#314 – Bruce Dow

Born in Seattle, WA, and raised in Vancouver, Canada, Bruce Dow is an American/Canadian actor, director, composer/librettist, cabaret artist, and theatre educator, best known for his 5 featured roles on Broadway; his 12 seasons in leading roles at the Stratford Festival; and his Dora Award Winning performances at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre — the world’s largest and longest running LGBTQ2IA+ theatre — and his Helen Hayes Award nominated work with the Shakespeare Theatre Company and Studio Theatre in Washington, DC.

Twitter: @DowBruce
Instagram: @dowbruce

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My guest this week is the legendary Bruce doubt. Bruce has been seen on stages in Canada and the U S from the Stratford festival to Broadway from stage to film to TV. In addition to being an actor, Bruce is a director coach, as well as a composer, lyricist and librettist.

Here’s our conversation.

w where are you currently?

Bruce Dow: Emotionally or physically? Um, physically. And let’s go. Okay. Geographically. I am in the north end of Toronto or the south end of north York. So, um, I’m in the greater Toronto area and, uh, yeah, have been for a while.

Phil Rickaby: I figured it’s a good idea to check. Cause you, you do, you do work in many places. Have you been in the greater Toronto area through most of the pandemic or have you been hopping around?

Bruce Dow: Basically? Um, I was in New York. We were 10 days from opening Diana, the musical on Broadway and we shut down and thought it was going to be like two weeks break. Um, and I came back to Toronto, stay with my then best friend roommates.

We’re still best friends, but, um, we’re no longer roommates. Um, and, uh, so I have sort of been in the GTA for most of that, except for when we flew to New York to do the, um, they put us in a giant COVID bubble to do the recording of Diana and to shoot the show for Netflix. So, uh, but basically Toronto. Yeah, I’m a bit of an introvert naturally I’m extroverted on stage, but as a person introvert.

So I’ve just been very happy to hide at home for this whole thing.

Phil Rickaby: I have, I have a whole episode where I got a bunch of introverted actors together to talk about some stuff. So that’s been a couple of weeks, but, um, that, so you were working on Diana on Broadway and acting to open when everything happened. And of course, I remember thinking, ah, two weeks, it’s going not going to be long.

And then, you know, here we are.

Bruce Dow: I was thinking that too. But I also remember when we had the SARS situation in Toronto and Toronto shut down for two weeks, but it took two years for Toronto theaters to recover from that two weeks. Shut down. Um, so I sort of was going on if this isn’t two weeks, then we could be into soap, but I had no, I mean, who had any idea would be this?

You, you read about Shakespeare in the theaters closing down, but you don’t imagine it as a real thing that will happen in your life.

Phil Rickaby: No, you don’t. And it becomes a thing where, you know, I remember like maybe a month into the pandemic, seeing posts from people who are theater, people being like, well, that’s it, theater is over this is it forever online forever.

And I was like, we’ve theaters survived this kind of thing before.

Bruce Dow: Totally, totally. And I mean, my, my parents weren’t born for the Spanish flu, which was 1912, I think somewhere around that, um, they came along in the twenties, but, um, but they had the record of it. This is nothing new. I mean, we all, this is a good time.

I mean, it’s catastrophic. Yes. We can’t deny that. And I think recovery will be much longer than anyone wants to think it will be. Um, but this is nothing new. There’s nothing new under the sun ever,

Phil Rickaby: you know? Yeah. Yeah. I think the 1918 flu, I mean, a lot of people were sort of like revisiting it at the beginning of a pandemic because it’s one of those things that we, we don’t, it’s sort of like lost to record because it was like not on the front pages of the newspapers.

And so it was sort of buried and so it wasn’t like everybody panicking about it. Well, whereas this was front page news for, for ages. Right,

Bruce Dow: right. Yeah. And, and I mean, it’s funny as well. It’s beautiful. All the social change that is happening now, but at the same time, I talked to students who are like, this is so exciting.

And is there a shattering had never happened before? And I’m like, I was raised in the sixties and seventies when it all happens before. Yeah. It was an incomplete movement at that time and we’re still struggling through it, but yeah, you know, there’s, there’s, there is nothing new under the sun.

Phil Rickaby: No, exactly, exactly.

You know, I really feel for the kids who are, who are in school right now, um, who are, who are trying to figure out both what, how did, how to do theater school in this, but also uncertain about what the landscape is gonna look like when they get out into the world.

Bruce Dow: I hope none of them are listening. Um, and yet I hope they are, but. Yeah, it’s a tragedy to too. I have friends who just graduated students and they’re now friends who have just graduated just before this all hit and they’re going, I finished my schooling. I want to start my career. There is no industry.

And it’s, it’s, it’s an absurd dance for those who are in school now, training to do something for which there is no industry. I’m not saying there never will be. But, um, and, and like you said, it’s, it is exciting that we are exploring new, online ways of communicating live performance. Um, I’ve got a Valentine’s day cabaret that I’m doing online and it’s, uh, it’s weird.

I had huge emotional meltdowns over the hat, like, oh my God, what is this thing? Um, but yeah, no first for students at theater school, uh, It just must be surreal.

Phil Rickaby: Yeah. Yeah. I, I, I can only imagine it’s it’s how do you even how to even compute it, certainly like this thing that you wanted, that you want to do that you’re studying and you don’t know what it’s going to look like.

And even your teachers who kind of look to, to be like, what’s the landscape look like when we get outta here right now, they can’t tell you.

Bruce Dow: We have no clue. Yeah. Yeah. And, uh, you know, those of us who came to professional age in the eighties, nineties, and two thousands, um, who are now, the teachers are going, that world has died in changed so quickly that where are we now?


Phil Rickaby: Yeah. Now working on your, on your, your, your, your Valentine’s cabaret, uh, which is being presented digitally, how does that, how did that come about and how, how have what’s been the process of putting that together? Um, it’s.

Bruce Dow: It sort of came about by accident. Um, uh, it’s cabaret Marc Salvide, who’s a TV producer and pianist piano, man.

Um, we’ve kind of done this cabaret for years in various forms. And, uh, honestly we were both sitting at home going there’s nothing to do and everybody’s at home and here comes Valentine’s day at, even though we’re sorta opening, we’re still sort of stuck at home. And, uh, I think, um, just sidebar to that, I think there’s a new awareness of societaly of people who cannot gather people who, uh, for their stage in life or for mobility issues, accessibility issues are simply not able to gather when we haven’t been aware of before, but we have been able to include in digital formats.

Then we’re also dealing with the simple accessibility are things open or not. Uh, and then there’s people like myself who, frankly, aren’t, I’m not in a rush to go sit in a crowd of strangers, even if I know we’re all vaccinated. Um, I ju I have, I have my own sort of weirdly developed social anxiety about that.

So anyway, just sitting at home going, what can we do? And we thought, well, let’s pull this out, hang out, let’s throw it on film. And let’s share it with some, with some theater companies and some community groups and, and let them have access to it. And, uh, anybody listening it’s on my Facebook page, whatever.

Um, but, um, or there’s a couple other places check it out, but it’s, um, it really was just kind of it’s, it’s not about making money. It’s just about sort of going, here’s a little gift. This is something we do, and hopefully you can enjoy it. I, um, I found it very interesting when we. When everything’s shut down and we started going online, then I saw two things happen.

One was people who were excited about performing and excited about doing it in a new format. And there was sort of a very healthy approach to online performance. Um, there was the other side that was the simple terror of isolation and the panic for attention and the desperation in performance online.

And, uh, well talk about what I’m doing now, but, um, which is sort of adjacent related, but, um, uh, to me that really shine a spotlight on, uh, toxic elements in our business, uh, of our, our relationships as actors to S people to what we do. And then as what we do to the profession itself, So, so I’m, I’m hoping this, this thing just came out of, everybody’s stuck at home for Valentine’s day.

Why don’t we just throw it up there? And if anybody wants to watch great, you know, just a little, a little, a little wave from the distance through a camera.

Phil Rickaby: There’s this interesting thing about, about, you know, quote unquote digital theater. And I, I keep encountering some people who they’re just like, well, if it’s digital, it’s not theater and they get very, very upset and very angry about, about the possibility I’m sitting here, sort of in the same way as, as you were describing about how in many ways.

Broadcasting a show digitally. However you do it opens up, opens it up for people who, who can’t get to the theater, whether it’s a, uh, they’re, they have a disability or they, they, they, you know, they’re older, they’re their mobility issues. Or even, you know, because it’s digital ticket, maybe it doesn’t cost as much financial burdens as well.

Um, and also like the ability to see things where you’re not proximity to, like, there’ve been so many times I’ve heard about a show playing in Edmonton or in, in, in, in Halifax. And I thought I would love to be able to see that, but I, I’m not in a position to be able to travel there. It’d be great to be able to share that stuff too.

Bruce Dow: One of the companies, I think it’s musical stage company has been offering. We’re going to London to see a show and it’s online and we’re going to New York see show when it’s online. And, um, they weren’t my hashtags, but I jumped on. Uh, you know, accessibility for all and cabaret for all and sort of beyond pay what you can in terms of pay what you can, but some situations where we did his show for Christmas, and it was just by donation.

If you, if you wash it for free. Great. If you wanted to give a donation. Sure. Cool. Um, but I think these are hugely important things and no, is it literally utter? No, but is there, I mean, is there any shame in a new motive performance? I’m sure people freaked out when Shakespeare moved indoors by candle light.

It’s not lit by the sun. It’s no longer a theater, you know? I mean, yeah. Life, my mommy say, life takes you by the tail and swings. So just go with it and see where you end up.

Phil Rickaby: I feel like there is there’s all these possibilities that, that, that just sort of get opened up by digital. And I just feel like it, it doesn’t, it doesn’t have to be what some people are afraid of.

And that is that, oh, if we put it on film, it’s the death of theater. Some people sort of have this idea that like, if we put it out, if we put it on film or we put it on digital, that nobody’s going to ever see it again, because they’ve quote unquote seen it. And yet, you know, people will buy a CD or they’ll, you know, they’ll listen to whatever music on Spotify.

And just because they’ve heard it there, it doesn’t mean that they don’t, they want to see it live. It doesn’t preclude them from doing that.

Bruce Dow: Uh, oh, I had a great idea.

Oh, totally lost my train of thought, but because you said CD and I’m going, you’re showing your age. Cause I, I have a whole box full of CDs

I almost

Phil Rickaby: showed my age even further. I almost said record. Okay.

Bruce Dow: Oh my god. Brilliant. Brilliant. Um, where did you start with that though? It was, it was, I mean, online is, oh, okay.

No, this is it. It’s the absolutism. That’s coming to the conversation that the people are not able to hold right now. We’re not able to hold two conflicting ideas as equally existing intention. You can just because something exists in a digital medium does not mean that theater no longer exists.

Phil Rickaby: Yeah.

Bruce Dow: I mean, it’s just, it comes out in the same idea that if somebody wants more rights by E basic human rights, that’s going to take something away from me.

No, it’s not. The world is not a pie. Giving somebody a slice does not make your slice smaller. Yeah, it’s right now we’re in a state of just absolute ism in our thinking. Whereas yes, something can be healthy for one and unhealthy for another, and they are not mutually excused exclusive, and they are not, there is not a value system to judge.

One is better than the other. They are both just there. And that’s how the world is.

Phil Rickaby: Yeah. Yeah. It’s, you know, I think about all of the shows that I’ve seen, you know,

Bruce Dow: sorry. It’s just Japanese. It’s all based in fear. What I know is gone. Oh, I can’t handle, I can’t accept anything new. Well, I don’t want to accept anything new either, but at the same time, it’s just fear.

Phil Rickaby: I just think. There’s so many more possibilities because, you know, I, I mean, let’s face it. We, you know, if we know people who are a little younger, I know people who’ve watched shows that were illegally filmed on Broadway and they’ve seen them on YouTube before they got taken down. But that doesn’t mean that they’re not going to, like if they had, if they have the chance that they’re not going to go and see the show, because they realize that the, what they saw is not the full experience.

And so like putting stuff on, on digital and like doing like a live stream, which is easier than people think from a live theater, by the way, and is, is just something that, that like we can do and open ourselves up. I mean, we’re complaining all the time, but where our audience is going well, let’s expand the audience.

Bruce Dow: The metropolitan opera did not close because they started showing offers in the movie theaters on Sunday afternoons. Yeah. Yeah. Like that’s just a thing. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, no, it’s, it’s, I think it’s a very exciting time and, uh, But again, it’s just being able to, but at the same time, uh, you know, it’s, it’s, uh, not-for-profit theaters will be able to open somewhat because they can have a 50% audience and still with public support to be able to make their bottom line, uh, commercial theater, a lot of it, you simply cannot afford that 50%.

Um, I have friends, uh, waiting to start rehearsals for, um, the Harry Potter at the Mirvish is, and, and, uh, you know, even including what, what happened with the closing of come from away, it’s you can’t afford to keep the theater open at 50% when that is your full source. I, I, Stratford is announced their full season and they are a not-for-profit company, but they function largely.

Don’t quote me Strafford, but as a commercial format, there, they are so dependent on audience for, for simply what they’re presenting that. Um, and they don’t get the government funding that they proportionately need for what they want to do. Um, yeah. I don’t know. I, yeah, what’s scary is we don’t know. Yeah, I

Phil Rickaby: know.

And that’s, that’s the thing is, is, is we have this, you know, it’s hard enough to decide, to try to figure what’s going to happen with this show and to also have to worry about whether or not you’re actually going to be able to perform it, or, or is there suddenly going to be a restriction on the number of people that can be in the, in the building.

Right. And I have this thing I remember in the fall, they were, you know, the, some shows were opening. They were opening with like 50%. And then all of a sudden there was no more restrictions. And they were like, we can do full house. And I thought, well, now I don’t feel like I can go. Because I don’t know.

And this is because I feel like we need to ease into this, right? Like we’ve spent, it’ll be two, it’ll be two years around the time this comes out, we spent two years avoiding people. Yeah. And now I was supposed to sit in a packed theater shoulder to shoulder with them as people, as they always do, when the lights go down, cough around me,

Bruce Dow: that’s exactly how, it’s what I salute Broadway for doing and saying everybody has to be vaccinated.

And I, and I think it, it it’s, I wish we could get this part of the question into the vaccine anti-vax conversation simply to say, it’s not about. Th the reason you can’t go to a restaurant on vaccinated. It’s not because somebody’s forcing you to be vaccinated is because the restaurant doesn’t want the liability of someone becoming sick while you are there.

You becoming sick while you are there. Um, so it’s, it’s avoidance of a lawsuit. It’s where it’s going to succeed is in, is in private business. Yeah. We’re getting people that is just going, look, you want to come in my store. I got to see that you’re vaccinated. I’m not because

Phil Rickaby: the thing is, is for so long, if you want to go to a store or you want to go to a mall, it was like, no shoes, no shirt, no service.

Right? Like this is not really that different. It’s a risk, it’s a quote-unquote restriction, but it’s, it’s, it’s basically the store. The, the, the, the business gets to say, okay, you’re you don’t meet this requirement. You can’t come in.

Bruce Dow: Exactly. And, and, um, I mean, another side of the conversation too is, uh, aging myself. I remember when seatbelt came in as mandatory.

Phil Rickaby: Well, yeah. Yeah. There were a lot of people in my dad’s generation who were like, oh, their death harnesses. It’s better to be

Bruce Dow: thrown in the clear. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. I’m not going to have anybody telling me where, what I have to do in my car.

And I mean, it’s, it’s funny and sad with all the truckers going. There are so many safety regulations for truckers. They are restricted. They are told when they have to sleep, how long they’re allowed to drive all of that. Yeah. That, you know, we all had to get rubella and polio to go to school. Exactly.

Phil Rickaby: There’s a lot of renewables about the whole

Bruce Dow: thing, but I think getting back to what you were saying before is I think this is opening up. I know people who are planning to do shows and to have live audiences and to have a digital format for the same.

Phil Rickaby: Yeah, that’s great. That really excites me because, you know, it’s, it’s the thing I remember in was it July of 2020 when, uh, the filmed version of Hamilton ended up on Disney plus, and I want that.

And I was like, because, you know, I’d seen the show live and this was like, oh, this is sort of life. Cause I get to hear the audience, but I can see closer. I could see more. Um, but also just hearing the audience was like, oh yeah, this is kind of what it’s like to be in the room. And it’s similar to, to like a film performance like that just sort of like allows you to get a sense of what it’s like in the room.

Bruce Dow: Well, and, and. I mean, that’s been a hard part of doing this. Valentine’s cabaret is we have no audience. So it’s just me singing into the dark, hoping somewhere somebody has a vision. I also know that that affected the response to Diana. I mean, sure. We could have a long talk about what that means, but, um, that was, that was a whole can of worms.

Um, but regardless I remember performing the show live and the audiences went nuts for it, but that’s not present in the, in the digital version. So you’re sure I’m going to

Phil Rickaby: miss that piece of the puzzle. That’s so difficult because there’s something about like, anytime we’ve seen, seen a film version of a stage production and.

Like understanding like, oh yes, this is a really good piece. But then hearing how the audience reacts to it. Say, for example, the film diversion of, uh, of, of, of Sweeney Todd and, and realizing how the song Joanna brings down the house and that sort of thing, you wouldn’t get that if you didn’t have the audience in the room.

Bruce Dow: No, w uh, I don’t know where I came across it, but, um, good old damn Yankees and there’s Gwen Verdon selling your soul and whatever Lola wants and she finishes it and then it kind of fades into the next scene and you go, oh yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s but there’s somewhere new. It could all go in a combination of things.

Yeah. Um, but again, people have to make a living and how do we pay people to do it?

Phil Rickaby: Well, I mean, I do think that that, that digital aspect does open up a stream of revenue that we didn’t have before. Like a digital ticket is, is an opportunity, you know,

Now you mentioned, you mentioned Diana, you mentioned like this, this film version of, of Diana, which is not what you would want it to. Do you, have you been, you’ve been doing previews for the show when it closed down here. We

Bruce Dow: had done, yeah, we were finishing our previews of the show was basically frozen and canned.

We were, we were just running it to open. I think we started seeing we were going to get critics the next week. Right.

Phil Rickaby: So filming it with no audience, that must have been a strange experience to have to go from knowing that show with an audience to presenting it and not having an audience.

Bruce Dow: I completely, first of all, it was, it was, um, we D.

The good thing was we did a number of runs of the show. We filmed a number of complete run-throughs. So, so there was a flow and an energy to it, um, that we were able to recapture. But at the same time, all the seats in the orchestra had been torn out and it was, the theater was full of nine cameras. And, um, there were no vaccines at the time, but we were in high COVID protocol.

So everybody had been tested and isolated and retested and re isolated. And when we gathered, uh, eventually only actors could take off their masks, went on stage. They had to put masks back on backstage and the poor dressers. And that show, if you wash it is nothing but costume changes. Um, the four dressers were in full PPE gowns, gloves, masks, and plastic shield.

Trying to try and address the show. I mean,

Phil Rickaby: of course, cause we knew nothing about the virus at that point.

Bruce Dow: Nothing, nothing at all. It was, it was just, if you would, they, they kept us in a hotel. We had to isolate in the hotel. As soon as we got back, everybody to their own private room, uh, our meals would be delivered.

You would get your meal and you would sanitize your cutlery before eating your meal. You know, I mean, everything was sanitized before, but you do it again. Um, yeah, it was, it, it was in, but, but filming the show was, it was great to be with the people. It was great to, you know, but again also we were all the thinking was live, but because it was going to be remixed later, there was sort of a, it was basically a rhythm section, a compliment.

It was it. So it didn’t feel the same. There’s no way it felt the same. And it was funny. I didn’t go back for it for the reopening, a lot of personal reasons and stuff, nothing to do with them, nothing to do with, with any disagreement or anything like that. Just I didn’t go back. Um, but, uh, but they were getting an audience.

They were getting, it was turning into a bit of a cult favorite that people had to see. Right. People going to see it. We’re going, okay, I get this. Now. It is, it’s a sassy attitudes. I mean, it’s two guys from New Jersey writing what they feel about princess Diana. So in the room you got the feel for it and people were really catching on and then, and then Alma Cron started and it just couldn’t.

Couldn’t go.

Phil Rickaby: Yeah. So closed down entirely. Is it one of the casualties on Broadway right now?

Bruce Dow: Yeah, it’s. I don’t know, but I think there may be more casualties. I’m not sure before we get out of this. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It said, I remember it hasn’t been as bleak as I was afraid, but no. Oh

Phil Rickaby: no, but it’s it’s I know, I remember like when the first shows were opening on Broadway and seeing video of like that first performance of Haiti’s town is the cast audience jumped to their feet.

I was, I was a little verklempt, but I was also like, look at all those people packed in so close to.

Bruce Dow: I was watching other movies, like just general movies on TV and YouTube crowds Dean. And I’d go, I don’t, I feel uncomfortable. Yes. You know, you see, you know, something and it’s shot in the mall and people are walking around the mall and I starting having anxiety.

And as you talk, just seeing their crowd, you know, cause I mean, when we came back, it was, I came back to Toronto and moved back in with my roommate and another roommate moved in with us and we were walking in and washing our vegetables and washing groceries and wearing our masks. And you know, it was, yeah.

Tensions were high about, you know, did you wash this? Can I touch it? You know?

Phil Rickaby: Yeah. Yeah. And it’s, I mean, there’s still, I mean, it’s funny watching, you know, as I’ve been, you know, in my day job, I may, one of the people that can go into the office and I like going into the office, it gets me out of my small apartment.

But it’s been interesting watching how, uh, say for example, the subway gets more populated. And when I was first going into the office, if I took the subway, they were very few people and everybody wore their masks. Right, right. Except occasionally there’d be like one person who had their mask on their chin or under their nose or whatever.

And you just drive cars or whatever. Now there’s more people and more people not wearing that mask properly. And you sort of are like, do I get off? Do I wait for the next train? What do I do here? It’s just, I can just

Bruce Dow: how, I mean, it is weird to have something over your face, but nurses and doctors do 24 hours a day.

Do you not notice that your mask is now below your nostrils? Does that, is that of no concern to you? I, I, I mean, and also, I just want to run around screaming at the world. There’s a little metal bendy thing you can pinch that will hold it. So many of them with this.

Phil Rickaby: Yeah. I just want to say, like, I see people and I like, um, you just like, at this point, how can you not know?

Bruce Dow: Yeah. How can you not know? And do you not care about not only? Well, I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s all about us right now. It’s all about my needs and how I feel and my safety and my rights and my stuff. It’s not about caring about your neighbor, it’s not about, but do you not care about not only your health, but the health of your grandma at home, you know, or the health of your brother or sister who may have some respiratory immunocompromised patients, something, you know, even just, you know, aunt Sally gets bad, bronchitis will maybe don’t invite her to the party, or if you do wear your mask, you know, I mean, it’s.

Yeah, I know,

Phil Rickaby: again, we can, the soap box is right here. I could get up on it and on it, I could go, but you know, that’s a different podcast and it’s also a weakness

Bruce Dow: could be over with, oh, I know we all freaking stayed home for 10 days.

Phil Rickaby: I know it would be gone. Yeah, no, I know I had that feeling like at the beginning it was like, if we all just do this thing, everything will be fine.

And then there were too many exemptions and all this sort of stuff and it just like, ultimately we’re just like still stalled

Bruce Dow: and I have beloved auntie maskers and anti-vaxxers and my family. And it’s just okay. You know, I, you know, you still love them even though you want to slap them with a wet fish.

Come on.

Phil Rickaby: Yeah, exactly.

Bruce Dow: Exactly. Yeah.

Phil Rickaby: I would like to take a second and sort of direct the conversation a little bit towards, um, I always like to talk to people about their theater, origin stories. And so, um, for you as a, as somebody who was, who was born in, in Seattle, who found their way, I think to Vancouver, what was it that drew you that started you on the path to theater and, and, and what was that inciting incident?

Let’s say?

Bruce Dow: Um, it’s a really glamorous story. I, when I was working at Strafford, so many actors you would talk to, you would say, when I saw so-and-so in their grade production of hammers and that made me want to be an actor for me. Um, it was watching Batman on television in the sixties. And, uh, well maybe more bad girl.

I’m not sure. Um, but. Watching that. And when my mom explained that Batman wasn’t really Batman, but was a man pretending to be him. And I thought you can do this for a living that blew my mind. And then I also discovered that, um, uh, I, I grew up in a very loving, caring, smart bunch of people, but very strong personalities.

And I was the odd ball. Um, but I found I could fit in when I performed. And so for me making the connection that, oh, people like me when I do this and I can do this as a living. Um, that’s why I was very young when I decided I want to be an actor and, uh, I made that. And I gotta be honest. It’s something I’m looking at now, because right now I’m studying multicultural psychotherapy and multicultural, spiritual care, um, bit of a career shift, change thing going on.

Um, but it wasn’t a hugely healthy connection to the industry. Um, but it also was a very passionate connection. And then you meet, I, I met the other theater weirdos and when, oh, here’s it, you know, I’m not the only misfit toy on the island. Um, and, and, and also it was a way of learning to understand. I mean, the, the initial was Batman’s cool.

Well back girls school and, um, seriously kicking people in those little two-inch kitten heels. That was the hottest thing in the world. Um, That that’s fun. I can do that. Oh, performing people like me when I do it. That’s great. And then it deepens and you go into, I get to explore what other people’s lives experiences are, you know, aspects of the human condition.

I would never come in contact with anywhere else. Um, and then how to do that with respect and intention and presence. And, um, so yeah, that’s what that Batman and, and a need for acceptance and, and love drew me in. Do you

Phil Rickaby: think that your, your introverted aspect, uh, played a part in, in, in sort of like going towards when I perform there, that, that people like that.

Bruce Dow: Alright. E huge bit. And what it also meant is that I could express things that I could not express at home. Uh, I could, I could be vulnerable. I could be brave. I could be, um, ending, I could experience everything in the world when I was somebody else. And, and I knew I had that inside me and finding a character through which I couldn’t express this, um, was just huge.

Yeah. I mean, it was, it was much later in life. I played the cowardly lion in the wizard of Oz and just fell in love with him, for how, how terrified and brave he was. Can I it’s the first time, you know, lady in life learning that bravery does not exist without fear. Yeah. We have this image of bravery as judges, strength and toxic masculinity.

And this is what it is to be brave. You’re not brave if you’re not afraid. You’re too. Loud and obnoxious, you know, just, just being loud is not being brave. You’re only brave when you’re going, I’m doing this despite the fact, I mean, it’s the old, uh, I’m going to misquote quoter. May she rest in peace, Carrie Fisher?

Um, you know, be afraid, but do it anyway.

Phil Rickaby: Yeah. Yeah. There’s, there’s that aspect of, of being a performer and an introvert that I think, I don’t think I recognize this as a child because I was an introverted child as well. But when I was performing, it was a moment when I knew I was in control.

Bruce Dow: Huge aspect of it.

Phil Rickaby: Yeah. If I’m in a conversation or if I’m at a party or whatever, I mean, if I’m around a group of a group of people and I am not performing, I don’t know what’s going to happen. And I, I don’t know. I don’t know how to interact with them. I don’t, there’s so many, so many things that I don’t know, but as soon as I’m performing.

I am in control of this situation. I

Bruce Dow: hate parties. I love interacting with people. I like going for dinner with a group of friends. I like that sort of thing. But party to me is just a nightmare of terrifying as, and, and I very early on, um, I can’t really, there’s a million names for it, but the, the quiet exit where you just disappear and don’t say goodbye to the host and don’t say goodbye to anybody, and you’re just gone.

Um, uh, I’ve done that my whole life and I, and I know friendships have suffered because of it. And it’s, and yet now I’m able to say being at a party, I, I don’t know how to interact with somebody for five seconds over the cheese dip, you know? Yes. I can’t do that and it’s not enjoyable for me. And I think it’s for them.

So please just let me go home and call me and let’s go for coffee. Yeah.

Phil Rickaby: Yeah, I have this thing. So the, the, you know, there’s many names for like, it’s, I think a lot of elegant load is the Irish goodbye. Um, I’ve become quite the proponent of the Irish goodbye. Um, and what I do my trick at showing up at a party first off to get myself in the door, I have to promise like 15 minutes, sorry you cut out there for a second.

I promise myself that I will stay for 15 minutes. That’s my, like, if you could just stay for 15 minutes, you’ll be fine. I go to my host and I say, hello. I don’t know how long I can stay. There’s a thing. And then when I’m done, I’ve reached the end of my, of my, of my tolerance. I just go, I don’t say goodbye to anybody.

I grabbed my coat and I go, and usually they don’t notice that I did that. And if they did, they were like, well, he did say that he had to go early.

Bruce Dow: Right. Can I just ask you though? Yeah. How wonderful that first breath of fresh air is when you step out on the street. Oh my

Phil Rickaby: God. It’s so wonderful. It’s so that’s wonderful.

When, when, like, when you’ve hit your tolerance level, like your, your, that limit for like being in that room and you can go outside, you’re in the elevator, you’re in the stairwell and you’d go outside and the air hits you and you’re like, yeah.

Bruce Dow: Oh, it’s the deepest breath in. It’s just tastes so good. Yeah.

Yeah, absolutely. And it’s no reflection on the people at the party and the folks not at all. No,

Phil Rickaby: no. It’s has, has your introvert cause you know, I mean, for me when I was, I remember when I, when I first graduated from theater back in, when I graduated from theater school, um, I, I. I remember getting it in my head that, that like going to like industry parties and smoothing was an important thing.

Um, and I realized very, very quickly, Hey, the number one hated it. And number two, I was no good at it. Um, but you know, there’s always like, there’s always an event where there’s some kind of party or something like that. And you have to go to, especially if you’re in this show, how do you, have you dealt with the, those sort of like industry obligatory parties that we all have to go to at some point?

Bruce Dow: Um, first of all, in general, the, I, I have not gone and I know my career has suffered because of it. I don’t, I don’t know what other people are thinking. I have some ideas, but I know people who went to all the industry parties and went to all this stuff. And I know for some of them it didn’t make their crews better.

And for some it didn’t, but I have a feeling that just my not. Doing that kind of stuff did affect me. Um, however, sorry. Flip side of that. Um, when it’s something like, if I’m doing a show with a theater and there is a donor event and I am there to schmooze and direct to the person, to the donors to cinch the deal.

If I have a task that I can do that I can do, but just to be seen and talk to the people and say hello and all that, um, it, it, I’m no good at it. It scares the crap out of me. Um, I’m less afraid. Now, if I’m interested in working with somebody, I’ll just call them or I’ll email, or I’ll go say, hi, that’s a different thing, but, but going to an event to make a connection, just never going to.

Phil Rickaby: Yeah, no, I, I used to, I used to have a thing and it was so hard for me talking to the people like you do his show and you’re just trying to get out. Right. You just try. And you’re like, okay, I just want to go home. And he walk out and there’s people who want a moment of your time and they want to talk to you.

They want to tell you how good you are or whatever it is. And I used to be like, literally deer in the headlights, like people would be able to be like, and I would be so awkward and weird. And I would just be like, I just, I need to get out of here. Um, and just sort of like bolt, like the gazelle is running from the lions or whatever, and it was just like this, this weird thing.

And then I came to the realization that that’s still part of the job is dealing with the people to some extent. And so I taught myself, it’s like, I practiced, uh, how to say thank you and make it sound sincere. And now I just do. But I say the same thing, but at least I’m not like deer in the headlights. I can like look them in the eye and say, thank you.

And, and it it’s, it’s, it’s a little bit less awkward than it once was

Bruce Dow: I assimilated journey, except I always loved it because I was so in desperate need of approval and attention that for me, it was just, okay, this is why I’m doing this. And this is, this is an affirmation I desperately need that has changed and I don’t need that anymore.

Um, and for me it changed to, yes, it is part of the job, but it’s also part of education. I don’t always tell people what they want to hear at the stage. Like, I will tell them how hard it is and what, you know, what’s involved in whatever sort of, you know, letting them behind the curtain, whatever. Um, but. Uh, my whole relationship with acting has changed that way for so long.

It was about, it was about the work, but also that the work had a carrot at the end of it. Now, now that carrot is entirely different. It’s it’s not about approval. Applause is nice, but it, it’s not about the applause. Um, so yeah, my whole relationship with, with work and how, how I want to do it is entirely different.


Phil Rickaby: did that, how did that, that that process happened? Is it a disinclusion mentor? Is it just a maturity that came from doing it for, for, for as long as you’ve done it? Um,

Bruce Dow: I mean the resulting lack of.

Lack of intensity about it all has felt like disillusionment, but it’s taken me a long time to process that actually it is simply a maturing. I think, I think if I’m going to work now, it’s going to be on something that, that I want to spend that kind of time on for its own sake. Um,

but, but, but yeah, I do. I, I, I don’t have the same passion for the craft or, and certainly not for the oh lately. I’ve been in a couple of like, not recently lately, but in the last few years, Remember when we used to do this full time,

I was in a couple of rehearsal periods where you’re in rehearsals and the work is great. And then you’re in the green room chatting between scenes or whatever. And everybody’s talking about who’s doing what in the industry and who’s got auditions happening. And have you seen that and is this happening?

Did you get your photo into so-and-so and whatever, and my chest, it just makes me want to barf. I don’t know what it is. There’s something for me that is just so aggressively toxic about the, the shoes and the, and the, and the desperate am I current? Am I, am I doing, it’s just like, I don’t want that anymore.

I don’t want that to be, you know, it’s just not.

Phil Rickaby: It’s certainly very, like, I was just, as you were describing it, I was like, well, that’s part of the toxic acid aspect of the industry. That’s that’s um, man, that’s just one of those things that like, to me, I think I never served that’s part of the introverted part of me, but I always like that’s gross.

I don’t like that. Um, but it is part of that, that fear based toxicity that sort of like underlies a lot of the industry, which is one of those things that I wish we could address and come to terms with, because I do think it’s one of the things that, that erodes people’s passion in the industry and erodes the desire to be a part of it.

Bruce Dow: Well, I think it’s going to take a lot of personal reflection and self-regulation English. This could take a lot of personal reflection and self-regulation on the part of actors in terms of why am I doing this work? What. What is feeding me in this process. Right. Um, so many of us get all of our sense of self from what we do.

And I’m always shocked to ask an actor. So what’s your hobby. And they’re like, I love to replay. And I’ll say, no, no, no, that’s your job. What is your hobby? Do you knit? Do you go fly fishing? Do you hike? You know, are you, are you using public space for gardening? Are you, do you, you know, or if you read, is it secretly all science or are you teaching courses in a new language?

What, where is your life outside of what we do? And 90% of actors don’t have one. They’re working at getting work and then they’re doing the work and they’re working. I’m part of it is the nature of the industry. But at the other point, it’s like when the lights are off in this, this whole pandemic shutdown has forced a lot of people to reflect myself included on why am I doing this?

Yeah. And is it healthy for me to do this? And what is my life if I’m not acting? Yeah. I recently I’m looking at doing offerings with courses, um, and, uh, just coachings and stuff. Um, then a couple of workshops, but, um, putting it out there, putting out a, uh, just a little survey monkey quiz of what people want to study or how they’re feeling and anxious came back as the first thing and isolated and lost and confused.

If these, these very deep emotions of the Tamika. Somebody sitting at home and if they’re not going to auditions and, or they’re not working, they’re not sure who they

Phil Rickaby: are. Yeah.

I was thinking like, just around the time that theaters were, it had been shut down for a couple of months. A lot of people that I used to, that I knew in the industry, uh, who were the kind of people they were just going constantly. Like you saw them at everything every time you’d every kind of event, every kind of networking, every kind of everything there.

They were bastards. Yes. And, and, you know, they, so they were always working at something. Right. But again much like, like you were saying, like now they were in a forced situation to try to contend with like, so who am I when I’m not doing those sorts of things and how important is self care? How important is it that I have something outside of this?

And I do hope that’s a lesson that people take away from. Pause in theater, that, that these are important things for us to have is, is hobbies and, and, and a life outside of this industry.

Bruce Dow: Totally. And I mean, even so many actors look at my fitness regime is part of my self-care. Well, if you’re only doing a fitness regime, so that you’re fit for auditions, for whatever you’re trying to sell, and now you’re just working out, are you actually doing it for yourself for care of themselves?

Or is this again, part of this, I have to make myself better so that I’m employable. And I’m like, it’s a very fine line between an action. That is self-care and an action that is actually, you don’t have a good relationship

Phil Rickaby: with. Yeah. Yeah. Are you still studying pastoral?

Bruce Dow: Uh, I am. It is, it is a master pastoral studies, which sounds a bit deceptive.

I’m not going to be a pastor. Um, that’s not, that’s not my calling.

Phil Rickaby: That might be a loss, but go ahead.

Bruce Dow: Part of me thinks I could be good at it, but at the other part of it is there’s too many books involved in are full of stuff that I’m not sure I feel about. Um, but, um, I it’s, it’s, it’s a program that involves, uh, psychotherapy training, uh, which has a big multicultural aspect to it.

As in you can offer presence to anyone wherever they come from, whatever their experience. Uh, and there is actually, um, oh, what do you call it? There’s a there’s, um, medical word for it. When you do a study and it’s, um, clinically, oh, shows, empirically shows that people seeking. Mental health care if they have some kind of belief system, which is not in fact harming them, but is actually healthy for them.

He involving that in their care can help them recover faster. So there is a multi-faith spiritual care emphasis is in this as well. So, um, so yeah, and, and, and a lot of my interest is, is someday. I want to write a book why we perform, why do we do this to ourselves? Um, and I don’t only want to, uh, you know, offer presence for just actors, but I think there is something unique I could offer in that respect because, and I’m bringing it into my classes and workshops.

Where, where, what is your relationship with yourself before you enter an audition or. I often ask student actors, I go, what do you want from the audition? And they say, I want to show my skillset. I want them to see my talent. I want them to like me. I want to get the part. None of those are things we have any control over in an audition.

So getting them to go, you’re going in there in, and I want to give 110%. Well, if you wake up in the morning and you’re 40% of yourself and you go in and try to give 110% of yourself, you’re going to look psychotic. So how do you go in and give the best 45% of yourself you’ll do better work. And how do you do the work so that when you leave the audition you go, I did what I wanted.

I went in, I told the story, I hit the moment of change. I accomplished my monologue. Hey, your work will be better. And they will see you. So your talent will be evident. Your skill will be evident. You will have a task that isn’t obsessively tied into them, and you will have, you’ll be able to leave that room going well, I’d love to get the part, but I at least did what I said in there.

We went in there to accomplish that. Wasn’t actually an accomplishable task.

Phil Rickaby: That’s sort of leads into that, that, that less toxic thing, like, just to think about the things that you can control on the audition, um, and what you think.

Bruce Dow: Yeah. We, we go in there going, you know, basically we’re screaming, mommy, mommy liked me, hugged me and, and, and, you know, daddy, give me a reward, give me the rise.

And it’s like, that’s not a really healthy attitude to your work and yourself, most

Phil Rickaby: yourself.

Bruce Dow: I have this series just simply because I’ve beaten the crap out of myself for so many years over it. Sorry.

Phil Rickaby: I think we all have, I mean, one of the things I’ve been thinking for a while about like, uh, you know, how to have a non-toxic rehearsal room and, um, versus, you know, that starts with the director, obviously, that’s, that’s a big part of that.

Um, but like the, the idea of, of discussing similar to like, what do you want from the audition? Like having like the, everybody talk about what they need. From this production, what do they need from rehearsals? What do they need from, from the, the, the production as a whole? I’m talking about like, if somebody is like, I’m an introvert, I love you guys.

I can’t go out after the show. Occasionally, maybe I will, but I’m not going to, to any big drinking nights or to, to somebody who has anxiety, being able to, to comfortably admit to their anxiety and say, this is what I need from you guys. If I have a bunch of anxiety and to create a room that, that everybody has been able to voice what they need.

And, and that will bring everybody closer together. We can take care of each other a little more

Bruce Dow: and to, to acknowledge what we can’t accomplish in the rehearsal room. Yeah. I, you have that need, we can’t provide. Hmm, we can help you find an access to it elsewhere, but also that’s a, that’s a personal, that’s a self-regulation thing.

That’s a something you’re going to have to deal with alone. We’re all here as friends to support you through that. But, but, but also what is our relationship to the work? Is it, yeah, so many actors are about, I need to feel the emotions are so many actors still work separately in bubbles. Um, I’ve worked at a famous theater festival where people would come in at the beginning of rehearsal, having prepared their role, and they were ready to present their role of Madam X because they have rehearsed it and prepared it.

And there was no nothing transpired in the room at a hall. You know, what are, what are we doing in the scene? What are, what are we trying to get from what happens in the scene? What has to happen? That has nothing to do with how I feel as an actor. Character X enters the scene for a reason so that Y can happen and we can move on to the next scene.

It has nothing to do with how you feel as an actor. We have to accomplish that task. Yeah.

Phil Rickaby: Yeah. I remember being a theater school and, and, and, uh, one of the very early lessons that, that, that wasn’t directed at me, but it was like, it sort of, I think it hit a bunch of people in my class. Like a ton of bricks was somebody who was like, I’m just not feeling the emotion in this scene.

And the director of teacher said, well, it doesn’t really matter if your feeling

Bruce Dow: exactly. I didn’t get for decades that I didn’t. And then finally I went, no, it really, it doesn’t matter what you’re feeling. It’s what the audience is going to feel from what they see. Yeah. And. And great if you can feel along, but you’re going to do that to yourself eight times a week.

What kind of self-care is that?

Phil Rickaby: That’s the thing is like, you know, I was talking with, uh, an intimacy director awhile back when we were talking about how, you know, your body doesn’t know that the emotions are made up.

Bruce Dow: Wow, totally. That’s all I’m going to use that. That’s

Phil Rickaby: brilliant. Yeah. So every time you’re going through, every time you fall in love on stage, this is why we have this, this thing we don’t talk about in theater bleed as our emotions, this theater bleeds into the real life and all that sort of stuff.

It’s why show mans has happened that like our body doesn’t know the difference. Our body doesn’t know that this is acting, it just reacts to it. And so we need to find ways to, to enter the rehearsal, but also to exit the rehearsal and do something with these things that we’ve dredged up and felt. And because otherwise.

Our body is just going to go with like, oh, this is what I’m feeling. Now.

Bruce Dow: I fell into that by accident. I was doing a production of cabaret playing the MC, which is not what I would usually be cast as it was a re and it was a great chance to just screw with the audience’s mind. They’re expecting Joel grey or out and outcomes, this large beast.

And there, I had had so many people come up after and go, you came on stage and you were so fat. We thought you were gonna be awful, but you were really good. God bless him. But doing the show was so hard. One day before the show, I thought, oh, I’m a little late. I’m going to have a shower. Just fresh up. Did that?

Did the show came off stage and went, oh, I kind of watched the show, want to watch the show off and I had a shower afterwards, and then it became a ritual of. Literally washing myself up my life to get into the show and then washing myself as the show. So I could go back into my life. And I don’t think we implement that practice enough.

There’s that, you know, I see kids running out of a Broadway theater group. We’re off to the bar. We’re having a good time or this or that and the other it’s like, do you want to just take a second and go, we all just got hit by a bus. Let’s just stop, breathe. Now, go have a great time. But, but, but define the boundaries between yourself and the work.

Phil Rickaby: Yeah. I think that can start in rehearsal if you can like do that. Some, some kind of thing like that in rehearsal, maybe people take that into the performance as well, but I think also you can encourage it, but you can’t make

Bruce Dow: people do no, you can’t make people do. Yeah. But, um, I know we did, um, uh, I was rehearsing for another piece and we had an indigenous director and uh, And we did at the start of the day we, we smoked did the start of the day to just say what we’re thankful for, and also to wash off the world before we entered the work.

Uh, we didn’t have, I don’t think we had a closing of day process, but it’s, it’s, you know, with, without appropriating the indigenous practice, it’s something I, I thought again, I would love to have used as a director to just go, we’re stepping into this space, particularly if it’s a challenging piece to step into the space and, and have it be a little sacred, a little special, or just acknowledged that it’s different.

Phil Rickaby: Yeah. You know? Yeah.

Oh, sorry. Sorry. Just like, cause we’re almost at the hour. I didn’t want to keep no, we’re good. No more than the hour. So I wanted to thank you for this time. And it’s been a delight talking with you.

Bruce Dow: Its been a delight talking with you too..

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