#298 – Uche Ama
Uche Ama is a Black queer performer, actor & vocalist born on the indigenous land called Tkaronto. She is passionate about cathartic art that intrigues and makes you ask questions. A 2019 Dora nominated graduate of the Music Theatre Performance program at St Clair College and an alumni of ‘Broadway Theatre Project’, her previous performances include 21 Black Futures (Obsidian Theatre & CBC Arts),The Negroes Are Congregating (Piece Of Mine Arts) & Obeah Opera (Asah Productions).
Uche Ama, Phil Rickaby
Phil Rickaby 00:00
Welcome to Episode 298 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. If you’ve enjoyed listening to this podcast, please consider supporting it. You can do that by making a donation either one time or continuing in the tip jar. I’ll put a link to that in the show notes. But you can see on the website or on your podcast app, or you can buy some merch to the online store shop.stageworthyproductions.com. In the store you’ll find Stageworthy T shirts, mugs, stickers, as well as merch from some of my other projects, including the much coveted “God chose me to deliver his new commandment and all I got was a stupid t shirt” t shirt from my solo play the commandment. All your purchases and tip jar donations go towards stage worthy and help me continue to bring you great conversations in Canadian theatre. And if you can’t donate or buy from the store, please consider rating and reviewing the show. If you’re listening on Apple podcasts, you can leave a review right in the podcast app. If you don’t listen on Apple podcasts, you can still review the show by going to politics or.com searching for Stageworthy and rating the podcast there. Thanks for listening and thank you for your support. You can find Stageworthy on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @stageworthypod and you can find a website with the archive of all 298 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 performer actor and vocalist Uche Ama. So how has, how have you been? With? I mean, I feel like that’s every time I ask people that the question How have you be? There’s this long pause for the answer. Yeah, I feel like especially right now, as we in Ontario, we’re on the cusp of beginning to open up.
Uche Ama 02:24
Phil Rickaby 02:25
Uche Ama 02:27
Um, I’ve actually been well, I have had opportunities to thrive throughout this time period, because I am a homebody by nature. So it’s been nice, not feeling that obligation to be out and about and just being able to spend time with my family and focus on things that I want to focus on. But, yeah, but it’s also had its hard moments for sure. Like, I’m not sure if I miss my friends a lot.
Phil Rickaby 03:03
You know, as as somebody who’s pretty much a homebody, I’m an introvert by nature. I, I, for a lot of, for a lot of the time with this whole, like, stay at home thing. I spend a lot of time being like, I’m okay. I could do this just fine. And then every so often, I’m like, I need to have a party and have my friends over.
Uche Ama 03:24
Right. Right. Like honestly, full disclosure, a friend of mine, that I’ve been seeing frequently because we tend to work together give me a hug the other day and like he’s fully vaccinated and stuff but like it was just so it was so nice. And yeah, you may have like people in your house that you hug and everything but it’s different, you know?
Phil Rickaby 03:51
No, yeah. It’s like it’s been so the few times that I’ve gone on like socially distance walks with socially distanced walks with friends. You see them and your instinct is to hug your friend cuz you haven’t seen them. And so yeah, then you have to be like, oh, elbows, elbows, elbows, elbow, touch the elbow. I for a while there at the beginning of the pandemic work in the events industry, and we were still going on to stuff are they planning to last March? And the our CEO is like, okay, so no handshakes. It’d be weird. Do the elbow or do the foot touch and I was like, I’m a fan of the foot touch. Like, nobody’s used their toes together. And that felt like the safest possible greeting. I love that. I actually think I did that one time. Yeah.
Uche Ama 04:42
Yeah. So so interesting how we find our ways to still have human connection, you know?
Phil Rickaby 04:50
Well, that’s the thing is because we are, we are driven to that. We are driven to human connection, no matter how introverted we may be. We still need the people around us.
Uche Ama 04:59
Phil Rickaby 05:00
we need to connect with them.
Uche Ama 05:02
Yeah. And I think this has been a big realisation to a lot of people to how much they need a support system, how much they need folks around them, you know?
Phil Rickaby 05:12
Yeah. Not just around them, but like, you know, to be able to connect with with be present. Yeah. And one thing that we’ve learned for sure is that video is no replacement for in person connection.
Uche Ama 05:28
Oh, my goodness, it isn’t. It isn’t. And through this process, I’ve had some rehearsal moments on zoom that have been so beautiful and touching and fulfilling, but I’m always wanting to punch my computer because I’m like, I should be in the room with all of you like this, this could be amplified and so much more and be even more impactful if I like, got to touch your skin or
Phil Rickaby 05:58
Uche Ama 05:58
Phil Rickaby 05:59
I just feel like, I mean, hands down. I have been so proud and impressed with every theatre artist who has done something online. Absolutely impressed. Because I know that over a year and a half ago, if you’d asked them if they could do something online, they would have told you no, I’m not technical enough to do that.
Uche Ama 06:21
Yeah, or even just the need to audition, you know, you got to be a videographer, you got to be a sound technician. Now you got to be would edit your own videos, it’s Yeah, it’s been such a learning curve, for sure.
Phil Rickaby 06:38
And that’s the thing that impresses me is that pretty much everybody has successfully transitioned somehow. Now, of course, nobody wants it to be permanent. And we all want to be back in the theatre. But it’s kind of been, like, amazing to see. And I will be interested to see if how we can keep the things that we’ve learned and bring them into the theatre.
Uche Ama 07:00
Yes, because this is a conversation 100% about accessibility because, oh, my goodness, the things that I have actually been able to watch, right? Just because now they have to be online, like, it’s, it’s amazing. It’s amazing, you get so many more opportunities, because and now it’s just because everyone is home. But what about folks that can’t leave their houses ever, on a daily basis have an allergy to the sun, like have a disability and can’t make it to the theatre like, this has opened so many doors and so many conversations about, like accessibility specifically. And I’m hoping that the conversations continue,
Phil Rickaby 07:49
I really hope so I have I have this this vision of the theatre where you can go for an in person ticket, but they you know, we’ve we’ve rigged it up with like at least three cameras, so that you can have a digital ticket, see it live. And we’ve not only opened it up for people who you know, for whatever, ablest reason can’t get to the theatre, but also for people who financially can’t afford that Mirvish ticket out however much it costs, and also to open it up more for people who, you know, live in Edmonton and they’re interested in seeing what’s going on in Toronto. Want to see what’s going on in Edmonton?
Uche Ama 08:29
Yeah. Yeah, no, it’s, it’s astounding, and I really hope it continues.
Phil Rickaby 08:36
I really hope so too. I do feel like the cynic in me feels like that the equity theatres are going to open up and not do it. But it’ll the indie theatres have to do it. And to push for that to become the norm
Uche Ama 08:50
100% a mentor of mine is a part of the Sarasolo Theatre Festival out in Florida. And this year, it was online and I got to see people that I haven’t seen in so long, right, do productions and, and put their work on stage. That’s another thing that’s been amazing too, because I don’t know what has have been the holdups in terms of, well, you can’t do those big shows online. So playwrights who’ve never been heard of have been given opportunities to put on their work to see their work come to life, no matter how it really is coming to light but like hearing your words and someone else’s mouth with the characterization work that they’ve done. Like that is just been an amazing opportunity for so many young playwrights, upcoming playwrights, black playwrights, indigenous playwrights that never got the opportunity to do that before.
Phil Rickaby 09:51
Yeah, yeah. I that’s another thing that I have to say that I really hope that we continue to see is the voices that we’re amplifying Now, when the theatres reopen, that we’re still amplifying those, and that it’s not just a bunch of like, well, the theatres are reopened, let’s do another production of Grease.
Uche Ama 10:09
Oh, my, my chest literally just contract. It’s such a deep fear for me because I personally have moved away from a lot of musical theatre because I felt that I, I didn’t have the opportunity to see myself in any of the things that were on stage, I couldn’t do it. And for me as an artist, as an actor, as some someone that has performing as it’s a true passion for me, and I want to be able to relate to even one piece of the character that I’m playing, and I found that wasn’t happening in musical theatre at all. So I started doing more straight up acting, and I found that even more, but I’m hoping that this gives playwrights, new playwrights opportunities to create new musicals with more content that’s not typical American musical theatre vibes, you know,
Phil Rickaby 11:15
I do I do. I mean, I think I honestly, we need more musicals, we need to stop doing the same old ones all the time. And, you know, we need to we need to foster that with some great musicals have come out of Canada. And we need to keep that that going. In other way, that one of the things and tell me if you think that I’m wrong, is I do feel like, like musical theatre has an a theatre in general sort of gets tied to the whole like, Well, you know, we have to have a certain type of person on the stage, we can’t have, you know, we can’t this, we can’t have this white couple, there’s white person in this black person be a couple, we can’t have them play brother and sister. But I think that’s so short sighted in looking at the way that you look at your audience, because audiences will believe whatever you tell them to believe.
Uche Ama 11:58
100% like, they really well, in that moment, you have created an environment, you’ve created a world for the people who’ve been let in to that world as audience members. So whatever you put on that stage, they’re going to believe, I mean, to an extent, I mean, I wouldn’t want to go to cabaret and see people like, a bunch of black people, because I feel like that would be weird. You know, like, in terms of the time period, yes. would not have been, it would not have been appropriate, oh, people would have been injured people would have been hurt people would have been abused. Like, in that regard. No. But like, in, in any situation where colour is not a part of the storyline? Yes, absolutely.
Phil Rickaby 12:47
I mean, you know, there’s so many musicals that I could look at and be like, so what’s the reason why Seymour Krelborn has to be a white guy?
Uche Ama 12:56
Exactly. But it’s always cast that way?
Phil Rickaby 13:00
Yes, it is. We I think we really need to break those rules like those are those are those quote unquote, rules. Like, yeah, we have to stop thinking that our audience is, is is is just not gonna buy it. If we don’t put that person on. Like, we don’t put a white guy in that role. because like you said, like I said, they will believe what ever you put up there, they will suspend disbelief and just go with it.
Uche Ama 13:22
And that’s the beauty of theatre. So why not take the reigns and really push the boundaries. That’s what makes it exciting. That’s why I don’t want to go to see a show where I leave and I’m like, God, that was that was great. I want to I want to go see a piece of theatre that is thought provoking. I want to see something that makes me act ask questions. I want to see something that makes me go home and Google shit.
Phil Rickaby 13:50
Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, what’s funny that the whole like, what audiences I worked as an usher at one of the largest theatres, it’s Run, run, and I learned really quickly, did I, you know, exchange some notes was like, and I was I was occasionally on the door. And I learned a lot about what audiences say, when they didn’t like a play, and they don’t want to admit that they didn’t like to play because they paid a lot of money for the ticket.
Uche Ama 14:15
Phil Rickaby 14:17
What they always say is, they did such a good job.
Uche Ama 14:21
Such a good job. The lighting was beautiful.
Phil Rickaby 14:26
It’s just it’s just like, I always heard like, you know, it seems some shows they were not awesome. And that’s when people would say like, and every one of them would do it. They did such a good job.
Uche Ama 14:38
Or maybe – Yeah, you really did not connect. You’re saying that because you’re still in the building. Maybe it’s a different conversation when they leave the building.
Phil Rickaby 14:47
And I really feel like I really feel like people when they’ve paid like $80 $100 or more for their ticket and they don’t like the show. They don’t Want to admit that he didn’t like the show?
Uche Ama 15:04
Yeah. I can’t, I can’t get that if you’re paying an exorbitant amount of money to, for an experience that you don’t even enjoy. I mean, I’m the kind of person that would just be honest about it, but I know some people that would just be embarrassed that it was like, this was a frivolous expense.
Phil Rickaby 15:24
Why did I Oh, sure. Absolutely, absolutely. You know, I, I would I mean, I, I get really pained in the theatre when it’s not good. So I, you know, I will not only try to examine, like, you know, why is this not working for me, but I will be vocal about why it didn’t work for me. But that’s a vocabulary that a lot of people who are going to those big shows especially just don’t have,
Uche Ama 15:47
yeah, because they’re going for pure entertainment. They’re not going to analyse to deconstruct to observe and, and get clues and keys, but that’s how I approach theatre when I go see something like I’m analysing. Yeah, I, at the same time, I want to be moved. I want to be taken on a journey. But I’m, I’m an actor, and I’m watching and watching to see what’s happening.
Phil Rickaby 16:13
Yeah, absolutely. That would be one of the questions that I am often asking people who come on the show, and it’s one of my favourite questions is to learn about your theatre origin story. What? What drew you to the theatre first, how did you decide that that was going to be your life’s pursuit? give me give me your origin story.
Uche Ama 16:36
It’s so funny. I was like a math and science nerd for majority of my life. I loved chemistry and algebra. And towards the end of grade grades, eight, I think, yeah, grade eight. Everyone’s gearing up to start going to high school. And I was like, Yes, I want to go to Ursula Franklin Academy, and I want to major in robotics. And my whole life had arts and music has been the through line throughout it. But it was there so much, that I didn’t really think about it, you know? So I didn’t end up getting into Ursula Franklin. And my mom looked at me and was like, Okay, well, like, you got to go to school. So what are you gonna do? And I saw a tobacco School of the Arts. And I was like, okay, like, I could go to an art school. Let’s, let’s see what the offerings are there. And I was thinking about being a band major. I was thinking about being a drama major. And then I was like, oh, musical theatre. I love musical theatre. Sound of Music is every, every single Christmas, me and my mom every year without fail sounding music, for sure. And I start recalling, oh, my goodness, I love to sing. I love musicals. Okay, let’s let’s try this musical theatre thing. And I trained for a few months. And then I auditioned. And I got in and I was like, oh, my goodness, I’m going to an art school. And then I remember grade nine sitting in my first like, musical theatre class, musical theatre focused class. And I sat there and I watched my peers get up and sing and emote. And then I was like, I can, I can do this for a living. Like, I can do this. I can get paid to, to feel like this all the time. And I was after that I was I was gone. I was in it. And I forgot about my life I forgot. And all I cared about was theatre. All I cared about was theatre, and dance and music and things that gave me that feeling in the pit of my stomach and the nape of my neck. Like, that’s all I wanted.
Phil Rickaby 19:30
So, no, no was had you been in plays before where you just like, it sounds like fun. I’m going to do it.
Uche Ama 19:37
I I was in dance class. I took some dance classes. I did some performances with my dance school. I had never really done a lot of theatre. But like, Yeah, I don’t know. It was it was crazy the way it just blossomed. Yeah, I never expected it to at all. Going into high school I was like, Okay, I’m just gonna go to high school and like do a thing. But I didn’t think I was gonna fall in love I did it.
Phil Rickaby 20:12
Did that was was Sound of Music, your your gateway into musical theatre or was there were there other other musicals as well.
Uche Ama 20:19
There were other musicals a lot of them unknown, I listened to a lot of like, African storytelling things that my parents passed on to me and tapes of little kids acting and acting out stories of, of our ancestry and an F in all of them. There’s drums, there’s music, there’s dancing, like, but I did, like I said, I didn’t, I didn’t realise it. If I didn’t realise that that was something that was such a big part of me that performance. Yeah. And then, um, Sound of Music was was the musical I always sang along to. But like, I think wicked came out the year before I went to my first year at ESA. And that I played that cast recording until I couldn’t play it anymore, that there are scratches all over it. That show. I was like, Oh my goodness, the storytelling. I wasn’t even watching the stage. I was just listening to the cast recording and my heart was beating and I was crying. And I was like, Okay, this is this is it. Cool. Cool.
Phil Rickaby 21:39
How long after listening to that cast recording? Was it before you got to actually see the show?
Uche Ama 21:45
Um, maybe like two years later, when wicked rolled around into Toronto, and Shoshana bean was playing Elphaba and because saw that same performance, oh, my cuz she wasn’t supposed to be performing. It was supposed to be someone else. But I guess they were sick that day. And I remember sitting next to my mom, and I had my friend on the other side of me. And the lights went down. And the orchestra went bomb bomb bomb. And I was like, bawling. sobbing like, convulsing, in the chair, crying and my mom is just looking at me being like, oh my god. I’m so sorry. like looking at people around me. Sorry, I was a wreck. I couldn’t keep it together. The show hadn’t even started. I just felt the energy of the instruments and the drums and I lost my mind. Yeah,
Phil Rickaby 22:52
I’m sure you are not the only person who has had that reaction to that show.
Uche Ama 22:57
Yeah, no, I I don’t doubt it. But like I felt it was it was just me that day. It was.
Phil Rickaby 23:05
Yeah, yeah. For me. I my gateway to theatre entirely was cast recordings. When I was a kid, my parents had the cast, the original cast recording of Godspell. My Fair Lady and Oklahoma. Yes. And it was Godspell was my gateway. Yeah. And I think it was because you know, this thing the first time and then suddenly realising Oh, wait a second. All of these songs string together to tell the story. Yeah. Yeah. I love that show. Yeah, tickets show. Yeah. I also love it more. Because, in some ways, if you went learning about like the history of theatre in Toronto, that show was sort of like, an explosion of theatre for Toronto.
Uche Ama 23:52
Yeah, it was like people started to understand what it was about when Godspell came around. Yes.
Phil Rickaby 23:57
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, that you could do something that was homegrown that was produced here. Not something just tore it in.
Uche Ama 24:02
Yeah. And also, like the style of music was completely different than when people were used to experiencing in musical theatre, you know?
Phil Rickaby 24:11
That’s right. That’s right. And it pretty much gave us the entire cast of sctv percent. Yeah. Yeah. Um, so as far as as far as musicals go, when you left school, did you continue on to do other any post secondary stuff or?
Uche Ama 24:30
Yeah, okay, was that Lower Ossington Theatre for a while I did a Little Shop of Horrors. I did Avenue Q i did Hairspray. I did some standalone, like, type review type shows that were based on artists. I did like a Beatle show. So I was like, pretty heavy into the musical theatre. Very, very much so and that And I kind of fell off a bit. And then I did disenchanted. And that was in Chicago for a month. That was like my first touring experience. And then after, after that, I I did a little bit more acting. And then I did obeah Opera in like 2019. And that brought my love for musical theatre back. It was three and a half hours through sung opera. acapella. Oh, yeah. So that brought my love for singing and theatrical singing and storytelling back so.
Phil Rickaby 25:57
And about a year and five months ago, yeah. What were we working on something at the time that everything shut down?
Uche Ama 26:04
I had actually just closed Well, on the on the 14 was my last show of the Negroes are congregating. And that was that Monday the city lockdown. So that was my last show. Right? That was my last theatre show. But then I did have the opportunity to do 21 block futures right passed in January. So yeah.
Phil Rickaby 26:36
At least you got to finish. You know, that run of that show.
Uche Ama 26:40
We didn’t think we were gonna finish. We didn’t think because we kept hearing about more and more cases, like every day from like the the Wednesday that week, we kept hearing on this many cases. Oh, yeah, this place is shut down. This place is shut down. And we’re like, I don’t know if we’re gonna be able to have people in the house for our last shuffle.
Phil Rickaby 27:05
Yeah, yeah. I think I was very nonchalant about the whole thing. Until you couldn’t be nonchalant anymore. That’s right. Yeah. And I think that a moment when I was like, Oh, shit, this is serious. was when like, Broadway shut down.
Uche Ama 27:22
Yeah, that was a big one.
Phil Rickaby 27:24
I was like, Oh, shit, this is a this is a real thing.
Uche Ama 27:29
Phil Rickaby 27:30
And then, of course, very shortly after that. Everything closed,
Uche Ama 27:36
everything close down. And you’re like, Okay. But, you know, I like to think of this period as maybe a nice hibernation where we get an opportunity to figure out what the future is going to look like.
Phil Rickaby 27:57
Yeah. I think first off, like for people who were who were in the theatre and whose life has been, like the nonstop hustle. This has been like, for one thing, an opportunity and a fan of forced, like, slow down. This is what it feels like to breathe now in that How does that feel? But then, on the other side, the removal of the of the production wheel of the constant production. It can be scary. That has, but it’s also we could never have had the conversations that have been had. If everything. That’s right. Yeah, you’re right. You’re right. They would have I mean, we would still be having like the semi annual diversity in theory panel and the same people. So I say the same thing. Right? Because it was always the same thing. The same things being said the same things. Everybody, yes, yes, things should change. And then if we weren’t so busy, we would change things, but Oh, darn it, and now.
Uche Ama 29:03
That’s why I’m sitting here. I’m waiting. I’m waiting to see the proof. There’s been a lot of talk. Yeah, there’s been a lot of talk, I want to see what happens when the world opens up. What are you actually doing to stay true to a lot of the things that you said during this time?
Phil Rickaby 29:21
Well, that is the the trick and that is the thing that I think, I think, you know, a lot of theatres made a lot of statements a year ago. And I hope they know that we remember that they made those statements, and they made commitments to changes they were going to make and if they don’t make them, if they just come out if they open up and like we’re doing another production of grease. I’m gonna have something to say about it. And I think everytbody has something to say about it.
Uche Ama 29:52
I hope a lot of people have something to say about it. But that’s another thing like in the moment. When when emotions are high, it’s very easy to say a lot of things. Sure. But like even people who are saying no, this is this needs to change. I stand by this, this needs to change. Are you going to be auditioning for that grease?
Phil Rickaby 30:16
Yeah, well, that’s probably yes. Because people were like, I want to work in it. But like the fact that a theatre, like if a theatre goes in, and they’re like, we’re doing we’re doing Grease again, like, unless I see. I don’t know, something that’s, like interesting about that production of, like, this time Rydell high is a is a historically black High School. Maybe that’s interesting.
Uche Ama 30:45
That would be that would be so interesting.
Phil Rickaby 30:52
But I don’t think
Uche Ama 30:53
No, it’s not gonna happen.
Phil Rickaby 30:56
You know, because, you know, because it’s interesting. Yeah, this is a safe choice.
Uche Ama 31:01
And also, Greece is one of those shows that everybody knows. So you know, when you when you Excuse my language, when you fuck with something that everyone is, is tied and attached to? That’s even more cause for uproar.
Phil Rickaby 31:14
Sure. But like, I’m bored.
Uche Ama 31:18
Yeah, tell me about it.
Phil Rickaby 31:20
I don’t I don’t need to see that other production of Grease, like do something interesting with it. Or don’t do it
Uche Ama 31:26
at all. Yeah.
Phil Rickaby 31:27
And I I really hope that, you know, we are going to see the change that was promised. Yeah. And if we don’t, I think we have to make noise.
Uche Ama 31:42
I hope we make the most noise, because it’s, it’s time it’s time, after all of all of the things that have happened this year and a half, you have to be real ignorant not to look around and see that something is not working. And has it been working. So I hope that a time the time that we’ve been given to reevaluate and self reflect gives us not back to normalcy, but something, something better, something way better.
Phil Rickaby 32:24
It would be such a waste to just go back to the way things were,
Uche Ama 32:27
it would make no sense. But you know, as humans, we’re very guilty of allowing history to repeat itself. Sure. not making any, any changes. So
Phil Rickaby 32:40
well, you know, I mean, on the other hand, a lot of times theatre people are not so awesome at rocking the boat.
Uche Ama 32:46
Phil Rickaby 32:49
Because we’re worried about stability. Yes. What if, if I rock the boat, maybe they won’t hire me. So I guess
Uche Ama 32:57
I’m gonna be known as the person who rocks the boat and no one wants to be that person. But yeah, but yes, be that person.
Phil Rickaby 33:04
Yeah. That’s and that’s the that’s the problem is that I, I think that we learn early on not to if we went to Theatre School, we probably learned in theatre school. Don’t rock the boat. Mm hmm. Oh, you’re not gonna work. That’s right. That’s right. And, you know, that’s how theatres get away with stuff because they people just don’t rock the boat. They keep their eyes down and something untoward is happening. And they don’t they don’t call it out and they just let it happen.
Uche Ama 33:30
Yep. That’s That’s how sexual abuse is. rampant in the heater community because people are taught to stay quiet.
Phil Rickaby 33:40
Uche Ama 33:40
people are taught to not be a bother.
Phil Rickaby 33:45
Yeah, yeah, yet another thing that has to change.
Uche Ama 33:48
Mm hmm. I see it changing slowly. But yeah,
Phil Rickaby 33:55
I’ve often I mean, this is gonna sound like a terrible thing to say. But part of I think the reason why change is slow in the theatre is because people remain in the positions of power for a very long time.
Uche Ama 34:09
Yeah. Yeah, its a cushy, it’s a cushy gig.
Phil Rickaby 34:13
Uche Ama 34:14
So you stick it out until I guess until you really can’t
Phil Rickaby 34:20
until you can’t and then you have to step down and then because we also don’t have have programmes in many theatres where we are looking for the next leaders then we’re like I guess we should find some other old white guy from I don’t know what England Yeah, let’s bring that guy from England and he’ll fill the position
Uche Ama 34:37
Lord Yeah, I mean like Weyni takeover of Soulpepper was like, Yes,
Phil Rickaby 34:46
Uche Ama 34:47
Yeah, absolutely. That’s what we need. She was a performer. She was the director, the now like she’s got the opportunity to give back where she was given some Much like Yeah, no, it’s it’s, that’s the kind of environment that we want to be cultivating. S
Phil Rickaby 35:05
ure. Absolutely. And we also need to change our makeup, the makeup of the board of directors, though. Yeah, you know, the boards have to be as as as diverse as audiences. Absolutely. There’s the only way we’ll ever see change is if we get as much diversity in the boardroom, as we do. In the audience and on the stage.
Uche Ama 35:25
Yeah. But like, how do we make that happen, though?
Phil Rickaby 35:29
That’s a great question. I don’t know. I think the I think that that. board the boards, I don’t know how the power structures, I think the boards have to make the effort.
Uche Ama 35:39
Phil Rickaby 35:39
You know, if somebody leaves the board, who do you find? Do I? Do I find my friend, Tom to come? Or do we go looking for somebody who brings something new, and not the thing that we always had?
Uche Ama 35:50
Exactly? Yeah, so Change is hard. Change is hard for Change is hard. But I think change. I think that’s the point, though.
Phil Rickaby 36:00
Yeah. Like, if change was easy, we would do it. But if change if change was easy, it wouldn’t be as important.
Uche Ama 36:07
Phil Rickaby 36:09
And also, white folks hate to be uncomfortable. And that’s why they hate change.
Uche Ama 36:14
Yeah. Like, you can only imagine how uncomfortable this world can be for me, as of course, as a black queer woman, like, yeah, on.
Phil Rickaby 36:27
You know, I, I’ve, my, my brother is black. And so I grew up seeing the world through his eyes. And I remember seeing the moment when he went from what a cute black child to a danger, you know that that change is a massive change.
Uche Ama 36:46
And it makes no freakin sense.
Phil Rickaby 36:48
Zero sense. Zero sense. But I see how the I see, I was able to see the differences between the way he moves through the world and the way that I move through the world.
Uche Ama 36:58
Phil Rickaby 36:59
it’s tragic. And it’s terrible. And it has always pissed me off
Uche Ama 37:02
And its hard to see somebody you love going through something that really individ individually is out of your control, because it’s been in embedded in our society. Like, that’s just how our society is.
Phil Rickaby 37:14
Yeah. Yeah. You know, but, you know, you, it is hard to see it, but it also, you know, makes it so that, like, the rage comes up, so you have to feel like you do something. Right.
Uche Ama 37:27
Phil Rickaby 37:28
So in that way, it’s, it’s, it’s good. I think that that we’ve, you know, I know, I have known people who, in their entire lives, the only black person they knew was my brother.
Uche Ama 37:43
Phil Rickaby 37:46
And thank you probably,
Uche Ama 37:47
it’s, it’s easier in Canada than you would think.
Phil Rickaby 37:51
No, I know. Yeah. You know, it’s, it’s and I was actually thinking about, about about this in a different perspective, just just this past week, is I have spent most of my life not knowing a single indigenous person.
Uche Ama 38:10
Hmm. You think you think, right, yeah. A lot of the time you think, but indigenous people are all around us?
Phil Rickaby 38:20
Oh, sure. They are. But you know, I, I’ve never had a conversation about it. With someone when I was a kid, I, you know, I do not recall an indigenous person in any of the schools I went to. Yeah. And that.
Uche Ama 38:36
And we’re learning that’s because they were.
Phil Rickaby 38:40
Yes, exactly. Exactly. And that’s the thing is like, the people that go it happened so long ago. I like when I was in public school that was happening.
Uche Ama 38:47
Yeah, it’s it’s not like no fact that the last residential school closed in 1996. Yeah, I was as five
Phil Rickaby 38:54
Yeah, I was in I was in college. House anyway, but it was still happening. So yeah. But yeah, I think for me that like we do not find I mean, especially for for I mean, I’m gonna say this again, for white people. We do not connect with people with things that we do not have experience with. Yeah. And because we have been kept away from indigenous people through this the way that our the Canada has been built.
Uche Ama 39:24
We do not empathise, no, but like, but I feel like it’s not as I don’t understand. I don’t understand how there’s a lack of empathy. How can you not see that like, a whole people a whole culture is being eradicated? You don’t have a feeling about that? Yeah, I have a feeling about that.
Phil Rickaby 39:43
Exactly. But because we didn’t like it’s like I’ll make a bold statement. Okay. bold statement is it’s like it’s like the average German before World War Two Okay. And, you know, the Jews were emigrating. Oh, that’s what they were doing. They were emigrating. Yeah. Rather than seeing the truth of what was happening in front of them, rather than than then seeing the, you know, the terrible things that were happening, it doesn’t affect me. I have blinders on. Mm hmm. Meanwhile, that’s my grandfather in his family. Yeah. Yeah. So we have a great capacity for ignoring the things that we want to ignore
Uche Ama 40:37
that we that sort of it is that we want to ignore and that things that don’t feel good, the things that make us question, who we are, where we came from. That’s right. But um, one thing in that relation that I know is like, in Germany now, like, it’s reportedly, I’ve never been but one of the most accepting places because they want so much to distance themselves from any kind of hate and violence. Absolutely. But like, why can’t that happen here?
Phil Rickaby 41:18
It can, but we have to contend with it. In many ways. I think, you know, Germany is the way it was because after the war, they’re there their nose was held to it. True. Right. So we have to say, yes, you’re very correct. And that we have to be forced to contend with it over and just keep doing the same thing. Yeah. This hasn’t happened yet. Oh, my God. No, it hasn’t. It hasn’t. We’re really only just getting started. Yeah. And, you know, it takes a will and the will only comes from politicians when we forced them to have that will. Politics? Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I’m just to try to come back into theatre for a second. You mentioned things that you’ve been doing in the theatre of doing a lot of digital productions.
Uche Ama 42:23
I’ve actually done a couple workshops. Like I said, I did 21 black futures, which the rehearsal process was completely digital. And there was only like, maybe two, two days, on set. Wow. What else? a project called the first stone, written by Donna Michelle St. Bernard. But that was a that was a workshop opportunity as well. Yeah. And recently, I just did a little fun thing for the paprika festival. And that was like an audio reading as well. So that’s awesome. Yeah. For you,
Phil Rickaby 43:13
what was the biggest transition? That was the hardest thing to learn about doing these things digitally?
Uche Ama 43:21
I’m being as open as I am in person. I find screens at times to be disconnecting. It’s which is interesting, because it has been connecting a lot of people throughout this time. But sometimes a screen kind of alienates me a little bit. And so the it’s been really hard to feel it’s taken more effort for me to be fully engaged in some, in some situations. Yeah. Um, I find like, when I watched the news on the screen, I desensitised myself, I removed myself from it, because I don’t know why it’s like, not tangible in front of me. So it’s been real work to remove that perspective from my mind, so that I could be present in these amazing projects that I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of, and allow myself to be moved and changed the same way. I would have felt if we were in a rehearsal room together. Yeah. Yeah.
Phil Rickaby 44:42
It’s so the screens are so hard. And I never I don’t think before this, I would have thought that screens were as hard as they are.
Uche Ama 44:48
Now you think like, Oh, this is more technology is better. It’s better.
Phil Rickaby 44:53
Yeah. But one of the things for me is the fact that I can see myself Like, I don’t want to, I don’t want to look at myself. But it’s just that we are by nature doesn’t matter. We are vain creatures. And so you’re always going to look at what we’re doing with our face. And it’s so hard to be like on a screen and not look at yourself. Yeah. And it’s so taking you out of the seat the moment Yeah, it’s like, oh, my Amir. Yeah, yeah, so bad. So yeah, I also find that screens when you’re participating, they actually take more effort than in person. More concentration? Yeah. 100%. Yeah. It’s just hard to connect, and you have to work so hard to connect over those screens.
Uche Ama 45:50
Yeah. And I and I found myself really being so exhausted, more exhausted than working nine hours at my job. Sure. After being in front of the computer for six hours. You know,
Phil Rickaby 46:05
I don’t think that is unusual for introverts. Yeah, for an introvert, when you’re on a video on a video thing like that. That’s one of the things that exhausts you is the fact that suddenly all of these people it looks like they’re all staring straight at you. Yeah. And they might not be. But it feels like it. It sure does is just like a screen full of people who are just looking at you. Yeah. And that is exhausting.
Uche Ama 46:31
Yeah, it does. It’s, it’s tiring, for sure. And I remember like, after I was on zoom one time, all day from like, 10 o’clock, till maybe six or seven. And I closed my computer and I I wanted to just like, pass out on the couch. My head was throbbing, but I didn’t notice it until the screen was gone. Yeah. Yeah, no, it’s it’s it’s intense. It’s hard on the body, its hard on the body.
Phil Rickaby 47:07
the body and the mind. I typically need a nap if I made a day that has a lot of meetings in it. Once that day is over. I got to take a short nap. Yeah. Like get back to life. Yeah, there’s no life until the nap. As we are starting in Ontario, to look at opening up. And I was very glad to see that. You know, we’re allowed to rehearse our doors now.
Uche Ama 47:32
I’m so glad about that.
Phil Rickaby 47:34
Which was a great addition. I’m so glad that was there.
Uche Ama 47:37
But it was even included. Because like, I feel like the last time there was another soft opening. They weren’t thinking about it.
Phil Rickaby 47:45
No. not at all.
Uche Ama 47:46
Phil Rickaby 47:47
And they’ve been thinking about about film they’ve just never been thinking about film has been thriving through pandemics. Yeah. Yeah. Is there something in particular that you’re looking forward to theatre wise or otherwise, as we head towards reopening?
Uche Ama 48:04
Hmm. What am I looking forward to? I’m looking forward to hugs. Oh, though. I am an introvert. I love me a good hug. And I’m also really looking forward to rehearsing. Yeah, I never realised how important that was to my process in cultivating a character. Yeah, I can’t wait to be in a rehearsal room again.
Phil Rickaby 48:37
I could so hard because these digital productions most of the time we’re sitting down. really develop a character when you’re sitting down. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. You know, talking about mentioning the negros or congregating that conversation that we had is with with with the cast and yourself is still one of my favourite conversations that I’ve ever had on this show. It was a really good chat. Yeah. And and was so so happy to be able to talk with you all. You guys had performances that were specifically for black audiences?
Uche Ama 49:13
We actually had one night one night was a blackout night and… Whoo!
Phil Rickaby 49:18
I know that you guys were anticipating the blackout night when we spoke.
Uche Ama 49:21
Phil Rickaby 49:22
What was that, like?
Uche Ama 49:24
It’s really very hard to put into words. And as an actor, I never realised. Especially with the content that we were working with, like, talking about our stories. I never realised that not having the white gaze would cause me to evolve so much more as my characters on stage I I discovered joy where there wasn’t joy before because I felt it from the audience. I discovered, um, fear and questioning in situations where I wasn’t really thinking about that. Or even just straight up anger being like, oh, like, Is this like this? Yeah, it’s like every other show. Yeah. Like, this is what it is. But to hear the disgruntled groans and, and, and kiss teeth of my, my family in the audience like, Yeah, no, it was. Yeah, it was an amazing experience and any show that has an all black cast that focuses on our trials, tribulations, triumphs, joys should have a blackout opportunity, because that changes you as an actor fashion.
Phil Rickaby 50:57
Yeah. And that’s, I mean, again, you mentioned like removing the white gaze from the room that that is that there’s must be a lot of freedom to that.
Uche Ama 51:05
Yeah. Yeah. And I remember in a moment, during, before the blackout happened, someone was upset that they couldn’t come. A white woman was upset that she couldn’t come to that night. And everyone was just like, Look, there are literally 20 other nights that you can come and see the show. This is one night.
Phil Rickaby 51:41
Uche Ama 51:41
for us. And it’s a problem. Can you sit back and see what the issue is? And why nights like these even need to exist?
Phil Rickaby 51:54
Yeah, I think I mean, I think that it’s it’s patently obvious why nights like that need to exist. And that’s because the white gaze interrupts things.
Uche Ama 52:02
Mm hmm. it does. And I never really understood that until I had that experience.
Phil Rickaby 52:11
Hmm. That must have been a pretty emotional experience. Just just the whole thing. And then afterwards as well.
Uche Ama 52:19
Yeah, definitely. There was food and dancing after and yeah, no, it was it. Yeah. I really sometimes thinking about I am speechless.
Phil Rickaby 52:33
Yeah. I, I can’t imagine I can imagine. So just as we draw to a close, one of the things that I’ve been asking everybody, since the pandemic started, is a question about joy. We’ve all had our ups and downs. And some points in this whole thing have felt pretty, pretty bleak. But I think it’s important that we remind each other about the joys that each of us is experiencing. So can you tell me about something that has been giving you joy?
Uche Ama 53:07
Hmm, what has been giving me joy? My sweet little pup bow has been bringing me so much joy, joy that I didn’t really know was missing. And honestly, the opportunity to spend time with my partner and cultivate a relationship with them has been like one of the biggest joys and having time. I always felt like I was running around doing all of the things and the time that I’ve been given. Yeah, it’s it’s been joyful because it’s allowed me to spend more time with my family.
Phil Rickaby 53:54
Yeah, yeah. There’s something about taking away the the world outsider relationship, all the things that that kept you busy, all of the all of the activities, all of the things and reducing you to have all we have is time and each other.
Uche Ama 54:14
Phil Rickaby 54:15
They can really teach you about having real wonderful intimacy in a relationship.
Uche Ama 54:20
Phil Rickaby 54:22
And it’s a beautiful thing.
Uche Ama 54:23
It’s it’s been absolutely beautiful.
Phil Rickaby 54:26
Yeah. Uche thank you so much. It’s been a wonderful conversation.
Uche Ama 54:30
Thank you, Phil.