Phil Rickaby
Welcome to Episode 256 of Stageworthy, I’m your host Phil Rickaby. Stageworthy is a podcast about people in Canadian theatre featuring conversations with actors, directors, playwrights and more. If you want to support Stageworthy, consider dropping some change in the virtual tip jar, you can find a link in the show notes. Your support helps me continue to bring great conversations in Canadian theatre.

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My guest this week is Carolyn Fe. Carolyn is an actor and musician based in Toronto.

So Carolyn, you describe yourself as an actress, singer songwriter. So for you, which which one came first for you singing songwriting acting What? What was there one that started your journey?

Carolyn Fe
dance?

Phil Rickaby
Dance. Okay, so it’s not even listed in the way that you describe yourself now.

Carolyn Fe
Right? Um, that was because that was a long time ago over Oh, my Lord 40,40 decades ago.

I just aged myself and I’m proud of it. Because

Phil Rickaby
you know what? Carolyn, you and I think I mean, you made a post today about two shows, television shows stuff that that nobody else I know remembers. And I think we may be of the same age. So

Carolyn Fe
yes. So to answer your question, it all started with dance. I was a professional dancer in my late teens, early 20s at a time when diversity was not in because this is a podcast for your listeners, I am of Asian descent descent. So there that is established. So in those times, excuse me, in the 70s diversity was not “in” per se. So I was forced to wear light coloured wigs, contact lenses because I have dark dark eyes. So contact lenses to lighten my eyes. And my foundation my stage makeup was was a lot lighter than my natural skin. Regardless, I had a great career. I travelled Europe. I even went to the point of having my own dance school, my own dance company that toured a contemporary dance company. But too young, too quick. Too much while at the time, enough money to play, let’s say I got in trouble. So from then I went into corporate life, learned a little more about business. I owned and operated a human resources firm in the high tech industry. And then 2005 came both acting and music came up in the same year 2005 I got a call from a theatre company saying we’re looking for a mother figure, an Asian mother figure and we cannot find your sister referred you to us because you used to do stage work. My sister was begging please do this. Because if you do this, I’m going to get the role. So for her for her I audition I took a time off in the afternoon went for the audition. Basically it was a cold read because they never send me this sent me the sides. Lo and behold I get the job on the spot

Phil Rickaby
but did your sister get the job

Carolyn Fe
She got the job, but she refused that because she got she got a lucrative modelling contract.

Phil Rickaby
After all, that! the nerve!

Carolyn Fe
you know, my own sister abandoning me. So I got the job. And it was Miss oriented written by Nina Aquino of today’s factory theatre. And Nadine Verlassen Feldman, it was produced by Teesri Duniya Theatre in Montreal. And go figure jumping right into theatre. It was a piece where I had to play three different roles, three different mothers. So, I jumped into the frying pan and soaked it in and loved it. And at the same time, we’re still in 2005, I’m still, you know, doing recruitment and human resources in the high tech industry. I met I meet up with this fellow who moved from friends found him a job, blah, blah, blah. During the interview process, he says, You know what, I really miss most playing the guitar. I don’t have any contacts here. And at the time, Montreal, I would really love to get back into the music. And I said, Why don’t we try it? I have a voice I had I have operatic training when I was younger, I i understand music from my dancing days. Let’s try it. So 2005. That’s the beginning of the end of the corporate world for me, huh? Yeah,

Phil Rickaby
Um moving into the corporate. That’s this is something that I sort of did a number of years ago by going into technical support. Because, you know, theatre doesn’t have a lot of security. And people always need technical support. Right. So I sort of like, made a transition, but I kept my hand in theatre, going from the creative arts into the corporate world. Did you find that difficult at all? What was that transition? Like?

Carolyn Fe
I think, because I left dance, let’s say bitterly. It was, you know, to all that. The challenges I faced. I think I missed it. And I didn’t know, I think I missed the performing arts. And I really didn’t know how much I missed it. Until opening night of T’s reading is Miss oriented. I remember that. That three second quiet in the house before the lights go on. And we’re on. And like I said, it was the beginning of the end for me, in the corporate world. I knew I knew 2005 I was going to close down my company that I was going to eventually move. It was a long transition. I was impatient. I wanted to to make a living as an artist. But of course, you know, we have rents and mortgages and and car payments, or what have you food to pay. Yes. So but my heart was already in the theatre. My heart was already in the venues. I wanted it bad.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah. Yeah. Did I mean for the time when you were balancing the two How difficult was that for you to, to sort of juggle both the corporate world and the art world.

Carolyn Fe
It was difficult, because you have the nine to five. And then you have the the rehearsals, five to whenever and thanks to Tz dunia I was able to join the equity, the union. So and thanks to the fact that I was self employed. It was my company and I had a I had employees, I was able to take days off to do actual 10 to six rehearsals. So I think I was I was at the right place the right environment, the right situation to make that transfer, but it was hard learning lines, memorising lines going into the office doing office stuff. That was not there was not a lot of sleep. But you know what, I do it again.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah. it to me that one of the things that I there are different parts of your brain that are engaged in the office work than in the art world, many times? Yes. So it can be difficult to make that to take your brain like focus so much on things like learning lines, and then transition into the corporate speak or whatever it is, or going to meetings and trained to look like you’re interested in things like that. Yes, yeah. Especially when you’re like, are you doing the art thing, and suddenly your soul is is bright and lit and, and on fire and then have to go into the office and try to pretend like you’re still like you enjoy the work as much as you do you do.

Carolyn Fe
Oh, goodness filled, there were days when I would do what I used to call marathon interviews, headhunting recruiting, there were days, every hour on the hour, I would meet a new candidate. And I swear, if I hear, I want to move, because I need a new challenge. I was going to shoot myself. I was tempted to tell them, well, you want a new challenge? Stay where you are. That’s a challenge. Yeah. Because, you know, having the arts being awakened in me again, I saw the possibilities of different whereas in the corporate world, there’s not much difference. You know, a support technician will be working for company, ABC, under this kind of, you know, supporting this kind of software will move to Company B, supporting a different kind of software, but it’ll be the same questions. Yeah, where is that? You know, how do I click here? Where do I find this function? What are what? It’s the same thing? Bottom line? So there’s no difference?

Phil Rickaby
No, I know that for sure. Like, eventually, if you’re doing support, you have to find sometimes you have to shift industries entirely. And even then, the questions end up being the same sometimes. Yeah, it can be very frustrating to try to keep that alive. When you if you would all have your hand in the arts, and have that be like there’s a challenge for you like bringing this thing to life. And it’s not just a challenge, something that’s setting your soul on fire, you know, right, exactly.

Carolyn Fe
Oh, yeah.

Phil Rickaby
Um, did you find were you starting in dance, and then going into theatre and music? Did did dance tempt you at all at that point? Or did you had you left that behind?

Carolyn Fe
I had left that behind, because there would have been 25 years difference. I would have aged 25, 25 years older. And one thing that I remember in dance that I did not care about was the quantity of food I would take. Having stopped dance, that appetite remained. So 25 years later, I can barely touch my toe.

But yeah, I had to be honest, I haven’t seen I think I’m still a bit bitter. I haven’t seen a formal dance show. I’ve seen musical theatre where there’s song and dance. But I have not seen a ballet. I’ve not seen a contemporary dance show. I think. I think I’d be too critical because of whatever’s left in me that I I know I’ll have to work on. Mm hmm.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah, that inner that critical eye can be very difficult. Especially. I’ve, I find, sometimes that critical eye, to me can sometimes be a little immature. It’s an eye it’s an eye that was that sort of like started to jump out. When I was as for some people, it often happens in you know, first year of theatre school, when suddenly you have a couple of lessons and you think you know everything. Oh, yeah. And you go to see a show and you’re, you’re hyper critical on this sort of thing. And eventually you have to learn how, you know how little you know, there’s still that voice sometimes that sort of jumps out. But you know, you have to under you have to remind yourself that like there’s different processes, there’s different things. You’re not always right. And that was like the lesson of the most if you could learn take anything out of theatre school, it would be that

Carolyn Fe
exactly. Learn to shut up and just watch and appreciate because it evolves. The dance I was into in the 70s You know, they’re called the classics today. That’s today isn’t is not what it was then. So I no longer have the right to criticise So, because I have something to work inside of me. With regards to that. I think that’s why I do not go I don’t go see shows tension. Yeah, no, yeah, that’s appeals to be swallowed.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah, there’s also something about, you know, things that are outside of your experience and that particular joy, like, not everything is necessarily for you. But if you sit, sit down, shut up and pay attention, you can get so much out of something that may be you, you wouldn’t have enjoyed if you were looking at it. So hyper critically.

Carolyn Fe
Exactly. And that’s, that’s what I find, I think, with the cut from dance and the jump into theatre, because it was literally a job, I was doing a favour for my sister, you know, thinking I wouldn’t get that role. So I was thrown into this. And then moving into the theatre world I’m seeing and I have worked with younger directors, younger cast and crews. And that’s where I, I learned to, to shut up and see, see things from their point of view. Because, you know, the, most of the people I work with are a lot younger. I mean, they could be at times my grandchildren now. So, it’s important for me to see, okay, this is how they see the world. Therefore, I must interpret this text, this story, as it pertains to their world. Giving a little bit of my experience into it. Of course, that’s why they cast me I guess, huh?

Phil Rickaby
I just noticed that you were in Audrey. dwyers calpurnia. Yes. And I saw that that was wonderful. You were wonderful in that.

Carolyn Fe
I didn’t say much did I?

Phil Rickaby
No but there was there’s, there’s something to be said for acting with no words and and being a presence and I thought that you were you were 100 you were certainly a presence and I it was very memorable seeing you on that stage.

Carolyn Fe
It was oh, wow, what a role. That was because my real life character me, Carolyn, if she was in a situation like that she’d be mouthing off. But to be told by the director on the script you have, you don’t have much to say it was everything was bubbling inside me as Carolyn the actor. Every night was different. I don’t know which show you came to but there was one night where my character pressey was going up the stairs with a tray of champagne glasses. And I did something I fidgeted and the champagne glasses fell and crashed. What do I do now? I’m a maid. I will clean the house. I will make sure my fellow actors and my fellow characters are going to be safe, huh? Thank goodness for our our assistant stage manager and back Neva Ross, who just immediately put the slippers on the side because the the fellow actors were wearing socks or bare feet. She put the the dustpan and the broom and I just cleaned that stage. So fast. That apparently I didn’t miss a cue, but just blacked out. Cleaning, cleaning, cleaning saying my lines as if, Hmm, yeah. But it was, um, to be quiet. When you know you have a lot to say. And to say it with movement looks nice. I think my dance experience help helped me a lot there. Huh. And also, in the very beginning, when I was asked if I’d be interested in playing the role. I just mentioned at the beginning of the show, I said I’m Asian. I’ll be a bit more specific for stereotype purposes. I’m a Filipino. So there’s that stereotype of the Filipino maid. And I was thinking, oh my god, here we go again. But Audrey, when I read the script, Audrey’s non words. Were so powerful that I said, Okay, I’ll be the maid. I’ll be the main this time around.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah. Well, it’s interesting because to me, that particular role because of what Audrey was saying, in that play, it made perfect sense that there would be a quote unquote, stereotypical Filipina maid,

Carolyn Fe
yes,

Phil Rickaby
it was within the construct of that play. Of course,

Carolyn Fe
yes. And, and it wasn’t token. It wasn’t a token role. Hmm. It was key in the role in the whole story that made pressy was very key. Very important to that family. Mm hmm. Yeah.

Phil Rickaby
Um, just to shift gears a little bit in March, when the world sort of went off its axis and everything changed. Were you in the process of working on anything in particular at that point?

Carolyn Fe
Oh, yes. heart ache of heart aches. I was. We were in Tex tech week. A second to last day. We were about to do a dress rehearsal at tarragon for three women of sweat towel. Oh, no. heartache, heartache, heartache, a fill. You know, it. Usually it’s during tech week that my lines start to flow. The words I start becoming the character. So we were in the zone, the three of us. The three actors on stage and the cast and crew. We were, we were feeling the solidity of it all. And then lights out, huh? i? Yeah. Wow. Yeah.

Phil Rickaby
What did – I mean? What did you do?

Carolyn Fe
We, Tarragon management came down and said- well, the week was weird. The first time they came down. They said, okay, we will continue on with the technical would tech week. Okay, so we continued on with tech week. Then the next day, they came back down and said, Okay, there is a possibility that we will shut down. But before we do, we’ll let’s do a video. Okay, so let’s do the tech dress. And then we went out for lunch. By the time we came in, I saw my stage managers face and I thought, this is it. It’s going to be announced. We’re going dark. and rightfully so. We’re going dark. We went dark. That was February, mid February, I believe. February 14, or 15th.

My husband was in Montreal.

I called him I said, I’m we’re done for three women have sweat out. It’s been postponed to a later date. Come get me. So he he picked me up in Toronto went back to Montreal and then the city shut down both Montreal and Toronto. So I’ve been in Montreal ever since?

Phil Rickaby
Hmm. What’s in What’s it? I mean, what which city? Do you generally consider home?

Carolyn Fe
Oh, that’s hard now. That’s very hard now. I pay taxes in both city. That’s how I look at things. I pay taxes in both cities. How half of my stuff is in Montreal. The other stuff in Toronto. I you know what? I’m getting more and more warm and fuzzies for Toronto? I really am.

Phil Rickaby
If it was pre COVID would you have given the same answer or would have been a much easier question to answer than

Carolyn Fe
it would have been pre COVID My house is for sale Toronto will be my official one tax paying town. Huh? Yeah.

Phil Rickaby
And once that shows that shut down and he went to Montreal, how have you been spending your time?

Carolyn Fe
Um, I’ve been blessed with voiceover work cartoons, audiobooks, commercials. I’ve been blessed with that. I’ve been reading a lot of books, which is so good because when we’re working in theatre, we don’t I don’t have time to read other things. I’m concentrated on the lines. And I wrote a play. Oh, did you? Yes, I did. My first completed play ever. It’s called one by five survive. Go Fish. It’s a play about older women. Because I find that there’s not enough opportunities out there for older women and when I say older women, number wise I’m talking 4550 years plus. Because under that we have a lot we have, there’s a lot of opportunities, but older women of colour, ideally 45, 50 ends and more.

It’s I had, I had the opportunity of having a public read, hosted by a me home theatre, which is a Filipino based Theatre Company, whom community theatre company who managed to gather actors from across Canada. A What a treat that was to hear Filipino voices saying my words. And, and just for me to instead of the voices in my head, it just clarified so many things.

Phil Rickaby
Hmm. It was this your first time hearing it out loud?

Carolyn Fe
Yeah, that was the first time ever. First time ever,

Phil Rickaby
that teaches you so much does it as a writer,

Carolyn Fe
oh my god. It teaches me how I spoke how I speak what, you know, I’m, while I’m writing, I’m thinking I’m writing about women, about women I’ve met who’ve told me their stories. And when I heard the voices, and I thought, wow, these are actual women’s lives and experiences. It I had this feeling that I that I was intruding, if I could say that. I mean, these women, you know, they told me their stories openly with consent, and then I adapted it for the play. But hearing someone else say it made me think, Oh, I’m in their private room.

That was a weird feeling.

Phil Rickaby
Um, how long were you working on this play?

Carolyn Fe
It didn’t take long actually failed it. I think in a matter of eight weeks, I was done. Thus, the the read and now the rewrites Hmm. And knocking on doors on theatres doors, in hopes of finding some some support to bring it forward to develop it.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah, I find like it’s it’s interesting to me when you said the rewrites after because to me, every time I’ve ever heard a play that I’ve I’ve, I’ve I’ve written spoken out loud. Or if it’s a solo play, speaking it out loud in front of somebody or people you like you learn from the audience, you learn from the actors, you learn so much from both that it follows that there has to be a rewrite, there has to be something that follows that because of you have to put what you’ve learned about about it into the play, right. So actors tell you so much after the fact being the ones to speak it. Yeah. Like they will see things that you missed.

Carolyn Fe
Yes. And there was quite a few and also quite a few little things that I’ve missed that I’ve tweaked and also some of the monologues that tended to ramble on and on and on. I cut and sliced and, and reorganised and hopefully have another opportunity in a more formal setting if we can during a pandemic through zoom or something. But more importantly, with the support of a professional organisation so that we can really move this forward.

Phil Rickaby
The the it’s interesting about about monologues and how when you’re the writer, they look they look a certain way on the page. Yes. And you think well, that’s that’s not too long. That’s that’s long enough. And then as soon as they’re spoken out loud, you can almost feel exactly when you’ve gone on too long.

Carolyn Fe
Oh, yeah. There were moments I was. I was rolling my eyes and I did I really write that this character is just rambling and rambling for nothing.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah. Did you? Did you generally feel good about it hearing it out loud, though.

Carolyn Fe
Yes. Very, very good.

Although the age range of the actors were not the age range of the characters I wanted that that I wrote about. I still heard enough to say, okay, on the technical basis, I have to cut this out, shorten this or lengthen that, on the technical basis. I had a lot to work on. But what I would really love eventually is to hear it from from the women of the age that I wrote for Because that perspective is going to be very important. Because, you know, experiences we’ve had as a 30 years old 30 year old person will not be the same experience as we’ll have as a 50 year old. No. Given the same situation, we will react we reacted differently when we were young. Yeah. And we will react accordingly or some other way as we get older. Mm hmm.

Phil Rickaby
Now, as this is your first play, do you feel like you have more plays and you will you’ll be adding a playwright to actress singer songwriter? Will you become actress singer songwriter playwright, do you think?

Carolyn Fe
I’m still? I’m still hanging on to writer because Celine after having the opportunity and continuing to look for other opportunities to work with playwrights I mean, come on. Nina Aquino, Audrey Dwyer, Joseph Elia. I mean, these are playwrights, I do not see myself there. I wrote a story that happened to be a play. So I think I’m a writer.

Phil Rickaby
But does it because you wrote a story. I’m gonna I’m gonna, because I, I for years had an issue. I could not bring myself to say that I was a writer. Okay, I could not bring myself to do that. I would say I do this. I do this. And sometimes I write, I could not I there was some kind of block that wouldn’t let me call myself a writer. But if you wrote something that is a play, does that not then make you a play rate?

Carolyn Fe
You’re pushing me. I can call myself a writer because I wrote songs that I own that like, you know, I have four albums worth of songs, and I’m going to be releasing another album in December. So I am comfortably I can comfortably call myself a writer, a playwright. Aiaiai, Ohhh.

Phil Rickaby
I know. I know. These title- titles are hard and weird. And there’s baggage attached.

Carolyn Fe
Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I mean, the Shakespeare’s a playwright, Audrey dwyer’s a playwright Eugene O’Neill’s, a playwright George Bernard Shaw is a play. These are no, that’s a big, big load to carry.

Phil Rickaby
Sure. But I bet Nina would call you a playwright.

Carolyn Fe
Okay, you just made me freeze there.

Phil Rickaby
I heard it. I’m sorry. But I bet she would.

Carolyn Fe
I’m really uncomfortable.

Phil Rickaby
I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

Carolyn Fe
I say it lovingly but no. Yeah. I don’t think I’m ready to wear it yet. I’m not ready to wear that coat. No.

Phil Rickaby
And you know, the thing is that the thing that I find the thing that makes you freeze like that the thing that makes you uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable in a way not because you don’t want it but because you do. But you don’t quite feel like you are ready. It’s like a like a beautiful coat that you’re not quite ready to put on yet.

Carolyn Fe
It’s too expensive right now. I can’t afford to buy that coat yet.

You know, I can’t. I walked into the acting world to do a favour for someone else. And then the first play I ever do, that I’ve ever done in Toronto was calpurnia by Audrey Dwyer. And for that, I was rewarded an accolade by the Toronto theatre Critics Award. I wasn’t expecting that. You know, that was a very expensive coat that was given to me. Hmm. Now, the playwright thing I’m looking at this at my my script my words. But it’s it’s a play that I wrote. And I can’t even see the coat hanging that’s that’s on sale or that’s you know, it’s not.

Phil Rickaby
I understand. Now, conversely, when when you started to call yourself an actress. Yes. Was that a difficult coat to wear? Or did you did you more easily slip that slip that went on?

Carolyn Fe
That was that was difficult, but not as difficult as this play write code. It was difficult, but it was a must because I ended up in the Union. Um, you know, actress equity and then French uda. So we are called actors coming in by default. So it was a an easier switchover. You know, just tuck the coat, put it on, okay, because I’m a union member now, fine. I’m an accurate, right? Let’s find gigs.

Phil Rickaby
And all of the things that you’ve been doing to keep yourself busy throughout the pandemic, what has given you the most joy?

Carolyn Fe
Ah, this sitting back, that time I have with my husband that we are together every day now, since since theatres went dark theatres and music venues went dark. We’re together every day. And what I discovered that, while we’re together, the creative juices are strong. Whether we’re in Toronto or Montreal, I find that because he’s with me, I’m secure. In creating, I’m secure in my process of creations creation, because I tried writing plays before I tried writing plays while I was out in Toronto, and he was somewhere else. And I couldn’t. You know, I tried writing songs, while I’m on the road, I can’t. But it’s when I’m at home. And he’s there. I’m safe. And I’m enjoying it. I he created this corner for me in our home, where I have my lights, my, my studio, my sound equipment, everything, I’m all set. And I know he’s just on the other side of the wall. I’m creating like, like a madwoman. I’m enjoying that.

Phil Rickaby
That’s such a valuable thing in a relationship to be in a relationship with someone who feeds your creativity. I think it’s a rare thing, but such a beautiful thing to have.

Carolyn Fe
I feel blessed that I’m grateful. And by no means do I give him the power, you know, that he does not allow me to create. But I know that because of him. I can create

Phil Rickaby
It sort of To me it you know, I think in the best relationships that I’ve had, they are relationships where you feed each other? Yes. And you you just sometimes you don’t even need to be talking about it something about the creative juices in the air. Yeah, when you are together, just feed each other’s creativity and to have you working on something and the other person is working on something. And just the air gets filled with creative energy and you just create together.

Carolyn Fe
You nailed it, Phil, you nailed it on the head. We don’t talk. I mean, he read my play. When the day before we were going to the public read. So that’s eight weeks of silence. But he knew I was doing something he knew I was writing a play. But he didn’t know what it was about. He read it only a couple of days before. I know he’s creating on the other side of that wall. He’s he’s doing a couple of websites. I don’t know what but I know I’m gonna see it. He’s also a photographer. So sometimes I pass by him and I see a picture on his computer screens and he’s photoshopping cleaning it up. We don’t necessarily talk about our creative things. We watch a lot of Netflix at the end of the day. And that’s where we say you know, what do you want to watch tonight? Horror, funny, you know, we do the regular couple talk. But because we’re together, this bubbling of creativity is happening.

Phil Rickaby
Hmm. That’s a beautiful thing.

Carolyn Fe
Yeah, it I wish it on everybody.

Phil Rickaby
Yes. Yeah. No, absolutely. Absolutely. Is there anything though? There’s play aside. Is there anything that’s coming up for you? You mentioned a new a new a new album released in December is are there other projects that are that are coming up?

Carolyn Fe
Um, there’s that new album release in December? Yes. It’s I’m I’m I’m a blue Singers so this album will be the first time I, I do cover songs. I rarely rarely rarely cover songs. But this one will have a very interesting twist. Because if you see on my Bandcamp page, Carolyn Fey dot band Captain calm. You’ll see the albums that I have. And there is a lot there is a progression with each album that I’ve created that I have. And it is from the standard blues rock to blues jazz. And where I want to bring my audience to is two blues, but mixed with the indigenized sounds of the Philippines. Oh, so this album that will come out in December will be just that. It’s standard blues songs that a lot of people will know. But it’ll be supported by the sounds of the tribes from the Philippines. Wow. Yeah. I, that’s where I want to go. That’s where I want my sound to go. Once that is done. The next step will be to write original blues songs again, continuing on with the Filipino indigenize sounds.

Phil Rickaby
That’s amazing. We will we’ll have to you have to share that with me when it comes out. And I’ll share that with everyone too.

Carolyn Fe
Oh, for sure. I’ll let you know.

Phil Rickaby
Awesome. Carolyn, thank you so much. This has been wonderful.

Carolyn Fe
Thank you so much, Phil.