20 questions (pandemic edition) with Colleen MacIsaac

Today we check in with multi-disciplinary artist Colleen MacIsaac.

Colleen MacIsaac
Colleen MacIsaac

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 multi-disciplinary artist Colleen MacIsaac.

1. How are you staying creative during the pandemic?

It took me a few months into the pandemic to feel like I could make anything at all. Now it fluctuates a bit, but it can be a struggle. I’ve found the times when I can get into some kind of routine have made it easier to do some creative work. Creating with other people is always helpful for me, so working with folks and setting deadlines for ourselves is something that I often look to. I’ve definitely started and abandoned a number of small projects that I eventually just ran out of steam on since March. So I guess the answer is just keepin’ at it as much as possible and trying to be forgiving of myself when I can’t?

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

I found this Nintendo emulator online, and for the first while was definitely just playing Super Mario World and Dr. Mario for way too many hours a day. I didn’t have a TV growing up and could only ever play those games for little pockets of time at my cousin’s house, so getting to play them through felt like a real treat and provided my brain with something achievable to focus on.

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

Most of my family is in Alberta, so I’ve been very much relying on all the ways that technology can assist us in connecting remotely. And since I get to go home only rarely and am usually super busy, I’ve actually been talking to my family more now than I did pre-pandemic! One of my favourite remote things is to make a meal together with someone over a video call, where we’re both cooking and chatting. It’s been nice to do some online play readings and audio dramas too. And I am always a big fan of sending letters and postcards (thank you, Canada Post!).

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

That we’re in this together, but that people who are put in marginalized positions will always bear the brunt of things, and that it is on all of us to use what privilege we have to ensure that everyone has access to what they need. Also that we often have more power and privilege than we think we do.

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

Health, humans, communication, connection, co-ops, access to outdoor gardening space, our housemates, plants, and the opportunity to learn.

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

Taking things more slowly. I tend to like to fill my days with many activities and projects, and the pandemic forced me to slow down a bit, which has been really good for me, I think. Of course, now that things have settled a bit, I’m back to taking on as much as I can, but I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to do it a little more mindfully, so I don’t let people down or end up burning out again.

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

Okay, so I am ludicrously proud of my houseplants these days. I used to (unintentionally) kill every plant that came into my house, and now I have almost a hundred little green friends (much to the chagrin of my partner who (rightly) worries about water damage). Staying home to take care of them, to notice how they are doing on a daily basis, to provide them with what they need, and to watch them (mostly) flourish, has been really nice.

8. What have you missed the most?

Of course, I miss theatre and being in a room with people creating and telling stories. I was looking forward to touring to New Zealand with Xara Choral Theatre to present a show led by Indigenous artists about the residential school system, and not getting to share that is something that I miss, not to mention missing singing and performing with others. My pal Dan and I had some exciting things planned for The Villains Theatre that I hope will come to fruition someday, but I miss not being able to gather in rehearsal rooms. And I miss not being able to travel to see my family. But to be honest, I feel so grateful to be where I am and to have access to nature and to friends and family via technology, that really what I miss most is the connections/conversations/collaborations that arise naturally from the tiny happenstances of running into someone in a shared space.

9. Your #1 pandemic survival tip.

Help others, be compassionate, do what you can to make things better. And don’t be afraid to try medication when it comes to your mental health. Remember that you are loved, and you are needed.

10. Your biggest indulgence since the pandemic started.

Soooo I discovered that Tart and Soul do online orders, and their cinnamon buns are the best thing in this universe. Pro tip: try the bialy too!

11. What have you stockpiled?

A reading list that I will eternally be adding to. There’s a lot of things I know I need to educate myself on, and I’ve been slowly but surely making my way through.

12. What have you been reading?

I had forgotten how to read for pleasure (which is bananas because I was definitely the kid who would come home with hundreds of library books every few weeks), and I am very pleased to say that during the pandemic, I have consciously been getting back into it and teaching myself how to read something that isn’t on social media. I started with short stories (Watermark by Christy Ann Conlin), then books with segmented chapters (Duke by Sarah Tilley), re-reading books that I’ve enjoyed before (The Birth House by Ami McKay), returning to comics (You & a Bike & a Road by Eleanor Davis), and delving into some audiobooks (The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power by Desmond Cole), and it’s been great for helping me get back in the habit. I’ve been treating myself by ordering from rad stores/publishers such as BookmarkAtlantic NewsStrange AdventuresNimbus PublishingInvisible Publishing, and Conundrum Press. Next up on my stack is Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi, Enya: A Treatise on Unguilty Pleasures by Chilly Gonzales, and I Place You Into the Fire by Rebecca Thomas.

13. What have you been watching?

My partner Dorian and I have been watching a lot of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine because it is a nostalgic comfort show for both of us (and it’s also pretty a pretty queer show for the ’90s which makes me happy). I’ve been watching the amazing (free) Indigenous Canada course from the University of Alberta. I’ve been trying to watch online plays, but I find it trickier to do for some reason. Mostly I’ve been watching the colour of the sky as it tumbles into dusk each night. You can’t find blues like that almost anywhere else.

14. What have you been listening to?

I recently quit my day job, which has freed up my brain time to listen to more podcasts! The Secret Life of Canada and the Tideline is high on my list, A+ podcasting. And I listen to a lot of weird instrumental music while I’m working and need to use my word-brain. Ooh, and my friend Jordyn (who has impeccable taste) recently got me into the podcast Ologies, and I’ve been really enjoying it. And Cosmo Sheldrake, who makes beautiful, strange music. Thanks, Jordyn!

15. What are you doing for exercise?

I am way more likely to exercise if other people are motivating me to do it, so I’ve been very grateful for my friend Essa’s online Sculptura classes (they are great, all about being strong and healthy, highly recommend), and the excellent Actor’s Gym on Wednesdays with Kick at the Dark Theatre. Otherwise, walks around my neighbourhood.

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

People. It’s been a rough year for so many of us, and the people who reach out, who take the time to connect, who offer care and compassion, and who are working so hard to build a more equitable world have all felt very essential and inspiring to me.

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

I shaved my head in late March and had no regrets. But then, once things opened up a bit again, I got Christina at Brookside & Bliss to help me out a bit because I am terrible at cutting my own hair, even if it’s just an undercut-buzz. Plus, Christina is a power-lifter and a super inspiring human being, and it’s nice to hang out with her.

18. Night owl or early riser?

Traditionally a night owl for sure, but I always aspire to get more morning hours in since I think I’m actually more productive then. I’ve seen a few sunrises in the past few months, and it’s a beautiful thing to witness, but oh how I love looking at the stars in the wee hours.

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

After the first wave, I definitely wanted to make the best of the lifted restrictions over the summer, but I also very much want to make sure I don’t pass along the virus to anyone else, so….cautiously out and about, listening to what the latest science advises?

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

Double down on advocating for a universal basic income, as this time has really shown us how essential and how under-paid people on the “front lines” really are.

Meet Colleen MacIsaac

Colleen MacIsaac (they/she) is a multi-disciplinary artist based in Kjipuktuk/Halifax, working in theatre, comics, illustration, and performance art. Artistic producer of The Villains Theatre, Colleen is a recipient of the Bhayana Invisible Champion Award and the Halifax Mayor’s Award for Emerging Theatre Artist. Colleen likes the stars and maps and people and green things. You can find out more about Colleen at littlefoible.net or follow Colleen on Twitter or Instagram.