Q&A: The Other Place

Tamsin Kelsey on acting, teaching and her return to the stage in Sharr White's psychological thriller

Presented by Canadian Stage
Written by Sharr White
Directed by Mel Brooks

Tamsin Kelsey in The Other Place. Photo by David Hou.

After a 12-year break from the stage, performer-turned-TDSB-teacher Tamsin Kelsey returns this season as the lead in the new Canadian Stage production of Sharr White's The Other Place directed by Mel Brooks. Nominated for outstanding Off-Broadway play by the 2010-11 Outer Critics Circle Awards, The Other Place tells the story of Juliana Smithton, a successful neurologist whose life seems to be falling apart. Her husband has filed for divorce, her daughter has eloped with a much older man, and her own health is declining - yet nothing is at it seems.

Here, we chat with Kelsey about her experience working on this suspenseful and darkly humourous play.

Theatromania: Tell us about The Other Place. How would you describe this production in a few sentences?

TK: It’s a beautiful, haunting piece about memory, loss, and the impossibility of turning back time. And you’ll be home by 10pm!

Theatromania: You play the main character, Juliana. What motivates her?

TK: Juliana is an incredibly intelligent woman, a 52-year old scientist who has done groundbreaking work in the area of memory loss and dementia but has lost sight of herself, and she is on a search to reconnect with her daughter, who left home at 15 years old. In finding her, she sort of loses her mind.

Theatromania: You’ve taken a break from performing to teach young artists at Rosedale Heights.

TK: It’s actually the other way around. I retired from acting in 2003 to pursue a teaching career. So that’s what I do now, and I’m fortunate enough to have the best job in the TDSB, in my opinion. Daniel approached me a year ago because we had worked together in the past and are dear friends, and he felt very strongly I was right for the production he wanted to create. So he persuaded Canadian Stage, who were understandably apprehensive, I think, about putting an actor in such a demanding role who hadn’t been in a major production in 12 years! And I approached my principal, the amazing Barrie Sketchley, who lobbied the school board to grant me a one-month leave to do the show. It would never have happened without his support. I think he felt it was a good thing for the school and the students.

Theatromania: What is it like returning to the stage, how did you prepare for this role?

TK: It has been a great thrill. And also very calm, because actors only have one job to concentrate on, whereas teachers have to multitask to a point that is almost inconceivable to anyone who isn’t a teacher. It took me a week of rehearsal to really believe I only had to do this one thing. And then I remembered how hard that one thing is! I had begun the line memorization in July while travelling in Europe and I was very glad I had done that. Teaching has provided me with a work ethic I don’t think I had before, so I was very sure of how to prepare, what needed to be done. There’s also a perspective that I didn’t have as a young, hungry actor, a slightly different set of priorities. Acting now is much more about the audience and much less about myself. I really, really want to give my best to people who’ve come out on a cold night to see a play.

Theatromania: What are some of the challenges in staging this particular piece?

TK: Working on a Daniel Brooks show is always amazing because the design plays a crucial role in the process itself. The play’s set, sound light and video designers are in rehearsal the whole time, so he’s building everything at once and you really are just one piece of an elaborate construction – which, when you watch the play, appears almost magically simple in how it contributes to the experience of the story unfolding. So the challenge is to allow yourself freedom and relaxation as a performer without being so free that you jeopardize the careful construction going on around you. There are physical challenges too – it’s a demanding show vocally, and I have to wear very high heels, which anyone who knows me will tell you is not my comfort zone. I wish I could walk better in them. My husband said “yeah, you looked like you were injured.” Then he saw my face and said “but I probably only thought that because I know you…”

Theatromania: What have you learned from this experience so far?

TK: That I wish arts workers had the same privileges as teachers – like job security and being able to stay home when they’re sick – and that teachers didn’t have to perform six different tasks all at once, all the time when their real job is to focus on, and teach, kids. And I have loved seeing and hearing my students’ (and former students’) responses to the show. It’s been wonderful to have the best of both worlds, if only briefly!

See Tamsin Kelsey in The Other Place until February 8, 2015. Visit canadianstage.com for more information and to buy tickets.

Show Dates: 
Sun, 2015-01-18 - Sun, 2015-02-08


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