#287 – joey o’dael
joey o’dael is a Dora award-nominated trans nonbinary artist, performer, director, and comedian. A UWinnipeg/Randolph College alum, joey has cultivated a career focused on social equity, accessibility, and challenging oppressive paradigms. Raised in a remote Northern Manitoban community, they are deeply invested in bringing art and training opportunities to underserved communities across Turtle Island. In 2017, joey served as co-writer, dramaturg, producer, and performer for the award-winning, breakout hit ‘NASTY’ at the Toronto Fringe. They are a co-founder of both Maelstrom Art Collective; a collective dedicated to creating diverse protest pieces, and horror theatre company Aberrant Theatre.
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joey o’dael, Phil Rickaby
Phil Rickaby 00:01
Welcome to Episode 287 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. You know, just like you I’ve been thinking a lot about the reopening of theatres. With the news that Broadway is planning a grand reopening in September, I’ve been imagining myself back in the audience to watch some amazing theatre. But I have to admit that I’m also a bit concerned about reopening too quickly. Can we just throw open the doors to full capacity? There’s a lot to consider. We have to think about the effects of avoiding packed rooms for over a year. Will an audience be comfortable gathering shoulder to shoulder in a theatre? Because as much as I missed the theatre, I don’t really feel ready to do that. And I worry, it’s asking too much of our audience to just suddenly ask them to be comfortable with it. Personally, I think we should open our theatres carefully at a reduced capacity and ease slowly towards a full reopening, for the sake of our audience’s comfort. And also because it’s just wise to be cautious when theatre wants to reopen, only to find that someone who attended a show got sick with COVID. But if theatres can’t open to full capacity, how will they be able to afford to reopen it all? Personally, I think that we need to seriously consider the institution of digital tickets. Open the theatre have a reduced audience inside and offer a ticket to watch a live stream of the show to an at home audience. Of course, this means installing cameras and switchers in the house. But that should be seen as an investment in the future. There are a lot of great reasons to continue to offer digital tickets such as being able to share our amazing theatre with the rest of the world and with the rest of the country, as well as reducing the ableism inherent and requiring people to come to the theatre, many of which are not accessible spaces. There are a lot of reasons to consider this and I wrote about more of them in a blog on my website at philrickaby.com. Give it a read and let me know what you think. you can find Stageworthy on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @stageworthypod and you can find a website with the archive of all 287 episodes at stageworthypodcast.com. And if you want to drop me a line, you can find me at the website and on Twitter and Instagram @PhilRickaby. If you want to support stage where they 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. On this episode, my conversation with artist, performer, director and comedian, joey o’dael. I mean, you’ve been pretty isolated for for a while.
joey o’dael 03:15
I have been extremely isolated. Yeah, I’ve been living incredibly isolated.
Phil Rickaby 03:23
Yeah. Now, um, it wasn’t soon after the whole pandemic started that you decided or had to move to Manitoba?
joey o’dael 03:37
Yeah, yeah, no, it was uh, so it was, I think I I first showed up here in Manitoba, like the end of July. And then I came back briefly for two weeks in October to to gather my things and get rid of some furniture and, and the like, but then I’ve been there. I’ve been here since but I’ve pretty much been here entirely since since August, at least of 2020.
Phil Rickaby 04:13
So the Was it a decision or was that choice taken from you to go to go to Alberta? Manitoba,
joey o’dael 04:21
Manitoba. You know, at first it was it was my decision. I was finding that the stress of just sitting in my sweltering apartment in Toronto all day every day. As well as like the fact that I am immuno accomp immunocompromised and I am high risk. And it was right when the Ontario government rolled out that sort of weird where they were opening the patios over the summer, going into stage two or something like that and and at the time, both My roommates were restaurant workers. Right? And, and so I made the decision that I was just going to go back for the beginning of like this sort of second wave so that I’m not stressed out about, about everything. And then of course, the second wave didn’t end.
Phil Rickaby 05:25
Yeah. Even though we’re now calling it a third wave, currently, it’s still the it’s still basically the same wave.
joey o’dael 05:34
Yeah, yeah. It all just kept on rolling. And so there was a part of it, where, where it was a, it was a choice. There was like, I definitely I had some different family things crop up, for sure. That made it more like I should stay here. But it also it felt a bit like why am I paying exorbitant Toronto rent, when I’m not even here to do the thing that I’m supposed to be doing? Or even the thing that that, you know, paid me money?
Phil Rickaby 06:21
Yeah. No, I mean, and that’s, I mean, that that is, I think, a common question that a lot of people were asking, and are still asking. It’s still a matter of like, I think for a lot of people the question of, of, why am I here? Mm hmm. When the work isn’t here, when the theatres are closed, when I can’t, I can’t do the thing. Is it worth it for me to be here? You know, these are big questions.
joey o’dael 06:48
Yeah. Well, and especially for a lot of the people I know, within the the Toronto theatre community and even in other industries, who aren’t from Toronto, or even from, from Ontario, mostly from people that aren’t from Ontario. It’s not necessarily that we feel a huge connection to Toronto, the city, which I know that saying that a lot of torontonians get really heated, I think very,
Phil Rickaby 07:21
I think very few of them would actually get very heated, everybody, even people who grew up here, kind of have a love hate relationship with this. Yeah.
joey o’dael 07:29
Yeah. And I thought I find a particular kinship with meeting other people from Manitoba and Saskatchewan, or from the northern provinces or territories or the east, especially, like people that are from Quebec and Ontario and Alberta and BC they don’t get it, they’re just kind of like, What do you mean, it’s all the same, kind of the same, but when you’re from when you’re from, like, the smaller provinces. The culture is a lot different. Toronto feels a lot colder socially. Than certainly I’m used to. So when you when you are living in a city because of like a specific subculture, like theatre or like music, it becomes a bit like, well, everything I like about here is gone. And the only thing I have is, you know, $1,000 rent for a really crappy apartment.
Phil Rickaby 08:36
Well, that is definitely the thing. Like, if you came from somewhere else to pursue theatre. And that’s not an option, then definitely, you’re in that that very situation. I’m trying to figure out like, what is the point of paying this hugely over priced rent? You know? Mm hmm. Um, I want to ask you a little bit though about about, you know, how leaving the city behind leaving all of the all of the connections, all of that behind? How have you been feeling about your relationship to theatre? It’s,
joey o’dael 09:20
it’s very, it’s very complicated. Because there there is an aspect of of me the entire time that that is, has been feeling more so lately lost? I think, I think in the sort of beginning months of the pandemic. There was frustration sure, but there was also almost a sense of, of urgency and and hope, because there was a lot of sort of other issues within The theatre community, largely systemic that needed to be addressed. And as the sort of global crisis continued on, it got harder and harder to focus on those things, because there was no definable end to when the average person would be would be the average artist would be creating again. It also creates like this weird sort of space, because there is a very small select number of people that have had been able to work a little bit. And which is great, obviously, like I do not I do not begrudge anybody the opportunity to work or the fact that theatre is still sort of finding a way to manage here and there. But there is a level that it’s extremely difficult to see. Yeah. Just because the, especially when you when you primarily work in independent theatre, so much of the struggle is, is coming up with the the money and the opportunity to do something. And now the only opportunities are the ones that have the money, yeah. To do it, which just sort of strengthens the the class divide on on who is making art, I think, very Luckily, in Toronto, from, from what i’ve i’ve seen, because so much of the Toronto theatre community is working really tirelessly to be more representative of the sort of diverse culture of people living there. So I’m happy, I’m happy to see that the the stuff that’s being produced isn’t just like, you know, all white versions of 12. Angry Men are some Yes. it like so that that is at least heartening to see that even though it’s only a select few things that are still getting put on that it doesn’t seem to be stuff that we’ve all seen before. That being said, it doesn’t it’s not going to surprise me when the first things that get to open and get to make money will be like Mirvish.
Phil Rickaby 12:40
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. That’s not going to surprise anybody. Because you know, Mirvish, Mirvish of any of the company probably has the most in the bank that they can quickly be like, Alright, here’s, we’re gonna do we’re gonna do this show, we’re going to, we’re going to, you know, pump it out, we’re going to get some people in there, we’re going to import something like they could do it really fast.
joey o’dael 13:02
Phil Rickaby 13:03
Because they have the money.
joey o’dael 13:04
Absolutely. Absolutely. And, and the, the sort of, like, slow trickle down is, is, is concerning, because for a lot of us, our passions lie in creating our own work. And, you know, with everything being spread so thin, but also an extreme loss of affordable venue spaces. And things being open, it does end up being looking a little bleak. So sometimes I like kind of fall into that horrible, horrible spiral of, of like, Oh, dear God, like, Here, I’ve spent 24 years of my life on on a craft that it’s like, oh, man, what kind of thing at the same time, like looking towards history in the times that you know, plagues and pandemics have happened before. And and this one has been no real difference like the the set and dressing is changed but basically the things that historians and and scientists have say have said is going to happen just has happened. It does. There is that small glimmer of of thinking of all of the adaptive things that the cockroaches of us are going to do horrible cockroaches, but there is a level of there. There’s there are some people that this all hit and I know plenty of people that are like okay, well you know, this hit I need a plan and so here’s what I’m doing and and they have gone to do that stuff. And there’s some of us, like me, being a stubborn little cockroach, we can like, find a way, kind of thing. And and I think that it could ostensibly create opportunity for really unique adaptations of what can be done with this sort of live performance, if live performance is able to continue. Who knows, maybe we’ll all just transition to film God, I hope not.
Phil Rickaby 15:42
I, you know, here’s the thing. And I’ve, I’ve sort of like, mulled that fact over, you know, thinking about is because every so often I hear somebody say, Well, this is this is it now this is the way it is? And I’m like, No, cuz we have a desire to be in the room. Yes, you know, we have even going to see movies there. There are movies where you’re like, you know what, I can watch that when it comes out on video. But there are movies that you’re like, Oh, I want to be in a theatre to see that.
joey o’dael 16:12
Phil Rickaby 16:14
We are drawn to spaces where we can witness things together. And so I think that it’s, it will come back we can we can see in like, you know, I’m going to be talking to somebody who’s in Australia next week. And they are in like, they’re pretty much open. And theatres are open. And they had their Fringe Festival season. You know, they hadn’t fringe is huge in Australia. And, and so though, that fact gives me hope that when we have when when we are able to the theatres will open it will you will, we will be able to go back, we’ll be able to welcome audiences back. Because I feel like if that wasn’t the case, I think I would fall into too much despair, like,
joey o’dael 17:07
Phil Rickaby 17:09
especially for the idea that this, this craft, this art form has existed for 1000s upon 1000s upon 1000s of years, and this is the era that killed it.
joey o’dael 17:21
Absolutely. And I think a lot of that comes up, especially because I think, in the past sort of 1010 years, especially but even more like 20 years is there, there has been such a big concern about the future of theatre, because entertainment is is becoming so instantaneous, with streaming culture or whatever. And so part of me is hoping that this is like the, the strong wave wake up call that people in live performance need. Because the thing that’s going to bring people back, it’s not it’s not as it’s not just good stories told Well, it’s not as simple as that anymore. You can get good stories, told Well, for you know, peanuts, and not have to leave your couch. The reason people will be coming back is because we crave that intimacy of experiencing something in the room, like, like you said, like there’s and that there’s a community and an intimacy aspect to it.
Phil Rickaby 18:37
That’s also I mean, there’s also a word that you use, use the word experience. And I think that you know, it’s the same reason. The Why do we choose to go to see some movies in the theatre or like demand, like, be like, this is where I’m going to see this movie. And some movies were like, fine to watch on TV. It’s because we know that that that movie or that that is going to be an experience.
joey o’dael 19:00
Phil Rickaby 19:01
This shows if we are going to bring audiences into theatres. We have to give them an experience that’s not just like, another kitchen drama or another living room. Got to give them something they can’t get any other way.
joey o’dael 19:18
Mm hmm. Which is is funny because I feel like not to be a raging asshole. There’s just something that a bunch of people have been screaming for for years within the theatre community is like, what will save theatre is if we focus on the experience of it, yeah. As opposed to the drama of it kind of thing. And, and and it’s it’s bright, you know, like the the things the things that have caused a real splash in the in the like globally when it comes to theatre has been the things that have been changed. lunging to the forum to convention. You look at things like Hamilton, you look at things like sleep, no more things that have really shaken it up and gotten people to be like, Oh, hell yeah, I want to go out to to see that. Like, it’s it’s not impossible to have something be wildly successful within the live live performance realm, it’s just that I find that when the funding is cut, people get anxious and they’re like, Oh, well, we want to produce something that we know will work. And so here we are, and we’re going to produce something that we think will work and and that’s not really how it
Phil Rickaby 20:43
Oh, there’s a certain a certain amount of of playing it safe like you’re describing because we go with, oh, would things be cut? Let’s do we’re gonna do a Shakespeare so don’t have to pay an author or, or, you know, find another living room drama, because we all know that, that what we love to see we walk into a theatre is yet another set. That’s like
joey o’dael 21:06
Yeah, yeah. Oh,
Phil Rickaby 21:08
joey o’dael 21:09
Phil Rickaby 21:10
Yeah, just that’s exactly what because whenever I see that I’m like, Okay. But like, it was something. I think about the work that that eldritch theatre does mixing magic and puppetry and genre, language, science fiction and horror and stuff like that, and putting it together and making it an experience that you can really only get when you’re sitting in that in that, that theatre. And that that’s the kind of work that I think will bring audiences in is stuff. Like, you have to you have to see this and you can only see it here. If you’re going to experience this like, this is incredible. That’s what’s going to bring people back not the wire, wider audiences coming Well, maybe the audience’s are coming because we’re being boring.
joey o’dael 21:58
Yeah. Yeah. Or, or at the very least, what we are presenting seems to be boring.
Phil Rickaby 22:04
Mm Hm. Yes.
joey o’dael 22:05
You know, there’s a, like a level of, of accessibility like, cuz I think about this a lot, especially with in Toronto, how, how huge the Infinity mirrors exhibit was, and how huge there was that thing that was that? I don’t know. It was called like, the happiest place on earth or whatever. Yeah, as well as like the the Van Gogh exhibit. And, like, I don’t want to, I went to the Van Gogh exhibit, and I didn’t go to the Infinity mirrors, because, you know, who could who could get in? You know, I’ve seen I’ve seen the permanent installation now. But the fact that like the agio, when it has those things can pull so many people in it shows that people are hungry for experience. They just don’t want to be there. They they’re afraid that they’re going to be sat in the dark and be lectured to or that understand. Yeah, or, or something like that.
Phil Rickaby 23:11
Sometimes I think that when we’re talking about our productions, or we’re trying to advertise our productions, we really shoot ourselves in the foot. I’ve seen so many trailers for theatre, that make me not want to see that show.
joey o’dael 23:28
Oh, absolutely. It’s like we’re pitching theatre for theatre people.
Phil Rickaby 23:33
Yes. Yes. In which case, the trailer doesn’t really matter. No, no, not at all. If you want to bring in an audience that isn’t a regular theatre goer, you got to take lessons from Hollywood and put together like a really nice, really slick, like exciting trailer. Mm hmm. Otherwise, why would they like you sure your play might be exciting, but they don’t know that from the trailer. Why would they come
joey o’dael 23:56
Mm hm. Mm Hm. Absolutely. And I think. And I think about this a lot because I feel like there has to be some way to communicate to sort of non theatre people. Because you don’t want to like lie. But at the same time, sometimes you say, Oh, it’s a play, or Oh, it’s a show or like, you know, and people’s, their eyes immediately glaze over and they’re like, like drama. And you’re like I don’t know how to tell you that this is not going to be like the touring anti bullying show. You had to watch in grade five. Like, you know,
Phil Rickaby 24:39
I think like, theatre seems to be the only the only audience based entertainment, whether it’s sports movies, whatever, that that people seem to respond with. I saw a play once I didn’t like it. So I didn’t like theatre.
joey o’dael 24:58
Mm hmm. Yeah. Oh, yay. Yeah. And I think it also it doesn’t help that Shakespeare is so ubiquitous, and so badly taught in schools. Oh,
Phil Rickaby 25:16
yes. I, yeah, cuz Shakespeare is one of those things like we are poisoning generations of students against theatre as a whole by teaching Shakespeare the way that we do.
joey o’dael 25:28
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Because people are like, Oh…..I don’t know…
Phil Rickaby 25:33
joey o’dael 25:36
Like, you know,so you’re trying to get like this huge house of cards that is really unstable, because you’ve got, you know, money, people being like, oh, how are we going to keep our subscriber base, which I don’t want to sound like I’m being ageist and awful, but there is a large proportion of people who were subscribers, that it’s because, you know, they go to the theatre, because that’s what they always do, and they are not going to live forever. And we don’t necessarily have a generation to replace them.
Phil Rickaby 26:12
Well, I mean, just as somebody who worked as an usher in some in a very large theatre, they would have, you know, the periods of time when there were subscriber tickets, like the subscribers go at a particular time. Yeah. And I could tell you, that that’s the period of time when we are moving the most walkers into obsolete movie, moving them around. That says a lot. It’s when the subscribers are coming to we’re like, we’ve run out of space for walkers over here, we’re gonna have to put them over there. Make sure they’re tagged with a seat number all of this stuff like, Mm hmm. if, if, if if theatres that offer subscriberships are not already looking to why the younger people are not coming to the theatres, they’re gonna run out of subscribers?
joey o’dael 26:56
Oh, absolutely. I think about it a lot in terms of the, like different different shows that i’ve i’ve seen or or or taken in, I went and saw, there’s a production that Mirvish did of Gaslight, a few years back. And like one of the one of the the dude’s from Game of Thrones was in it or something. And it was this very, very traditional way of doing it, you know, they had the sumptuous seps, they had, you know, and everybody did their job the way that they the job would have been done 50 years ago, and there they are doing it again. And it was some of the worst theatre I’ve ever seen in my life. And not because any one part wasn’t good. It’s just like, I would have rather gone, gone to see, like a terribly rehearsed show, because at least the train wreck was going to be something different or something new. But instead, I’m watching this ancient ancient play that is so ubiquitous, that we now have a psychological term reigned from it and expected to be like, Oh, yeah, it was changing the gas lights the whole time. It was what’s the point? Like, it was just, it was vanity. It was absolutely vanity. Yeah. And I find that that that is also what kills theatre, especially because so many of us have to create our own work a lot of people create and produce out of vanity is the idea that, you know, I must keep working or something. And this is what I like, so I shall do it.
Phil Rickaby 28:53
There’s a lot of you know, I think, you know, I’ve been helped many times by people who, when I’m, there’s, I’ve trusted people that I show new things to, and they ask the question like, so why this right now? Like, what’s important about this? Not that the play necessarily has to be like, important. Yeah. You know, there’s room for entertainment for entertainment sake, but Oh, absolutely. Why? Why would we do this now? What is what is this giving us and these are important questions to ask. And if it’s just because like, I want to play that. That’s, that’s vanity. Yeah, you know? Yeah,
joey o’dael 29:31
yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And I think about that, too, with with a lot of the the oversaturation of Shakespeare, and a lot of theatre spaces, which is like, again, not to, not to shit on Shakespeare. And like to wit, I was originally slated to be the person to take over for dauntless. Yes, and it was announced And I stepped down. And it is now going to be run by a jonica. And and Kate, one of our which is like, absolutely perfect and was the absolute right move to do because I looked at it, and I realised, wow, I I can’t with everything that’s gone on, I cannot bring myself to have enough passion about Shakespeare to make it relevant. And just if I can’t do that, then I need to hand it to somebody who who will have that passion. And 100% jonica and Kate are the people that have that passion and can’t do it. where it’s like, we I had to sort of wrestle for with myself and be like, Am I being like a pretentious, ungrateful artist or something? It was like, No, you know, at the end of the day, this, this gig is hard enough as it is, without putting yourself to doing stuff that that you you don’t have the fire for?
Phil Rickaby 31:19
Well, that’s absolutely you as trying to put together direct, like put together a show for something that you are not like you’re not passionate about. drag you down and wear you down faster than anything else. And ultimately, the work won’t get done.
joey o’dael 31:35
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Which is it. It’s It’s strange because I, I love Shakespeare I do actually, like I love going to see Shakespeare I love reading Shakespeare I love speaking the text. My My issue is, is that, I find that that’s where the that’s where the the love stops, it’s like I like it because because it feels like it’s mine, to a degree. And, and for that it is you know, like, I’m a native English speaker. I’m half white, I was educated in Britain. Like it. To me it 100% is bread and butter. And I, I I like it for the reasons that I like it. But I understand why a lot of people don’t seem don’t feel represented. And I just I don’t feel strong enough to be like, Oh, well, here’s why you should feel represented, or here’s how I can help to make you feel represented. Right. You know, and some of that has to do with, you know, culture and some of that has to do with being being queer and, and being something that is that is not represented in the sort of works of antiquity. Yeah. I don’t know.
Phil Rickaby 33:04
I think I think I mean, this is this is the thing is that, is that part of theatres a problem? in general is that is that people look at it and think that it is entirely just old white men.
joey o’dael 33:19
Phil Rickaby 33:20
How is this relevant to me when theatre is just a bunch of plays written by old white men?
joey o’dael 33:25
Phil Rickaby 33:25
Or ancient white men? Like all of that stuff? Like, why? How is that relevant to now?
joey o’dael 33:31
Phil Rickaby 33:33
joey o’dael 33:34
And it also and and the thing about it is where we also tend to be the the worst for it. To to a degree, I can’t I can’t count how many times that I have gone to a show with with, with people with other theatre people. And there was something about the show that was maybe in a different language or in a very in wildly challenging and form and I watched these, these theatre people get really sort of like, well, that’s not the way you do it kind of thing. And it’s just kind of like, okay, but can you see how that is feeding into the problem? Like, you sound like, you sound like everybody’s ancient theatre professor. That’s like, never turn your back on the audience wants to be standing in a slump all the time. Like it’s just like-
Phil Rickaby 34:35
yeah, I have I have years ago, I you know, I was in a involved in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And you know, when the when everybody comes out of their spell, you’re like, I was not was not the Duke here. The the line is “Yea, and my father” and since we were set in a modern time, we decided that that “Yea, and my father” was that the way we would do it? And it was spelled yea. So we just said, “yeah, and my father”. And it was like just, it seemed natural and somebody who remember somebody after it walking up to the actress who said that and saying, did you say “Yeah”? So it was like the worst thing she could possibly have said. And I was like, well, there’s a difference between like, you know, using language that’s like, we’re speaking, we’re trying to say it as though we’re modern. So why would we say yay?
joey o’dael 35:35
Phil Rickaby 35:37
The established like, this is how it’s done is par is another one of our problems.
joey o’dael 35:44
Absolutely. I remember. We did Julius Caesar. I did Julius Caesar with spur of the moment Shakespeare many years back, and it was set in a woman’s prison. And one of the things that that came out that felt we felt really strongly about was instead of saying, a tu, Brute A. and a Byrnes was playing Caesar just said you to Brutus. Yeah. Because it’s like, why would Why would this person in in prison just be like, Oh, no, here’s the part where I say lacking? Yeah. And it was just, it was so much more grounded in what was being done. Yeah. And there’s some people lost their minds about it. They were just like, why would you? It’s the most iconic line, why would you do that? And it’s like, because if you want to go see the iconic line, like go watch Laurence Olivier? Yes. If you want to see it, you want to see it that way? see it that way? You know, like…
Phil Rickaby 36:59
Also, if you if you came to our production to see the production that you know, you came to the wrong production? Like? Absolutely, if you want to see the way it’s always been done, go watch one of your favourites. But, you know, if we don’t breathe life into shit is just going to, like, continue to fizzle?
joey o’dael 37:16
Absolutely, absolutely. I think there’s a lot of people it comes, it comes from sort of all all levels, because there’s, there’s the creation part of it. There’s the audience part of it. And there’s also the way that we, we talk about it, and I think that this was part of the conversation before the pandemic hit. And then the pandemic hit, and everything just came, how do we survive? Yeah, but there does need to be a big conversation about how we review theatre and, and who and why and what we’re doing that for. Because so many times, you see somebody that they will review, review Shakespeare, for example. And it’s never about the quality of the work because it’s like, oh, well, Shakespeare’s Shakespeare. So, you know, it’s all about what’s being done there. At this moment, there is like, there is zero charity for for new work, it all becomes about Oh, well. It was written like this or or this, that the other, failing to take in, take in everything. And it becomes like this game of, of the reviewer attacking why why that piece was being made. But like, no reviewer ever. I shouldn’t say no reviewer, because there’s definitely somebody you don’t have to worry about that. If you’re going to go see cabaret, you don’t have to worry about that. If you’re going to go see, you know, Hamlet, nobody’s going to be like, Well, why are you doing cabaret though? Like, why would you do that show? Whereas you write a show? everybody’s like, Well, why would you write that show? Explain it to me.
Phil Rickaby 39:13
Yeah. Um, I like to change gears a little bit slightly. And I want to I want to ask you about the decision to be coming back to Toronto. And what is it that’s, that’s, that’s driving that for you and also, how we let’s get to the second part, but let’s start with like, what’s, what is the what’s driving you to come back right now?
joey o’dael 39:40
Well, there, obviously there there are a lot of personal reasons that that have to do with this sort of like bureaucracy of, of how the country is dealing with the crisis like and it turns out, I am more likely to get vaccinated. In Toronto sooner than out here in the boonies. Who would have thought. But there is that especially since in order to get the vaccination here, I would have to transfer over everything to Manitoba health. And once you’re transferred over, you’re locked in for six months. You can’t You can’t switch it back kind of thing. And so for me, it’s six months is a little bit too of a commitment to manage Oh, but not because I don’t know because I don’t like loves the land out here. But um, I think I have to make it clear that like, I’m not living in Winnipeg. I live an eight hour drive north of Winnipeg, the closest big city is five hours away, and it’s in another province. It’s Saskatoon, right? And so, as somebody that has lupus, I have a rheumatologist and there are times I need to go to different different kinds of things. And it’s like, Okay, well, you have to wait six months for an appointment to see that specialist. And then you have to drive eight hours and find a place to stay and, and do that. So sort of six months, being without access to health care. As somebody who is chronically ill is is is frightening to me. And it also goes into that a large portion of that is, is mental health. Because of course, everybody’s been having mental health sort of issues during this time. And so when things got pretty bad for me, like a little while ago, I literally I went to the Manitoba Health website. And there’s like this link, and it’s like, oh, you know, for places that are Northern and remote kind of thing. And I’m like, Oh, absolutely. I go I click on that. And Phil, I kid you not I click the link and it takes me to a Viagra ad. Like it’s a broken link that just links to a Viagra ad for some reason. That that’s the resource. That’s the resource for Northern remote communities, mental health, so it’s just a bit like that, that’s not going to do me at all. And then and then you combine that with the fact that like, being not only being an artist, but being a queer artist in in rural Canada it’s, it’s, it’s not the greatest which is it’s I don’t want to I really think that a lot of people especially that that grew up in the cities they create this sort of like us versus them with like rural communities and sure an urban communities. And I don’t want to say that because I don’t think that people live in rural communities are are inherently you know, homophobic or, or inherently transphobic or anything like that. It’s just there is such it takes so much longer for them to be exposed to those kinds of things. They don’t they’re the end there’s not enough population wise to really fight for it kind of thing. And so a lot of a lot of thought patterns go unchallenged, and have gone on challenged for four years. Which is not to say that it hasn’t gotten way better, like for the past three years and Flin Flon there. There’s been a Pride Week and which is like unthinkable for me. When I think about being like a queer team. And I’m like, Are you kidding? there’s a there’s a Pride Week. You do a drag show. There’s only two drag queens but they do a drag show like it you know, it is a thing there is there’s flin Flon pride March which to me makes me so, so proud and and overcome. And that the problem isn’t necessarily that because I know that there are people that that are here and are are fighting for that. It’s just, I don’t have the mental and emotional fortitude. To fight that fight. Here it’s too I’m I am made to fight that fight somewhere else. I don’t feel like I have to apologise for who I am or, or, or, or educate all the time. And so I would be lying if a huge a huge part of the reason why, you know, I’m coming back, as well as well as, like being mental health and physical health is that I crave? community that I find difficult to, to find here.
Phil Rickaby 45:28
Sure. sure. In the time that you’ve, you’ve, you’ve, you’ve been in Manitoba, and, you know, being an artist away from the art, how has that affected the way that you see yourself or you define yourself? So a lot of us are very much like I am, I’m a performer, I’m an actor. This is how we, when people ask us, if we like, describe yourself, this is one of the first things that we say, Mm hmm. How, What’s your relationship been to that while you’ve been away?
joey o’dael 46:03
Well, it’s been, it’s been interesting, because I think, for my self, even before COVID, I was slightly making the transition away from saying that I was an actor, and, and more saying that, you know, like, I’m a performance artist, because because, you know, I found that I was writing and directing and producing and designing as much as I was performing. And so it was, like, kind of, like, I wanted to, like, shift away from the idea that, you know, there was a primary one that I that I do, but also, since performance has not been happening, there’s, I’ve found that I have naturally gravitated to creating in, in so many different ways, like I’ve been doing a lot of visual art, I’ve been doing a lot of writing, I’ve been doing a lot of comedy stuff that doesn’t necessarily rely on on being in in a room with somebody. Which, which has been, which has been fascinating to sort of, like, learn that about myself that, you know, put into put into a box, I would, you know, still find a way to paint myself a door or, which is, which is lovely. It makes me think of, it makes me think of you know, Picasso famously said something about how he would, he would paint on the dusty floor of a jail cell with his tongue, if he had to do and there is an element of of that, for sure. But they’re also the the relationship is weird, because there’s a part of it that feels like it’s like, well, is this just a hobby? And is this just my, is this just my COVID hobby? Like, what is and, and I think I think if you’re, if you’re an artist, in any form, you spend your whole life like fighting against people that that say, what you do is a is a hobby, not not a craft or a calling, right. And so there does become that sort of, aspect of, of that of being like, you know, Jesus, like I really did define myself, by my job and, and that job right now doesn’t exist. So, what oh, you know, where do we where do we go from here?
Phil Rickaby 49:06
Yeah, I think that’s a that’s a problem that that a lot of people in the theatre world have been having, is putting so much over the years into their identity as, as a director, as an actor, whatever, however many hyphens they have, in terms of their what they do artistically. With theatres closed. Those are not things that a lot of people are some people have been able to like to to embrace streaming technology and stuff like that, but other people have just not. Both are okay, but like, yeah, there’s an identity crisis when the thing that you have said, This is who I am, is gone. And it’s a year or more before it’s coming back.
joey o’dael 49:54
Absolutely. Absolutely. Which I think I think kind of For me, it kind of gives me this like revelation of, of the idea that a large portion of, of my displeasure in my life or my or my dissatisfaction is these unrealistic expectations that I’ve set upon myself by saying, Oh, well, I am this, I am an artist, so I must be doing that. And it’s a bit like, Well, where is where is that written? You know, like, if, if if you know, you’re blind, do you still have a face even though you can’t see it? I guess, a huge, huge reduction, but it’s like, you don’t stop being something just because it’s you can’t. It’s far away. Yeah. And it also it doesn’t have to be so interwoven with your identity like that. I think we’re all constantly craving for that validation of knowing who we are and and to validate that, but it can’t be summed up in in that one thing. Yeah, you know, you’re not your mind. You’re not your body, you’re not your career.
Phil Rickaby 51:16
There’s something to me about about the forced slowing down. Because a lot of people were like, practising the hustle. Like always hustling, always doing this, never stop, never stop always going. And then all of a sudden, it’s like, wait, let’s explore this thing called self care. Let’s explore stillness for a while, not because you want to, but because you have to, but but, you know, like, at a certain point when theatres open up. Yeah, will we be more likely, as creators? And as people who previously just hustled and hustled and hustled, will we be more likely to, to say no to things? Because we’ve learned that we need some time.
joey o’dael 52:08
Yeah, I honestly, I genuinely, I wish that for us, because I know just sort of from like, osmosis. In this sort of time where we’ve had to be in in quarantine, or, or whatever, more people I know have come out as trans or non binary or gender fluid or queer than I could ever expect. And most of them that I that I’ve spoken to, it’s because Oh, yeah. Because when I wasn’t constantly hustling, I had time to sit with myself and be like, Oh, wait a second. Where Where is that? Because the when you are doing that, when you are doing you know, your two shows and your Jo job and you’re going, going going, you don’t sit with with yourself. You don’t meet yourself. Once you don’t necessarily know like, what all those what all those things are. It’s like when you’re carrying a heavy bag and your arm gets numb, and then you put it down and you’re like, oh my god. Yeah, that was heavy. And so I know for myself, like the amount of healing and emotional growing I have done in the past year. unprecedented. Yeah, and I know it’s because I’m not you know, waking up at four in the morning so I can go to an eight hour Starbucks shifts, so I can go to a six hour rehearsal so I can go home and prep for a self tape or, or all of these kinds of things. I like I’m able to be like, oh, wow, wait a second, like, here’s some things that I when I have to sit with myself, I realised like, Oh, I really struggle with this or I really struggle with with that. And being able to like hone in on that and have the time and space to breathe into it and be like, well, I can’t I can’t run away from it now and I can’t bury it under menial tasks.
Phil Rickaby 54:24
I think in some ways, it’s it’s been something of a revelation for a lot of people about how unhealthy their lives were. As far as like just, you know, going, going, going, going going and all of a sudden, like, Oh, wait, if I take some time for myself, I can feel good.
joey o’dael 54:43
Yep. Yep, yeah. Yep. As well as like, is this something and it’s so small, but I haven’t had a stuffy nose for over a year. I’ve not had I’ve not had a cold for over a year I’ve not been. I haven’t had like a viral illness at all, which to me is an absolute revelation. Because I was I was used to I was used to like getting sick, like, at least four times a year. Sure, yeah, yeah, I’m having like a sniffles, having my throat be kind of like mucked up, you know, whatever it was. And so the fact that it’s been like, over a year, I’m like, wow, you know, I really hate that. I don’t know my personal purpose right now with my career, but God Damn, does it feel good to breathe through both my nostrils? Oh,
Phil Rickaby 55:40
yeah, this is probably my healthiest here. I haven’t had a cold or, or anything of the flu, or, you know, it’s been like, a and a few months. And, yeah.
joey o’dael 55:50
It kind of makes me it makes me a bit paranoid. It makes me like, who wasn’t washing their hands before? Like, who was it?
Phil Rickaby 55:58
You know, I think the sad thing is, is, is that it’s probably more than just that. It’s also like, all the times that were jammed onto the subway, or jammed into an elevator or Yeah, like, just the general way that we’ve, you know, just drawn out. And also the fact that people are like, Oh, I’m sick, and I can’t afford to take time off. So I guess I’ll just take this pill that will suppress the, the symptoms. I go through as though I’m fine. And I’m just like, giving this to everyone.
joey o’dael 56:28
Yep. And it’s, it’s been so interesting to watch how corporate culture and work culture has changed. With with this sort of, like pandemic, because everybody everybody who’s worked in any kind of service or retail knows that there have been times where you’ve been on death’s door, and you’ve been like, Hey, I’m on death’s door. And, you know, you’ve gotten a text back from Steve’s and well, we have don’t have anybody to cover your shift. And so you’re like, oh, okay, then I guess, fuck me, right? I’ll just go in and do it. And so like to see that shift from, from from that to, you cannot come in to work, if you are sick, is like, Whoa, now, all we really need is for everybody to put their money where their mouth is and have actual paid simply, yes, or UBI. So that it doesn’t become a situation of of it being like, hey, I need to be able to be alive. And not get everybody sick. Yeah. Can we please. And it’s especially frustrating because it you know, think about it if if you don’t have a sick employee getting you know, your entire staff stick, you’re gonna you’re going to do better, we’re going to do better.
Phil Rickaby 58:02
Yeah. Also, I mean, a lot of people that I know they work in food services, whether they work in a cafe or they work, whatever, when the manager says we’re short staffed, I know you’re sick, you’re gonna have to come in anyway. And you take a pill or something, or you just struggle through the day. Well, you’re doesn’t matter that you’re like wearing gloves. You’re just sharing that with everybody.
joey o’dael 58:27
Phil Rickaby 58:29
And I can’t believe that that’s something that we’ve considered to be a normal thing.
joey o’dael 58:36
Yeah, it’s like, that’s the thing is that it’s like so it’s like so normalised. Yeah. And, and, and so I like I hope that it is kind of like a lasting change to have it not not be because when it comes to like, as somebody with with compromised immunity, if somebody came into work and they were sick, or customer came in very clearly with like a cold or whatever. I was like, Okay, here we go, like, Yeah, great. I guess I’m gonna have a cold. Like, I guess that’s going to be a thing. It definitely extends to theatre because I don’t know I don’t know like what your experience in in like, I don’t know what other people’s experiences in school were but for my theatre training it you know, if you if you were sick for for longer than a day, hoo, boy, you’re in trouble like, you were gonna get put on, you know, academic probation or kicked out of the programme like it was
Phil Rickaby 59:39
100% I can remember being sick for one day and getting a call from the school saying, if you’re not here tomorrow, you’re out of the programme. Yeah. Oh, meanwhile, I am literally like, like hunched over a toilet when I’m getting that message. Like, I am vomiting so hard, but they’re like, No, you have to come in. Nicolas,
joey o’dael 1:00:01
it is absolutely ridiculous. And and I think a lot of that I mean, why something we’re all discovering now collectively as a as a community is, is that theatre programmes for the large part have been institutionalised abuse? I think, because because it’s like, oh well the the industry is demanding. So we have to separate the weak from the strong kind of thing. But at the end of the day, it just makes makes the community inherently inaccessible and inherently ablest.
Phil Rickaby 1:00:39
Absolutely, it’s also like the idea that Oh, the the the industry is hard. So we have to treat you like garbage to get you ready for it. It may be what we have to do is like, be teaching students that. No, it is okay to stand up for yourself. And sometimes you have to advocate for yourself. Instead of instead of, you know, emotionally hobbling them so that they are in, like predisposed to abuse in the rehearsal hall, or, or in other situations, until finally, after 1020 years, now they’re ready to stand up and stand and advocate for themselves. After so many years of being treated horribly, when we should be we should be teaching them that right out of the gate. You can advocate for yourself, in some cases, you have to.
joey o’dael 1:01:26
Exactly, exactly. Because you know, when it comes when it comes down to it. There’s, there’s so many times there’s so many times where somebody will look back on on something that made them intensely uncomfortable, or intensely unsafe, or maybe even physically hurt them. And it’s because we’ve been so beat down with this culture that if you do not say yes, if you do not obey, you will be considered difficult to work with and you won’t work anymore.
Phil Rickaby 1:02:03
Yeah, that’s a hugely problematic thing, because I know people who I remember talking to people, and they would be like, talking ready to talk about the Fringe Festival, right? And they could see them stop because they’re not going to like glow about the the Fringe Festival and the way that it’s organised or whatever. And, and so they don’t say it, because they’re afraid that somehow the fringe which is underrated, you know, will blackball them somehow. And in the end, what that ends up doing is just like reinforcing the fact in their mind that some things are unassailable. Yeah, say anything bad about this institution? Because, you know, so we need to, like, honestly, the only reason why. And I fully believe this, that if I want to say, if I want to complain about something, let’s say, let’s continue on, like the Fringe Festival for some, you know, just to keep things consistent. If I want to complain, it’s not because I hate the Fringe Festival. It’s because I love the Fringe Festival, and I want it to be better.
joey o’dael 1:03:03
Phil Rickaby 1:03:06
If we didn’t love these institutions, we just go fuck it and walk away. Mm hmm.
joey o’dael 1:03:14
We absolutely would. And it’s it, you know, it all feeds into the same sort of same sort of culture where, you know, we’re having to contend with the fact that there have been open abusers in our community going unchecked for years and years and years. Because, because there is such a culture of it’s like, well, you know, if you if you assert your boundaries, if you stand up, if you say the wrong thing, well, then nobody’s gonna hire you.
Phil Rickaby 1:03:44
Yeah, don’t rock the boat. Don’t rock the boat. That’s That’s such as an early lesson that a lot of us are taught in theatre school.
joey o’dael 1:03:51
Mm hmm. And so you end up- and especially, especially as what we do is so emotional. You know, it’s just like, you’re just asking for trouble because it’s like, you have all of these, you know, pretty, like traumatised people being like, please pick me, please pick me, please. Yes, me, and then they get picked. And they have no agency and they have no ability to encounter accountability or, or, or have that kind of structure imposed upon it until they reach a certain level of a career. And then for a lot of people, they get to that certain level in their career, where they’ve, you know, they’ve taken their lumps and they’ve, they’ve, quote, unquote, paid their dues kind of thing. And there’s no impetus to change the system because it’s like, well, you know, I dealt with it and I’m fine. Like, I got through it.
Phil Rickaby 1:04:55
That’s that’s the such a, one of the most damaging things You know what I got through. That’s how I was trained. So this is how I’m going to train. Like they abused me through Theatre School and I’m fine. So this is how we’re going to this. So I’m going to teach people rather than like, maybe the fact that I went to Theatre School miserable and afraid all the time. That maybe that’s not conducive to creativity.
joey o’dael 1:05:21
Yeah, yeah. And it’s also like I, I understand, to a small degree, the need for discipline, especially when you get these like, bouncing little, you know, 18 year olds. Theatre majors have a have a vibe and a reputation for a reason. In large verse reason is that theatre people, we are of noxious and we get paid to be obnoxious, and that’s great. That’s fine. So there is no limit of like, I get why you have why it has to be like okay, no, calm down. Bouncing baby. We don’t need to hear your random rendition of every song of blame is we need you to buckle down but there’s a way to do that that isn’t emotionally traumatising.
Phil Rickaby 1:06:13
Yes. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Um, just as we sort of, like, start to, like, draw to a close here. One of the questions that I have been asking, throughout the pandemic is a question about joy. We all need our moments of joy. And I think that, that we’ve all had our ups and downs. And I like to have all of my guests like, just tell me like what’s been giving you joy lately, so we can share that with everyone else? So Joey, what’s been giving you joy lately?
joey o’dael 1:06:49
Oh, geez. You know, I’ve had a lot of people sort of reach out and, and my very good friend Holly actually made a GoFundMe, which, again, thank you, Phil, to like to get me back to Toronto, which is, like, overwhelming for realising how, how many people I have in my, in my corner. But beyond that, it’s just been kind of like, realising how much we all love each other. And how instantaneous and evident that became, when we couldn’t, you know, immediately hold each other and, and tell each other that everything was going to be okay. The fact that we still all love each other so much, and miss each other just brings me so much joy because there’s, like, a lot of bad shit has happened in a very short amount of time. And our instinct is still to, to hold each other. Yeah. And be with each other. And, and, and that, I think, brings me a lot of joy and love.
Phil Rickaby 1:08:16
Thank you so much. And thank you for this conversation. This has been as always wonderful.
joey o’dael 1:08:21
Well, thank you for having me. Absolutely. I love it.