Interview by Brittany Kay
This Lady Boss had a kick-ass 2016, which appears to be shaping into an even more exciting 2017. We couldn’t be luckier to sit down and chat with actress Vivien Endicott-Douglas, who’s performing in the current remount of Infinity at Tarragon. We spoke about not going to theatre school, how she has grown as an artist at Tarragon over the years, and the love that comes with Infinity.
Brittany Kay: What made you choose performing as a career?
Vivien Endicott-Douglas: I’ve always been a performer, ever since I could talk. I loved to perform for my family. My family is a huge fan of the original Winnie the Pooh stories by A.A. Milne. I had listened to these stories on tape a bunch. There was one point where I was 4 or 5 years old when my dad turned on the tape and I had memorized it entirely. I just recited it, instead of listening to the tape. I asked my parents if I could start acting when I was 8 and they sent me to these drama classes called Dragon Trails with a woman named Jill Frappier, who’s this incredible actress and had this drama school for kids. I was in love with her. I was in awe of her. She was always doing voices and had so much energy and we created plays with her. She said to my parents, “Have you ever considered Vivian doing this professionally?” I really wanted to, so when I was 11, I got an agent and started working professionally. That was mostly in TV and film so I was able to learn so much. I got a lead in a TV series when I was a year into working professionally and I was in almost every scene, so I really absorbed a lot and got to work with some incredible actors.
Richard Rose gave me my first professional theatre gig right out of high school at 18. I was taking a year off and trying to figure out whether I wanted to go to theatre school or not. I was working and there were all of these other actors who were like, “If you’re already working, maybe theatre school isn’t right for you and you can find other people to train with on your own.” That was a big debate for me for a while of whether I should go or not go. Not going kind of won out in the end, just based on friends and people’s advice to me. The biggest challenge for me was the fact that I really wanted to find a community of artists and actors and theatre makers.
BK: That can be hard if you’re not going to theatre school.
VE-D: Exactly. And I was always kind of like the kid amongst the other artists. I was so lucky to be working with these older, super experienced actors but I didn’t feel like they were people who I could necessarily create new projects with. Around that time it was important for me to find people my own age who wanted to experiment and create. I met Rosamund Small during my time at UofT and our friendship and working relationship blossomed from there.
BK: Well that’s a great connection! Without the training of theatre school, what is your process or preparation for auditions and rehearsals?
VE-D: I started taking voice classes with a woman named Rae Ellen Bodie about 4 years ago out of Pro Actors Lab. She’s an incredible actor, director and coach. I took this class because I thought I should have something on my resume that says that I’ve had some kind of training. I walked in on my first day and Rae was like, “Where have you trained?” and I was like, “Mhmm… I haven’t.” Everyone started making these sounds and moving freely and I just tried to do that too with absolutely no idea what I was doing. It turned out to be about breath and body work to connect with how you’re feeling right now in this present moment and so I have incorporated that into my daily practice. It helps with auditions, a lot. Auditioning is not easy for me. I don’t think it’s easy for anybody.
BK: What are you talking about? It’s the best process ever…
VE-D: (laughter) I certainly enjoy auditioning for theatre more than I do for TV/Film just because there feels like there is more time and you can really talk about it and get into it. I’ve picked up other things along the way. There’s a book called the Power of the Actor by a woman named Ivana Chubbuck. It’s these twelve steps to approaching a character and script. What really spoke to me was this idea of what you need from the other person and what you want to make them do. That has really helped my work. I have played a lot of victims or people who don’t necessarily have a lot of agency, just because of the nature of the roles I’ve been given in my career so far. This book really empowers you. Instead of just wanting something from them, it forces you to look at what are you doing to that person to make that happen.
I think I have an emotional intuitiveness and I’m a very empathetic person. I think I bring that to my work. For the past few years it’s been really important to be more powerful. Not just in the work but in the room. Really have my voice heard by directors and other actors. Because I started as kid, I’ve always felt like a kid.
BK: Tell me a little bit about the show?
VE-D: Infinity is about a couple, who are two brilliant people. One is a theoretical physicist and the other is a musician. I play a young woman, named Sarah Jean who’s a mathematician and I go between being in my mid twenties to playing an eight year old. It’s about her figuring out her emotional life because she doesn’t actually live in that at all. She’s a very intellectual academic, a very smart, driven person, who doesn’t often take an emotional inventory of where she’s at or of her past relationships. Without giving away too much, there’s kind of an incident that makes her have to reflect on it. It’s about how we come to understand love in our lives, with parents and with lovers.
It’s also filled with beautiful live music. There’s a violinist, named Andréa Tyniec that plays throughout the show. It’s amazing because live music has such a resonance as you’re working. It’s so visceral. It’s really intertwined with what we’re doing and how we’re feeling. She has an incredible ear so she can be dynamic in the way that she plays. She changes with us from night to night.
BK: There’s definitely something about strings that brings you further into the experience as an audience member. It just hits you somewhere deeper.
VE-D: Well the vibrations hit you. I find it so moving when there’s live music.
BK: Were there excitements or fears or challenges coming into a remount, where Haley McGee played the part before you?
VE-D: Well yeah, those are certainly big shoes to fill. Because I didn’t see the original production, I didn’t have any preconceived notions about the character. I just had a couple of monologues and read the script and went into the audition bringing what I had to it. We worked quite intensively in the audition. I think we made a lot of fresh discoveries about the character and about how I relate to Sarah Jean. Our director Ross Manson was really willing and very interested in me finding the character myself, which was awesome because I felt like he gave me the kind of support to just go. There are certain things about the character that are true for anyone playing this part but within that, I was able to find what my own relationship to her was. We only had 10 days of rehearsal…
BK: Whoa! Why so short?
VE-D: Well because it was a remount and originally Haley was going to do it. She wasn’t available and so they had only budgeted for 10 days.
VE-D: Yeah… It was an intensive rehearsal process. I found out that I got the part while I was doing Killer Joe, so I had a lot of time leading up to prepare. The first day we just got on our feet. I came into a room of people who were already so confident in the work, which was actually really neat. Amy and Paul, the other actors in the play, have such a great dynamic in their relationship. They were very encouraging and supportive of the work that I was doing. Ross worked with me and really challenged me. He pushed me, which was important because we didn’t have a lot of time so I had to be on my toes. I felt like I came into a room that was filled with a lot of love because I think people really love the play. From the whole team, everybody loves the play, and you really feel this connection… they all feel connected to it.
BK: Why is this play so important and important to bring back?
VE-D: It’s so relatable in the way that it shows a relationship between two people who are deeply in love and who can’t quite get on the same page or can’t quite give each other what they need. My character, Sarah Jean, is so relatable because she’s this young woman who’s trying to figure out her relationship to her parents and what their legacy is and her relationship to how her childhood has made her into who she is. It’s her opportunity to reflect on how she’s gotten to where she is and that she can actually change… that the future is not written and she kind of comes to this realization that she can change for the better.
BK: This is your fourth show with Tarragon. What do you love about being there and what keeps you coming back?
VE-D: I feel very grateful to have the opportunity to work there. I have learned so much working there because they produce all of these new plays. I actually have also been a part of numerous workshops that have taken place there. Being a part of those with other actors and directors has allowed me to learn so much about theatre and about being an actor and the process to creating a show. I have been able to learn how other actors approach the work. People will really question playwrights and then the play changes and grows and that’s a huge part of working at Tarragon – having these conversations about stories. You’re often not getting a static play that’s already written. So much of the time it’s about dramaturgy. I love that part of it.
BK: What do you want audiences walking away with from Infinity?
VE-D: I hope that people walk away feeling hopeful. I hope that people walk away and maybe call someone they love and tell them that they’re grateful to have them in their lives or if they come with family or friends and can walk away and talk about their connection to each other. I hope that it opens people up.
Rapid Fire Question Round
Favourite Movie: Back to the Future
Favourite Play/Musical: The Sound of Music
Favourite Book: Fall On Your Knees, closely followed by The Sun Also Rises
Favourite Food: Salmon
Best place in Toronto: Either of grandparents’ houses or the ravine close to my parent’s house.
Advice you live by: Trust your instincts.
Written by Hannah Moscovitch
Original score composed by Njo Kong Kie
Directed by Ross Manson
Co-produced by Volcano Theatre
Featuring Paul Braunstein as Elliot Green, Vivien Endicott-Douglas as Sarah Jean Green, Amy Rutherford as Carmen Green and Andréa Tyniec as violinist
How does a new Theory of Time change everything we know about ourselves? Three brilliant minds – a musician, a mathematician, and a theoretical physicist – smash together like colliding particles in an accelerator. Together they learn that love and time are connected in ways they couldn’t have imagined. Infinity is a shocking, funny and revelatory play about love, sex, & math by Tarragon Playwright-in-Residence Hannah Moscovitch developed with Volcano Theatre. Back by popular demand from Tarragon’s 2014/15 season.
January 4 – 29, 2017