Breathe and listen. That’s the golden rule Phil Rickaby lives by in his approach to creating memorable art. And if you’ve ever witnessed the Toronto born/Ajax raised performer work the stage, you’d know exactly what that means.
This month, he’s taking a break from acting to direct his new work ‘The Parliamentarians’ at Red Castle Theatre May 28-31. The comedy about Canadian politics featuring a conservative Prime Minister, His Chief of Staff, The Leader of the Opposition, and the call girl that brings them altogether is guaranteed to strike a funny bone with both newsies and indie theatre loyalists.
Every actor has an untold story to tell. Phil Rickaby is no exception in a candid ‘20 Questions With…’ examination.
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What did you want to be growing up?
An actor, always an actor. There was never any question.
My parents tell me that I was always performing. I’d wake up singing. I’d want to put on plays for people who came to visit.
Who were your childhood heroes?
Superman, Captain Marvel, Batman. You know, the classics. I was always a nerd at heart.
Did you play sports as a kid?
Sports was never my thing. And I was never really athletic, due to my asthma.
I used to think about how awesome it would be to be an athlete, but I just didn’t have the stamina. Besides, in my head, I could fly. Why would I want to kick a ball a few feet when I could imagine so much more?
Were your parents strict?
My parents were wonderful. It isn’t easy, I imagine, to raise an eccentric child that wants to make theatre and is always putting on little plays and things.
What posters did you have on your bedroom wall growing up?
I don’t remember any posters. For me, the thing I wanted covering my walls was bookshelves filled with books.
What was your nickname in high school?
As far as I know, I didn’t have one.
Maybe I did, maybe there was one that I was called behind my back. But I’d rather not know what that was.
What was the first concert you attended?
Honeymoon Suite at the Kingswood Music Theatre in the early 1980s.
The earliest concerts I remember were Christian in nature. We were a religious family and I remember going to see Randy Matthews, and Resurrection Band, and Stryper.
Later it was Honeymoon Suite and Platinum Blonde. The biggest difference between the two types of concerns being that non-Christian concerts had less talking.
What was the first job you ever had?
I worked at Wendy’s in the kitchen. I learned how that kitchen smell hangs on all your clothes and even your skin, and how you feel like you can’t get away from it.
That was my first and last fast food job.
Have you ever been fired?
Laid off, yes. Fired no.
Each time was different. The first was like a glorious reprieve from a job I hated, like being released from prison.
The second time was filled with dread, and fear for the future. I’d almost have preferred getting fired since that would mean that I had done something to deserve being let go.
Who was the first person you were sexually attracted to?
Julie Newmar as Catwoman in the 1960s Batman series—meow! I remember having dreams where I was Batman and she was there as Catwoman.
The dreams were all very innocent because I was far too young to understand sex. But I knew I had a crush on her and I felt really funny when I saw her on TV.
How old were you when you had your first kiss and what do you remember about it?
Oh, god. I was maybe 16. I remember it was awkward and embarrassing to remember. I think I was so eager that I might have briefly choked her with my tongue.
And I couldn’t figure out whether to keep my eyes open or closed. When I did open them, I found myself almost eyeball to eyeball with her. So I closed my eyes, and I didn’t open them until we stopped kissing. I think she kept her eyes open.
I wondered what she could have been looking at, aside from my eyelid. It was weird.
What do you remember about the first time getting drunk?
I remember precious little. I remember the embarrassment of the next day, the wondering what had happened, the spinning world and the sick.
And I didn’t want to ever feel that way again.
What is the hardest thing about being a man?
I guess it’s fighting against the archetypes forced on us by the society we grew up in. Be a man. Men don’t cry. Men don’t talk about their feelings. Men are strong. Push the feelings down so you don’t have to deal with them.
I don’t know why we do that. Why we teach our boys to numb themselves to their emotion. And why we let the sensitive children be taught to harden themselves so that they stop feeling.
Learning that makes us significantly at a disadvantage when we form a relationship with a significant other that should be based on communication and openness of feeling.
What did you believe in at 18 that you wish that you’d believe in now?
That there was hope for us in the political process. That good could come from that process. It was naïve, I was an idealist.
I still think that the political process is important to follow and that it’s necessary to keep things running. But I don’t have a lot of hope that real change could come from it. I almost feel like we have to watch to make sure that they don’t put anything past us.
What is the best advice your parents ever gave you?
My father told me, when I said I was facing a lose lose decision, that if both choices meant I would lose something, that I should make the choice that would make me happy. He was right, of course.
What have you done that you will never do again?
I went through a period of being a fundamentalist Christian. I was closed-minded and wanted to stay that way. I didn’t want any ideas that I didn’t already agree with to come and disrupt my comfortable way of thinking.
And then, through theatre, my world expanded and I began to explore new ideas. We theatre folk are always learning something new—reading something, researching something, always soaking in knowledge.
What is the best lie you ever told?
I can come up with some little ones, like the one I told myself a long time ago that I don’t want to direct and that I never would.
As I’ve gotten more comfortable with the idea of creating my own work, I’ve grown more comfortable with the idea of directing.
I tell myself that I’m too honest a person to have told any good lies. And I guess that itself might be the best lie.
What is the scariest thing that ever happened to you?
I quit a job to take a Fringe show on the road. It was terrifying and exhilarating all at once, but not nearly as frightening as coming home and facing the reality of needing to find a job.
I remember, as we got closer to Toronto, on the road back from Edmonton, how the knot in my stomach tightened, and eventually became a full on panic that I was barely able to hide.
You’ve been exiled to an isolated island with no other inhabitants but permitted to bring one book, one CD, and one DVD what will this list include?
Book: American Gods by Neil Gaiman
CD: Shakespeare My Butt by The Lowest of the Low
DVD: The Princess Bride.
If somebody made a movie about your life, whom would you want to play you?
If I can choose anyone, living or dead, then I choose Buster Keaton to play me.
Unassuming to look at, but hugely inventive, with those eyes that told you everything he was thinking and feeling, all while his expression never changed.