BRIDGING THE DISTANCE: EVA FOOTE – IT’S BETTER WITH MUSIC
The Musical Stage Company is driven by musical storytelling. We are inspired by music’s unique ability to viscerally affect people and are committed to cultivating experiences – onstage and off – that transform lives, build empathy and create community through musical theatre. Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing the stories of our musical community through our latest blog series, ‘BRIDGING THE DISTANCE: IT’S BETTER WITH MUSIC’.
We’ve given each artist a writing prompt and have asked them to share a story, an image, and a piece of music that depicts their current outlook and artistic practice while social isolating. This week we are excited to profile 2019-20 Banks Prize winner Eva Foote who takes us through her journey as she navigates this ‘new normal’ and is able to find joy in her newly found stillness.
EVA FOOTE – TOGETHERNESS WILL NOT EXPIRE
The Musical Stage Company first emailed me about this series back in March, around the beginning of the call for the Canadian public to self-isolate and I was grateful for the invitation to consider the new change with a purpose. I initially wrote a few paragraphs about wading through guilt around not being productive, how I thought I might polish my floors (I don’t know how to do this), or wax some difficult to reach body part and exfoliate my… feet (why), or learn how to do that thing where you bounce a soccer ball on your knee a bunch of times before it hits the ground. Fair to say I had a much different understanding of what self-isolation was then, than I do now as I sit down to write this, after a day of ostensibly doing nothing measurable, nearly 4000 kilometres away from where I first heard the news.
The announcement that rehearsals in Stratford had been suspended felt like — and I am aware of my privilege to have felt this — a temporary break from regular responsibility, wherein I would do all of the things I always wanted to do, if only I had the time! I know I am not the only fool who has naively thought this to themselves! (I’m looking at you fellow Virgos). I expected to return to rehearsals soon, and by then I would be very muscular, with very soft, baby-like feet, and I would walk back into the rehearsal hall and people would whisper to each other, in awe, “How does she do that with that soccer ball?”. We’d all be healthy, well-rested, have all our lines memorized, and COVID-19 would become a curious, shared memory after a brief cautionary break from work.
The day after writing that version of this essay, I was let go indefinitely from the Stratford Festival due to COVID-19, alongside nearly 500 other employees, all rehearsals to end immediately. I was shocked. So shocked that I called the Executive Producer to ask if I should keep learning my understudy track while I waited to get back into rehearsal. She let me down gently. The disorienting fog that followed was and is shared, I imagine, by most contracted performers across Canada and the world, who find themselves in a similar predicament. I think of the cast and crew of ROOM in London who received the announcement that the run would be canceled, on their opening night. Or of the team of FENCES in Montreal who’s set had just been moved into the space – and were days away from starting rehearsals. These cancellations were important and undoubtedly the right decision. Maybe it is worth mentioning here — just in case you share with me that “count your blessings” voice that comes on the loudspeaker in my head – that I know it could be much, much worse – and that a canceled show is nothing to gripe about in the grand scheme of life and death, which seem to be literally the stakes we are contending with.
I still feel sad when I think of these losses. We all work to build something of meaning that will reach beyond any of our individual margins and have an impact beyond any single one of us, which means the successes of this work feel shared and so do the losses. I find comfort knowing that none of us are alone in the feelings that emerge when a show closes before it is meant to. It is, plainly, sad. I think of all of the artists who have outstretched their wings to help these stories come to life, incubating and transforming, in preparation for their hatching. I hope we can keep these many stories warm through isolation so they may still hatch when it is safer for us all to be together. And that they may fly and soar. And shit on the hood of somebody’s car. Once I tried to flirt with this guy at Canada’s National Theatre School and a hardboiled egg fell out of my bag and rolled right onto his foot. That’s not part of the metaphor I just had to get that off my chest.
In the days following the announcement, I packed up my house in Stratford. I put pictures and sheets and coffee cups in boxes, wiped down the counters, listened to the CBC, and started to understand the growing impact of COVID-19. I made sure to leave the next tenants a welcoming gift of a full bottle soy sauce in the fridge (don’t drink it all in one night, you) and mopped the floor by putting wet wipes beneath my feet and performing an elaborate figure skating routine throughout the house. It was hard to pack up my Stratford home when I had imagined I would be there for eight more months – longer than I have ever lived in one place since I graduated from school. I was morose. I ate five meals a day and would occasionally catch myself standing completely still in the kitchen with a bunch of yogurt covered raisins in my hand, eyes glazed over, eating them like I was racing someone.
It took two and a half days to drive from Stratford to Edmonton, stopping only at gas stations – and then once to sleep for five frigid hours in the back of the van in a parking lot Thunder Bay. At one point I accidentally pressed my naked butt against the window while trying to change into my pyjamas, only to realize there was a man sitting in the car next to me, smoking a cigarette with his window down. You’re welcome sir. And by you’re welcome I mean I am sorry. I stayed a few days in Edmonton, then drove to Burnaby, British Columbia, to my mother’s house, where I have been since.
You may be wondering at this point in the essay, what… was the prompt, Eva? Are you just longwindedly complaining? Well, I chose my prompt a month ago and forgot what it was so I am just coming to it now. It was important for me to tell you in such a verbose manner why it took me so long to write this now be quiet and stop asking so many questions.
FINDING JOY IN STILLNESS
I guess what I really want to say is that I have been in isolation now for two weeks and I have not exfoliated my feet. I have not gone for long-distance runs or written letters or songs or poems or polished anyone’s floors. My wellness cannot be measured by what little I have accomplished. I am safe and healthy, and I have a family who is able to provide a place for me to stay while I am out of work. I am extremely, extremely lucky. It has become clear to me how I have unquestionably taken this for granted before now. Every day I see news stories about people in the world who have been devastated by the virus. Those who have lost someone to COVID-19, those without the support of their families, those who are immuno-compromised, those with unsafe home lives, those experiencing homelessness, and many others caught in the crossfire between a difficult personal situation and a global pandemic. It is important for me to acknowledge the privilege I hold to even be able to stay inside.
It is because of this privilege that I have also had the opportunity to be still. To move slowly. To return to the lifeblood of my childhood and make crafts. To sew and glue random shit to other random shit and marvel at the new random shit I have created. To hem a pair of pants and pay attention to a pin slipping neatly through two layers of denim, feel it meet resistance before it surfaces, triumphant, on the other side. To observe the transformation of a spool of thread from its lifeless place on the counter to its intricate path through a sewing machine as it fuses two swaths of fabric together in a rhythmic staccato. To watch the Dutch Symphony Orchestra play Pachelbel’s Canon from their apartments on youtube and let tears wash my cheeks. I can wake up, then go back to sleep! And marvel at the wings of a raven as it soars weightlessly above this earthly pandemonium, then perches in front of a poster taped to a window in the apartment complex down the road that in innocent writing, spells out, “T HANk YuO HeALTHCarE woRKERS!”. There is beauty around me that I often miss because I am so focused on moving quickly and efficiently through my days.
There are a lot of normal, difficult feelings that can surface during this time (see: anxiety, lethargy, loneliness, etc.) — and if you’re feeling down, I doubt I am the first to say – you are not alone and you are not wrong. I offer, if you can, it is alright to move slowly during this time. To be forgiving for days and maybe weeks of housebound inertia. To be patient with our fear and the fear of others, and grateful for those in society working tirelessly to keep us safe. And maybe the biggest ask of this time is to trust that the future will, in uncertain and unknowable ways, unfold outside of our immediate control. Where once I found my daily verve and gusto in a rehearsal hall or in the audience of a show — today I will find in measuring my crotch. For a pair of pants I’m going to make — don’t be weird!
In the inventory of days that combine to form the last month, today has been a good day. I’ve gotten to sit on my bed and write this to you. I felt sun on my face. I heard a bird make a noise that sounded exactly like a fart and my sister and I laughed. I listened to Norah Jones sing John Prine songs from her living room and thought about the capaciousness and depth of the legacy he left behind. I even made a headband by tying some white fabric together and sent a picture to my best friend. He said it looked like I had mayonnaise in my hair. Today also would have been Stratford’s first performance of the season. I feel all of this at once.
I may not be long distance running and my feet are just the regular amount of smooth (so far), but in the stead of a daily dose of doom, today I look out at quiet streets and imagine the joy that is hibernating. The joy is stirring in its shell. Joy that is at times invisible but ever-enduring.
Little-known emerging playwright and poet William Shakespeare wrote, “To climb steep hills requires a slow pace at first.”. Maybe I’ll leave you with that. This is a steep hill. You do not have to learn nine new skills. You don’t have to move at the same pace you would have, had none of this happened. But rather, you can walk slowly to your fridge, eat half a brick of cheese, and feel astonished that someone came up with the idea of cheese at all. It is gonna be okay. I love you.
IT’S BETTER WITH MUSIC SELECTION:
Speed of the Sound of Loneliness – John Prine