20 questions (pandemic edition) with Breton Lalama

This week we check in with Halifax-based actor, writer and comic, Breton Lalama.

Breton Lalama
Breton Lalama

During this time of social distancing and dark venues, Halifax Presents continues to check-in with members of our arts community to find out how they are staying creative and managing during the pandemic.

This week we check in with Halifax-based actor, writer and comic, Breton Lalama.

1. How are you staying creative during the pandemic?

Ha. That’s a funny question. I think I am, by nature, “creative.” I don’t think creative is a matter of actually making art but a way of thinking and seeing and questioning. It’s more a trait than a product, you know? I have been trying to stay creative in a creating way, though. I have been working on my words. I’m a playwright, and I was recently accepted into Nightwood Theatre’s year-long play development program, Write From The Hip. Being accepted into this year’s WFTH is one of the biggest gifts I’ve ever received, and has encouraged me to keep moving towards creation, even inch by inch when everything feels too hard. I think, though, that it’s important to honour the fact that one’s artistry is not measured by quantity of creations.

2. What’s the one thing getting you through?

Little weird moments: a duck eating a hot dog, an overheard punch line from a stranger about a cow wearing pants, making a beautiful charcuterie board and watching my friends eat it, getting tomato sauce in the mail from my parent’s farm, the stem of a wine glass against my partner’s thumb. These things make me remember a desire to make art, so that even when I can’t because of depression or because I have to work a lot of other jobs to stay alive or because of whatever boundary, real or imagined, I can hold that feeling like a heat pack against my heart.

3. How are you staying in contact with family and friends who are not in your bubble?

I am an extreme introvert and also tend to be very nomadic, so I don’t have a huge community of people with whom I feel pressured to connect. Canadian theatre celebrity Avery Jean Brennan has been doing weekly book clubs, populated by a lot of my work friends, and that’s been a great way to stay in contact with people I love who are far away. Otherwise, the way I always would: texting, calling, writing letters (yes, I always write letters because they are the best). I hate Zoom with a passion, so I’m avoiding it (outside of the forced and dreaded work Zoom calls!) as much as possible, though I have engaged in a few virtual drink + chats via Zoom.

4. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far during the pandemic?

Progress isn’t linear. Say it again. Progress isn’t linear. I thought I’d learned this long ago, but guess what? PROGRESS ISN’T LINEAR, so sometimes you’ve gotta learn that again! As a person who lives with clinical depression, I have realized how much I rely upon working in the arts as a natural serotonin boost. Losing work and income and struggling to stay afloat both monetarily and mentally has reminded me just how f*ck!ng lucky I am to get to work on projects that genuinely make me enjoy being alive. Going from having to turn work down because I was so overbooked to losing a year’s amount of work overnight also forced me to realize that not only is progress not linear, but it is not tangible. Progress is not the weight of my public accomplishments. For me, progress is moving closer to happiness, to a place where I’m waking up every day and liking the person I am becoming. I’m not there yet, but remembering what progress is to me (an idea and a feeling and a quiet constant commitment) versus blindly swallowing down society’s definition of progress (a tangible thing, a destination) is helping me get there.

5. What do you feel the most grateful for right now?

The people in my world who quietly yet so wholeheartedly offer softness and love, not as currency, not as performance, not conditionally, just BECAUSE. They make me richer than any dollar amount ever could. They help me remember a way to exist, even when everything in me screams “dead end.”

6. What is something you are doing now that you don’t normally?

I’m working a desk job. I usually work on my feet all day, whether that is in the theatre, on set, or as a line cook or bartender.  It is very new to be sitting in front of a screen all day, every day. I feel very lucky to be able to be making some money writing words. I also feel very lucky that my “normal” job allows me the mobility and activeness that my body craves.

7. What skill have you developed since the pandemic started?

I’ve learned how to skateboard! That’s a thing I’ve always wanted to do, and now I can do it (badly, but still).

8. What have you missed the most?

Flirting with possibility, the way that each day used to possess an infinite possible. Now, there are walls where there were no walls. But from inside these new walls, we work to come together and break down the old cobwebbed walls named racism, homophobia, transphobia, sociopolitical bullshit. Fresh paint on old walls while we wait for the new walls to be safe to tear down.

9. Your #1 pandemic survival tip.

If you’re thinking about suicide, tell one person you trust, and let them help you get help.

10. Your biggest indulgence since the pandemic started.

Potato chips. Absolutely 100 percent. And letters from drag queens and other friends across the country. And fruit roll-ups, but artistically (the play I’m currently writing is all about fruit roll-ups).

11. What have you stockpiled?

In the beginning, I was stockpiling books and local craft beer. Now, I’m stockpiling patience and trying to find out what store still has hope in stock. I’d like a big order of that to keep in my pantry, between the empty growlers and the half-eaten bags of Storm Chips.

12. What have you been reading?

Everything I can devour. I started with queer and trans history and health care books, then moved onto Indigiqueer and BIPOC sex worker poetry, then Canadian plays written by BIPOC people, then essays about collective consciousness and collective memory. I am drawn to non-fiction as much as I am drawn to fiction; I find both are equal in their truth-telling.

13. What have you been watching?

Heist’s Zoom streams, Drag Race, way too many episodes of Chopped, and a lot of my friends’ work.

14. What have you been listening to?

Fiona Apple’s new album is awesome. Still Yeezy always feels good.

15. What are you doing for exercise?

I do a lot of yoga. I take Emma Bartolomucci’s online dance classes. Check them out if you’re not already! They feature a lot of kickass BIPOC choreographers and are super affordable, and Emma’s one of the best teachers in the country! I walk a lot, I lift weights and run. I am a person who needs to be active in order to be happy, so I try to honour that.

16. The one thing you haven’t been able to live without?

Coffee. Plants. Alone time. Honesty.

17. Do-it-yourself haircut or the natural look?

My partner has been cutting hair for years as a side hustle, so I am lucky on this one- she does my hair for me. Otherwise, I’d definitely be rocking the DIY buzzcut right now.

18. Night owl or early riser?

Oof! I am a night owl by nature. I like to write with the moon tucked behind my shoulder, and my mind shrouded by the seductive anonymity of night’s darkness. But work forces me to rise early, so the result is natural nerdy night owl turned begrudging, baggy-eyed early riser!

19. Will you be the first out as restrictions are gradually lifted or taking a wait-and-see attitude?

I’m definitely playing it safe, but also letting myself go out once a week and have a drink on a patio (observing mask rules, of course). I think it’s important to both support our local businesses and allow ourselves a bit of outside-the-house time, within safety and reason, of course.

20. What’s the first thing you will do when this is all over?

Play Riff Raff in Rocky Horror for Neptune. But even before that, walk backstage in a theatre, mask off, running my fingers over the divets in the bricks like hundreds of thousands of actors before- and relish in the weighted silence watched over by the ghost light, the living, breathing history that is a theatre before lights up.

Meet Breton Lalama

Breton (like the crackers or the cape) is a queer, trans non-binary human who combines mediums to encourage sociopolitical dialogue and bring attention to the weird parts of everyday life. They really like tomato soup. You may have seen them playing the accordion at Yuk Yuks, or on stage at Neptune Theatre, or as a corpse in various Canadian TV shows.

You can find them on the internet at @bretonlikethecrackers.