Drama Alum Talks Upcoming Production and Sustaining an Art Career

by Hani Yassine
The Lance – Arts & Culture Writer

It tells the story of a traditional Ontario town trying to decorate the oldest living Christmas tree. On one hand, the production arrives just in time for the upcoming holiday season, but on the other hand, it is also used as a vehicle to educate the audience about inclusiveness, which given today’s social climate makes the production a timelier piece.

“It’s a story about all the newcomers in the town who want us to celebrate their traditions, and the town trying to deal with the fact that things are changing and try to keep their traditions at the same time,” said Reid Janisse.

Presented by Toronto’s Second City Family Company, ‘Miracle on Mercer Street’ has been an audience favourite according to Janisse, who wrote and directed the play. Fusing the practice of puppetry with live-action theatrics, the show ran for four years between 2010 and 2013, only to return to the Second City Main Stage this year due to popular demand, knowing despite it being a family-oriented musical comedy, it carries a resonant message with adults just as well.

“It’s really all about listening to each other, accepting our differences and going forward in celebrations,” Janisse said.

Janisse’s theatre resume is, to say the least, comprehensive. He has gone to write and direct in numerous productions, some of which involved touring across the continent and beyond, on top of being part of the Second City alumni in Toronto. Prior to all of this, however, he was a UWindsor student, graduating in Drama and Education back in 1999. He says his experiences in Windsor helped lay the foundation for the person he ended up becoming, and that if there is one lesson he had taken from his studies which he has applied regularly, it is the importance of creative play.

“As we get older we tend to forget the importance of play, and we tend to forget how to play,” Janisse said. “I think that it’s really important, especially as an artist, to be able to constantly put yourself into that realm.”

In being familiar with the struggles of an artistic career following graduation, Janisse says one of the ways to sustain the pursuit of artistic endeavours is to diversify employ-ability. While it’s not impossible to achieve, to maintain a revenue stream based solely on artistic projects is difficult to accomplish. With the drama and education degree from UWindsor, as well as a bachelor of education from the University of Toronto, Janisse can teach and perform commercial work which allows him to tackle intended projects on a consistent basis. In other words, it’s a matter of doing what you must in order to do what you want, something that remains a fabric of numerous professions.

“It’s knowing if you want to move to Toronto or if you want to move to Los Angeles, have a skill you can use to make money, because a lot of the pressure on an artist, especially if they’re first starting out, is the space between jobs,” Janisse said.

Janisse says when it comes to pursuing actual theatre work, in the beginning of one’s career you must be willing to say yes to anything coming your way. He recalls early in his career on how he performed improv over one summer at Canada’s Wonderland, where he played one of the alien races from ‘Star Trek’. While it may not have been an ideal career destination, the contacts made from that job allowed him to take another one where he toured across North America which culminated towards thousands of stage time hours.

“You never know when a little job is going to give you connections that are going to propel your career to the next level,” Janisse said.

Janisse’s ‘Miracle on Mercer Street’ will run from Dec. 16 to Jan. 5 at Toronto’s Second City theatre, otherwise known as 51 Mercer St.

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