to learn new things constantly and being you know, I have a shorter attention span, but I have a lot of like, enthusiasm and wish to throw myself into many things. So it worked out in the long run, because I just got to really just dive headfirst into all of these incredible different mediums and just practice them.
Phil Rickaby 14:56
Yeah, its super. I remember when I was in theatre School, we had, there was one guy who had really never done any theatre out before he came to the theatre programme. And because he done so little, the teachers were like, you have no bad habits. We love you, because we don’t have to break any of your bad acting habits. Everybody else, you have tricks, and you have all these things. And, and so it was like he had this, like, he was able to be an open book and just be like to absorb everything. And we were all like, but that’s not what I normally do. And like all of these struggles with how we’ve done things when we were in high school and what we thought was good acting and all of that sort of stuff. Yeah. So in some ways, I would imagine that, that not having done, like all of the singing all of the dancing and for a lot of that is you may have been in a similar similar situation.
Daniel Fong 15:49
Yeah, and one of the things to me that like it took me many years to kind of come to terms with is that like, theatre school, I got the time because I was such a I was right out of high school and I hadn’t done a tonne of this is that like, for me, Theatre School felt like this is the way right. And it took me many years to kind of reconcile with the fact that the theatre school is just a resource. And I was allowed to kind of pick and choose what I liked and what worked for me from Theatre School and kind of forget about the things that didn’t make sense or weren’t, in my mind useful to my who I am as a person as a performer, right. And it took me a while to rectify that because for a while you left theatres going like, oh god, I’m so bad at this class, or whatever, or whatever. And I will never be any good at that. But it’s just learning to apply the things that work and and really what it means to be your own person, your own artists take those tools that you paid for that you learn them and apply them to who you want to be.
Phil Rickaby 16:41
Yeah, I definitely remember being a little bit fucked up coming out of theatre school trying to be like, everything. And yeah, not being able to figure out what, what I was as an actor and always having like, the voice of the acting teacher in the back of my head, scolding me for things and
Daniel Fong 16:58
yeah, it’s such a weird thing when you pay for people’s opinions as an artist. Because especially as a theatre school, because, you know, for me, I didn’t know necessarily who my teachers were, it was on you know, I just went to them thing. So I wasn’t I didn’t even necessarily know who the whose opinions I was paying for. Hmm. But I think that’s kind of the the process that a lot of performers go on is they go into theatre school, they get a tonne of opinions and other voices, and then that those kind of formative emerging years afterwards to kind of find, finding what their voices through that or using whatever they can. So I don’t know if that was your experience or not, or
Phil Rickaby 17:34
Yeah, I mean, theatre school, I have some very specific memories of theatre school, most of which were about being afraid, being afraid there’s going to be cut from the programme and all this stuff. And there’s like just this, this, this terror of that of that happening. And it’s like, I remember having essentially like three months of blissful ignorance, until the until the Christmas break. And then people got cut. And then it was like, What, What school did you go to? I went to the George Brown College, do they still do that? Or did they change the programme? Still, the last time I heard anything is they hadn’t cut anybody. They would still talk nebulously about the possibility of cuts, but they weren’t actually doing it. And I really feel like no school should do that.
Daniel Fong 18:23
I mean, ultimately, like, just as with an agent, or whatever, like you’re paying, like you would pay them or like the agent would work for you. But they’re like, you’re paying the school. Right? Yeah. So it’s not up to them to be the arbiters and gatekeepers of who is worthy of graduation from there and whatnot. Like, it should be their challenges teachers to try and impart as much as they can. Yeah. And then, you know, the world and the rest of the theatre business is hard enough, and that will make the choice for them. Kind of Yeah, right. So,
Phil Rickaby 18:52
it definitely, and in many ways, I think, you know, there are people who will, you know, move themselves out of the programme, the programme won’t be for them and things like that. But, of course, yeah, Who are they to decide? Who’s going to succeed? There are plenty of people who graduated from my class, who within a year or two years, we’re no longer doing theatre. Yeah. You know, same here, so
Daniel Fong 19:15
Well, yeah. And if I think back to who I was during University days, I was, I was a pile of hot garbage.
Phil Rickaby 19:22
I mean, who wasn’t?
Daniel Fong 19:26
you do so much growing afterwards that it’s just one step. Right. And it seems weird to kind of stop people before they can even even get out there.
Phil Rickaby 19:34
Yeah. Now we’re in terms of of the school. Were there other Asian students in your class or in your in your school, or were you?
Daniel Fong 19:45
Yeah, so I’m half Chinese half kind of Ukrainian Swedish mix. From the thing. I had another friend of mine who was Asia, full Asian in my year, and he’s actually lives in Toronto, Toronto. His name is Anthony. Anthony Hall, I think it does lots of stuff a second city and he had his own CBC gem show. He’s fantastic, great, great guy. Um, there were a few other people of colour in my programme, but it was predominantly white. And I believe the staff was, hmm, let me think back because it’s been a few years. It’s been more than just a few years now. The staff at the time was predominantly white. I don’t know what that was like now becaus e, yeah, it’s they have lots of changes.
Phil Rickaby 20:28
Sure. Well, I find that I found that the specially like, when I would look back at at George Brown, I tell you right now, all of my teachers were white. And yeah, we I know that that schools tend to be slow to change. Yep. You know, they, they stick to the curriculum, they know, they stick to the teachers, they know, they’re, and they’re slow to realise that sort of the world around them is changing. Yeah, they, you know, at the time that I was in theatre school, nobody was even talking about collected, like, creating your own work. In fact, they were actively dissuading us from, from thinking about doing anything other than than saying that I’m an actor, you know, so that that’s a long time. Coming to to any kind of change.
Daniel Fong 21:19
Yeah, it was a an interesting thing. I mean, I remember in university having so deeply being drawn to the character of Willy loman. Just specifically, because I’d only ever seen it played by old white guys. And I so deeply felt that like, the journey that he goes on in the American dream and all of that stuff. So like, so much better reflected the story of immigrants. And at that time, you know, they were but like, now, I just, I’ve never I would love to see someone play that character. As a PLC. Yeah, I just think it’s shifted, right. And I just remember, yeah, that was one thing I remember way back. I don’t know why. But in university, I was always like, one day I’m gonna grow up and I’m gonna play Willy loman. I’m gonna show them I can do it or something. It was yeah, a weird
Phil Rickaby 22:11
Did anyone tell you that you couldn’t? Or was that just something that you had in your head? That
Daniel Fong 22:14
No, I don’t know. But it was weird. I wasn’t so much theatre school or thing. No one ever really directly ever says, like, you can’t do this, right? There’s just like, weird things all the time where like, you go in for a casting call and like, is only Asian people for a family or things like that. And it’s like, I come from a mixed family myself. And so for me growing up, it’s very clear that families can look like whatever you want them to be. And, and, you know, you feel like this should be weird on stage, for some reason until you see it. And it’s completely normal, because people already come to believe whatever you want, because they paid $30 to be sit there and believe what you tell them?
Phil Rickaby 22:57
Well, that’s, that’s sort of the amazing thing about theatre is that I always think that, you know, the audience will pretty much accept whatever you give them. There, especially in theatre, nobody’s got like people that you can, if you show them a black box and say, This is the forest of Arden, they’re gonna be like, Oh, it’s forest of Arden. You know, it doesn’t matter what you say. And I also come from a mixed family. And so for me, like what people are like, all the people don’t look alike. It’s like, Yeah, but families don’t. Like, just this whole, like, I’ve never had to make sure that people look good together. It’s like, yeah, you don’t like
Daniel Fong 23:34
I’ve never understood that, like that idea that Yeah, in particularly, like familial casting and theatre and stuff. I’ve never understood that. Because, yeah, I remember there was a production of Shakespeare’s Land of the Dead that they did in Calgary here at the Shakespeare Company. And at one point, they’re all holed up in the theatre, and the Queen comes in. And the Queen was played by Lynette Randall, who is an incredible African actress. And she walked in, and I was like, oh, let’s playing the queen. I was like, Yeah, she is. And then she was just the queen. And that was it. Like, the whole audience looked at her for one second and went, yeah, that’s the queen. Yeah, because I said, here’s the queen, right? So, I don’t know, I find that like people’s perception of the barrier of skin colour and things in theatre seems way higher than the actual act of just putting people in roles.
Phil Rickaby 24:32
Absolutely. People in theatre, the audience’s will accept whatever you give them. And so if you have a family that’s that’s of all different, different use skin tones and all that stuff, dub will accept it. If you have a romantic pairing that’s like people, people of colour appear like people who are Caucasian. Doesn’t matter though. They’ll still believe what you give them and it’s it’s like one of those magical things about theatre, and I think we get from Too many years we got we’ve been tied too much to like, was white people. And that’s really boring.
Daniel Fong 25:06
Yeah. And I mean, I find we’re in like an incredibly painful and exciting time right now I find in theatre and at least in Calgary is where we’re looking towards the future where everyone has been put on hold because of this pandemic, and everyone is looking so desperately at what is going to be like when we get back. And when we can perform again, with the people that we love, and what theatre needs to be to support the different people out there. And with the BLM movement, and all the other things, especially recently, with all the hate crimes against Asian people and stuff, theatre has always been a guiding light in a way for people to take those first steps into kind of creating the future that we want. And so I just find it’s a very exciting time right now, where, as an artist, I’m feeling a lot of power in creating the kind of theatre that I want moving forward, coming for, like, yeah, it’s just a very interesting way that we can kind of, yeah, I don’t even know where I’m going with this now.
Phil Rickaby 26:17
Yeah, it’s, it’s really interesting, because, you know, it’s it is it is a shame that the theatres are closed, we all hate the the theatres are closed, and that that, you know, people are not able to perform, we’re not able to sit in audiences, we’re not able to do that. But if we were, there would be just another excuse not to have the conversations that we’re having now. Absolutely. And the fact that we’re having them, and now we have, there’s the the ability to decide, and to make the choice that the status quo doesn’t work anymore. And we have to fundamentally change the way that we, that we create theatre, that who we put on this date to we put behind the scenes, we put in the office, who we have lead the companies, these are absolutely some that we couldn’t have done if we were on the treadmill of production.
Daniel Fong 27:04
I think it’s it was, I mean, I don’t know about you, but for me, like when the pandemic hit, it was that probably the busiest I’d ever been in my career, I had so many, and this is not me bragging, but I had so many things lined up that it was actually like, anxiety inducing, I was nonstop, just, you know, keeping your eyes on the next thing ahead, trying to get through it almost. And so the gift of being able to stop and just reflect and think and for separate on moving forward towards that better future was actually kind of a gift to me for a little bit. You know, I mean, I’m well over it. Now let’s, let’s get, let’s get this out. But But um, it was, I think necessary and very important to our profession to take a sudden stop. Yeah. And think about, it’s not just enough to create any kind of art, right? Yeah. We want to make sure that we’re creating the right stuff. And I think it’s just giving that kind of mindfulness. So it’s stories and people and kinds of shows that we are creating and putting in front of an audience.
Phil Rickaby 28:15
Yeah, absolutely. But also, the fascinating thing for me are one of the fascinating things has been watching actors who previously they would talk about self care, but they were too busy to do it. If they were working three jobs, and every moment of every day was either working like rehearsing or working, or this that the other thing, never stopping to take a break now being forced to do so. And to be thinking about what self care looks like, yeah. And to be thinking about what it what it means to sit in silence and stillness and all of those things. Kind of incredible for some people to realise kind of what they were doing to themselves by
Daniel Fong 29:02
Absolutely, I think the way theatre has been structured and the way we’ve done it for so many years, lends itself so easily to kind of self destructive habits that just kind of pile up on each other. Right. And yeah, it’s been it’s been interesting to kind of just take a step back from that for a little while. Yeah, and I’ve just enjoyed so much watching all my artists, friends and everyone else developing different skills Hmm, creating new things do all the different things that are kind of outside of the profession that now they have time for you know, so I’m like, I never knew this person loved going for giant hikes or love bait, you know, everyone’s baking bread but surely. But you know, everyone’s creating and developing new things and new hobbies and what everyone’s doing to keep themselves sharp and, and just getting through this thing. It’s been very exciting to me to see just kind of When you take away all the acting and performing and all of that stuff, finding time for yourself as a human being to develop other facets and other other interests and things. Yeah, like, it’s, it’s, it’s great.
Phil Rickaby 30:14
Yeah. And so necessary, I think to be able to, you know, make ourselves into more rounded people.
Daniel Fong 30:23
Yeah, absolutely. Because I mean, it ultimately is us as people that we put out on stage, right, and the more that you can develop, and, and grow as a person, the more you have to offer for an audience. Yeah. And so, I mean, I’m, yeah, I’m very excited to see kind of where everyone coming out of this lands, and all the new kind of stuff that will be in their work moving forward.
Phil Rickaby 30:48
Yeah, it’s so fast, because because, you know, especially if you’re creating theatre, like being able to open yourself up to new things, and to experiment and find new things, those things always find their way into your work. And, you know, if you have a new skill that you didn’t have at the start of the pandemic, then you know, that sort of like gives you other things that you can like add to the performances that you do. So it’s just just a great opportunity. Mm hmm.
Daniel Fong 31:13
So I have a question for you. And you’ve been asking me so many questions. While you’re on that, then, what is something during this pandemic, that you have discovered new hobby, new passion, new anything, something that’s getting you through the days?
Phil Rickaby 31:27
Yeah, a couple of things. I, I, for years, I had a ukulele that I never touched.
Daniel Fong 31:35
Phil Rickaby 31:35
And so in the past little while, I’ve been playing it, of actually playing it. And that’s, I mean, I’m no, I’m not great at it. But it’s like, I get so much enjoyment out of like, just picking it up and strumming and trying to learn a new song, things like that. So that’s, that’s been, that’s been really great. The other thing is, is actually with this podcast, I’ve been doing it for four years. And this, this time has made forced me to actually have to seek out people to come on the show and allow me to make choices and to say, Who am I going to reach out to whom who do I want to have on the show? Who do I want to promote on the show and, and that sort of allows me to talk to people that are outside of my locale, because so often, when you’re in the media, part of the media in a city, it’s like you get a tonne of, of press releases, about shows in that city. And it’s allowed me to, to contact people outside of Toronto and outside of Ontario, which is, which is great, because I really think that we as a country that makes, you know, as theatre artists in the country, we it’s fascinating and important for us to know what’s happening in other places in this in the county. So,
Daniel Fong 32:54
I mean, we have a huge country, but the theatre community here is fairly small. Yeah. You know, like, I was just looking back through your list of people that have been on your show and stuff, just kind of scrolling through because I wanted to see what I was getting myself into. And there was so many familiar faces, but like, yeah, from people from Saskatchewan, and people from all over the place. So it was just fantastic to see their faces. But it really just, I mean, it’s we’re not that far away from each other in a sense, like, it’s
Phil Rickaby 33:20
in many ways, we’re we are so close because it is such a small community. And yet, shows that happened in Calgary, I never get to hear about shows that happened in Edmonton, I never get to hear about the only time I’ve ever been able to really experience shows in other cities, was when I was on a fringe tour going from one side of the country to another to see what was happening in each of those cities. So
Daniel Fong 33:45
that’s one of the benefits of doing one of those large tours is you just get to see all the amazing art that gets created in in all of the different cities in Canada. Yeah, you know, there’s such fantastic work going on on both coasts, but also in the middle like, yeah, I that’s one of the reasons why I love Calgary so much. It’s I mean, it’s a young theatre community. We’re like, in terms of just age of development, you know, we’re, we still are creating kind of the foundations of it. And that’s one of the exciting things for me as an artist living here is that I get to kind of feel like I can be more of the winds of change in this city than I would if I lived in a larger, larger place. Sure, but there’s such great work that goes on everywhere and it’s just yeah, it’s fantastic to check it all out.
Phil Rickaby 34:29
Yeah, I that’s one of the things that I’ve enjoyed about you know, people doing digital theatre is the ability to, to see some things that are happening in other theatres and in other cities. And I really hope that that when we open our theatres again that that we do consider digital tickets that we do consider Yeah, like putting some cameras in the spaces and and selling a ticket Not only is requiring people to come to the theatre ablest, it also means absolutely that it also opens theatre up both to The rest of the country in the world. And we need to get out of these silos that we’ve been in.
Daniel Fong 35:05
I just finished doing a play reading for lunchbox Theatre in Calgary. But one of the amazing things was it was online as everything is right now. But like I had relatives who live down in the states who were able to tune in watch people from all over the world that were able to like, tune in and check it out. And lowering that kind of barrier to entry into theatre is such an incredible way to reach people that just wouldn’t be able to see it anyway. Yeah. And I think they were normally talking, they’re saying, like, for these workshop, things, like it’s part of a workshop festival that lunchbox theatre produces in Calgary here, and they’re saying, you know, like, sometimes you would have like, 1213 people in the audience for these because it’s like, noon workshop down in the theatre kind of thing. And we had for the reading, we had over 150 people, you know, tuning in and watching are like, tickets, it could have been more, right. And so just the amount of people that you can reach by going online, I think is incredible.
Phil Rickaby 36:03
Yeah, absolutely. And, and there’s, there’s just so much more. You know, I think, you know, sometimes I think some companies are like, if, if we let people watch online, they’ll never buy a ticket, and they’ll never come to see the show. Mm hmm. And in response to that, I’m always like, I have I used to buy CDs all the time, and I never listen to streaming music, but I would go to see a band live. Yeah. And I want them to sing the songs I know. So, you know, I watched Hamilton on Disney plus, I’d seen it live, I would go again, these things don’t stop me from wanting to see the show. not as expensive. Yeah, that’s right. And also like having seen it online or on a screen it makes me want to be in this space even more. So. Yeah, I think we need to embrace that.
Daniel Fong 36:48
I do too, is really exciting. Like, I actually just finished filming show. That’s gonna be going up on April 9, the paper bag princess with storybook theatre, Tickets are on sale now getting the plug in while I can. But, you know, the people that are going to see these shows when they are opening in person are still going to go see them. Right? Yeah. But like my aunt down in Colorado, she’s not going to buy a plane ticket to come see it. Right. So I don’t know, I don’t think anyone’s fooling themselves in saying that, like film theatre is a substitution for the real thing. Because it’s not it’s no wholly different experience. And while it can be exciting and enjoyable is not the same thing as real live theatre in person. And so the people that are craving that are still gonna go like, No, I don’t think anyone’s gonna be like, I don’t know if I want to see this show. So I really want to see this show. So I’m just gonna stay at home and watch it on my TV like,
Phil Rickaby 37:44
Daniel Fong 37:45
I don’t think anyone’s gonna substitute that right like that will allow the artist to never
Phil Rickaby 37:50
have the opportunity to watch a show a Broadway show. Live from Broadway, you might watch it. But then that might also make you say, Well, God, damn, I need to get you know, I’m going to go to New York and I am going to see that show. Because that moment must have been incredible in the theatre.
Daniel Fong 38:04
Yeah. You know, and there’s like a, you know, like, when we’re talking about barrier to entry into theatre, and that kind of thing is like, did I want to see the original cast of Hamilton live on Broadway? Of course. Could I afford $1,000 scalped ticket and the plane rides down? No. So am I excited that is out on Disney plus, and I’ve been able to watch it a million times, yes, of whatever, you know, but so there’s just you know, I think it reaches a lot of people that really would want to support but just can’t write. Yeah, and theatre is always limited by the number of seats in the House, the location it is the times that it runs. So anything that can kind of shave down on how much taxes people to get involved in it, I think is exciting and worth it.
Phil Rickaby 38:53
I think it’s also a great way to sort of like be you know, because theatre is perceived as being super expensive. Because when people think of, of shows, they think of the big shows that cost a lot of money to see. We we have this this perception, there are people who who will say things like, well, I saw a play once and I didn’t like it. So I’m not gonna go see any theatre and it’s like, you know, people don’t say that about movies. Yeah, that’s because a movie cost like $12 to go and see or whatever the price is now, you know, it’s like not a million dollars not gonna bankrupt you to go see the show. It’s to see a movie. And I think anything that lets us show to those people, hey, this can be interesting. This is interesting
Daniel Fong 39:32
Phil Rickaby 39:33
You know, so
Daniel Fong 39:33
and if you can reach out to the people that are on the fence and say, Hey, you can watch this from home for like five bucks. Yeah, or whatever. And if you don’t like it, you can just turn it off. Yeah, you’re not held hostage in the theatre for an hour. You know, like,
Phil Rickaby 39:47
and you didn’t pay so much for the ticket that you feel like, like if you walk out of the theatre, because it’s a bad show that you waste? Yeah, money.
Daniel Fong 39:55
Yeah, you know, and I think, I don’t know. I think it’s a great way to reach out and introduce People into the kind of things that are out there, right and a less. What’s the word? I’m looking for? Less committal way almost Yeah. Because it’s a big commitment to buy an expensive ticket, get down to the theatre and do our thing. And for those of us who love theatre that kind of builds the anticipation builds suspense, but for someone who’s not in it, or doesn’t know what the show is about, or thinks it can seem like a lot, right? Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, you
Phil Rickaby 40:25
can tell people yeah, you know, it just, it’s an eight o’clock if you like a hump, but you know, I finished work at 5am to go home and have to have dinner By that time, it’s like, six, you know, so much trouble to get down to the theatre. Again, I really want to leave after I go home. And you know, what, to be able to say, actually, just, you know, you can watch on your, on your TV screen is a great is a great opener.
Daniel Fong 40:46
Well, and I think I think too, if we’re genuinely trying to foster more artists of colour, and, and, and that kind of thing, then nothing is more limiting than a massive ticket price. Yeah, in to stemming, like, there’s a direct link between money that you have, and your access to the arts and training and all of that, right. And so anything that allows young people to see themselves on stage to see representation to be part of that conversation is worth it in my mind. And there are so many marginalised communities out there that just, it’s way too much money, it’s way too much investment to ask them to take their families to the theatre kind of thing. And then we get stuck in these things where we’re like, we don’t know where all the people of colour are, and we can’t cast them because they’re not knocking down our door. And it’s like, well, it’s because you have a $60 price tag just to enter kind of thing, right? Yeah, ever. So
Phil Rickaby 41:47
yeah. Yeah, you know, I used to go I remember being at this, this, you know, sort of panel discussion, it was like, sort of like a, anybody can stand up and talk and the topic was, where’s the audience going? Mm hmm. You know, and I think we have to think there was a lot of like, Oh, you know, instead of instead, I think that’s the wrong question to be asking, like, not where is the audience going? But yeah, why are we reaching out to that audience? Why are you bringing that audience
Daniel Fong 42:17
The thing is like, it’s not like the audience is in the future. The audience is here now. Yeah. Why can’t you reach them? That is the thing. Yeah. And, you know, there was an initiative started in Calgary here, Calgary Edmonton area called the 3550 initiative that I’m sure you’ve heard about in Toronto, it’s been everywhere. And so that reflected, the basis of that was trying to reflect this, just the raw statistics of our communities on stage. And so when they did, they were looking at the census polls and things they had 50% men, 50% women, 35% people of colour. And so that’s where that kind of title came from. And, and when we’re looking at our audiences, pre pandemic, that was not the demographics that were showing up. And so I think, you know, we have to try and find a way to reach out and create these kinds of opportunities and these kinds of initiatives that help foster that moving forward for us.
Phil Rickaby 43:14
Absolutely. Absolutely. Just to change gears slightly worse, yeah, um, you mentioned that at the time that the pandemic started that you were in, you had like this whole, like, it was gonna be your biggest, biggest year ever. What were you working on at the time that everything shut down? And what happened in the immediate weeks after that, what was what was happening for you? What was that like?
Daniel Fong 43:40
Well, I mean, directly when the pandemic hit, and everything was shut down, I was in an audition room being a reader. So I, that was the most awful feeling because I had friends coming in to do auditions and reading, doing their sides. And then after they did their auditions, they’re saying how their projects were just cancelled, or polls and they’re all in the process of either they were supposed to open that night, and they’re supposed to do different things like that. All of that happened. But I mean, I had I had projects lined up for the whole year basically, of, of acting things and, and yet the whole thing fell through and I don’t it was a, it was just for many months, it was quite numb feeling of just, I mean, because that we’ve been drip fed throughout the whole thing, right? Like, I’ve been asking a lot of my friends lately. Sorry, I’m always all over the place with my answers, but I’ll try and remember to round my way back. But I always have been asking my friends lately, you know, if you could go back to the start, would you rather know how long the full pandemic is going to be? Or would you rather go along as we have kind of like maybe it’s two weeks, maybe it’ll be the next for next month? Would you have it kind of drip fed to you? And I think as it kind of rounded out and we found where we were like how long we start to get a clue of how long it was really going on it. It changed from being kind of numb and grieving kind of loss of that into This kind of building towards what it will be like when we get back. And that’s really what’s been fueling me and keeping me passionate throughout the whole thing is is the desire to help implement change once once we can finally create again.
Phil Rickaby 45:16
Yeah, I remember, you know, when when it all started, I thought that, you know, somehow it felt like, Okay, this is temporary, but by the fall, everything’s gonna be fine. We’re going to take care of this now. And by September we’re going to be theatres are going to be open. Yeah. But I don’t think like looking back. I think that that kind of optimism fueled me in a way that I think if somebody would say, it’s gonna be like, a year and a half and theatre is going to be closed, I would have been like, Well, fuck. What’s the point? You know.
Daniel Fong 45:48
Yeah, I don’t know, I still haven’t quite come to an answer for it myself. Because I mean, at this point, I’ve had, say, a project that I’ve had booked, that has been cancelled and repositioned, cancelled, reposition, cancelled, reposition probably three or four times now. And kind of, it’s almost just like peeling a scab off a wound over and over again, constant, getting a little bit of hope, and then having it pulled away. So on one hand, I think it would be nice, it would have been nice just to be like, you know what, I can buckle I can, if I can see the end goal of a year and a half or whatever. sure that that’s where I can aim for, as opposed to like, constantly having slight hope and always having it snatched away from you.
Phil Rickaby 46:30
That’s true. That’s very true. Now, you mentioned doing some online things. Did you invest in a new camera? Did you invest in a microphone? Did you like did you make any changes to your setup, once you realise that you were going to be doing some digital stuff for a while.
Daniel Fong 46:43
I mean, I was thankful I had a great laptop here. And for me, the great thing about online is because we’ve been doing tonnes of workshops, play readings, anything to kind of keep ourselves busy and stuff is that they’re pretty relaxed. So I didn’t feel the need to be like, I need to get a professional set. What I Well, I did, because of being stuck inside, I’ve had a lot more time to be doing self tapes or film and stuff because my theatre hasn’t been consuming my life. And I was painfully aware of how how busted my film self tape setup was, and is still like, I still have not fixed it. It is it’s just boxes, and then random things to hold the phone and like different lamps that I’ve stolen from the house. So I’m still painfully aware of how bad that is. So I’ve had a year and a bit to get that fixed. And I have not yet. Um, should I have probably yes.
Phil Rickaby 47:41
You know, on the other hand, I kind of feel like if there is an unfair expectation to say to actors, make your home setup look professional, because otherwise we’re not going to take you seriously. Whereas if I went into a casting director’s office, there’s like me on a chair, in a room with shitty acoustics, and a shitty camera at the back of the room and somebody reading monotone at me, that’s not exactly a great setup, either.
Daniel Fong 48:08
Well, and like, I mean, it’s a big ass, like, for me, like, I’m a municipally known theatre actor, but like stage is like, my mom likes my stuff, right for film, like my mom likes my stuff, right? So it’s a big ass as people that like, don’t have a tonne of film experience to invest in a setup. That’s Sure, you know, because I’m like, that’s just sunk cost until I make it back.
Phil Rickaby 48:31
Yeah. And also is, like, Are we going to be doing these zoom self tapes forever, or a casting director is going to be like, you know, we have this office space that we’re paying for when we should get people in for in person auditions. Like who knows? Yeah, that’s what that’s gonna look like. Exactly. It’s like, no one’s gonna cast me I face act too much. My eyebrows move too much. Now, one of the things that I’ve been asking everyone since the pandemic started is about joy because as as we go through this time, we’ve all had our ups and downs of of, you know, feeling like like this will never end and some depression and things like that. But we all have those things that get us through each day. So for you, what’s been giving you joy during this pandemic?
Daniel Fong 49:21
Oh, well, I mean, like, the straight honest answer is my fiance. We got engaged during the pandemic. It’s been so hard, but she’s been kind of my rock through it all. So I really, I every day, I actually think I’m like, where would I have been without? Because I would have gone nuts? Yeah, surely. So she’s really been my rock through it. But I have an older brother who has a young nephew for me and she, her sister just had our, our niece. I don’t know how to say these words in the right way. But so watching them grow up through zoom as equal amounts kind of like painful because you wish could be there, but also such a joy to see that, you know, life is still going on. These kids are still cute and growing up. And, and then just trying a million different hobbies and things you know, every day I think we look at each other. We’re like, well, what are we going to do today? And I think it was just a few days ago, she was like, I think baking is going to be my hobby. And so she just started making stuff right and so every every time we’re just trying to find whatever stuff is going loopy in our house.
Phil Rickaby 50:33
Has there been a hobby that you’ve tried to has been like, this is something I need to keep doing?
Daniel Fong 50:39
Hmm, let’s see. Uh, well, pre pre pandemic. My hobby was board games. I have a very massive board game collection and nothing lends itself worse to social distancing than having 1000s of dollars of cardboard sitting in boxes that you need eight people to hang. Yes. Um, but this is so nerdy. I do it do it. Oh, well, I got into like miniature painting. Okay. Okay Warhammer. And so it’s it’s been very Zen to just kind of sit there and put paint on things and and play around with that. So that’s been my new hobby. I don’t know if it’s gonna stick or not is very fun at the moment. I go through a love hate relationship with it. But that’s what I’m doing right now.
Phil Rickaby 51:30
I think everybody who paints miniatures goes through a love hate relationship with with a painting of minute. Yes, yes. Just like everybody who’s like playing role playing games or playing like d&d. It’s like, no, I only want to pay play fifth edition. How many additions is that now? Ah, you know, all of the changes I hate the changes or whatever. There’s everybody has these love this love hate relationship and you stick with it because of how it comes out in the end or the people that you’re playing with. So
Daniel Fong 51:57
yeah, I was one of the many people who also then had a pandemic d&d group that they joined. And I think we’ve been horribly unproductive. I mean, it’s it’s shocking how little we get done in our sessions.
Phil Rickaby 52:10
That standard standard Dungeons and Dragons role playing games stuff like yeah, if you’re not bantering with your with your group, more than you’re actually going out and doing stuff. I think there’s the game is dysfunctional. Yeah. Like that kind of non productive banter is like what makes this point? Exactly? What’s the point? Who needs to go do the
Daniel Fong 52:34
actual story when there’s, you know, stuff to get done? people to mess with. Right here.
Phil Rickaby 52:38
Absolutely. That’s absolutely the right thing. It may be frustrating for the DM but it’s fun for the fun for the player.
Daniel Fong 52:45
Yeah, we usually just end up playing until our dungeon or like talking until their Dungeon Master like so. There’s a dragon is still there. I’m like, Oh, yeah, let’s go deal with that real fast and then get back to the main topic.
Phil Rickaby 52:58
Yes. I’m glad to see that you’re, you’re found at the true meaning of nerding out.
Daniel Fong 53:06
I found it Mom.
Phil Rickaby 53:07
Yeah. Daniel, thank you so much for this conversation. It’s been a lot of fun.
Daniel Fong 53:14
This is a blast.