#317 – Brendan Healy

Brendan Healy is the Artistic Director of Canadian Stage, one of the country’s leading not-for-profit contemporary performing arts organizations. The company produces, presents, commissions, and collaborates with multiple partners on cross-disciplinary work with a focus on performance styles that integrate theatre, dance, film, visual arts and more. Originally from Montréal, Brendan began his career as an actor before moving to directing. Brendan attended the National Theatre School’s Directing Program and trained extensively with one of the pioneers of the American avant-garde Anne Bogart and the SITI Company before relocating to Toronto. Since then, Brendan has established himself as a central figure in the city’s theatre scene. His work has been presented across the country and his productions have garnered multiple awards. Between 2009-2015, Brendan was the Artistic Director of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, the world’s longest-running theatre devoted to LGBTQ2S artists and one of Canada’s most significant generators of experimental performance and theatre. During his time at Buddies, the company experienced an unprecedented period of artistic success. More recently, Brendan completed a Masters in International Arts Management, in a program jointly offered by the Southern Methodist University (Dallas, Texas), l’École des hautes études commerciales (Montréal, Québec), and the SDA Bocconi School of Management (Milan, Italy). He also worked as the Artistic Director for Performing Arts for the City of Brampton, one of Canada’s most diverse and fastest-growing cities.

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TRANSCRIPT

Phil Rickaby:

Welcome to Stageworthy. I’m Phil Rickaby, the host of this podcast. This is Episode 317. If you like this podcast, please consider or supporting it. There are a few ways that you can do that. First, you can rate the show on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, and if you listen on Apple Podcasts, you can also leave a review. If you want to keep up with what’s going on with Stageworthy and my other projects, you can subscribe to my newsletter by going to philrickaby.com/subscribe. If you want to leave a tip for the show, you can drop some change in the virtual tip jar. You will find a link for that in the Show Notes. I also have a Patreon in support of the show. Now, stageworthy is a one person operation, and that one person is me. So not only do I arrange the guests, I edit the show, I promote it, and I even created the music. I also shoulder all of the financial responsibilities that keep the show going. So your support means the world. For a subscription of $5, I will take you behind the scenes on the podcast. I’ll do regular Q and A sessions, and I’ll even present regular exclusive interactive conversations just for subscribers. You can find the Patreon at Patreon.com/stageworthypod But one of the most important things you can do even more than rating it or reviewing it or even supporting it financially is to share it on social media. Even a simple retweet helps. 

You can find Stageworthy on Twitter and Instagram @Stageworthypod, and you can find the website with the archive of all 317 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. 

This week. My guest is artistic director of the Canadian Stage, Brendan Healy. Brendan is an actor, a director, and an educator. In addition to leadership at the Canadian Stage, Brendan is a former artistic director at Buddies and Bad Times and has been a contributor to the Canadian Theater Review. During the Pandemic, Brandon and Canadian Stage explored new ways of presenting theatrical works, bringing new ways of creating theatre and new methods of presenting it into the digital sphere. Here’s our conversation.

Are you working from home or are you in the Canadian Stage offices? 

Brendan Healy

Yeah, I’m actually in rehearsals, so I’m at Canadian Stage right now. 

Phil Rickaby

What’s that like these days? 

Brendan Healy

Being back in rehearsals? Amazing. Great. Yeah. It’s a very nice feeling. I had been in rehearsals over the holidays, getting ready to do a show, and then we had to stop rehearsals with Omicron, and that was devastating. But this time I feel like I’m directing a show that will actually make it to the stage. Awesome. That is a good feeling. I feel like at this point, every time there’s, like that statement of what we can perform again, everybody goes great, but they kind of hold their breath. Yeah.

Phil Rickaby

I mean, aside from being devastating and difficult, what’s the two years of the Pandemic been like for you and for Canadian Stage? 

Brendan Healy

It’s been a time of transformation in a bunch of ways. The way that I’ve been describing the Pandemic, it’s been like when you’re driving a car and then you hit the brakes and everything that was in the backseat comes sort of flying into the front. And that’s sort of what I felt we’ve gone through as a society. There’s like this kind of screeching halt, and then all this stuff that we’d sort of been carrying around with us but hadn’t necessarily been looking at suddenly became really visible, and we had time and space to really look at that stuff and maybe act on it in that way. I think the past two years has actually been really positive. We’ve been able to really ask big questions about what our role is as an arts institution and lean into, I think some really important areas that we just wouldn’t have had a chance to kind of focus on. 

Phil Rickaby

Have you not had that opportunity? 

Brendan Healy

Yeah. I mean, those big questions are things that they would come up all the time, things like the question of are we putting enough people of colour on the stages? Are we engaging enough people behind the scenes of colour and all kinds of other questions are the kinds of things that, because of the treadmill of production, were difficult things to contend with. And then when things stop suddenly, though, there is not that if for one of a better word excuse not to deal with those things, and now we have to deal with them. I think that’s been really positive, I think, for the theatre industry as a whole. 

Phil Rickaby

Absolutely. 

Brendan Healy

And certainly there was a lot of events in the world that also brought those particular questions to the forefront. Absolutely. Sort of necessitated some deep examination. Also on top of it, we often define ourselves by what we do, and I think as people, we do that and also as institutions. But then when suddenly we weren’t able to really do what we typically did, we were left with the thought of like, well, how do I define myself by just being and that’s kind of an existential question. I think artists and organisations kind of had to deal with like, okay, well, if I’m not defined by producing, producing, producing, then what am I? I think at Canadian Stage, we really had a chance to kind of lean into our institutional values. So what do we believe in and then try to kind of figure out a way to kind of navigate the past two years with our values really guiding us, as opposed to all the other prerogatives that come into play when you’re busy doing things, doing shows. What were those big questions, and where did you come out on those when you finally put your values together? Yeah, I think there’s a lot that I could say about that. I’d say one of the big things was who do we exist for? And certainly we have so many stakeholders, and we have a big family at Canadian stage and audiences. There’s just so much there. But fundamentally, we serve artists. We create a platform for artists to create, to speak from. And so the big question is how do we continue to do that if we can’t have audiences in the space? And so a lot of stuff came out of that question. We had a huge micro grant program where we funded artists to go back to school. We funded projects that enabled artists to really pivot their artistic practice. So to embrace digital technologies, to really reexamine their artistic practice. And that was a huge initiative that we were able to support a lot of artists, but also we were able to, as an organisation, really delve into all kinds of new opportunities for how artists can express themselves and perform. We embraced all kinds of new technologies. We did a whole residency in virtual reality, which was kind of mind blowing. So out of the question of how can we best serve artists? Like, all kinds of new creative avenues opened up for us as an institution that will carry forward into the future. 

Phil Rickaby

Aside from the virtual reality stuff, which is always fascinating, and how that has developed over the years. I can remember many years ago in the I think it was the late 90s going to the exhibition, and there was a really terrible demonstration that I had to pay for. And I think I paid like $10 to see a bunch of lines surrounding me. And the VR has come such a long way, so exploring that in a theatrical experience must have been incredible. But also, did you guys do much with Zoom and other digital productions as well? 

Brendan Healy

Yeah, we did a lot of stuff over Zoom, not just Zoom on different online platforms, all of which were really kind of interesting. And what VR offers, apart from the Immersive experience, is just kind of a live connection in a digital space, which Zoom can also provide. So all that was really interesting. What is liveness when you’re not in a room together, can you create the feeling of liveness? Can you create intimacy? What is exchange between two bodies that are not sharing a space? It’s all super interesting and really fruitful and filled with failure. Like a lot of failure, which is I mean, it’s a part of the artist’s way is to fail. But I’m sort of excited to see five years from now what has carried forward from this time. I think artists have been working in such different ways, and we can’t really predict what will stick, but it’s inevitable that we’ll look back and go like, wow, we learned a lot, or wow, that really did have an impact on our art form. I don’t know if we can totally see what that is specifically just yet. I don’t think we’ll know. Obviously we won’t know because we can make all kinds of predictions that will not come true. 

Phil Rickaby

Definitely. I find it fascinating, and I’ve said this before, how many people were delving into technologies that two and a half years ago they would have said, oh, I could never do that. I’m not technical enough. I could never do that. Through all of this, they’ve explored other ways and made some really interesting, and everybody’s got to try and fail before they find out what’s works. As you said, I’m sort of interested to see if we’re able to do and to continue utilizing digital delivery in the future as a way of sort of expanding the audience, serving underserved and accessibility issues, just to see if that’s something that we can carry forward, even though logistically it sometimes feels like it’s difficult. 

Brendan Healy

Absolutely. The digital disruption creates all kinds of accessibility opportunities, for sure. Among the tricky parts of digitization, particularly around distribution, is how to monetize it. Every sector is facing that problem or that question, and the theatre is certainly no different. It’s what is a financial model that works for online platforms when it comes to performance? And that’s a whole other question. 

Phil Rickaby

Obviously, we need to be able to monetize. I think there was early in the pandemic. I think it felt necessary at the time, but it did set somewhat of an unfortunate precedent. Is a lot of people giving away their digital production, which felt at the beginning really necessary, but then made it a little harder later on to ask people to pay for those things because this used to be free, and now you’re asking me to pay for it. And it’s one of those sort of carries forward and trying to figure out what is a fair, accessible price or a fair price for digital production and digital delivery while also being able to welcome the audience into this space. I think we’re going to have to see how that pans out over time. 

Brendan Healy

Yeah. Digital technology presents all kinds of problems to capitalism. I think we’re still trying to figure that one out as a society. What is the relationship between these things? The only thing I was thinking, Phil, as you were saying, is you sort of mentioned that a lot of artists sort of felt that they could not sort of embrace digital technologies prior to the pandemic. I also feel that there were a lot of us, me included, who felt that we will not embrace digital technologies for myself feeling like, no, I’m a theatre artist, and this is the interaction that I can work with, which is live in person, in a room, and that’s what I do. I know I was forced to kind of really challenge my assumptions around what I did and what I sort of maybe thought was a bit more superior to other forms of connection. It was interesting. I kind of had to really reevaluate some of the fundamentals of what I believe I do as a theatre artist in a healthy way. 

Phil Rickaby

Yes. I don’t think you’re the only one. I know there’s people who are still even now, resistant to digital delivery and digital theatre, and there are some people that just want to put that thing back in the box. Like, we used it, we had to use it. Let’s get rid of it as quickly as possible because they’ll say things like, well, if it’s online, it’s not theatre. If it’s filmed, it’s not theatre. And I think I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit because I feel like I’m often defending digital theatre with people and sort of sometimes evangelising a little bit too much. But I feel like it’s so necessary that we consider theatre to be what we make it to be rather than tying ourselves to it being one thing. And it will still be that one thing because online and film production and digital production is never going to be exactly that, because that experience of being in the theatre is unique and will always be its thing. That experience can never be fully recreated in a digital experience, but people can get a taste of it, which in some cases might encourage them to actually come to the actual theatre. 

Brendan Healy

Absolutely. Or the quality of experience online is just different. It’s just a different kind of quality of togetherness. Anyway, we could go on and on forever. It’s been an interesting couple of years, Phil. Yes, it has. 

Phil Rickaby

I think one of the things that I’m curious about is, as the artistic director of Canadian Stage, can you tell me a little bit about what was your impression of and what did you think of the Canadian stage before you became the artistic director? 

Brendan Healy

I mean, it depends at what point in its history, because Canadian Stage has had so many incarnations. My first kind of real contact with Canadian Stage was right after I graduated from theatre school. I was part of the first ever sort of RBC emerging artist program. It was called Bashed. Back then. My first introduction to the stage was that and through that program, I ended up actually assistant directing Hair. There was a production of Hair that was done by Cane Stage many years ago. So that was like one version of Can Stage. And so the impression that I had there was kind of a not for profit company that was sort of operating a bit commercially and sort of was really big and had big, ambitious ideas for kind of big commercial productions. And then with Matthew Matthew Jocelyn, who is the artistic director right before me, really brought the company in a very different direction. I think sort of embraced less commercially driven work, much more artistically innovative and work, and really kind of brought on this mandate that became very international, very multidisciplinary. There’s some theater, but also dance and other forms. So it’s a very different company. What drew me to the company was sort of the artistic vision that Matthew kind of initiated was one that I was really excited by and felt really, really wanted to kind of pick up the mantle from that artistic vision and kind of move it forward in sort of my own way.

Yeah. So it’s a very long answer to your question, which was basically I was really inspired by the work that Canadian Stage was doing and was really eager to kind of be a part of part of that conversation. 

Phil Rickaby

And as the artistic director, how do you see yourself moving what came before forward, and how are you putting your own spin on it, and where do you see it going in your tenure? 

Brenan Healy

Yes. It’s so interesting because I haven’t really experienced the company outside of Covet. So much of my experience with the company has been sort of responding to the pandemic. What I can say is that the impulse for me was like, how can the mandate at Canadian Stage really feel like an authentic reflection of Toronto, and how can its kind of contemporary aspirations and sort of innovative inspirations just really represent the people and the ideas and the questions and the realities of everyday Toronto? That for me is the project. And there are all kinds of ways to kind of look at that question, but that’s what I’m interested in. 

Phil Rickaby

Yeah. I remember the first show that I saw at Canadian Stage many years ago. It was an immersive production called Donut City. I don’t know that show somehow because I talked to one of the English teachers at my school, and I don’t know if they had also heard of it, but we want a class trip to a show that we probably shouldn’t have gone to this immersive show about prostitution and street hookers, both male and female. And it’s probably more graphic than a group of high school students should have seen in the 80s. But that was my first time in the Berkeley Street Theater. And it sort of like bent my brain as something that made me sort of think like, oh, like, I thought theatre was one thing, but this is, like so different than anything I ever thought it was. And it’s interesting to think about all of the different configurations that have been used in both that theatre and in the Bluma Appel and the other theatres that have been used by Canadian Stage. 

Brendan Healy

Yeah. Well, that’s interesting. Canadian Stage is such a funny organisation because it used to be two different companies. It used to be the Toronto Free Theatre, which existed at the Berkeley, and then Center Stage, which operated out of the Blueman, and those two organisations merged to become Canadian Stage, and those organisations could not have been more different. Toronto Free Theater was this kind of radical experimental theatre company was called the Free theatre because originally all their shows were free. They couldn’t really maintain that. But that was sort of the idea was like theatre should be free for anybody. And the kind of show that you described was the kind of standard of the Toronto Free theatre. Center Stage was kind of a big regional that played kind of Broadway after Broadway, the shows would get picked up by Center Stage. So when those two companies together merged together, I think that still is part of the company’s energy is like this tension between kind of really experimental theatre that makes you rethink what theatre is, but then also kind of large scale, big idea theatre, which requires to attract, like, a big audience every night. 

Phil Rickaby

Yeah. Now, I believe you grew up in Montreal. 

Brendan Healy

Yes. 

Phil Rickaby

And I know Montreal. I’ve spent a little bit of time in Montreal, and I’ve always loved just walking around Montreal and being like, oh, that’s essentially a neighbourhood theatre. Oh, that’s essentially a neighbourhood theatre and seeing that sort of thing. What was your experience of theatre, like, growing up in Montreal? 

Brendan Healy

Yeah, Montreal has a ton of theatre, and for a portion of the population, it’s a big part of their lives. I didn’t grow up in a family where theatre was at all a part of our lives. So I came into theatre through kind of like a youth program. It’s like a sort of late 80s, early 90s that was basically a kind of youth program to get kids off the streets kind of thing. And basically there was like a kind of youth theatre festival that happened in the old Port of Montreal and this huge abandoned hangar. Young people kind of wrote and directed and acted in all the place. I kind of remember a few adults kind of in the background making sure we didn’t kill ourselves. But it was all about kind of youth empowerment. And so for some reason, my mother had a kind of instinct to suggest that, hey, Brendan, maybe you’d be interested in doing this thing, because I certainly had no real experience of theatre. I hadn’t seen a play, but I said, sure, why not? Let’s give this a shot. And that’s sort of where I fell in love with theatre. And it was only until after doing that for maybe two or three summers that I learned that there was actually people who did it for a living. It was actually like a career. And then I got to kind of see my first professional production when I was two or three years after doing kind of this kind of theatre. But yes, all that to say is that you all does have a lot of theatre. I wasn’t necessarily a part of it as growing up. And I think that’s the thing about society is not everyone goes to see theatre.

Phil Rickaby

That’s the thing. I’ve said it before, we all know somebody who’s, like you say, I work in the theater and they’ll say something ridiculous, like, I saw play once and I didn’t like it or things like that. We know that people don’t go to theatre, that they’ve had some bad theatre experiences. But you started like, do you remember what that first production that you saw was? 

Brendan Healy

Yeah, the first production I saw was I grew up speaking French and going to French high school. So it was a moliered. I don’t know what that is in English, but yeah, it was a big Molliere play. It was a bit punk rock. It was directed by a director named Loren Petel, who still right now runs The Telescopenival, which is a very large theatre in Montreal. And she’s sort of known for kind of radical feminist, kind of retelling of the classic. So I kind of remember there was a bit of a feminist edge to it, but to me, it was so not what I thought theater was because I’d kind of been doing these kind of shows about growing up what it was like to be a teenager. I was like, what is this? This is theatre. But I was also completely fascinated by it. And even though I didn’t totally get what was happening on stage, I was totally enthralled by the experience of it. 

Phil Rickaby

It’s interesting that you had that sort of experience of like, oh, this is theatre, too, because I know I think for a lot of people, their first exposure to theatre, unless they go to some pantos at Christmas, is probably when they tackle Shakespeare in high school. Right. And then they think that’s what theatre is. And then if they see something else, then they could realise that, oh, theatre is more than just Shakespeare and Broadway musicals, which they may also know. But it’s interesting to see the different ways that people come to theatre. 

Brendan Healy

Totally. I mean, I think for me, I fell in love with theatre initially through this youth festival that I was talking about, because for me, it was the first place where I really felt seen as a person. I think growing up, I felt just kind of like probably a lot of younger people just really out of place. I felt invisible. I was also like a gay kid and kind of working class Montreal. I just was kind of getting beaten up. But suddenly at this theatre, I felt that I mattered. I felt people saw me. I felt special. And there’s also a place of, like, a lot of first it’s where I kind of had my first cigarette, ended up losing my virginity. One summer at that festival, I met my first real gay person. So it was a lot of self discovery. And so my point of entry into the theatre was that but then it changed. And it kind of changed a little bit with that mugiere play. And then subsequent shows was for me was a kind of feeling of mystery. What is this? What is this? Theatre. What am I seeing? Who are these people on stage? And feeling like it was a bit beyond me, but the journey to try to understand was like a really exciting journey for me. I felt that way about Shakespeare, kind of like, what the hell are these people talking about? What is happening? But, like, a good production would make me want to kind of stretch myself to get it. And in that process of trying to get it, that’s where I started to learn things. And that eventually became what I love about the theatre, much less like the kind of like being seen and that sort of thing. It became much more about the conversation that good theatre kind of demands of me. 

Phil Rickaby

Now you initially, like, you went into theatre as an actor, but how long after that did you turn to directing? 

Brendan Healy

I guess it wasn’t that long. I started off as an actor and then went to University. I went to Concordia University in Montreal and their theatre performance program and kind of did that. And in University, teachers were like, you should direct, you should really direct. And I always interpreted that as, like, you kind of suck as an actor. So I was a bit resistant. I was like, I’m an actor, but I did take a directing class for kind of extra for credit or whatever, and quite loved it and then kind of graduated from school and tried to make it as a professional actor. I got an agent and a bit of television, and I was just, like, so miserable. The life of an actor just did not appeal to me at all. And I ended up getting cast in this show that Peter Hinton was directing called Girls, Girls, Girls. And that was my first kind of experience with a director, where I just was so amazed by what he was doing and his role in the process. And I thought, okay, I think I want to be like Peter Hinton. And so after that experience, I kind of made a decision that I’m going to try to be like Peter Hinton and just started to direct and kind of gave up acting. 

Phil Rickaby

Now being in leadership in the theatre and being an artistic director is a little bit different than being a director. At the time that you were making that decision, were you thinking about going into artistic direction or were you just thinking about being a director? 

Brendan Healy

Yeah, I wasn’t thinking about artistic direction at all. At that point was really just like, I want to direct. Among the things I loved about directing is that I could just kind of do it. Like, I didn’t have to wait for someone to invite me. So that really excited me. So I just started making a ton of shows. I would just, like, kind of do a lot of shows and was only focused on that. It wasn’t until later that artistic direction kind of emerged as an interest. 

Phil Rickaby

Now what was the journey to becoming an artistic director? Was there a mentor? Did somebody say, you should do this? How did you get from being a director to artistic director? A bit of a fluke. I applied for a job and I got the job, and I got the job probably because I was kind of just the right person at the right time. I kind of applied to the job. I’m not sure that I wanted to be an artistic director, but kind of like I might want to be an artistic director. So I’m going to apply for this job, and I’m just going to kind of be sort of radically honest in my process with the interviews and just tell them exactly what I think I would do with the theater. And then I got the job, and then through the process of doing it, I really discovered how much I loved it. But I didn’t necessarily know when I applied for the job that this is what I totally wanted. I wasn’t sure. But it turned out to be what you wanted. Absolutely. No, it’s exactly what I wanted. And I think what I learnt through that process was that really my great passion is community building, and the theatre is for me the best tool that I have as who I am to use to create community. But I think going into the job, I thought theatre was my great passion, and that artistic direction could kind of help me do more theatre. And then I quickly realized that, oh, no, actually what this job provides me is the opportunity to create community, and that’s what I really love. 

Phil Rickaby

Can you talk a little bit more about how you see it as creating community? I’d love to hear about the kind of community that you see being created, especially around Canadian Stage. 

Brendan Healy

Well, I think there’s many communities at its most basic. Like, every night a group of people come to see a show, and a kind of community is created that night around a story around an experience. So there’s that. I think there’s the community of artists who make up the heart and soul of a theatre company. And certainly Canadian Stage has a group of artists who kind of make up that community. There’s the communities of people who live close by. So we’re in the St. Lawrence neighbourhood at Canadian Stage, and we are very actively involved in working with local community groups to kind of be a part of this neighbourhood and to be an active contributor to the lives of the people who live nearby. So there’s, like, all kinds of communities that sit around a theatre, and that’s really exciting, and it changes. My first artistic direction role was that buddies in bad times, and certainly that’s very much rooted in the LGBTQ two S communities. And so that was like a whole world of communities that I got to be a part of so I mean, for me, theatre is at its core, is communing. And when you commune, community happens. 

Phil Rickaby

Yeah. I’m curious about the cultivation of the leadership of the future. As far as theatre in Canada goes, I’ve noticed that organisations like Soul Pepper have created would feel like internships for the future leadership to become an associate artistic director and to learn the ropes that way for people. And I think that’s important because for a lot of years, some theatres have imported their artistic leadership from outside of the country, whereas we have plenty of people here who just need to know how to do it. As far as the cultivation of the leaders of the future, is there, or do you foresee a program at Canadian Stage that will help to do that? 

Brendan Healy

Yeah, we have a lot of programs that do all of them. We do have programs that do that. There is an associate artistic director role at the company, and that is in part to train the leaders of theatres of tomorrow. That’s the big reason why we have that role. That role also brings in all kinds of important expertise to the organisation. We do all kinds of internships through the Metcalfe Foundation. We have our own internship programs where we really feel it’s critical that we’re constantly training leaders of administrative leaders, artistic leaders, production leaders. It’s a big part of what we do. It’s so important because if we’re not teaching people on the job, that’s the only way. I mean, you could take a course, but really getting your hands in there is the only thing that’s going to get you that work later on. And it’s so important that we build that foundation in Canada rather than hoping we can find it elsewhere. So I think that’s amazing. That’s an essential part of what Canadian Stage is doing. 

Phil Rickavy

Yeah, I agree. Do you have a favourite thing, whether it’s a production or aspect of Canadian Stage, that is just like the thing that when you think about it, gives you all the warm fuzzies, and it’s the thing that makes you smile? 

Brendan Healy

Oh, yeah. There’s a ton of stuff. I think for me, the thing that excites me the most is

the sheer variety of stuff that the company does. And we do dance, we do theatre, we have small spaces, we have large spaces, we do a big outdoor Shakespeare. We really cover such a gamut of work and styles. For me, it’s the way that those things connect that I find them to be the most interesting. Like the relationship between our spaces, between the art forms, between the audiences that we have every year. It’s really exciting. And that’s often what excites me is when things kind of come together or kind of collide. Some of my favourite experiences at Buddies, for instance, I remember this one instance where we had a company-  Nightwood was doing the Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood, and like that show was ending. And then our club night, we run a club at Buddies and a bunch of drag Queens, kind of like coming up a staircase to kind of perform while this audience of Margaret playgoers kind of was exiting the theatre. And watching those two groups meet was really exciting for me. So, yeah, I think I Canadian Stage. It’s the collision of things that I find so dynamic and exciting. 

Phil Rickaby

I remember years ago the production, I think it was a Co-pro from Canadian Stage and another theatre of The Rocky Horror Show. And I remember that collision. I remember being in the audience watching and really being fascinated by the way that the subscriber base and the people who are maybe regular theatre goers coming face to face and in many ways ear to ear with the people for whom that show, The Rocky Horror Show is an interactive experience, and that was fascinating to watch an adjustment take place in an audience. 

Brendan Healy

You’re right. Those kinds of collisions and entertainments are quite fascinating to watch. Absolutely. Another way of thinking about a theatre, apart from being communities, is like an ecology, and it’s like an ecosystem, and there’s all kinds of players that kind of come together to make that ecosystem the most vital. Ecosystems are actually areas where ecosystems meet, like the seashore, for instance, where you have land and water meet. That’s like a really fertile space. And so if you’re in a theatre, if you’re able to kind of create these conditions where ecosystems meet, it gets really exciting. 

Phil Rickaby

Yeah, absolutely. You mentioned really your experience of being the artistic director at Canadian Stage has largely been dealing with the pandemic. Around the time when this goes out, we will be just past the two year anniversary of the time when everything shut down. What were you working on at the time that everything had to shut down in March 2020? 

Brendan Healy

Yeah. What was I working on? We had just closed a show that I had directed called how to Fail Pop Star by Vivixrea. And we were just sort of getting ready for a big dance show at the Blooma, and we had just sort of announced the kind of 1920 season and subscription sales were going like gangbusters. I was like, okay. I’d been at the company for about eight or nine months at that point. And I was like, okay. I sort of felt like my feet were sort of landing, and I was kind of like, okay, I get what’s going on. Yeah. And then everything changed. And in fact, I was in Brazil when the actual shutdown happened. I just landed in Brazil. I’d been invited to go see a theatre festival there. Like my first time in Brazil, I got off the plane and then literally 6 hours later, it was announcing that everything was shutting down. And I got on a plane the next day and came home. 

Phil Rickaby

Wow. I remember for me knowing that I think the moment where it became real for me was the news that Broadway was shutting down. I was like, oh, this commercial machine is shutting down. And then we just saw things go from there. I think those weeks after that were some of the most depressing and dire at first for me, but then also when I started to see innovation happening and creativity continuing, even though for me, it took me about a year before I could put pen to paper and write something again. Just seeing that people were able to do it was heartening for me. And I knew that theater was going to survive in some way. 

Brendan Healy

Uh hum. I think we’re inherently creative beings, and creativity never goes away. But, yeah, it was wild. It still kind of feels actually like a bit like a dream. It was just so surreal. 

Phil Rickaby

Yeah. Everything is. I mean, I remember today, I just put her an episode talking with Lisa Alves as we recorded this today, Lisa Alves from Cahoots Theater. And it was pointed out that after we put it, after we produced it, that she referred to 2019 for a bunch of things that actually happen in one. And I was like, well, of course, because we’re all still like, what is time? Because time has I feel like the last two years have been both so breathlessly fast and also snails pay slow at the same time. So it’s easy to sort of like, see this the last two years as a dream state. Yeah. It’s amazing that time can do that and just how totally subjective time is. I’m trying to think because as we’re recording this today, we’re recording this on March 1 today. Ontario has lifted vaccination passes and gathering limits and things like that, although masking is still required. And I know there’s a lot of talk about both ways about how people want to do it. Some theatres have announced that they’re going to continue to look at vaccination passes, and some theatres haven’t announced anything like that. Do you know what Canadian Stages is planning to do for the foreseeable future on that front? 

Brendan Healy

Yeah, we have a show coming up in a couple of weeks in My Body, and so for that one, we’ll keep checking vaccinations part of it that’s people who bought their tickets for that show bought their ticket with the understanding that that was going to be part of the experience. So we want to honour that. And then we’ll kind of just sort of evaluate if there’s one thing that the Pandemic has taught us is kind of how to be nimble and just sort of monitor and see how people are feeling, how safe people are feeling for us. What’s really important is that people feel safe and comfortable. So we’ll start with that. We’ll start with that in a couple of weeks. And then we’ll kind of reevaluate and kind of check in with our audience. It’s been great. We’ve done a lot of checking in with our audience throughout the pandemic, and our audience has been incredibly forthcoming with how they feel and what they want. So we’ll just kind of keep monitoring the situation, as they say. Yeah. Having that kind of feedback is so important and helpful. 

Phil Rickaby

Do you feel like the kind of connection and feedback that you’re getting from the audience has gotten that feedback has gotten better and more regular through the pandemic, or is it something that has always existed for Canadian stage? 

Brendan Healy

I mean, it’s different because obviously when you’re doing shows every night, you just get the feedback nightly. But it’s really directed to a show with the pandemic. The feedback has been more around the experience of theatre safety and comfort and also just kind of more institutional. What is our value to you? It’s been interesting. It’s like I feel the feedback has been continuous but just very different in nature. Yeah. Well, I guess in a lot of ways, people aren’t seeing their experience in just a show to show aspect. They’re looking at things like you said, comfort and safety and things like that. So I’m sure lots of people have lots of feelings about that. Yeah. And I think a lot of businesses are kind of like, okay, what is a customer experience now? It wasn’t what it was two years ago, and I think we’re going to kind of collectively learn what that is think I audiences don’t necessarily even know yet what it is that they need and want. I think we’re all going to kind of figure it out together. 

Phil Rickaby

Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, it’s one of those things where we are like we’ve sort of alluded to we’re figuring out theatre as we go now because we have to figure out what we’re taking from this moving forward and what’s going to continue, what’s going to change and with the knowledge that we still have to be nimble and might have to switch on a dime. 

Brendan Healy

Absolutely. For me, what that requires is just kind of like listening and paying attention. You can’t predict goes back to sort of what we’re saying at the beginning of the conversation. We could sit here and try to predict, but it’s literally impossible. The skill, in my opinion, is to just really pay attention, which is like the fundamental thing that one must do in the theatre anyway, is just pay attention, be present, listen and react, respond. 

Phil Rickaby

Yeah. And I think it sort of forced a lot of institutions that may not have been used to moving so quickly to be able to have to move quickly when they have to because there’s no choice. It sort of like makes you change the way that you think about how do we measure success here? Because from week to week, the way that we measure success might have to change. 

Brendan Healy

Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. 

Phil Rickaby

Just as we sort of draw to a close. Can you talk about your back in the theatre. We’ve talked a little bit about what it’s been like to rehearse. As you look at the show that you are currently rehearsing. If you could put out into the universe what you want for this show, what would that be?

Brendan Healy

I think it’s probably what I want for any show is for it to be seen and for it to move people. I don’t know if I have anything else to kind of add to that. I think for me the most satisfying, if you will, experience is affecting another person through art. I find that to be really meaningful. My favourite experiences in the theatre have always been moments where I’m like watching a show and I think to myself, wow, how did this person know this about me? I didn’t even really know that about me. I can think of instances where I really felt like, wow, that show is showing me something about myself that I didn’t really even know existed. And I think that’s I always want to make theatre that does that for other people. That somehow through the magic of make believe, pretend story, all the things that we work with as theatre artists that were able to kind of, like, reveal some truth to somebody. Yeah, I think that is the power of theater is to be able to do that and that’s it’s magical when that happens. 

Phil Rickaby

Brendan, thank you so much for talking with me today. I really enjoyed this. 

Brendan Healy

Thank you. My pleasure.

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