Phil Rickaby
Welcome to Episode 257 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 help support Stageworthy, consider dropping some change in the virtual tip jar, you can find a link to that in the show notes. Your support helps me continue to bring you great conversations in Canadian theatre. And if you like Stageworthy and you listen on Apple podcasts, I hope you’ll leave a five star rating and or comment. Your ratings and comments help new people find the show or even better: If you know someone that you think will like the show, tell them about it. Some of my favourite podcasts became my favourites because someone I know told me about them. And remember, you can find it Subscribe on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify and everywhere you get podcasts. You can find Stageworthy on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @stageworthypod and you can find the website with the archive of all 257 episodes at stageworthypodcast.om. And if you want to drop me a line, you can find me on Twitter and Instagram @philrickaby and My website is philrickaby.com. My guest this week is Laura Caswell. Laura is an actor, singer and playwright as well as the Director of Education at Neptune theatre.

You’re in Halifax?

Laura Caswell
That’s correct.

Phil Rickaby
Were you in Halifax when the pandemic began?

Laura Caswell
That’s correct.

Phil Rickaby
Okay,

Laura Caswell
I work and live here currently.

Phil Rickaby
Okay. Are you originally from there,

Laura Caswell
uh, I’m originally from Ottawa.

Phil Rickaby
Okay, okay. What, what? What path took you from Ottawa to Halifax?

Laura Caswell
Well, um, are we on our talk? Are we talking already?

Phil Rickaby
Oh, sure. We’re just you’re straight in.

Laura Caswell
Oh, my gosh, hi. Okay, so, uh, so you want the whole story? The whole new,

Phil Rickaby
whichever, whatever version you want.

Laura Caswell
So yeah, I grew up in Canada, Ontario, Canada, which is a suburb of Ottawa. And, and I spent my first 19 years there, that was back when there was a OAC, and you went to school, so you were 19. And then I went to school in New York City. And then I came back to Toronto. And then I went to school in England. And then I came back to Toronto. And then I started working. And I was working in musical theatre. And my first big break was in batboy, the musical, if you saw that.

Phil Rickaby
I didn’t see it, but I remember it.

Laura Caswell
Well, you’re, you know, there was about 40 people who came.

And anyway, but it was my big break like it, like I got an agent out of it. And I made so many amazing acquaintances in the business and had some reviews that were actually pop mine were positive, thank goodness. And so it just kind of got me on my way. And then I, I spent, you know, however many years just acting and regional musical theatre all over the country. One person who sort of, we got along and he I was one of his people that he heard was George prophetess, who at the time ran subway theatre centre. And my story that I always tell people was I was a second hire for my first job with him. And then I went on to do think George and I did about 18 shows together. So you never know how you’re going to go on your path. So I did a bunch of shows with him at Sudbury. And then when he got the job at Neptune theatre, as many IDs do, they hire some of their I hate to say friends, because George isn’t really friends with anyone. But the people that they know that they can count on or that sure, trust. So I got to do some shows here at in Halifax at the Neptune theatre. And then it was almost, I guess it was three or four years ago. Now I’m losing track of time, especially in terms of COVID. I was doing Beauty and the Beast at Neptune I was sitting on a beach and I was thinking, gosh, I am broke and single and homeless. And I’ve been doing this for 20 years. What am I going to do? And then I started to think about the idea of jobs that I could do and my idea of heading more towards artistic leadership. And I started to apply for jobs, including Director of Education at Neptune, which wasn’t actually at the time wasn’t an official position. I just knew that the the job would be on the table at some point, you know, so I just went upstairs and said, Hey, I just want to put out there that when this job comes up, I and I was thinking at the time it’d be a couple years. I want to be considered and then cut to a few months later won’t maybe happen. But anyway, the position position comes up for grabs. I interviewed for it, and I’m here and I’ve been here at Neptune as the Director of Education since 2017.

Phil Rickaby
Wow. Okay.

Laura Caswell
And that’s how that happened.

Phil Rickaby
Wow. Um, now one of the things that sort of glossed over in that story is is how theatre became a thing for you.

Laura Caswell
Right? Oh, I didn’t know I was supposed to start all the way back.

Phil Rickaby
Oh, no, don’t don’t that’s that’s sort of a separate thing. But it’s one of my favourite things to talk about is the the artists origin story, what made you start down this path?

Laura Caswell
And I was listening to some other shows. Natasha Strilchuk talked about something similar the other day, or I mean, sir, I don’t know when you’ve been listening. you’ve recorded it. But when I listened to her the other day, I was the same in that I kind of was always in me, but I didn’t know what it was being a performer. So my mom tells the story that I used to sing. Like I am, I wake up in my crib and I, like basically sing versus cry to wake everyone up. But as you know, I can tell I have a very nasal and loud voice. So I’m not saying that it was like gorgeous, beautiful singing. But, and I think Natasha touched on this, too. I didn’t really know what musicals were. So I didn’t really start doing musicals until high school, I did dance. And I was always the goofball in dance class, like, I wasn’t the gorgeous ballerina, but I was doing a lot of ballet class. I liked storytelling. So we would do choreography competitions at my dance school. And I would always win them because I would come up with these crazy concepts, and they would always be story driven, and character driven. But still, I hadn’t really ever taken an acting class per se. All I watched growing up was Annie, and Mary Poppins and Sound of Music and Wizard of Oz. But I still didn’t really know they were movies. They weren’t, I didn’t really know what musicals were.

Phil Rickaby
Oh, okay. Okay, I was about to be like, Wait a second.

Laura Caswell
And then something, sweat a few things, which I mean, the other thing I will say, because I grew up near Ottawa, was we would go to the Nutcracker every year, which I know is a ballet but again, that ballet is so story driven, and there was those characters. So I was I always knew I was connected to that side of things. And then we probably I think we probably went to see cats when it was on, you know, on tour and, and those things. And that was just a fun show where people were dressed as cats. And then and then my dad moved to Europe, to Holland, but we would go travel all the time, and that suddenly I started going to West End and seeing shows in the West End. And then I sort of understood what musicals were, Ah, yes. And then I went to high school. And like the first week of high school, someone’s like, are you gonna audition for the musical? And I was like, what, how do you what is that? And maybe at a similar time, now that I think about it, somebody said the same about a community theatre audition, it was all in my mind, it was all in a very similar timeframe. It’s when you got to high school and all of a sudden, some of the seniors from my dance school were like talking to me in the halls. Hmm. And then so I auditioned both for the musical at school, and I auditioned for the community theatre musical and I got in, and then all of a sudden, I found my people. And I was like, oh, oh, this is the thing that I do.

So that’s kind of how that happened.

Phil Rickaby
Now in your – I just have to say that you’re in that in your story, your your description of cats might be my favourite description of cats that I’ve ever heard. It’s just a silly, silly thing where people dress as cats. That’s, that’s probably one of my favourites. When you were doing that communicating that community theatre thing was that in England?

Laura Caswell
No, no, sir. I was in England. With my father. My point is I would probably, I got to see a lot of Western theatre because when I visited my father, which we did about three times a year, I would guess, maybe out of out of six at least one time, we would go to the UK to London and see a show cuz my dad loves theatre and concert. So I couldn’t tell you how many Western shows I saw growing up, which sounds so privileged. I am. It was just a kooky way of growing up. But I think that the West and and seeing the shows in the West End made me really appreciate what musical theatre could be. And I got to do that from the time I was about 12 to 19.

Phil Rickaby
Hmm, I only asked if you were doing that in England, because I know that the attitude towards community theatre in in North America is very different than it is in England, where it’s an essential the beloved thing where we tend to disparage it a little bit here.

Laura Caswell
Yeah. But then I gotta say, I have to put a shout at the the group that I started doing stuff with and when with when I was a teenager was a group called company of Musical Theatre and Film. I haven’t had a chance to look through your 200 whatever roster or talk to you, but if anyone was from the Ottawa area, I guarantee you they did work with this company. It was only around for about five or six years and it was run by a man named Peter Evans. There were other people involved. He was just one of those people that just did magic. And created so many amazing artists who are still working today. If you know, Steph kadmon if you know Nick de Marte, there’s like there’s so many Melanie mechanistically. Like there’s just a full roster of us that went through those Pro, I say programmes, but it was geared at young people, but he treated us like professionals. And we we were the leads in the shows like there was no adults in the shows. But we were just instilled with this, like professional value, which is community theatre, but it was slightly different than sort of your, you know, small town community theatre where the same people are playing the leads all the time and are the board and are.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah,

Laura Caswell
everything.

Phil Rickaby
Yes.

Laura Caswell
And again, I know lots of people do that work. I think it’s great work. But so I don’t know, I guess I was never really in true community theatre except I did a couple shows with Orpheus in which it did do some good work to.Yes.

Phil Rickaby
Did you know when you discovered this, this musical theatre world, at that point, at what point did theatre become the thing that was like, This is what I’m gonna do.

Laura Caswell
So my I mean, I did all the musicals at school, I never got the leads. I’m one of those people who never got the leads. I always got to play the quirky funny sidekicks, and and an ensemble but I never got the leads in high school. And then the last year of high school, both my high school and this group, I was just talking about community, upstart company musical theatre was doing crazy for you. And if you know that show, that’s that lead female part is Polly Baker. And the cool thing about Polly is she’s kind of rough around the edges. She’s kind of a cow girl. She’s kind of independent. But she still has her nice, soft moments. And at this point, I had found my voice as a singer, I’ve always had, I’ve been a natural singer, and a natural metsa, which really suits that. That show Anyway, what my point is, I suddenly got the lead part. And I did it both with company musical theatre, and at high school. And then my parents saw me doing that. And we’re like, oh, okay. Yeah, we support this, this journey. So you

Phil Rickaby
never had to have the uncomfortable conversation with your parents and tell them that you weren’t going to be a doctor, but you’re gonna go into theatre?

Laura Caswell
Oh, I don’t think my parents ever thought it was gonna be.

No, you know, I laugh and say that I was a good student. And I’ve always been, like ambitious. So like, I was president of student council. I was valedictorian. I was running that. I’ve always been that I’ve had that part of my personality, and I got good grades. But I’ve always like you can, I’ve always been a little erratic and a little like, independent all over the place. I don’t think they ever thought I was going to be a doctor, a politician, maybe I don’t think I ever thought I was going to be a doctor. Right. And I do always like to tell them, I’ll try and say it quick I my story about how I decided to go to Theatre School versus going to university. I tell some of my students this story, because I think it’s important to know that you never know how you’re gonna make these decisions. Like I said, I went to school in New York, I went to amda in New York. And I was at the time I was going downtown for singing lessons that I wrote a bus from Kanada to downtown. I forget, I think it was the 97 bus every Wednesday for the singing lesson. And one day, the driver must have been running a little bit late because it was always annoying, because I would get off my school route and wait for the 97. And I would just see it go by and I’d have to wait 20 minutes for the next one. But on this day, I got on the earlier bus. I don’t know if that made sense, audibly. But, so I’m on an earlier bus than I normally am on. So I arrived downtown for my singing lesson, like 20 minutes early. So I’m walking down the street and killing time. And I went into what we back in the day called a bookstore. And there was a book. And then in there, there was like magazines like, you know, when they would have those like racks of magazines. And while Yeah, and this is like that this is like exactly this time, actually, now that I’m saying this is like this time 20 whatever years ago of year like September, and there’s these magazines and at the top one set and it was an American magazine. I have to preface with that, but it said top a top list of over 100 Theatre schools. So I grabbed that magazine and I go to my list and I look later and it’s all these places in the states that I’ve never heard of. But you have to remember this is 1998 and my guidance counselor’s don’t know anything about theatre school or theatre education. And inside this magazine, there’s like check these boxes to receive information about schools. So Put that in, you know, one of those cars that you just put in the mail. You don’t even need a stamp. Put that in, get some info back. And am does auditioning in Toronto so I’m still in Ottawa, but Toronto is not far. Go to an audition in Toronto, get into the school and all of a sudden I’m like, yeah, I’m gonna go to New York. And my parents were like, oh, what about all those applications to like queens and like York? And I’m like, No, I’m gonna just go to New York.

I did. So I was no, it was no research. It was no planning. It was sort of serendipitous.

Phil Rickaby
You mentioned about the, the guidance counselor’s not knowing anything about theatre. I know that feeling well, because I was like, I remember being in the guidance counselor’s office in 1980. Yeah. When they were like, Alright, so we’re gonna talk about universities. And I said, I’m going to Theatre School, and they were like, I don’t know how to help you. Yeah, it was. There was like, zero health. They were like, maybe you should look some of that information up.

Laura Caswell
Yeah, exactly. And that’s what that’s what happened to me. And again, I just, I’m glad that I’ve always been kind of, Oh, no. Oh, no, the word crazy is not right. But like, in a sense, I’m not like looking to fill a niche or a box. I’m like, always looking for the opportunities and things. And that’s how I ended up going to amda. Now amda has mixed reviews as a school, but I got a great amount out of it. And I got to live in New York for two years. And I got to see Theatre in New York for two years. And I got to take I got to take classes at Broadway dance, and just like, do all that stuff. And that was like, that was invaluable time.

Phil Rickaby
So it was like going like, straight from from from school in in Ottawa. And just like, showing up in New York, what was what was that? Like?

Laura Caswell
I actually like now that I’m an adult, I laugh it I don’t know how my parents did it. Like they we drove I remember it was the fall, the leaves are beautiful. And then like, they just dropped me off in the Upper West Side. And I was like, hey, bye. And like they would they had to leave me. Oh, my God.

Phil Rickaby
Oh, my God. So think about that is just suddenly giving me like, like goosebumps, like, All right. Good luck in New York City. No, I 10 year old kid.

Laura Caswell
I know. Me too. Like I have a step son. Well, anyway, x steps on, he’s still my stepson, but anything, but he’s 12. He’s just turning 20 very soon. And like, so just consider him doing that. I actually would trust him to do that. But just imagining that that’s like the world. So, but again, I was so independent. I wasn’t too freaked out. I was actually not until the end of the two years. And when I really had to start reevaluating myself as like, an adult that it that that’s when it stressed me out. And that’s when me in New York didn’t quite gel anymore. I was feeling lost and confused. Yeah.

Phil Rickaby
So you, you came out of amda and didn’t really know where you were going to go what you were going to do?

Laura Caswell
Well, I did a So to answer your question. Yes, I thought everybody can know things. I started battling a bit with eating disorders. And I think that that was actually like mental health and stress, not so much. I’m fat and ugly. But that all kind of hit at the same time. And I got a gig. My first gig and it was because one of my teachers was directing it and I audition but that was the connection. I got a gig doing 42nd Street in Europe, in of a company in Germany, right out of school, so that was awesome. And it was a great experience. Longest contract I’ve ever had because it was like six eight months. I can’t remember how long it was super long. I you know, I probably got I don’t even want to know how much I actually got paid. I mean, at the time any oh my god so making money but Yeah, probably. Probably it slaves wage really, if I broke it down now, but But yeah, unfortunately, at the same time, I was just hitting that sort of my first sort of mental health crisis where I was like, What is my value in this world? And who am I? So, and yeah, when I after that contract got back to New York, I just realised I wasn’t in the right place to be there anymore. Um, I always say I think New York is fantastic if you have a lot of money or a lot of self esteem and preferably both, but if you have neither, it’s just, it’s just a pretty hard place to be.

Phil Rickaby
And is that just because of theatre? Is that New York in general?

Laura Caswell
Oh, I don’t know. But I definitely for theatre like I I’ve witnessed and watch so many amazing people just be there and just do it. But as soon as you lose that drive, it’s like a reminder, every corner that you’re like not doing it. Yeah, and so I left but I always said I will go back if it’s like took me there for so I think it’s a great city.

Phil Rickaby
And from there, you went to Toronto, you went back to Ottawa. First

Laura Caswell
I went to Toronto. I had a boyfriend at the time. And we had we had been living like long distance. I just say it so flippantly because it seems so important at the time. But now it’s like, we’ve just, you know, I’ve lived seven lifetimes since this. Yeah. And so I moved to Toronto. And I started going to school for business at George Brown. And I did that for about three months, and then I auditioned for Dinner Theatre and started doing theatre again. So that was when the feast of fools kick tried to come back in Toronto.

Phil Rickaby
Oh, yeah,

Laura Caswell
I did that for a few months.

Phil Rickaby
Now, I have to ask, what made you decide to go to school for business rather than trying to pursue Theatre in Toronto?

Laura Caswell
I just needed a break again. I was like, feeling a little like, confused. I think I wanted to go to school for cake decorating. And my mom told me I couldn’t so. Um, yeah, again, I laugh because this is like, she was like, 20 years ago. Right. So that’s it. But

yeah, and I think I would have done really well in that business course, to be honest. But I just couldn’t. I couldn’t commit to it.

Phil Rickaby
Did you? Did you feel like you had a head for business? At the time?

Laura Caswell
Yeah.

Phil Rickaby
With

Laura Caswell
Yeah.

Phil Rickaby
Oh, okay.

Laura Caswell
Yeah.And I still do, I’m actually contemplating, like, I’m never leaving theatre. Sorry, folks. If you’re hoping but I’m never leaving. I’m contemplating looking into I don’t know if it would be an official MBA, but studying more in that direction as I’m working more in Project producing and, and in, in theatre business models. I’m really, I really want it’s two reasons. Let me tell you, Phil, it’s two reasons. One,

this is gonna sound really bit-. Can I say the B word?

Phil Rickaby
Fuck yeah.

Laura Caswell
Yeah, okay. Um really bitchy. And and I don’t mean it. But I’m frustrated at being a female in meetings with no quote unquote, business knowledge being shut down. And so I am I, if I need a piece of paper to prove that I know what I’m talking about. And that’s not at any one specific or any organisation. It’s specific, just to be clear. So I’m just if I’m, you know, plus, I like a challenge. So, and I’m realising some of the things I need to learn more about, don’t get me wrong.

Phil Rickaby
But I just want to say I don’t think that that what you just said, is bitchy. I think that that’s that that’s like, like, there is in in, in meetings and business in in those rooms. There’s often a the the men over speaking over the women and shooting down the women’s ideas. And that’s, like, not what not liking that. Not wanting that and trying to find a way to get around that that is entirely not bitchy, because none of that is right. So

Laura Caswell
yeah, it’s not, it’s not just a gender thing, just to be clear, and I think it’s a personality thing. And the fact that I’m just a musical theatre performer, like, that also comes with connotations.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah,

Laura Caswell
that being the goofy, funny musical theatre performer people don’t often equate with business sense or intelligence, which is shocking, because actually, a lot of those people are probably the smartest people in any room. So it PS these are just my opinions. Maybe there’s people who hugely value my thoughts, and I just mistake into like, I maybe I’m mistaking interpretations and perhaps that’s my own insecurity. I don’t know. But anyway, I digress. I’m considering continuing to expand my business knowledge. I mean, heck, I could learn a lot more about Excel spreadsheets and equations and that kind of thing for sure. Even though it’s so boring, I hate it. But, but it’s also fascinating and, and an interesting at the same time,

Phil Rickaby
you know, the the theatre world does does. There are a dearth of people of business minded people.

Laura Caswell
Oh, God, yes.

Phil Rickaby
There are people in positions in thea-, there’s a few of them who are like, really, they have the business acumen, they understand it, but a lot of times in the theatre world, especially indie theatre, but you know, that’s, that’s another story. It’s all very much like, well, if the money comes, then there’s money. And there’s, you know, a lot of times we don’t look at things as, as a business, we don’t look at the arts as a business. Any any. I know, but we don’t. A lot of times we just think we’re artists, we’re gonna business people. And it’s, you know, what, we’ve got to be both. And sometimes there’s got to be somebody who can sort of push people in that direction. You know,

Laura Caswell
totally, and I think not to be political and I’m not hugely political. But as we’re all discussing systemic problems in this industry. I am not 100% convinced that you know, part of theatre education has maybe consciously or subconsciously not taught artists to value themselves because if we do, it would all be too expensive and producers would never make money. So it’s it’s kind of best to keep people in the dark I’ve never witnessed in my 20 years, the industry try to, to make people smart about their business since I’ve seen workshops posted and things like that, but the industry itself. So I hope that it you know, going with what you’re just saying that actually that is really part of all the mandates going forward. And a little more transparency, like there’s always this, like, don’t talk about how much you make, you know, don’t talk about how much your contracts for, and all that kind of stuff. And I’ve done many shows, again, I’m sounding like a huge feminist right now. But you know, I know that lots of time male leads will make way more than female leads in shows and I’ve been in regional theatre. We all know it. So maybe it’s time that that’s not okay anymore.

Phil Rickaby
But just like in the business world, and in the in the working world, the whole don’t talk about what you make thing that gives power to the producer over the performer. Yeah, if all the performers talked about what they were making, and we’re open and honest about it, then the producers would not be able to shaft some people and and give more money to other people there would be actually quality in the contract.

Laura Caswell
Totally. And I again, I I consider myself a producer. And I think that I think many producers are starting to think that way. But it’s just the old school way was more keep it all separate producer over here. Actors over here, tech over here, music over here, creatives over here. And I think we’re all starting to realise that you really cannot function without each other.

Phil Rickaby
No. And also, I think there’s more people who are hyphens. Yeah, there are hyphenated people. They’re like actor producers, actors, directors, actor, writers, writer producers, there’s all these people who are like mixing these things. We can’t keep them separate. And some of the performer unions are just now starting to realise that and they’re starting to make changes to the way that they work that facilitates that. But that’s been a long time coming to you. Oh,

Laura Caswell
yeah, I agree. And PS. I mean, I’m not I’m not gonna say that I won’t make the same mistakes. And as I continue my work, both as an actor, producer, director, whatever, but it’s definitely something that’s on my mind writer.

Phil Rickaby
Mm hmm.

So where were you and what were you doing at the time that everything shut down?

Laura Caswell
This was really hard and I Okay, I’m gonna try not to get too long winded but it literally was six months. I don’t know if it’s okay, if I date this podcast, but it was literally six months today.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah. as as as we record, yes. Six months today, and we could date this. Yeah.

Laura Caswell
Okay, cool. Um, I so six months to go today, I again, I’m the Director of Education at Neptune theatre. And that encompasses like, young company shows and school tour shows. But the biggest part, or one of the biggest parts is school classes and camps. We I’m in Nova Scotia, the cases everything hit hit your way later. And but we were watching it all happen, but it still seemed, you know, like, it wasn’t really going to be a big problem out here yet. And then, and we had March Break was set to start the 16th of March. So on the 13th of March, the Friday the 13th that everyone talks about. I was like, Can we do camps? I happen to know the chief medical officer here in Nova Scotia. I got in touch with him. I got him on the phone. I said, am I being an idiot for still running our March Break camps? He said no, and not. I really think Dr. Strang has done a wonderful job he was he was just going with what he knew at the time. Yeah, cut to two days by two days later, myself into my my side, side partner, Kay, she’s my admin assistant, but like she’s way more than Julia and I and someone else named Sophie were in the office. And we started on March 15. calling people and going we just don’t actually think that we should do camps anymore. I was just having a feeling I was feeling stressed. And I was like, but we won’t we won’t leave you in the lurch. We’ll stay open till Tuesday. So you can find childcare two by 3pm it’s been announced the provinces shut down everything shut down. No March Break can so we’re calling and continuing our list of calls saying it’s off. Its off its off. And literally that was one of the most stressful days I just still remember how I was spinning and and feeling everything isn’t like just watching it all kind of crumble so but I have to say for like that happened. We did not have March Break camp. And I felt so bad for my staff. I felt like it was just the whole thing was hugely stressful and I felt so awful about how it all and confused and all the things that we all felt. And then we the here the theatre school Neptune. We didn’t really stopped like we, we started doing online stuff and Instagram takeovers and Instagram Live stuff and weird media challenges. And then we this summer here we actually did camps in person, which was totally allowed. And we did camps for about 500. Kids. Wow. I don’t know for sure. But I think it out of all most of the regional theatres in Canada, and it had to be one of the biggest camps. And we ran them successfully from July 2 to August. I mean, yeah, August, I don’t know, what was it 21st or something or 28th? So that was a quite a fun journey.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah, um, what was I mean, in terms of doing the online stuff? How, how difficult? Did you find that? Because for I think, for a lot of people, it’s been like a very quick and very steep learning curve to suddenly go from in person to trying to figure out whatever application I’ll say zoom, because for some reason, everybody uses zoom. And, and and, and its quirks and this, that and the other thing, and how do you? How do you deal with so many issues in computers and internet connections? What was how quickly Did you transition and make that make that move? And what was that process like for you,

Laura Caswell
we didn’t rush to it here. But again, we By May, we knew we were going to be able to do in person. But what we did do is we did do some things online, just to try and I also hosted a few of my own classes for cheap or free for friends, just so I could practice and understand how the software worked. And best ways to use it. Watch a lot of webinars, watch lots of webinars in different like not just theatre school teaching webinars, like there was one on post secondary teaching. And I found out a bunch of different really cool software and apps that you can use to make it all more interactive. And so and or in watching webinars, seeing what people did in their slides or things to make things interesting. And just taking note of that kind of thing. And I, you know, zooming with friends, and just kind of getting a sense of it all, and patience, just a lot of patience. I think everyone was pretty patient with it to even parents, you know, where they knew we’re all figuring it all out. And so this summer for my camps, we did we did in person and zoom, so that we could, we could let allow opportunities for people who were not comfortable being in person. But that was cool, because it just got us to practice and branch out. We didn’t charge a lot for zoom classes. We just wanted to be able to offer something and make sure we were kind of learning on the go. But But I also have a lot of young staff and they are quite smart with with the technology. So

Phil Rickaby
and how are you with the technology? How is How is that? Are you a relatively technologically adept person? Or do you? How do you how do you deal with that?

Unknown Speaker
I’m,

Laura Caswell
I’m okay at it. I also have like, technology hates me curse like I, I I’m not, I don’t have the best luck with technology. If it’s not too complicated, I’ll get it or I’ll figure it out. I’m not like a coder or anything. My biggest problem is because my brain is so all over the place that I’ll always have like 14,000 tabs open. And then you don’t need to shut things down. And then my computer’s like, you’re out of memory. And I’m like what? And you know, like that kind of thing? Yeah, I said, I if someone’s not started this business yet, you know, you can hire a maid to clean your house, I would hire someone to help me clean my technology.

Unknown Speaker
You know, I mean, it are your attack.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah, I mean, we get into bad habits. You know, there’s like,

Laura Caswell
and it’s all changed so fast that I didn’t get to the habits. Yes, I could go back what Google Docs I barely used a year ago. Now I can’t live without it. But I have all these old files that I never thought to put in folders and I’m still trying to figure out how to put them everywhere.

Phil Rickaby
I knew somebody who actually got hired as a as an assistant to somebody just to organise their computer, because it was pretty much a mess. So well, like that’s actually a service that people need.

Laura Caswell
Yeah, so if you’re listening, develop it and I’ll hire you. Like Molly made but for I don’t know what would be called when you can’t think of a clever name. No,

Phil Rickaby
me neither. But I’m sure that somebody is more clever.

Laura Caswell
ie Todd or something like that. I keep

Phil Rickaby
talking Oh my god. Todd, are you there? What does what do things look like for you now like currently, in Halifax How do things look for you?

Laura Caswell
I didn’t check the cases today but we are doing numbers are still really low here in Nova Scotia. And, I mean, yesterday it was, it was one active case, zero new cases. So I haven’t looked at my phone today to see. So it’s really interesting to watch the like numbers climbing in different places. And I know it’s likely to hit here I’m waiting for the perhaps a wave from the students and that kind of thing to hit here. But if it doesn’t, I’m gonna find myself even more confused. Because you know, you have Fauci on the news saying everything shut down forever. And you have, you know, Ford and Ontario threatening and all of a sudden, we’re like, but we’re, we don’t have anything over here. So I guess we’ll just like, you know, everyone’s wearing masks, everyone’s social distancing. But I’ve been sitting on patios and having beers. And so yeah, it. And then from a professional and my real job, like my job with the theatre school, it’s interesting and challenging, because you’re trying to plan but like everything is, you know, you have to like tiptoe and like, guess and try and make big decisions, but not too big decisions. And, you know, really have to think fiscally, like, you know, normally you can take a few risks, but you know, really limited risks. So it’s, it’s really interesting. Yeah,

Phil Rickaby
it’s interesting that that the maritime bubble has been pretty successful. I know people who, who, like I knew somebody who was taking their, their, their daughter to the Maritimes to go to school, and they arrived in the province, and then they had to quarantine for 14 days. Yeah. And so, like, all of this stuff coming from out of province, and and that that’s going to help the community spread. We’re not, we’re supposed to be doing that. But we’ve never been at zero cases. Yeah, here. We’ve never been at even one case. So that just we have we still have this spread. I mean, and it’s insidious, because people are out doing things. And you, you know, you’ve like, in my case, for example, we temporarily reopened our office, we reopened our office with limited people coming in and being careful, but not careful enough. Somebody came into the office, and they tested positive A couple of days later. And so by being I’m still technically under quarantine, even though I’ve tested negative twice, right? So like you, somebody, you can come into contact with somebody and not realise it, and then days later find out that they were positive. And now you have to trace all the people that you talk to you talk to you know,

Laura Caswell
and that’s my biggest fear for the theatre school because we are so yeah, like it’s gonna, if and when that happens. I just have to remember not to beat myself up. And it wasn’t my fault, but it will be very, very stressful day.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah, absolutely. Well, but also, I think, I mean, it’s probably not going to come from in the province.

Laura Caswell
No, and so far, late as of I mean, in my understanding of the news. The cases that have happened in the last, let’s say, the last month, really have been from people who have travelled, and people have been quite good at isolating they’ve a find some students are not and, you know, I know some students who have no students who have not, because they told me, I mean, again, if I was 19, who knows what I would do, I hope, but it’s so true. I don’t condone it, but um, yeah, I I really have no idea. I can say that in February at a staff meeting, I did bring up to the room. What about this pandemic thing? Are we at all worried about that? Okay, I can say that that officially 100% happened. And that was about, you know, at least two, three weeks before anything happened. And it wasn’t because I was psychic. It was because I had been travelling a little bit and so I was I was not, I was not just stuck in the Maritimes. I was I had been gone. I’d gone to Toronto, so I you know, it’s kind of more aware of what was happening everywhere.

Unknown Speaker
But yeah,

Laura Caswell
yeah, I, I lit. It’s so fun and scary to think that I have no idea what’s gonna happen in the next little bit. You know,

Phil Rickaby
I mean, we’re all in that place. Every every plan that anybody has is out the window. And and that’s so hard for theatre. Because there’s a treadmill, there’s a constant production treadmill that we’re pretty much on. But it’s been interesting because the stopping of that treadmill has forced and allowed conversations to happen that haven’t happened but needed to.

Laura Caswell
I totally agree. And I think people have to have patience because sometimes, you know, depending on the company, you they might not have the resources or the actual time or the focus right now to fully deal with some things that have come up. Of course Black Lives Matter accessibility. Money like we talked about and equity but but I do know because I’ve been in many, many Many online packed calls and equity talks and different forums, that people are talking and finding ways and thinking of ways and trying to work towards ways to, I can’t say resolve these issues, but definitely make shifts. But it will take time, and it will take the divorce thing is it will take money, and nobody has money right now. And that is that, to me, in my opinion, is the biggest challenge in this time that we need change.

Phil Rickaby
You know, it takes I would say, just to iterate on that it does take it takes time, it takes money, but it also taste will. Yes. And there have been a few theatres that have put out statements, and they haven’t shown that they have the will,

Laura Caswell
yes,

Phil Rickaby
that’s fair. But there’s other people standing around, sort of like, telling them, like, change doesn’t happen unless it’s demanded. And there, some of those theatres have found that that there are people who are demanding the change. And so they’re now having to look at the change they felt they could avoid making by putting out a nice statement.

Laura Caswell
I fully agree with that. And I would never claim to be a statement expert. I’m kind of generally and I you know, I know there’s no, I know people don’t like always if you hang back I I’m a I’m a gesture person more than a statement person myself, but yeah, I think I think everything you just said is right, and I’m kind of at a loss for words, because I’m not I don’t really have a retort to it, because I or you said everything that needs to be said. But I just I just if anyone’s listening, I just want to encourage people that I think that it now we’re at the point where we can be creative about those solutions, and, and things will start to happen. which is which is which is great.

And just as long as we’re patient with each other. Hmm,

Phil Rickaby
yeah. Now, as everything is up in the air, and all these things are happening, one of the most difficult things to do is is to live in the world. Our life in the world is limited somewhat right now. And it can take a little bit of effort to find joy in our everyday so what have you like what has been giving you joy in your every day?

Laura Caswell
My dog, you can find her on Instagram at Bella double dog. She’s very cute. People say she looks like a fox. She’s in my office with me right now. She’s been my buddy through all this, I’m literally almost getting choked up like just talking about like, she’s I don’t know how I would have gotten through this. I am single and I live alone. I do not know how I would have gone through this time without my dog. I also will openly admit for anyone who has seen photos of me or sees me in person, I have not been taking care of myself. I have. I’ve been spending, you know, six months. Because it’s like my coping strategy. And I’m not saying it’s a healthy one. Just working, working, working, trying to make sure people had jobs, trying to make sure everyone was safe trying to make sure that the quality of product didn’t go down trying to make sure that I was helping lead the charge in the community so that all the art studios knew the safety protocols. Like I have more grey hair than I can believe and I put on a lot of weight. And so my answer I admit I am I love anyone who knows me. I love craft beer. Halifax has a lot of it. I’ve drank a lot of it. And I’ve eaten a lot of Doritos and, and Netflix and crave and prime. I have watched a lot of shows. I have not watched a lot of theatre. I think I needed space. I think I needed to just tune out when I got home. So sure, a lot of great TV. So again, why don’t it answer but that’s

Phil Rickaby
I want to say, like, I know a few people and they’re like, this is my chance to get in shape. And they did it or they’re like they’ve been working out every day and they’re there. They’re probably in better shape than they were before. And I don’t know how they do it. Because I just haven’t had the headspace for it. I agree. I also lost the I used to walk to work every day. And that was about an hour each way. And obviously I haven’t been doing that for six months. So my main source of of exercise because I was working from home is sort of gone. And so there’s been you know, there’s bits awake, and I’ve eaten a lot of comfort food. I’ve played a lot of video games. I’ve watched a lot of Netflix. So I totally get that. And I think that’s just the world right now. Yeah, is we just have to accept that. At a certain point. When the world is out of control, comfort becomes more important than taking care of ourselves. Oh,

Laura Caswell
yeah, I know that I can see it. I mean, I’m not. Again, I’m not saying I’m psychic and a couple years. I’m going to be hot, and I’m going to be really happy with that part of myself. And just Now’s not the time for that. And I’m having patience with that myself. Like, it’s

Phil Rickaby
Oh, it’s just not to,

Laura Caswell
it’s just where I am right now. And I It’s okay. It’s okay. We

Phil Rickaby
got to be we got to be okay with the person that we are right now. Yeah. Because it’s not like, we have other options. It’s like, everybody’s kind of bored.

Laura Caswell
Hopefully, I am. I am bored, too. But But I mean, I, I’m an idea person. I’ve been having lots of ideas. So now I think I’m ready to, like for myself or for my creative self. So yeah, I’m starting to get ready to use that part of myself again, think Gosh,

Phil Rickaby
yeah, it’s, I mean, no, I think Gosh, indeed, because I, you know, at the beginning, I remember seeing posts about like, you know, if you’re not come on this pandemic, with a new scale, or a novel or new project, then the problem was never time. And I’m like, Yeah, but there’s so much uncertainty, our brain was going crazy. Just trying to fathom everything, that creativity was not on the table.

Laura Caswell
I was gonna say, that’s the new school that everyone has acquired, at least, you know, many is surviving a pandemic, or survived

a world event. I think

we all thought we could handle that prior to this, or thought we knew how we would but now we are doing it. Yeah. So that’s a new skill.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah, no, it’s only now I’m starting to be able to be creative. But that was like that six months of not being able to, you know,

Laura Caswell
Yes, I do. No, I hundred percent agree. I’ve been in this thing.

Phil Rickaby
I have a friend who refers to the world this this this pandemic, this event, this global event, as the best pocalypse because it’s the best possible apocalypse. You know, we don’t have zombies. We don’t have like mass destruction of the entire world at this time. So so far, it’s been the best possible apocalypse. I mean, who knows, but hopefully, we get through this as the best pocalypse. What’s coming up for I mean, as as September hits, are you working on on classes, what’s happening as far as the education goes, Oh, Neptune,

Laura Caswell
we have classes coming up, which will be in person, we’re working on some online content. We’re doing some digital content here at Neptune both like the theatre and the theatre school has some stuff, we’re going to kind of play with that a little bit, see what happens. I’m trying to think creatively about how we can do shows or showcases of our students, because like, that’s the thing they love the most just performing and also reach, like some kind of school outreach, because we can’t really do our school tours. So what can we do? been part of many discussions with TYT companies around the country, everyone’s doing different interesting things. So we’re trying to figure out what that is. Also just waiting to see what schools are kind of capable of in taking because there’s just so much for teachers and administrators to think about, um, and yeah, you know, it’s it’s been for my students, and my teachers and myself is like the person who programmes things. It’s been interesting, because we’re just, it’s like rethinking, and, and I’ve been trying not to think of like, what we can’t not think about what we can’t do. It’s like, what can we do? So this summer, normally, our teen programmes are super like ensemble building, and there’s like, all these kids, and we do big numbers. But this summer, I had to change it. And instead, I was like, I called it building empowered performers. And it would, that was what all the structure of all the teen classes was like, trying to build empowerment skills, and independent thinking for these young teens, because that’s what we can do right now. And those things are so important, and baby get brushed over when we’re all jammed in a room and trying to put on a big showcase. So in all my thinking right now, I’m really trying as much as I can, both as myself, a producer and educator, a creator, what can I do, versus what can’t I do?

Because those things in my opinion, I was seeing as Dan was walking my dog, I have dogwalk thoughts. When people say, oh, right now we were going to be or we should have been doing blah, blah, blah. That’s not true. Because here we are, and this is what we should have been doing. Like those things are unfortunately gone. It doesn’t mean they can’t happen, but they will never happen the way they were going to.

If you know what I mean. I don’t know. too deep. But-

Phil Rickaby
no, no, I don’t shy away from too deep. I mean, this is the time for thinking about deep things. And like, you know, I know a lot of people who were trying to reevaluate whether theatre is for them now. Like, yeah, they have no the restaurant they worked with Worked out is closed there. They’re there. They’re trying to figure out like, if theatre doesn’t happen in a year, is it worth staying? where I am? Is it or should they go somewhere else? Everything is up in the air right now. And in a way, the idea of planning is a little bit out the window. I think we have to plan for the things that we can plan for, and be willing to give up other things

Laura Caswell
totally and or find plans that are malleable and things that can work in different situations. Yes, yeah.

Which is I’m not claiming that’s easy, but

Phil Rickaby
it’s not easy. No. And that’s, that’s a skill that we’re going to come out of this with how to make those choices. So

Laura Caswell
and I made so many spreadsheets, I mean, it’s like, oh, my God, so many spreadsheets, version a version B, this version, that version,

Phil Rickaby
this colour coded sheets, and you don’t need like Excel.

Laura Caswell
I do. I use Google Sheets. Mostly I find it a little more user friendly.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah, but it’s still it’s still like, like, who wants to spend their days looking at that?

Laura Caswell
Oh, not me. Not me. Um, I can I just quit. I know you’re probably trying to end this. I just have to I just I just wanted to share somebody wrote on Facebook just last night or the night before? How’s How are my theatre people feeling? And this is what I wrote. I just wanted to share it because I think people liked it. And this is how I feel. Sure, how do I feel exhausted, frustrated, driven, inspired, defeated, creative, blocked, determined, afraid, persistent, grateful, patient, passionate, resentful, complacent, critical, cynical and hopeful. That’s, those are Laura cassells thoughts on how she’s doing? Well,

Phil Rickaby
that’s really encompasses everything. And I think that that most of us can agree with

Laura Caswell
that. So that’s who I am. That’s how I’m doing. But I do want to say, for anyone listening who knows me as a performer, like I said, I’m not going anywhere. I love performing. I’m really passionate about cabaret performance, and that kind of thing. And luckily, I think that that kind of work will be conducive to the new normal for a while. So I might start focusing that direction. But I really miss performing for an audience for me, that’s, I’ve never done well, in film, I need that. That. And that’s

Phil Rickaby
the thing. That’s one of the things that’s missing from like, digital theatre, is the ability to hear an audience to feel that you certainly can’t feel the audience. All of that stuff is is missing. So I don’t think the digital will replace it can augment. But I remember watching Hamilton on Disney plus when it came out, and I’d seen it live before but you know, being able to watch it and still feel like you were in audience man. I just made me miss being in a theatre.

Laura Caswell
Oh, yeah. I mean, that’s why it was designed that way. And yeah, has been for thousands of years. Yeah, for a community sense. And you know, those those that study like, when all the people are in the audience all their heartbeats go at the same time? I doubt that happens on zoom. But I don’t know if anyone’s done a study on that

Phil Rickaby
yet. I don’t even know if you could do a study on that. I don’t know. And I would be I would be surprised if they did. Well, because I feel like we all need to be in the room feeling each other. Yeah, at the same time as we’re feeling a performer.

Laura Caswell
Yeah. Yeah, I agree. Ah, let’s talk again in a couple years, so then we can see what happened to

Phil Rickaby
her. Let’s see what happened

Laura Caswell
on September 15 2022.

Phil Rickaby
Let’s see what’s happening. Laura, thank you so much.

Laura Caswell
Thank you. It’s nice to talk to you.