'WHAT'S HAPPENING WITH COMMUNITY THEATRE FOLKS?'
PROFILE OF MIKE KHASHMANIAN, PRESIDENT AND MANAGING ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF BEECH STREET THEATRE COMPANY
Information compiled by Joe Szekeres, On Stage Blog
I gotta admire Michael Khashmanian’s tenacity in starting up a theatre company (Beech Street Theatre Company -BTSC). At times, it must be nerve wracking to run a business with the ups and downs of the economy combined with the daily tasks that need to be done to ensure the company is highly visible within the community.
Yet, Michael is always up for that challenge. I met him with friends several years ago sharing coffee time and learning more about his love affair with live theatre and for the opportunities it provides to all participants involved. You’ll see from his answers below just how much he likes to involve ALL community members, and that is another reason why I applaud and acknowledge his selfless and tireless work.
Michael is very personable and always, always gives you his undivided attention during a conversation. That is so important to make people feel valued, considered, respected and heard:
How have you been faring with this never-ending threat of this worldwide pandemic? How has your immediate family been doing during this time?
Overall, I think I’ve been coping fairly well during the pandemic. I mean, every day has its ups and downs in any situation. I live with two high-risk people. My son had two organ transplants in 2019. He’s now in excellent health but if he catches COVID the anti-rejection drugs would make his situation perilous. My wife is a type 1 diabetic, which comes with its own set of risks at any time. Things have been a mixed bag for me emotionally. My mother, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s and was in long-term care, caught the corona virus and passed away on May 2. This was countered with the birth of my sixth grandchild, who was born on June 30.
What has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally during this time?
I think the most challenging thing to cope with, both professionally and personally, has been staying at home for such a long time. Being an extreme extrovert, it has been difficult not being out with people on a regular basis.
One thing I have come to realize during this period of isolation is how much work networking actually is. Being the president and managing artistic director makes me “the face” of the Beech Street Theatre Company. I normally try to get out to as many events and functions as I can to promote the BSTC. Schmoozing with people, turning on the charm, talking up the next play, getting sponsors interested, etc., takes its toll.
It’s fun and enjoyable because I love people and theatre, so I really miss it, but it’s taxing too. I guess I never realized that until I wasn’t doing it.
Were you in preparation, rehearsals, or any planning stages of productions before everything was shut down? What has become of those projects? Will they see the light of day anytime soon?
When is the BSTC not in the middle of some theatre project? In partnership with Nice Bistro at 117 Brock Street N., the BSTC is, as far as I know, Whitby’s only dinner theatre. We had just opened our newest comedy, The Sodfather, when the pandemic hit. We were forced to shut down after only two sold-out performances. We hope to have a second run of this play in 2021, pandemic permitting.
Many people may not know about the other aspect of the BSTC, which is community involvement. We have been running a drama program at the Brain Injury Association of Durham Region (BIAD) for several years now. We had just started rehearsals for the play Two Songs for a Dollar when COVID shut us down. We had done a similar drama program for the Friends of Aphasia in Whitby in the fall of 2019 and had plans to begin again in the spring of this year. Guess what happened? In April we were booked to perform The Mask of the Golden Gaels as a dinner theatre at St. John’s Anglican Church in Bowmanville, as a fundraiser in support of migrant farm workers in the area. Guess what happened? Last October we performed 3 short plays as a benefit fundraiser in Minden for the hospital auxiliary there. We had a second one booked for October 2020 and guess what happened? The plan is to resume all of these programs when it is safe to do so.
We are also part of the CARERS Group, a program run by the Reitman Centre at Mount Sinai Hospital and administered by the Alzheimer’s Society for caregivers here in Whitby. I act as a simulated patient to help these caregivers cope with the stress of caring for a loved one. This one activity is in the process of being modified to be done using Zoom.
Besides your day work/job/profession, what have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time?
Like many people I’m doing a lot of home renovations, baking bread, cleaning out the garage (though not because I have to find a place to store a dozen cases of toilet paper). I’m also spending more time with my kids and grandchildren, which has been somewhat of a challenge with social distancing.
At least two Toronto based community/amateur theatres that I know have shuttered their doors on account of this pandemic. I recently saw online that some people are asking, as birthday gifts, donations to help keep their theatre groups afloat. Can you impart any words of wisdom or sage advice to the amateur theatre groups in the GTA about the future as there is a very high possibility they may be closed until at least spring 2021?
The BSTC basically runs from a cell phone and a laptop. Other than insurance, we only have expenses when we are performing. We usually perform in places such as art galleries, museums, and of course dinner theatre in restaurants. All of these places are rent-free, with revenue sharing between the theatre company and the host partner. I guess if I could give any advice it would be to keep overhead costs as low as possible.
Do you see anything positive stemming from Covid 19 and the protests? Will this positive light somehow impact community/amateur theatre groups moving forward?
This is tough one. Hopefully, Covid 19 will teach us that we are not invincible and that we must take great care of the planet and each other if we wish to survive.
As for the protests, in many ways we as a society have stepped backwards from the victories won during civil rights movements of the 1950’s and 1960’s. I’m overjoyed that people are out protesting again, and even more overjoyed that today’s protests have not displayed the violence associated with the protests of 1968 in the U.S. It is important that people rise up against oppression, but it will mean nothing if people don’t carry this momentum forward on election day.
What doesn’t impact community/theatre groups? Staying home and social distancing have forced many of us to turn to the virtual world, even more than before the pandemic, for entertainment. When all this is over, I hope people feel the need to get out and see something real, like plays, art galleries and concerts. And of course all the events of 2020 are leaving very fertile ground for play creation.
Despite all this fraught tension and confusion of the pandemic along with the protests, what is it about the arts that can never be destroyed for you?
Although there are some who do not recognize this (gasp!), it is the arts that mirror the society we live in. No matter what happens, life is represented in a play, a song, a dance, a poem, a story, film, photograph or painting. The human spirit is always captured in the art it creates. As long as humans have the need and desire to feel and create, the arts will always be.
With a respectful acknowledgment to ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton, here are the ten questions he used to ask his guests:
1. What is your favourite word?
Spoof. It has a silly way about it. It’s almost as good as ‘snack’ but not quite.
2. What is your least favourite word? …
3. What turns you on?
Creating things, a good BBQ, clothing optional events, comedy. The ideal situation would be a clothing optional creative event that includes a BBQ and lots of laughs.
4. What turns you off?
Organizations. Oppression. Too many rules.
5. What sound or noise do you love?
Really good blues guitar.
6. What sound or noise bothers you?
Loud vehicles, especially at night.
7. What is your favourite curse word?
This one’s a toss up between ‘shit’ and ‘Trump’.
What is your least favourite curse word?
All the rest of them.
8. Other than your own, what other career profession could you see yourself doing?
Barrister. Or maybe solicitor. Or should I just say lawyer?
9. What career choice could you not see yourself doing?
10. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates?
“Welcome home. You’re just in time for the ‘Create the Perfect Society’ event – clothing optional.”