All over the world the theatre industry has been rocked by shutdowns and complications due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After 5 months of silent stages and empty playhouses, the city of Toronto will see a return to some semblance of normalcy with live outdoor productions of Alphonse, produced by Theaturtle and Shakespeare in Action. Directed by Wajdi Mouawad, the one-man show will take place on August 20-23 at Memorial York Park featuring York University alum, Kaleb Alexander (BFA Theatre 2010), and August 27-30 at Dufferin Grove Park featuring Alon Nashman. The show adheres to strict social distancing procedures to ensure health and safety of its audience, cast and crew. Tickets are available online on a Pay What You Can basis.
Our recent alumni Amy Kingston (BA Theatre 2020) works on the publicity team for Alphonse. She interviewed Kaleb Alexander about his experience working on Alphonse, the nature of theatre in our new COVID-19 reality, and how his training at York prepared him for these challenges.
Amy Kingston: What would you consider to be the role of theatre as the world, and more specifically Toronto, begins to reopen after the initial shock of Covid-19 closures?
Kaleb Alexander: The vital role of theatre remains the same. It is to bring people together, to highlight and reflect the vast range of human experiences on the global stage — conflict, injustice, discomfort, politics, imagination, beauty, love, geography and more. Theatre can help provide insight around the concept of the interconnectedness of our global family.
AK: How do you think theatre will evolve in response to the societal changes that have been set in motion?
KA: It’s encouraging to see some theatre companies reaching out to marginalized groups, diversification of staffing and consideration of positive systemic change in administration. Inclusion of all voices, ethnicities, social, cultural groups and ages will enrich and strengthen communities.
AK: What gives you hope as an artist as you navigate the current changes happening in the world?
KA: I believe that through real strife the human capacity to change and adapt is inherent, it is already happening and people are coming up with new ways to fill their theatrical void. Never doubt human ingenuity, we went from Zoom concerts and performances on YouTube to performing in porches and parks to radio dramas. We’re actually pulling from our past to create our new future. When winter comes who knows what magic will be created so that we will be filled by live art.
AK: What have you found most exciting about taking on the role of Alphonse?
KA: I’m very excited to bring the imaginary world that Wajdi created and meld it with the one I had created for myself as a child to children and adults alike.
AK: What have you found to be helpful to you while working on this project?
KA: I have reminded myself that we are in a sandbox building castles while also being the ocean that comes in to destroy it all so that it can be rebuilt. It is the joy of rediscovering how to let go in an instant because the next castle will be larger and more beautiful. I find as we grow older we lose the ability to let go of things, thoughts and feelings, this play has reminded me of that joy.
AK: In what ways have you found that this play is relevant what we are seeing in everyday life?
KA: I see a lot of sadness from many of my fellow artists and for those whose lives have been put on hold by this pandemic. I think this play is a shake up of the adult mind, it is a reminder that we were once young but youth does not have to be abandoned. Imagination can both build us up and destroy us and I think the world and the news on a regular basis is trying to tear us down. This play is a way through to see hope and beauty in a new way.
AK: What do you hope audience members take away from seeing this play?
KA: Joy and Hope for a more beautiful tomorrow.
AK: How did your experience in York University’s Acting Conservatory prepare you for a career in theatre?
KA: I found the conservatory program did a great job of throwing a whole bunch of tools at me and asking which one I needed. By the end of the program, I had so many tools I didn’t know how to use them all properly but as time passed my toolbox became more and more organized and I abandoned the ones I didn’t use. The lifestyle of an artist and performer is one and the same. What you feed yourself is what you feed your inner actor. In second year I learned breath, body and voice techniques to hone the actor’s instrument, ten years later I am revisiting those same practices but my intentions are now clearer to continue my personal development. It was a great introduction into helping me to develop Kaleb.
AK: What advice would you give to any current university students and emerging artists that are just embarking on their career?
KA: Be humble and kind as you never know when you will see someone again, nobody wants to work with someone who knows everything! Many of the most important shows I’ve done were with some former York classmates some were actors, directors, designers and stage managers. I am always warmed by their faces and smiles but also reminded that we all have different paths.