Brian Carroll of Apartment613 interviewed actor Brad Long.
You’re nominated as Outstanding Actor for the Prix Rideau Awards for Re:Union. How did you get involved in this production?
Brad Long: Sean Devine, who is the writer/director of Re:Union, and Artistic Director of Horseshoes and Hand Grenades Theatre, came and saw a performance of We Glow that we did here in Ottawa before we went on tour. He loved the show.
He’s someone who wants to shake things up here in Ottawa, in some really interesting ways. He reached out to me and said, “Re:Union is going up on Magnetic North. Would you be interested in coming in and reading for this part.”
Talk about a play that will shake people up!
BL: I think that’s probably the most challenging part that I’ve ever had to play. That play, for me, really gets to the root of why I really love theatre.
Norman Morrison was a Quaker, who, back in the mid-60s, set himself on fire on the steps of the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam War. The side story is that he brought his one-year-old daughter, Emily, with him.
How you do that? As an actor, you can either think he’s nuts, which I don’t think he is, or you have to deepen your capacity for empathy, to connect with him. It’s that deepening capacity for empathy that the real joy of acting is. The real gift of theatre. Also for the audience, that’s theatre’s great strength. That it can build empathy in an audience, in a way that film and TV can’t.
You’ve toured outside Ottawa, taking We Glow with Emily Pearlman to the Winnipeg & Edmonton Fringes. How is performing in other cities different from Ottawa?
BL: With We Glow the audience is such a key component to the show. They are such heavy participants in the play itself.
You are board members. We present you with a dilemma. Whether to rehire us or let us go.
When I was in Edmonton, the male character in We Glow, during the play, he’s trying to demonstrate that he’s been working on his sense of humour. He says the joke, “How many Vietnam veterans does is take to screw in a light bulb?” And a guy in Edmonton said, “Well, I should know, I was there.” Deadpan! I don’t know if there are a lot of former Vietnam veterans based in Edmonton.
It was a really electric moment of theatre. Half of the audience was a bit stunned. Half the audience laughed awkwardly. So I just let it hang for about 30 seconds. Then I just pointed at the guy and just said, “He doesn’t get it.” And then we moved on.
You’ve been in seven productions of six Shakespeare plays. You did Macbeth with Salamander Theatre for high school audiences. What’s it like performing for teenagers?
BL: Exhilarating! Their polite filter has not been totally developed yet, by the System. So they really let you know what they like and what they don’t. Not only vocally. You can see it in their body language very clearly. One of the great things that Catriona (Leger) did, … she embedded a relationship with the audience right into it. When we were doing the dinner scene, I was out in the audience with them. They were guests at the party. They suddenly had agency in the play as well. And the response to any time when these teenage audiences have agency in the production itself is electric. They really eat it up.
That’s another thing about Shakespeare… Why are we doing this? If we’re not making these productions … so that they can have these visceral experiences. If we’re just pulling up the play … in a way that everyone goes, “I know this line.”, then we’re just wasting our time.
You don’t just do. You also teach (college and mature students). Why is there a demand for actor training?
BL: They’re the kind of people who are trying to find whether or not they can have a passion for it. That’s what those classes are, and education is. It’s a trial in passion. Do you really have a passion for this work?
I’ve also seen you in George F. Walker’s The End of Civilization and This is War by Hannah Moscovitch. How have you managed such a variety of roles in your career?
BL: Economic necessity.
But that doesn’t mean I do everything I’ve been asked to do.
There has to be some sort of embedded challenge in it. I was interested in some sort of physical transformation. That was something I felt like I hadn’t done for a while, before The End of Civilization.
This part came along. Guy’s probably in his late 40s, early 50s, overweight, drunk detective. … I was really interested in letting that sort of physical transformation inform my acting choices.
Also that character in The End of Civilization… Sometimes you just read a script and it just sits in you mouth so right!. … You go, “I know this guy. I’ve met this guy.”
Thank you, Brad.
This interview has been edited.