Leslie Dos Remedios has lots to talk about these days.
The Vancouver theatre artist is preparing to direct For Now, a play on gender, sexuality, and privilege. Green Thumb Theatre commissioned this work by Scott Button.
In addition, she’s acting in the monthlong run of the Arts Club’s Me Love BINGO!: Best in Snow. And next month, Dos Remedios performs two roles in the world premiere of Instantaneous Blue. It’s a Mitch and Murray Productions play about a family’s struggle with dementia.
“I’ve honestly never been busier,” Dos Remedios tells Pancouver over Zoom. “The last three years have been bananas busy for me, which is great.”
Aaron Craven wrote the semi-autobiographical Instantaneous Blue. The show revolves around a couple who must juggle work responsibilities with caring for aging parents and bringing a child into the world.
“We’re exploring this kind of generational gap between the person becoming a caregiver for parents, but also becoming a caregiver for their own children—and what it’s like having those personal resources really pulled thin,” Dos Remedios says.
In the first act, she plays a care aide named Grace. Then she becomes Reyna, another care aide, in the second act.
The show also includes performances by Patti Allan, Tom McBeath, Charlie Gallant, Kayla Deorksen, Jesse Miller, and Eric Breker.
Dos Remedios family dealt with dementia
She has tremendous respect for health-care workers who look after patients with dementia and manage hopes and expectations of family members.
“They’re also setting them up with social supports that they might need later on, giving them options on how to cope with their loved ones that are in care,” Dos Remedios says.
She points out that many health workers are people of colour or new immigrants. And family members sometimes criticize them over how they care for an elderly person.
Dos Remedios witnessed this system firsthand before her grandmother passed away last September with dementia. It came at a complicated time in the actor-director’s life, just as she was juggling a demanding work schedule and raising a three-year-old.
She points out that during the pandemic, people must make appointments to visit elders in care homes.
“If anything went wrong with getting the kid ready, I missed the window to see my grandma,” she says.
An unconventional BINGO! play
Meanwhile, in Me Love BINGO!: Best in Snow, Dos Remedios plays an assistant to Kyle Loven, who’s in drag telling stories while managing bingo games.
“It’s set up like a bingo hall,” she says. “It’s very interactive.”
She relates that the room is supposed to look unprofessional. Audience members become participants by interacting with others at their tables.
This is not a performance in which people simply sit in a darkened theatre. They’re not watching a traditional theatrical performance.
“It’s asking people to go to an uncomfortable space,” Dos Remedios emphasizes.
She acknowledges that Me Love BINGO! isn’t for everyone—and some have walked out.
“The Arts Club tried something new,” the theatre artist adds. “That was so different than a lot of the shows they produce. It’s not The Sound of Music. If you want The Sound of Music, go see The Sound of Music.”
She’s also thrilled with this unconventional show’s creative process and loves the artists involved in it.
“This is the most outside of a traditional theatre form that I’ve ever worked in with Me Love BINGO!” Dos Remedios declares. “To me, that was a really special experience.”
Theatre doesn’t need to be a grind
When she studied theatre at York University and Studio 58, she was taught that the director stood at the top of a hierarchy. In those days, Dos Remedios says, instructors demanded that students “become a Studio 58 type of actor or UBC type of actor or SFU type of actor”.
After being hired to teach acting several years later, Dos Remedios offered a similar type of training. She would instruct students on the importance of learning their lines and let them know when they weren’t working hard enough.
Then it dawned upon her that this teaching methodology wasn’t nurturing individual expression. Now, Dos Remedios embraces an altogether different approach.
“In my personal philosophy as a teacher and even going into directing, I think we, as theatre artists, can marry rigour with humanity,” the actor-director insists. “I really, truly believe that.”
She acknowledges that this might not be the easiest way to create theatre—and that’s okay. “I think we need to be starting to think about a new way to create work and to create artistic expression.”
This approach makes it easier for people who might be caregivers to continue working, including parents of young children.
On the positive side, Dos Remedios has seen some changes in the theatre world, including in recent projects that she’s associated with. But she’s also saddened by the number of talented theatre artists who’ve quit. Others switched to becoming screen actors.
“They’re like, ‘If I’m going to work this hard, I’m going to get paid film and TV bucks. I’m not going to do the theatre thing anymore.’ To me, we’ve lost so many amazing artists to that,” Dos Remedios laments.
Directing with humanity
She maintains that it’s possible to create exceptional theatre within a flexible workplace while keeping reasonable working hours.
“It’s my job as the director to be clear—find the clarity in the story and find the clarity in the directing,” Dos Remedios says. “And if I do my job properly, we don’t need to work a 48-hour workweek. No other industry does that at the same pay rate we do.”
Green Thumb Theatre recently announced that it’s accepting submissions from Lower Mainland performers to play the roles of Bex and Jacob in For Now. “It focuses on LGBT issues—trans queer youth,” she says.
According to Dos Remedios, this production has been cast authentically, with trans and queer artists playing roles for these characters. Furthermore, she wants people to know that For Now is not another “queer trauma play”.
“It’s about the joy of discovery,” she says. “It’s about the evolving friendship between these two characters and how it changes when one person’s identity shifts.”
As a queer artist of Chinese ancestry, Dos Remedios says that she would like to see more stories about marginalized people go in this direction.
“I want my presence to be the story—my presence telling whatever play it is, whatever story it is,” she declares. “The fact that I’m in it, the fact that I’m there, makes it an Asian Canadian story, makes it a queer story. It doesn’t have to be about ‘I’m coming out’ or ‘there’s a racial attack on me’.”
Discrimination in theatre world
Dos Remedios has a Portuguese surname because her ancestral roots are in Macau, a city near Hong Kong that was once a Portuguese colony. Pancouver asks if she’s ever felt discrimination in her professional working life because she’s a person of colour.
“It can feel very whitewashed when you’re one of two people of colour in a staff of 20,” she replies.
Moreover, she’s felt at times like she has to be the one to call out what another person said because it felt weird to her. That’s because none of the white people present was saying anything.
On a couple of occasions, Dos Remedios belies that she was invited to audition because she’s an equity artist, even though there were no intentions to cast her.
“Feeling that kind of tension—hostility—in the room has definitely happened,” Dos Remedios says.
She’s also well aware of potential career repercussions for speaking out.
Once when she did this, she recalls this as the response: “Well, we’re artists. We’re supposed to push the boundaries. I’m not going to apologize for this, that, and the other thing.”
Finding a work-life balance
So, how should younger artists of colour respond to situations like this? Dos Remedios says that she never wants to tell an artist of colour anything that puts them in a position where they might feel endangered or unsafe.
“I would say: go to somebody you trust. Go to somebody—an advocate—who you maybe doesn’t have skin in the game and who’s going to be able to say, ‘Hey, I can speak to people on your behalf.’ ”
Over the longer term, she hopes that more companies think about how the impact of their reporting structures. Dos Remedios believes that boards of directors can ensure that a Black, Indigenous, or person of colour shouldn’t have to file a complaint to a person whom they report to.
Meanwhile, in the past three or four years, she has stopped basing milestones for achievement and success on other people’s approval and validation.
Rather, Dos Remedios focuses far more on what makes her happy. And this has coincided with finding a great deal more theatrical work, even as she raises her three-year-old child and seeks a good work-life balance.
“I don’t think we live in a world of ‘the show must go on’ anymore with COVID and all that,” Dos Remedios says. “I think we have to be movable, bendable, flexible, and adaptable.”
The Arts Club presents Me Love Bingo!: Best in Snow until January 1 on the Newmont Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre. Mitch and Murray Productions presents Instantaneous Blue at the Waterfront Centre from January 5 to 22, with Mondays off. Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter @charliesmithvcr and Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia.