SnB: You acted in Bang Bang earlier in this year’s GCTC season, a play that brings up important questions about artistic freedom. What do you have to say on those topics?
Eric: I like that the play identifies the tipping point we’re at now where people who have been holding the balance of power in terms of artistic creation and expression are really obliged to take a step back and look at our practice and look at whether or not we are meaningfully making room for underrepresented voices and I think that it is absolutely imperative that we do that so if that means that some of us have to make a little less noise by making a little more room for others then I think it’s time for us to do that.
SnB: How did you get interested and then involved with theatre?
Eric: It’s a very long story, a whole series of incidents starting as early as being in the school play in kindergarten, but the real trigger was my early years. I was living in Guelph and there was a semi-professional company in town that had a lot of grant money and they were actually functioning like a professional company and they formed a young company that I was hired for, so at age 14 I spent a whole summer working full time and being paid very well as an actor and I then sort of became a resident kid at that company for a couple years playing kid roles in shows where they needed someone young and that really got me started and then later on in life I didn’t do much theatre during high school but it was really a film about the creation of The Farm Show. Michael Ondaatje did a film called The Clinton Special and I saw that when I was just leaving high school and it really really sparked my interest. I really liked the idea of grassroots theatre and how it’s attracted to rural communities and I went off to theatre school and then had a spell at the Stratford Festival Acting Company for 4 years and then really found my way at the Blyth Festival for the next almost 20 years doing rural grassroots theatre. That’s where I switched my discipline from actor to director to artistic director and that was the experience that really defined how I built my career as an artist. After 19 years there, this job opened up in Ottawa, and I was interested in a change of scenery and a job that could offer me a bit more leeway in terms of political expression and so I applied for the job here and moved to Ottawa in 2012.
SnB: What would you say are the challenges of being the artistic director of one of Ottawa’s major theatre companies?
Eric: Resources. It’s always time and money that are the two biggest challenges. All the work we really want to do requires us to support it at a professional level and that takes money. I would really love to see our infrastructure of human resources in the city grow. We have some very busy indie communities here but in terms of the roster of the staff list and designers and in terms of actors of colour we have some real gaps. My life would be considerably less challenging if we just had more artists living and working here but obviously they need work to live here so it’s a bit of a vicious circle.
SnB: What would you say is powerful in theatre compared to other art forms? What is theatre able to do or express that other art forms are not that makes it powerful?
Eric: I don’t know whether it is what the form is that is able to deliver in terms of content as much as it is the way in which we receive it collectively. The experience of sitting in a room with 100 or 200 people who are experiencing precisely the same thing at the same time as you are is an exchange that is not replicated when you are reading a book by yourself or looking at a painting or watching a movie in your living room. It is that communal nature of all feeling each others’ pulses that makes theatre – the same way all live performing arts offer that ephemeral thing, that thing that exists in that moment and then is gone and you all experience it together — and it is a very powerful drug.
Eric: It depends on which theatre you are talking about; there is such a huge range of mandates among the operating companies, and across this country, as long as we are collectively trying to advance progressive ideas, we will be fulfilling our collective responsibilities. But underneath that umbrella of all of these different ways of practicing theatre each company has its own role to play and in terms of the GCTC’s role, it historically is one that promotes social justice in a very idealistic way, and I think that is a good thing. I don’t think that idealism is a bad place to start. We’re constantly in a state of reviewing our own strategic plan to makes sure that those ideals are aligning with what is important today. So if I had to rank things right now in terms of our political agenda, the top of our list is really trying to put more underrepresented people in our stage and in our audience simultaneously, which is a tricky thing to do because one doesn’t always follow the other. So that is really what we’re working on now.
SnB: What would you say is the silliest role you have every played?
Eric: I was the voice of a pine cone in an educational film script a very long time ago. Since that, you know, I’m trying to think back into my years at Blyth, there were a number of shows in which I was playing deliberately goofy characters based on people in the community. One was a fellow who was famous for his part in a country music group for singing novelty songs and that was about as silly as it got.
SnB: What would you say your favourite role that you’ve ever played has been?
Eric: That’s very hard. They all have their individual moments. The role I’m in right now is shaping up to be about as satisfying as anything I’ve ever done on stage. I really haven’t worked much on stage as an actor in the last 10 years; I’ve put much more of a focus on my directing work. It tends to be whatever I’m working on at the moment.
SnB: What is your favourite role that you’ve never played? If you could choose one role to play in any show, what would it be?
Eric: I’ve got a very very soft spot for the role of Morgan in The Drawer Boy by Michael Healey. I’m just about the right age to play it now, although I don’t think that’s about to happen, but I’ve always loved that play very much and I would have to say that that’s the one.
SnB: What are you particularly proud about of this year’s GCTC season? What’s going on at the GCTC this year?
Eric: I feel like this season we’re really delivering on bringing a lot of new voices into the building in different ways. We opened the season prior to Bang Bang with the first activity, a big partnership with a lot of different artists from across the country and partnerships within Ottawa with the Prismatic festival and that’s exclusively artists of colour and indigenous artists and that was really spectacular to get this year rolling. I’m very excited that we have a partnership with an NAC Indigenous theatre presentation, we bring Kinalik into the building in January and Cottagers and Indians which is coming up is another piece by an Indigenous playwright. So we’re really delivering on that goal to diversify our content while balancing it with traditional work that’s aimed at our established subscription base when we open Daisy in the spring. That is a show that strikes squarely at the heart of the political junkies who have come to the GCTC for 40 years and I’m very excited about that one. I’ll be directed that one and my partner is a part of it so working with her is really great. I’m very excited about having that time together in the theatre; it’s where we really thrive.