#309 – Lauren Allen

Lauren Allen is a theatre and film artist originally from Saskatoon now living in Toronto. She is a lover of puzzles and a foster mother of cats. She is currently working in communications for the Future Prairie Theatre Project.

www.lauren-allen.net
Twitter: @lesmis456
Instagram: @lesmis456

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TRANSCRIPT

Phil Rickaby 

Hey Listeners, just a quick content warning. In this episode there is a brief discussion about inappropriate and non-consensual touching. This discussion occurs at approximately the 39 minute mark and goes to minute 43, in case you need to skip it.

Welcome to Stageworthy. I’m your host, Phil Rickaby. Before we get started, I wanted to talk about truth and honesty. We have an honesty problem in theatre, and I’m not talking about on stage, we talk a lot about truth on the stage. We want where we portray to be as truthful as possible. We pursue on the stage for a scene a moment to be as honest and truthful as possible. offstage, there may be many times when we feel like we can’t be truthful and honest. Think about a time when you were unhappy with the way that the audiences were reacting to a show or even you were unhappy with the turnout of audiences to the show, you felt like the show could have been getting more audiences but wasn’t getting the audience’s it deserved.

But could you say that? Could you post on social media about how disappointed you are? It’s pretty much understood that you don’t, at least not in a place where anyone but your closest friends might see it. You have to publicly remain positive. And if you’re frustrated about things happening behind the scenes, or if there’s something toxic happening in the rehearsal hall, whether it’s from the director or producer, or even another actor, can we call it out? Do we call it out? Do we talk about it, regardless of whether or not we should we often don’t.

We don’t talk about these things. And often, it was our theatre school experience that laid the groundwork for that silence. When I was in theatre school, I did not have a great experience. I wouldn’t say that my experience was toxic. I just wasn’t very happy. And part of the problem was that to be completely honest, I was one of those students that rode the edge of being cut from the programme. Back when that was a regular occurrence. I’m told we don’t cut people from programmes anymore, which is good. But it was something that hung over my head for the entirety of the three years I was at school. And I wasn’t the only one. All of us knew that we could be cut from the programme and that they wouldn’t have to give any reason. And their reasoning if they gave one wouldn’t be questioned. We went through our days in fear. And so if we saw problematic or toxic behaviour, we didn’t say anything. We learned not to rock the boat.

I’ve been doing this podcast for about six years now. But occasionally I’ll find out that somebody I’m interviewing went to the same theatre school that I did. And I would ask them as somebody who went to that school and really curious, I’d ask how their experience was, and they would get this frozen smile on their face. And they would say, Oh, it was great. But I could tell there was something not quite right there. And so we just gloss over it and move on.

And then afterwards, when the recording was over, I’d asked them again, about their experience. And I would hear stories about how their experience was toxic, but they didn’t feel like they could say that out loud, that they couldn’t call it out.

And so they just didn’t. And they tried to put their theatre school experiences behind them all while it taught them that the most important thing for them to do was keep their mouths shut.

How are we supposed to change things when we can’t talk about them?

It’s hard enough to be an artist without having to bottle up the truth without having to bottle up what you’re feeling like things are not going your way or when you’re being treated unfairly or where you just want to be able to admit that you’re disappointed in something like the turnout for a show, as I mentioned before, or a bad review. It’s hard enough to get a bad review for a show. And again, we don’t complain about that we take our lumps and we try to let it slide. Even though we want to respond. We don’t because that’s not how it’s done. That’s not professional. And so we shrug and pretend that it doesn’t bother us. But of course it does. But we can’t see that it does we have to remain positive.

And I wonder sometimes if the public, the people who aren’t artists see this and wonder if we’re being disingenuous. Do we seem artificial to them? Because we put on that brave positive face all the time? Does it make it difficult for the non artists to relate to us? Is that why muggles have this idea that so often portrayed in the media that we’re really fake people? I believe that people can sense when we’re not being honest. And when there’s something we’re not saying. And we know it too. It eats at us. I know what eats me when I do it. And I wish I could just say what I’m thinking. But I don’t because that’s just not what we do. And why isn’t it something we do? Why is that kind of honesty frowned on.

Why is it that if I get an unfair review, I can’t say anything? Why is it if if I had a bad experience in the rehearsal hall, I can’t say anything?

I wish I had an answer to the whole thing. I wish I knew how to fix it. But maybe if we talk about it, we can take a few steps towards fixing the toxic aspects of the industry, and also be a little bit better to ourselves. I’ll talk about that a little more later in the show.

First, a little housekeeping. And in keeping with the theme of honesty, I want to talk a little bit about Stageworthy. Occasionally, when I’m talking about Stageworthy, I will say “we” as though there’s a team of people who work on this show, but there aren’t. It’s just me. I arrange the guests, I edit the show when I promote the show and I even created the music. I also shoulder all of the financial responsibilities of keeping the show going. And I don’t regret that I love making this show. And I’ve missed creating the show during its hiatus. But in the spirit of honesty, I wanted to be clear that keeping a show like this going isn’t cheap. And if you enjoy this show, there are a few things that you can do to help me out. First, you can leave a rating and where it’s possible, you can leave a review. I know I’ve said that hundreds of times, but it’s true. When you rate a show, it helps new people find it. Second, you can share it on social media. Another option is to join my mailing list. I send it pretty infrequently, but it is a good way to learn about what’s happening on Stageworthy and in my other projects. You can sign up for it by going to philrickaby.com and filling in this simple form there. Finally, I’m announcing today that I’m launching a Patreon for Stageworthy. For a subscription of just $5. I will take you behind the scenes on the podcast, do regular q&a sessions and even present regular exclusive episodes that you’ll be able to participate in. You can join in at patreon.com/stageworthypod. Remember, you can find Stageworthy on Twitter and Instagram @Stageworthypod and you can find a website with the archive of all of the episodes at stageworthypodcast.com if you want to find me you can find me on Twitter and Instagram @PhilRickaby and as I mentioned, my website is PhilRickaby.com.

Now on to my guest. In this episode I will be talking to Lauren Allen. Lauren is a theatre and film artist originally from Saskatoon now living in Toronto. She is a self described “big dork” who loves puzzles and Nintendo and is a foster mother of cats. She’s also a brilliant social media marketer and consultant. She joined me to talk about among other things about the Future Prairie Theatre Project. Here’s our conversation

How are you feeling? Because I know that you were you had the Omicron over the holidays.

Lauren Allen 

Yeah, I did. I’m feeling fine. The only thing that I wonder about is if I have fatigue that’s from COVID or if I’m just tired because life is hard. And I and I took this month off to like work on my creative projects. So I I’m struggling to figure out like is this a side effect or is this just because my life is structured in such a way now that I sleep whenever I want? I don’t know.

Phil Rickaby 

It’s funny how quickly you can go from like have As soon as you get to that point where you’re like, I no longer have to do anything, and your buddy goes, thank God and like, all of the tension that was keeping you going just sort of like washes away. And then suddenly, you have to spend a little bit of time napping most of the time.

Lauren Allen 

Yeah, and I have heard a lot of people talk about, like, how their anxiety used to be the thing that allowed them to function in certain situations. So if you start to treat your anxiety and your depression and those kinds of things, it can become harder to do the things you used to do, because you’re like, no longer motivated by something negative. So, yeah, I’m wondering if that’s happening, too.

Phil Rickaby 

It’s possible. I mean, that reminds me so much of how, when I was younger and Dumber, I would spend each morning I would read two newspapers online, or at least, you know, skim through, and I would read the Toronto Star, followed by the Toronto Sun online, and I would say that I read the Toronto Sun to fuel my rage. And then I got old enough to realise that like, that’s just not doing me any favours. So get rid of the trash and stop starting every day feeling angry.

Lauren Allen 

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. That’s like, that’s like people on Twitter now, who are just like, I’m here for anger. Like, why don’t spend your energy being angry. You only have so much energy in a day.

Phil Rickaby 

There’s only so much time in a day. You’re right. I also, you know, I was I was waxing nostalgic. Just the just like yesterday, about how I remember when Twitter was a wonderful place. I remember when Twitter was a friendly place where it was the shared ideas, and everybody was friendly. And nobody was angry. And it was a wonderful, wonderful place. And then everything changed.

Lauren Allen 

Hmm. I still fight well. I’m also, as you know, I think I’ve worked in social media for a long time. So I find that like your social media environment is kind of up to you. Yes. So I’ve curated a Twitter space where yes, sometimes it makes me angry, but it gives me a place to let my anger out as opposed to feeling my anger. And it also is full of a lot of ridiculous foolish things that make me laugh. So

Phil Rickaby 

I mean, that is that is still one of the one of the great things about it. And and you’re right, especially with Twitter, you can curate your list in a way that that you that say, on something like a tick tock, you, you you sort of like tick tock will direct where you go whereas on Twitter, like you’re just gonna see what you follow. And what you follow makes you angry. That’s kind of on you.

Lauren Allen 

Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, lots of people just follow the news. And then they’re like, Ah, I’m in a rage because the reality of life.

Phil Rickaby 

No wonder Yes. Yeah. I remember. Like, I remember one thing. I do remember, the Angelina Jolie’s leg thing from the Oscars years ago.

Lauren Allen 

Um, I was not as tuned in at the time. I do know that that happened, but I don’t think I was like on Twitter at the time, I don’t know.

Phil Rickaby 

It was like this beautiful moment and I just remember it that that you know, Angelina Jolie, she came up to present she had that like that, that really high cut dress in her life. She’s put her leg out like her life was like right out there. And it was like the thing that was in the forefront, not five minutes after she left the stage. There was a twitter twitter account called Angelina Jolie’s leg and it just said, Here I am. And I was just like, like, that’s that’s that was still when Twitter was in. It’s still fun, and playful place and still things like that sometimes happens. So

Lauren Allen 

yeah, I don’t know if you’ve followed the Jean and Jorts saga on so

Phil Rickaby 

so peripherally, but it did make me so happy that Jean and Jorts thing.

Lauren Allen 

Yeah, so if anyone who’s listening doesn’t know, Jean and Jorts look up Jorts, the cat on Twitter, or just Google Jorts the cat and it’ll probably give you an article summarising the story but it’s it’s just a great account about an orange cat who’s maybe not very intelligent, but really really loves people.

Phil Rickaby 

My favourite was was like when they were like, oh, yeah, you should get some Jorts merch and they were like, you know, jorts merch is: You go to your local shelter. And you adopt an orange cat. And that’s your Jorts merch.

Lauren Allen 

Yeah, absolutely. And now and now they say like, oh, actually, any cat from a shelter is merch, it doens’t have to be orange.

Phil Rickaby 

Just open a wide up. Yeah, that’s great. That’s great. How long? How long have you been doing social media stuff and what made you start on the social media path?

Lauren Allen 

Oh, I started in 2013. So what year is it? almost 10 years now. But I started because I was the production system. stint with a theatre company in Saskatoon that had just it was a first year of operation. And they were like, Hey, you’re young, can you make us a Facebook page? So I started working on it, and I got really into it. And I was like, Oh, this is cool to actually learn how this is supposed to function and how we are supposed to reach people that we don’t actually have contact with. Because it was my first time not using Facebook for like, my friends. So yeah, that’s how I got started. And then I just kept working with different theatre companies. And then when I moved to France, I did a lot of work with entrepreneurs over there, and small businesses with the same kind of thing like how do we reach people, making social media not a stressful part of somebody’s life, because it can be like, I’ve met so many entrepreneurs who are like, I know how to run my business. And I don’t know how to get clients online, because that’s not part of my business. So it was great to be able to help people feel more relaxed, and to give them kind of a structure of like, here’s how you can work social media into your everyday life in a way that isn’t stressful. And not overwhelming. Yeah. And then when I moved back to Canada, I kind of became more of a consultant. And that’s what I’ve been focusing on lately is just doing kind of workshops and consulting jobs.

Phil Rickaby 

Do you prefer that over the actual like doing?

Lauren Allen 

Yeah, running a social media profile takes a lot of energy. And it’s all about, you know, having the voice and the messaging and you have to kind of keep a lot of things in your head. Whereas when you’re consulting, you can leave that behind at the end of the day. But if you’re running the page, it’s hard to let go of that stuff. So I’d much prefer consulting.

Phil Rickaby 

I absolutely absolute because there’s, there’s I mean, social media can move fast. And sometimes there can feel like the pressure to like, respond to things super fast. So you never really get to feel like you stopped for the day.

Lauren Allen 

Yeah, exactly. And you have to, you know, be connected to it so that if somebody sends you a message, you’re right there to respond. Or if somebody comments on your posts, you’re right there. So I only run accounts for my oldest clients. Now I’m not accepting new clients to run pages. But I do still do consulting work and teach workshops wherever I can.

Phil Rickaby 

Great. Now you are, as you say, as you were talking about, you’re originally from Saskatoon, and you’re now in Toronto. Yeah. And but you did go back to Saskatoon, just earlier this year, didn’t you?

Lauren Allen 

Yeah, I did. I was working on the shortcuts. 10 minute play festival in November, and then I went back to visit my family for the holidays, because I was in Vancouver in December. So I was like, well, I might as well just stop in Saskatoon on my way back to Toronto.

Phil Rickaby 

Mm hmm. And that’s where the COVID hit.

Lauren Allen 

Yeah, well, I got it in Vancouver. And then my symptoms started showing up in Saskatoon. And it was very surprising because the only thing that I had gotten to was I had a gathering to see my Vancouver friends. That was six fully vaccinated people. And I got sick, and another friend of mine got sick. But three people who were there did not get sick. And then the one person already had COVID and didn’t know it at the time. So So I was surprised that I got sick. And then I took rapid tests. As soon as I arrived in Saskatoon and the first rapid test was negative, I took another 130 hours later, and was also negative. And then 30 – 30 to 40 hours after that, I took another rapid test and that one was positive. But I had been symptomatic for days at that point. So it was very surprising. And then my whole family got sick. And that was the other thing that surprised me.

Phil Rickaby 

Right? Yeah, I at this point at this point. I know so many people who are getting sick with it. Like just and these are people who are careful. But yeah, it’s just out there.

Lauren Allen 

Yeah, it’s very, very contagious. And I’m really glad that you know, my brother and I both have our two shots. My dad had his booster I was really worried about my dad because he’s 70 So I was like, Oh God, I really don’t want to get him sick. And then I did and, and my mom got her booster the day before she started showing symptoms or COVID And we got we were able to get PCR tests in Saskatchewan at that time, I don’t think we would be able to now. But that’s how we were able to confirm that it was omachron. And we, so we all had to isolate over Christmas, there was a day where I was completely isolated in a bedroom in the house, but then slowly, it was like, Oh, actually, everyone has it. So I guess it doesn’t matter.

Phil Rickaby 

Well, once you realised everybody has it, then you could all isolate together and you didn’t have to like stay by yourself playing Nintendo or something.

Lauren Allen 

Yeah, exactly. Yeah. So we did kind of have a normal Christmas because the four of us were all in the house together, but we couldn’t go and see anybody else.

Phil Rickaby 

Right, right. I mentioned Nintendo and I just, I’m just quickly going to bring it up. So remember, I was listening to your your wonderful interview on Shane Adamczak’s Good morning, Msr. Strawberry. And you were talking about how you have a love of the Nintendo game Pimkin?

Lauren Allen 

Pikman?

Phil Rickaby 

Yeah. Pikman Pikman?

Lauren Allen 

Yes, I actually. So over the holidays. My, my mom likes to just ask, what if questions to, you know, for fun? So I think she said, What if you won $10,000 or something? Like not like, what if you had unlimited money? But just like, what if you had some money that made you feel comfortable, and I was like, Oh, I would buy some of those video games that I love that I can’t justify buying again, because I technically already own it. So like, I have Pickman, three on the Wii U. But Pikman three Deluxe was released on the switch. And I can’t justify buying it. But it does have a bunch of new stuff on it that I would like to have. So then my brother for Christmas bought me Pikman three for my Nintendo Switch

Phil Rickaby 

That’s amazing!

Lauren Allen 

Yeah. So now I’m like, Oh, I have Pikman three Deluxe, and I get to play the new adventures. I’m so excited.

Phil Rickaby 

That’s fun. I remember I almost referred to your that, that that, that that interview as as the second best, because he was going on about how the first you for some reason he didn’t get the first one recorded. But you had a really great interview that nobody will ever hear. But you guys got to have between the two of you.

Lauren Allen 

Yeah, it was honestly really special. And I still think about that. I’m like, God, why I wish I had recorded. But you know, we got to have a very special conversation between the two of us. And then inevitably, it feels like we we did it right back to back. Like he contacted me being like, hey, the file didn’t record. I don’t know what happened. Do you want to just do it again? Now? I was like, Sure. So it was literally an hour after we had done the original interview. And it was just kind of weird. It felt it was sad. Yeah, yeah. And now, if I if I listened back to that interview, I’d probably be like, Oh, I’m sad that it’s not the interview we did initially.

Phil Rickaby 

I mean, that’s that’s sort of the problem is is like, once you’ve once you’ve had that lightning in a bottle, you can’t recreate that at all.

Lauren Allen 

Yeah. Yeah. Which is such a common feeling in theatre to that one day where you’re like, Oh, I really nailed it. really nailed it. That time really got that whatever I was trying to capture. And then you go back and do it the next day. And you’re like, ah, that’s not the thing that I did.

Phil Rickaby 

No, I think we’ve all been there. And I think the thing that trips us up every time is the fact that, that we’re thinking about the fact that we got it that last time. Yes. Yeah. And somehow that interferes with us, you know, we’re thinking about the last time instead of instead of like being in this moment, and so we mess it up. And then the next permits after that, like I didn’t get it last time. And so you have like a couple of different performances where you’re still thinking about that one time that you got it?

Lauren Allen 

Yeah, absolutely.

Phil Rickaby 

Um, tell me about the future prairie theatre project.

Lauren Allen 

Oh, yeah. So this is a research project that’s happening for theatre artists who are either deeply connected to or based in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. And we are basically doing 10 Zoom interview sessions with a huge cohort of artists. Discussion discussing different questions about like our previous session was like, What does community mean? And just asking people their thoughts and then all of that information is gathered by a team of researchers. And eventually this research on theatre artists perspectives, is going to become like a list of actionable things to do to improve the theatre sector, as we move into reopening, or the new forms that theatre has to take in the aftermath of the pandemic. So I’m really excited about the, the potential outcomes, who knows what it will be in the end, but I’m excited that we’re hearing from so many different people and just asking questions.

Phil Rickaby 

How did you get involved with that, um,

Lauren Allen 

I was working with The Saskatchewan Association of Theatre professionals. Because I was trying to facilitate some kind of community conversation about the struggles we’ve been going through, particularly in Saskatchewan, there’s been a lot of artistic leadership change, challenge about institutions and how they operate and the harmful ways that some institutions can operate because the systems are rooted in things like white supremacy and capitalism. And they don’t, you know, value the artist who is working there. So I was talking to them. And through a different community conversation, I met Tyrell F alabi, who is the lead researcher in this project. And then he and I ended up connecting and working together on this and it kind of formed and then eventually it finally started, and I’ve had to leave the project a couple of times to do contract work. So I’m working in communications, and he’s the like, head researcher, and he’s working with the research team. And there are lots of great people involved in the project. And it’s done through well facilitated by the University of Regina. Hmm.

Phil Rickaby 

And I mean, how many of those conversations have you had over zoom, so far,

Lauren Allen 

we’ve had five out of the 10 that we’re planning. So our next session is January 17, which is Monday, all the sessions take place on a Monday, because in theory, that’s when all of the theatre artists will be available. Yeah, so we’ve done five, we have five to go. And then there will be a whole other phase of, of the research part of it that the artists will not have to be involved in. And then after the research part of it is done, there will be some kind of publication that goes back to the artists and says, This is what we recommend, or this is what you have identified as solutions to these problems.

Phil Rickaby 

And is it a Week, the weekly conversations or monthly conversations or?

Lauren Allen 

No, they’re about bi weekly, because of the holiday, the schedule has been a little bit mixed up. So we’re going to do back to back in January to get to done in January, and then it’ll be bi weekly. Again, starting in February.

Phil Rickaby 

Nice. Nice. And it has, have you been sitting on all those conversations? Are you? Are you you’re listening in or participating?

Lauren Allen 

Yeah, I do participate as an artist. I was only available for the first three sessions. Because for the last two sessions, I was in Vancouver working on set, so I wasn’t able to join the meetings. Because the film industry works Monday to Friday, right. So I didn’t hear the last two sessions, but I was there for the first three. And it’s been really fascinating so far, and it’s been great to watch it grow to

Phil Rickaby 

without I mean, I know that this is an ongoing process. And there’s a lot of research being done. Is there something that surprised you so far in the conversations that you’ve been? You’ve been a part of?

Lauren Allen 

I’m thinking nothing really sticks out. I find everyone’s perspective. Interesting. And there’s lots of ways of framing a problem that I maybe never I’m, maybe wouldn’t have phrased it that way or I didn’t think about it from an institutional perspective. There are some people who are, you know, who work with universities who work in academia who work with theatre companies, and that’s not my experience. My experience is working with indie groups, and kind of ad hoc things. So So it’s been interesting to just hear like, oh, so this is a problem for everybody. And yet we still do that.

Phil Rickaby 

Do you feel like I mean, I think I find and I you know, my experiences in the in the Greater Toronto Area. But the generally, in the arts, we don’t have enough opportunities to come together and actually talk to each other. And, you know, just sort of shoot the shit about the business. We sort of get to do it if we’re in a show with people. Mm hmm. And then we don’t. Is that something that that that you’ve seen around as well.

Lauren Allen 

I think my experience in the prairie community is not that there’s not opportunity to talk to people, because because everyone is kind of able to go to every event. Because the communities are substantially smaller, like. So usually, if you’re at an opening night, you’ll see a tonne of industry people there, and you’ll be able to talk to them. And though, like, most organisations are represented at those events, there’s not really someone who’s like, glaringly missing. So we do have opportunities to talk. But I find we never have an opportunity to speak frankly, and to speak openly. And there’s a lot of walls put up, because in a smaller community, everyone has influence in some area or other. Lots of people have hiring influence directly or indirectly. So it’s very difficult to be honest with people when you know that they could be the ones giving you your next job. And that’s a struggle on both sides. You know, leadership wants to feel like they’re part of the community and to be able to talk to people about their experiences and what they like or don’t like about theatre and all those kinds of things. But people are so nervous to talk to them. Because it’s, you know, what, if I say something you don’t agree with, are you gonna not hire me, and then there’s only one theatre company that pays enough for people to live really. So like, it’s very high stakes, every conversation is very, involves a lot of risk assessment, I’ll say,

Phil Rickaby 

That’s kind of a I think that’s definitely a problem everywhere, even in a larger pool of, of theatre people. This this, this honesty problem that we have where we can never be completely honest. And I think that it’s not just when we get together. It’s also when we’re like talking about a show like if if the audience turnout isn’t what we wanted, or the reviews are bad. We can never admit it. Yeah, we have to put on that, that you have to put on a face you have to put on like the brave face or whatever. And so we’re never completely honest. Because a we don’t want we don’t want to come across as as complainers.

Lauren Allen 

Mm hmm.

Phil Rickaby 

Even when there’s something to complain about.

Lauren Allen 

Yeah, you always want to be grateful, you have to be grateful. Because, you know, not everybody gets to do what you do. And if you have a job, you have to be lucky. So you have you have to be grateful about it. But I find it’s not even so much about what shows did I like or not like, but there’s some really high stakes conversations that aren’t being had that involve people safety. Mm hmm. Like, there are so many known sexual predators in theatre communities across Canada. And people don’t feel like they can name names.

Phil Rickaby 

No, because the people who those people often have power and have connections.

Lauren Allen 

Yeah. Or, or you might not know, like, Oh, do you like this person? Or if you know, oh, you’ve hired this person before. And it’s not common practice at this point. To not take a job based on who else is in the cast, right? Like, even if you’re like, oh, I don’t like them, you’re still gonna do the job because they’re so difficult to get. Yeah, but it’s really, like, that’s been really weighing on me a lot is not being able to talk about like, hey, this person is dangerous. And not just like a sexual predator, like someone might be, you know, extremely racist in their behaviour. And that might be difficult for someone to work with them. But if you’re getting a job, you don’t feel like you can be like, actually, this person is not safe. And I would rather work on a project where they’re not involved. Like it’s we don’t have agency in that you just have to be grateful for any opportunity. And it can be really difficult to bring up those conversations, especially in a small community where it’s like, if I shoot, if I shoot myself in the foot with this theatre company, then that is it. There’s the one theatre company, maybe two theatre companies that can actually pay me enough to live on.

Phil Rickaby 

Yeah. That said, that stuff is really damaging. Like, if you can’t talk about if somebody can’t talk about somebody who is a sexual predator, or who is abusive or just toxic in the rehearsal hall, then even if you’ve been involved in that, if that was direct To you, and you can’t talk about it, you just push it down until you can’t anymore. And instead of bringing it up, people just leave the industry.

Lauren Allen 

Yeah. Yeah, cuz that’s easier. Yeah.

Phil Rickaby 

That’s not gonna, I mean that you’re giving up your career, then you’re not like shooting yourself in the foot. Because we’ve seen that when people speak up, they face consequences.

Lauren Allen 

Oh, totally, I have faced many consequences in my life for saying things. Saying things that are not of consequence like that, but also being honest about the way people are treating me there’s a tonne of consequences. And even the perception of consequence, makes it difficult to speak up. So if someone is not active and saying, I’m receptive to this, and I want to know these things, and if you come forward, this is our policy, and this is how it works. Like if that stuff isn’t in place. It’s very difficult to say anything other than thank you for this opportunity. I’m like, so grateful.

Phil Rickaby 

Yeah, yeah. I think that in a lot of ways, and it goes back to theatre school, right. I think a lot of times in theatre schools, we are primed for putting up with this kind of stuff, right? In theatre school, a lot of times, I know, I’ve heard that they don’t do this so much anymore. But like when I was in theatre school, they would cut somebody from the programme, right? You’re just not fitting in whatever, we don’t see a future for you, they would just cut you they don’t have to justify it, they can just say you’re gone. And so you learn early on to be afraid of rocking the boat and that prime’s you for being in a rehearsal hall and keeping your mouth shut when something happens.

Lauren Allen 

I, I don’t know of any theatre programme, that is not inherently abusive. And it’s not just like, Oh, that was a bad instructor, or that’s a bad programme. It’s like, no, they’re structured to be this way. Like, there’s, you could have the greatest people teaching. But if this is the structure, it’s going to harm somebody.

Phil Rickaby 

I think in a lot of ways, it’s sort of like that attitude of like, when people people teach the way they were taught a lot, yes, not to exclude excuse it, but like, you were taught in abuse in an abusive fashion. And that is what you bring forward as a teacher. Right? So you sort of look at it like, Well, I went through this, so you’re gonna go through it too. And if I have to hear another programme, talk about, like, and this was a big thing when I was in school, and I’ve heard it a bunch of times, the whole idea of, you know, we have to tear you down, and then build you back up and tearing you down. is painful and they never bother to build you back up. It’s a tear you down until you’re a mess, and then they send you out into the world still a mess, but they’ve taken everything you have.

Lauren Allen 

Yeah. And that’s one reason why a lot of people leave or don’t continue trying to work after theatre school. It’s not because they don’t like theatre anymore. It’s because this is like one it’s a very difficult lifestyle. Yeah. But to like it was traumatising. Like I remember one of my classmates, being forced to repeat the phrase, I’m ugly to our class until she cried. And she just had to keep saying it over and over again. Because quote, unquote, that’s how the character feels. But there was that it was not a useful exercise. It was totally personal. It was very uncomfortable for the entire class to witness because it was like we, you can feel that it’s wrong. You’re sitting there being like, she’s not ugly, though. And like, you want to reassure her and then there’s no, you know, after that exercise to the point that that student is breaking down. The teacher doesn’t go, you know, I don’t believe this. And I think you’re a beautiful person. I think you’re so talented. They’re just like, great, you got it move on.

Phil Rickaby 

Right. And that’s, I think that’s completely like that is just a completely damaging thing. Like if you’re gonna put somebody through that. And it doesn’t matter if you’re in theatre school, or if you’re in the rehearsal hall, like we need to take the toxicity out of both of those things. And when somebody is having that moment, we have to carry through and take the moment to help them through that because those things are traumatising.

Lauren Allen 

Yeah. Oh, yeah. When I was in theatre school, I, one of my instructors got somebody to touch me in a way that I was not comfortable with. And I had my first panic attack. Hmm. And he apologised because I had a panic attack. But he didn’t understand that it was wrong to give my classmates instructions on how to touch me without talking to me about it. Right. Right. Right. Yeah. Like he never learned that lesson. He just was like, Oh, you got upset. And the other thing was I was having a panic attack. But I still finished the scene. Right now I’m sobbing and can barely breathe, because I don’t know what’s happening, right? I’m and I was 18 at the time. So I’m just like freaking out. And I finished the scene, and then the, and then this instructor is like, Yes, that’s what I want. That was so good. I just said, Listen, I’m uncomfortable, and I left the class, right? And I know that people came and talk to me, but I don’t remember what, no. And then he apologised to me later. But I could tell like you’re apologising about me being upset, but you don’t have any concept of how inappropriate it is right to give actors secret instructions of things to physically do, to their classmates to get a reaction.

Phil Rickaby 

I think that’s why that’s, I think that that’s been done in, in both theatre schools and in rehearsal halls. And that’s why a, like, the whole profession of of of intimacy directors has become so necessary because a lot of that bullshit has been going on for so long creating toxic atmospheres and we need these the we need these these people to come in and and treat it like in a professional manner, rather than some kind of a wild anything goes. Oh, isn’t it funny how we we tricked her into getting that that reaction kind of thing?

Lauren Allen 

Yeah. And I I don’t understand the mentality of like, theatre being like a gotcha moment. Yeah. Whoa, we tricked you. Like, what? That’s not. That’s not what we should be working towards. We’re working towards building something together.

Phil Rickaby 

Yeah. All that does is divide people and make people distrustful of each other. Yeah,

Lauren Allen 

it was awful. It was a really horrible experience. I’m sorry. I’m mean, anybody listening to this podcast, go through that experience? Through my story, but like, yeah, it was awful.

Phil Rickaby 

There was, you know, I, when I was in, you know, starting starting out, and I got into I was accepted into to two theatre schools in Toronto, and I chose one over another. And after I entered the theatre school, there were some people in the year ahead of me, who’d gone to the other school that I got into and didn’t accept. And they told me about an exercise that had been going on for ages at that school. And it was the bathing suit up exercise where the acting teacher and any of his friends or people in other years, who he wanted to come would sit in the audience on the stage, and each performer would come in alone on the stage, boys in a Speedo women in a bikini, and they will be told what was wrong with their body. And that was supposed to be an exercise that you did with the first years for, I guess, to tear you down sort of thing, but like, that is such the horrid behaviour, then, like I was horrified that is that a school that a professor would do that. But then I hear later on, like, there are there are private school private acting classes that still do an exercise like that.

Lauren Allen 

Yeah, when I first heard of that exercise, I was told that people were asked to strip naked, not just to be in a bathing suit, but to be actually naked, to have people evaluate their bodies. And, and I just, like, who does that serve? Because I, you know, I’ve been having a lot of thoughts about my body lately. Usually, the New Year is very triggering for that for many of us. But like, I know my body better than anyone else. And yet, people still feel the need to point things out to me about how my body is, and it’s just so unhelpful, it is so useless. Because I know what my body is and is not and how I feel about it, and how it functions. And if another person, like I’ve started saying things like, Oh, well, I’m, you know, I’m a musical theatre actor, but I wouldn’t be cast in Toronto because I’m too big. I feel comfortable saying that about myself. Maybe it’s a defence mechanism to be like, that’s why I’m not hired. I’m fat. But if someone else was to was to be like, well, you’ll never get cast because you’re too big. You know, that would be very upsetting. Like, I don’t need another person to say that to me. I know.

Phil Rickaby 

I mean, it’s not like it’s not like those, like these things are mysteries to us. Right? Like if we if we if we if we have the weight, it’s not like we don’t know it, believe me. We know it. You were talking about like, who does that exercise serve? And the and you know what? I think we both know who it serves. It serves the teacher. Yeah. Right. In a really gross way.

Lauren Allen 

Mm hmm. Yeah. Even if it’s even if it’s not sexual, and just about power thats still disgusting.

Phil Rickaby 

Absolutely. I think it can be both. It’s either sexual or it’s about power. Like I can make you do this, and then I tear you down by telling you all the things you already know about your body that you’re self conscious about.

Lauren Allen 

Yeah. Yeah. What a useless way to teach someone about being honest. Right? Like, to me, doing theatre is about being truthful, and finding the most truthful way to be in a fictional place in time. And it’s so hard to do that if people are like, Yeah, but your body is terrible. Or if they’re, like, unclear about what world we’re in, like, if I don’t know what century the play takes place. Or if that’s not a choice that’s been made, it’s hard for me to be truthful about anything that happens, right? Like, it’s, you have to find the ways to be truthful, and that involves a lot of vulnerability. Yeah. Which is why it’s so easy for these institutions to be so damaging.

Phil Rickaby 

Absolutely. And and I think the thing that that sort of gets me is the fact that like, When this was said to me, it was said in the safety of like nobody else around like, even though these people had left the school, this was not something that was there was talked about widely, even though it was something that happened every year, and everybody who did it knew it was toxic, and nobody said anything.

Lauren Allen 

Yeah, I, I think that still no one says anything. And like, you know, we haven’t named that institution, I immediately knew which exercise you were talking about. And I’m not saying we should, because, you know, this is a recording and people have lawyers, but you know, there’s still that fear of just being like, this bad thing happened.

Phil Rickaby 

Yeah. I don’t, I just want to say I don’t I don’t like I was keeping it vague, because I’m sure there are other schools that do it. I’m told they don’t do it anymore. So I’m happy to name the school. That was the right it was Ryerson Theatre School that did that back in the day. I’m sure there are other schools that have also done it. But like, if it’s a thing that you did, you have to own up to it. And it was toxic, and it was shitty. Yeah.

Lauren Allen 

Yeah. And wouldn’t it be nice if people knew how to apologise for those behaviours?

Phil Rickaby 

Yes, yes. But they don’t snow. And I mean, it’s sort of like that, you know, I’m sorry, you were uncomfortable? No, that’s wrong. I’m sorry. We did that exercise. It was wrong. That’s the way you do it. You have to own up to the fact that it’s wrong.

Lauren Allen 

Yeah, and you have to not do it again.

Phil Rickaby 

Yes, yes. If you own up to it and say that it’s wrong, and you do it the next year? Fuck you.

Lauren Allen 

I agree.

Phil Rickaby 

I want to I want to one of the things that you are quite open about and I just want to jump over to that a little bit. You’ve alluded to panic attacks and things like that. You are very open about about your mental illnesses. And I think it’s, I know you do it because of the stigma and trying to fight against the stigma. And I think we have to talk about those sorts of things, too. Right, instead of hiding them because those stigmas exist because they’ve been hidden in terms of your mental illnesses, what what was the path to for you to being so open about about them? Or was it a no brainer for you?

Lauren Allen 

Um, part of it was a no brainer, and that I am an oversharer is actually rooted in, in trauma. So it’s a little bit ironic that, you know, I became an overshare because I felt like I couldn’t have secrets like, like everything that I tried to keep secret was getting revealed. So I decided to just reveal everything about myself, so that I couldn’t risk that hurt. But when I was officially diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I did make a conscious decision to be like, I’m going to talk about this, because this has been really hard. I have never gone through something as difficult as the there. I mean, I so what I have is actually called complex post traumatic stress disorder, which basically just means I have multiple traumatic events in my past that caused me to have a stress disorder. And stress disorders are very difficult to live with because things that seem not stressful become very stressful. And things that seem stressful can be like the easiest thing in the world. Like I’m a person who will run towards a burning building, because I’m like, I can handle this. You know, my levels of adrenaline, feel good and I feel like myself when I’m completely stressed out, and that’s when I’m most calm. So it’s a very kind of I’m making a gesture, but you can’t see it. It’s like a very divided way of being. But I just wanted to talk about it because it’s incredibly common for people to have post traumatic stress or to just have a traumatic event in their lives. Like almost, and especially with artists, I find we are overrepresented in anxiety and depression disorders. Possibly, because we all went to traumatic theatre institutions.

Phil Rickaby 

And we also don’t talk about it, it’s another one of those things that we don’t talk about.

Lauren Allen 

Yeah. And I’ve found, you know, I’ve had to go through, I’ve been in therapy for many years, and I know I have many more years of therapy to come. Like, on average, someone who’s diagnosed with PTSD will be in therapy for 10 years, and there can be other setbacks. To that, that makes it longer. So I was thinking, yesterday, or two days ago, I was like, Oh, the last traumatic event that kind of tipped my illness over the edge happened to me in 2019. So in theory, I’m going to be actively working on recovering until 2029. And I just can’t fathom that amount of time. And, and having to accept that I will have struggles and setbacks. For such a long portion of my life is like really, really hard to come to terms with. And it’s also just, like, time doesn’t exist right now in the pandemic. So I’m like, I can’t imagine life in three months, how am I supposed to think about eight years from now or 10 years from now?

Phil Rickaby 

Um, as far as as being open about about your mental illnesses go? Is there when you go into a rehearsal hall? Is there something in particular that you ask for or want in the rehearsal hall? That because I’m always I, I have them sort of formulating this theory that I’ve been thinking about for a while about how to make the rehearsal hall less toxic? Yeah, and how to make it a safe place. And one of the things is to ask people what they need, or what they want from the rehearsal process. And to make that integral to the rehearsal process? If you were to be in a rehearsal hall? And to answer that question, what kinds of things would you say,

Lauren Allen 

I find check ins and check outs really, really useful. I really struggle with knowing when to disclose about my diagnoses. Because if I disclose before I get a job offer, there’s a risk that it will cost me the job. Sure. And there’s a risk that the theatre company will be perceived to have not hired me based on my disability. Because it is classified as a disability I don’t, I don’t really identify with the word disabled at this moment. But I do know that post traumatic stress disorder is a disability. So if they are perceived to not hire me because of my disability, then there’s a whole other like, list of contentions and issues that can come up. And that can be very damaging to a relationship between an artist and a company. So I don’t like to disclose it before I get the gig unless it’s specifically asked. Like, if they’re saying we’re looking for people with mental illness, I’ll say I have mental illness, or if they’re saying we’re looking for artists who identify as mad, I’ll say, I identify as a mad artist, those kinds of things. But if I can have a check in and a checkout, I can say things without having to say like because of my PTSD, this is blah, blah, blah. I can just say like, I had a nightmare last night, right? That has really knocked me out. And then people know, that’s the context for my days that I had a nightmare last night that has really knocked me out. That’s kind of all you need to know about my illnesses, how it’s affecting me that day in that moment. So like a

Phil Rickaby 

check in the check in at the start of the day. And then and then sort of like a an end of day, sort of check it out. See how everybody’s doing at the end of the day.

Lauren Allen 

Yeah, because sometimes at the end of the day, you can identify like, Oh, I feel so good about the way we worked together. Or you can say like I’m feeling good bit confused, I have these questions. Or when we did this exercise, I actually felt really unsafe because blah, blah, blah, like. And it’s hard to create that space where people feel brave enough to come forward, I’m actually reading a book called dare to lead by Brene. Brown, love Brene. But it talks about how it’s so important for leaders to understand vulnerability, and to be ready to dive into it. And to be able to say, like, Hmm, this was really hard today. And I know that this is stressful. Yeah. And I’m here for you, and I support you, if you are stressed, or if this was a struggle for you today, like, I understand that, and I want to hear about it, please, let’s talk about how difficult this was. Because the leadership has to be the first to come forward with that before the other people will feel comfortable sharing their vulnerability. I think people

Phil Rickaby 

forget how it how how important, the behaviour that’s modelled by the leaders, affects everything else, how the way that the leader presents themselves to the group and the way that they react to things sets a tone, that, that that that either encourages people to share, or shuts it down. Yeah. And the leader, and you know, what, sometimes like if somebody is is like, very clearly the lead in the play, they can also do that. So you can have like, a situation where the lead in the show plus the director can both facilitate that sort of thing, right? Can both like set that tone? And they both have to do it? Because if one, one doesn’t, you kind of in a strange, messed up situation.

Lauren Allen 

Yeah, or any kind of authority, right, like I. It, the show that I was rehearsing just before the pandemic, so we never actually opened, we were weak from opening when everything shut down. I was the most experienced actor in the group, aside from the director, I suppose. But he was a very abusive man. And it was awful. It was an awful work experience. But I really took on a leadership role, because I was like, I know that this is inappropriate behaviour. And I’m the only person in the room who can kind of speak to that and say, like, no, in a professional environment, you do not behave this way. Right. And, you know, he had us doing fight choreography with no fight choreographer, at with, with people who had only acted once or twice before in their lives. And I just was like, this is unsafe. This is how a fight choreography should go. You should run it at 25%, and then at 50, and then at 75. And it doesn’t need to get faster than that. Yeah. But he would just, he would just be like, drill the fight, drill the fight, he would give no instruction other than drill the fight. Yeah. So but so I took on that role, because I had the authority in the room to be like, No, I’m the person with experience. And I can tell you that this is how we do it. And this is not okay. And it’s and I would affirm to lots of people in the cast, like it’s not okay for him to talk to you like that. Yeah. So you know,

Phil Rickaby 

yeah, yeah. That’s, I think that’s one of those things that like, again, like somebody has the whole, like toxic situations, like, somebody needs to be able to, like, say something, right, that’s what we were saying earlier is like, the there is the need to be able to call that out. And in a situation where you have that kind of position, you feel free to do that. The problem exists in in situations where people don’t feel that.

Lauren Allen 

Yeah, and I with this particular example, you know, I tried to talk to other people at the company, and say, like, hey, this guy’s behaviours really inappropriate. How, how can we have some kind of recourse or consequence about this? How do we protect these people? And there was no, there was nothing in place to do that the person that I reached out to was like, Oh, well, he’s technically my boss, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable hearing any complaints about him. And I just was like, Okay, well, who else do I talk to? And they’re like, I don’t know, talk to the board. So I tried to talk to the board. And, you know, nobody responded to me. But it was just like, you know, this guy is horrible. It’s a horrible experience. The way he talks to us is horrible. Who do I tell? And there was just no support for that. And I even tried to go to CA, even though it wasn’t a CA house because he was a member. And I was like, I know this isn’t a union show. But like, who? How am I supposed to protect people from this behaviour if there’s just no reporting system, if it’s just gonna be me raging? against this person for the rest of my life, like how, how can we use the structures that we’ve confined ourselves to to actually serve people? Mm hmm. Instead of just being like, Oh, well, he’s technically my boss. So I guess no, you can’t complain about him to me.

Phil Rickaby 

Too few theatre companies have anything that’s even close to a human resources department where somebody can go with those kinds of problems. I think too often it ends up being the stage manager or something like that, which, who doesn’t really have anything they can do?

Lauren Allen 

They can they can listen with empathy. But really, what what else is there to do? And also, it’s, it’s hard in a, in a theatre environment? Because some people just don’t work well together. I understand. As an institution, it can be hard to be like, Oh, is this just an interpersonal conflict that nobody is able to mediate? But like I know of an artist who has around eight complaints against him at the equity offices, but nothing will be done with those complaints, because they’re just filed, right? And what if wouldn’t it be great if someone could just see not necessarily the content of those complaints? But if they were hiring that person to just know, oh, this person has eight complaints against them?

Phil Rickaby 

Right. Yeah. I mean, the I think there’s, again, it comes down to like information shared, right? There’s nobody, there’s nowhere to go with that information. And so we don’t I mean, this is this is why, I mean, this is why this shit salt pepper happened the way it did, there was no way to go. So we, again, the industry often sets people up for these kinds of things that we don’t have a resort of recourse, because we’re too busy being nice and not wanting to rock the boat.

Lauren Allen 

Yes, the institutions serve the institutions. Yeah. And so we need, we need to rebuild them, we need to rebuild our whole way of thinking about theatre. And the pandemic has provided some opportunity to do that. Especially when, when people were able to access support from the government. In Saskatchewan, currently, there are no restrictions, so no one is able to get the government support that is maybe accessible here in Toronto tonight, people who have lost 50% of their wages that’s not available to people in Saskatchewan at this moment. Which is so frustrating so and that makes it harder for us to be involved in activism for ourselves and for our industry. As long as we are forced to struggle to keep our head above water, we can’t do anything else. And that is exactly the point.

Phil Rickaby 

Yes, it is exactly the point. I think that part of the you know, the industries, the industry needs to change. And it’s sort of a little bit dismaying to see how there was a brief period of time in summer of 2020, when we talked about some changes. But then we go back to essentially business as usual for a lot of companies. There have been no structural changes and no examinations really about about the the issues that they may have. And so the the the toxic and abusive structures still remain in place.

Lauren Allen 

Yeah, I mean, I was a part of one of those conversations about change in Saskatchewan, when the artistic director of Persephone theatre left. It was a very difficult time for the community, because we had to struggle with, you know, we have a personal relationship to this person, but also knowing that as an institutional leader, the behaviour was unacceptable. Mm hmm. And now, the theatre company has new leadership, new things are happening. It’s exciting. But there’s also like a well, there’s a 13 year legacy from the last guy. Hmm, you’re gonna have to fight that for a while, like the change cannot happen overnight and no. And we need to see demonstrations of your commitment to the new and to moving forward. And we can’t see that because theatre still aren’t really open.

Phil Rickaby 

No, no, that’s so yeah, absolutely.

Lauren Allen 

So I feel like it’s it’s hard to evaluate where we are in this moment, because not that nothing is happening. But because the pandemic is overshadowing everything. And it’s giving. It’s giving people other excuses or framings, or whatever. And we don’t have experience with that. So we don’t know how to analyse it yet. I’m sure in five years we’ll be like, Oh, the pandemic was this time in theatre, but right now we’re just kind of like oh, what

Phil Rickaby 

because you can you can exact you can examine the you can’t really examine the thing while you’re in the middle of it. Yeah. So when you’re just trying to keep your head above water. Yeah, exactly. I’m just in closing, I wanted to ask you about being a foster mother of cats.

Lauren Allen 

Oh my gosh, the greatest joy. The greatest joy. I actually got two new Cats today. Their names are Polly and Herbie. My favourite part of fostering is learning about that particular cat’s personality. Hmm. And already, in the first few hours, you can learn some things like these two cats are incredibly curious. Lots of other cats that I fostered have been feral cats that are being like adapted to home life. So they’re not as curious. They’re much more cautious. But these guys are like, what’s going on? What’s over here? Was that smell? Can I touch this? And they also both immediately discovered the mirrors in the hallway, which I fostered 13 Cats last year, and none of them notice the mirrors ever. These cats are both like, hey, I can see you but you’re behind me. That’s confusing. So I’m excited. After this interview, I’m gonna let them explore the main room for the first time and it’s it’s gonna be fun to watch them be like, Hey, what’s this are some cats are like, I don’t care about my environment at all. And I just would like for you to pet me until the end of time. And some cats are like, I will be under the bed.

Phil Rickaby 

You have a sense where you think these guys are gonna be?

Lauren Allen 

Oh, yeah, I think they’re gonna want cuddles. Oh, you’re gonna want cuddles and proximity but not necessarily. Like I’ve had. I’ve had some cats who were like, I will lay on your chest and rub my head against your face for half an hour. I don’t think they will be quite that affectionate. But they will be like, Let’s hang out together. You’re my friend.

Phil Rickaby 

That’s nice. That’s great. Lauren Allen, thank you so much. This has been wonderful.

Lauren Allen 

Thanks as always Phil


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