This concludes an email exchange between Sébastien Heins and Torien Cafferata. In this final edition Torien and Sébastien analyze the industry and trade rapid fire top 8s.
On Sep 18 at 11:14 pm, Sébastien Heins wrote:
Thank you very much for being forthcoming and honest about your challenging relationship with our industry. It sounds like you have gnawing insecurities as a barrier-breaking artist in the often-conservative Canadian artistic landscape. I’ve shared many of these same frustrations during my career. I’ll respond to some of the questions and thoughts you raised in your email below.
While those feelings haven’t gone away, I’m more at peace focusing on what is within my control to change. In the years I’ve been privileged to work in the arts, I’ve seen half-star reviews, five-person audiences at the Saskatoon Fringe, as well as months of 1800 seater performances with some of Canada’s most cherished actors on some of our most famous stages. Both sets of experiences offered the same pendulum between satisfaction and dissatisfaction. One begat the other until the other arrived, and once more again, again and again – right up until this moment I’m emailing you. I guess what I’m trying to say is, yeah, context hasn’t made that feeling go away.
I don’t think that capital is inherently bad. As I’ll butcher from Yuval Noah Harari: money is the greatest example of human trust in history. Its current distribution and allocations of value is maddening, though, and its ability to incite violence, subjugation, and enslavement are the ultimate betrayal. But in the end, I just think that money is a tool we use to express humanity’s oscillation between greed and love. As such, I think that there are wonderful and beautiful things that are done with money every second of the day. Distrusting money out of principal has brought me little more than self-loathing, tribalism, and bouts of depression.
To address your question, my journey with being “enough” centres around a few things:
I encountered success at a young age
I am racialized
I work in an industry (Arts, Culture, and Entertainment) with massive economic disparity among its practitioners
At age 10, I was cast in Julie Taymor’s The Lion King at the Princess of Wales Theatre. To say it was a crash course in self-value management would be an understatement. When I finished my contract at age 11, I was often asked by adults, “So … what’s next for you?” Through no one’s fault really, other people’s expectations became my expectations, and it was difficult for me to understand why I was so sad all the time.
When I was very young, I felt no need to manage the colour of my skin or cultural background. Then it became apparent that there was a good way to be Black and a bad way to be Black. The good way looked a lot like being White, or Western and Eurocentric. I then taught myself to package what’s Black about me in ways that prioritized the comfort of White people. The effects were internalized racism, self-disgust, and estrangement from my heritage.
Before I went to the National Theatre School (NTS), I was afraid of becoming an actor. I had this fear of becoming an adult who goes to dinner parties with other adults, and
when asked, “So, tell us, what do you do for a living?” says, “I’m an actor,” to which the response is, “Oh, so, tell us, what have you done?” I was very afraid that I would have to spend my dinner-partying days justifying my vocation by citing my credentials and work history to strangers. What I was really afraid of was being mistaken for a “poor actor,” a sign of internalized classism and indirect class violence. All things being equal, the fact that there are hard-working and dedicated actors who live below the poverty line is a failure of the system, not of the actor. It’s taken me a long time to understand that. Also, I choose the people I eat with more carefully.
To answer your question, “Enough,” to me, is when the day ends, and I know that I’ve fulfilled my potential. Not society’s idea of my potential, but my idea of my potential. Nobody needs to have applauded me (though recognition, appreciation, and credit are important for maintaining healthy relationships). Nobody needs to have sent me a fat check (though fair pay for value received are within your right as a creator of connection and artistic experiences). Nobody needs to have given me a role (though opportunities and creative trust are exciting parts of new partnerships).
The feeling I get from doing or writing or creating something new, difficult, and personally or socially developing, is enough. The feeling I get from working hard enough that I can provide someone else with the opportunity to do their best work, is enough. The knowledge that today, I did what is hard, not what is easy, is enough. I believe we evolve daily, by way of our hard actions, our honesty, and the raising of our standards. Yesterday, I fulfilled my potential. Today…well, I’m glad I’m working on this email for you.
I always recommend NTS. You get to live in Montréal. You’ll meet some of the most creative and inspiring people in your career. You’ll gain a connection to a network of graduates who are working in almost every theatre in the country.
Never used a HUD, really. Looking forward to it, maybe in the next iteration of Itinerary.
Re: player-commands, we did a workshop that allowed for claps, text, voice, and gestural commands — all were part of funny little online games that we built for practice and exploration. With some luck, I’ll be awarded the opportunity to test some higher-tech controls in the coming year.
And here are a few rapid-fire questions for you (up to five words each, no self-judgement):
Best worst videogame?
Best worst play?
Most overrated piece of tech?
Most underrated piece of tech?
Biggest hope for the next 10 years of theatre?
Biggest fear for the next 10 years of theatre?
Dream person to attend your next show?
An activity that brings you contentment and calm?
Thank you for this correspondence, Torien, looking forward to your answers,
On Sep 19 at 2:56 am, Torien Cafferata wrote:
Thank you for taking the time to share your struggles and discoveries, Sébastien.
I’m sure we could have a great conversation about the complex relationship between artists and the means by which we must survive in our current ecology, but then we will be here ‘til next year!
Best worst video game: Every game released for Amiga.
Best worst play: Every Team StarKid musical.
Most overrated piece of tech: VR headsets. Oops.
Most underrated piece of tech: Headphones + synced audio. Dollar-store LEDs.
Biggest hope for the next 10 years of theatre: Immersive that radicalizes and challenges.
Biggest fear for the next 10 years of theatre: Reification, recuperation, and economic disparity.
Dream person to attend your next show: Probably Milton Lim.
An activity that brings you contentment and calm: Eating cheese.
Damn those questions were fun. I’m curious about your own answers but I spent half my queries on existential dread – classic me ;)
On Sep 19 at 8:14 pm, Sébastien Heins wrote:
I loved reading your answers. I’ll hit you with mine:
Best worst video game: Gameboy games with no save points.
Best worst play: Guys and Dolls.
Most overrated piece of tech: Current VR Headsets
Most underrated piece of tech: iPods (thanks Cohort), magnets, Discord.
Biggest hope for the next 10 years of theatre: Anti-racist deliverables delivered.
Biggest fear for the next 10 years of theatre: Cowardice by leadership.
Dream person to attend your next show: Kid Koala or Crystal Pite.
An activity that brings you contentment and calm: Reading.
This has been a real pleasure. Thank you for all of your insight, consideration, and zeal. You’re a class act, a true artist, and I know we’ll soon get to enjoy each other’s work from afar. Now is the time!
My very best to you,
Sébastien Heins is a Canadian-born, Jamaican-German actor, writer, producer, and emerging director. He is the Associate Artistic Director of Outside the March. His credits include 3 seasons at the Stratford Festival, 10 years of immersive theatre with OtM, and international tours of his award-winning solo show, Brotherhood: The Hip Hopera.
Torien Cafferata is an immersive theatre producer, actor, playwright, and dramaturge based in Saskatoon, SK. He co-founded the award-winning company It’s Not A Box Theatre alongside designer-dancer Amberlin Hsu, with whom he experiments at the intersections of interactive play, mixed-reality, and justice.