If you’re living in London, Ontario, unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve definitely heard of Donald D’Haene. He’s worn many hats in the London theatre scene: actor, producer, promoter, reviewer, award-show creator and host of the DISH Awards. His website, Donald’s DISH, has garnered over 280,000 hits (and is growing on the daily). I was interviewed by Donald back in 2013 about The Lovers, The Dreamers and You, and it was fun to turn the tables on him and ask him some questions! Donald is known for his honesty and candidness, and I was thrilled to interview him for Theatre Talk!
Who are you, and what do you do?
The jury is still out. I had to pare down my commitments apart from my full time job because of taking care of my mother who has dementia but it was a blessing in disguise. I was too busy and her needing me forced me to take stock. Since the partial retirement, I discovered in short order I am only interested in taking on projects I am passionate about.
One change has allowed me to do just that: I have found a terrific nurse who will be there for me when I take on a commitment. Rena is a Florence Nightingale for Mom but I prefer to think of her as my fairy godmother.
Now, at 54, I live the life I want to live and I feel very fortunate indeed.
What made you want to do what you do? How did you get to where you are today?
First let me say, I love your spirit Kerry. No matter what review/feedback you get, you send out positive vibes. So it’s my pleasure answering your questions. That said I do not like being interviewed. I’d rather be the interviewer any day. It’s just a beast I know how to ride, so I do. And so I agree to be interviewed when I have projects on the table that I wish to promote so I appreciate the opportunity.
To me, my upcoming talk show, DISH with Donald for Rogers TV London, was inevitable. Every day is a talk show to me. And every experience I have had has led me to this moment. I was interviewing adults as a child. I remember like yesterday an elderly woman confiding in me her deepest secrets: an abortion during the WWI and the guilt she was still experiencing in her eighties. I was just a teenager but a voice inside me told me not to judge, rather listen to this woman. The experience taught me everyone has a secret life, secret thoughts, secret dreams and disappointments.
I discovered I could talk, listen and analyze all at the same time which proved a godsend in a practical way. For example, in high school, I could take down shorthand dictation, answer a fellow student’s question and think up a list simultaneously.
In the same way, for every experience that comes my way, part of me is there but I’m outside myself taking dictation, analyzing and translating it into a “story”.
Not until recently have I ever experienced a mentor. Finally I found someone whose opinion, example, choices, passion – I respect. Not that I always agree with the advice given but I listen.
What has been your favourite past project/performance so far, and why?
On stage, I assume? Hee hee.
Well, interesting that my faves were also reality checks.
One is very specific. I worked for months on my impersonation of Marilyn Monroe’s Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend in 1987. My best friend Charles Martin did the make-up and hair (as he does for my talk show). A friend Dave was my tuxedoed guy in the number and we worked our butts off. I paid to have the original costume replicated. It was one of those times where everything worked. I won the competition becoming Mr. HALO that night. But I specifically did NOT want to compete for Miss HALO. I saw it strictly as an acting gig; I did not want to be Miss anything. I never wanted to get rid of my dick, thank you very much – not that there’s anything wrong with that – if one does. One makes all kinds of assumptions if you can impersonate a woman; don’t.
But there were those who thought I should only enter Miss HALO. When the judges announced I won, half the audience who had just hooted and hollered at the performance booed.
Reality: there is no such a thing as a perfect experience.
Expect anything but: Check!
Another favourite experience involves another best friend. Coincidence? I think not. The Producers was a joy from start to finish. Watching another best bud, Bill Hill, up there as Max every single performance was a privilege. John Pacheco and I worked together beautifully. I never had one disagreement with him or our team during that whole process. We had an awesome gang and a superb cast. People said you couldn’t do The Producers in McManus; that challenge was too great to resist. Defying expectations, creating new possibilities, and the laughter of an audience – oh the laughter – things I live for!
Reality: Even though the show won awards, it is the patrons’ responses I still hear that are most meaningful. Especially when you find out the press were told, “Don’t focus on the winners,” (and only THAT year – hmm), and when you hear that a judge said something like I didn’t vote for The Producers because Donald saved spots in the front row for the judges!
I say thanks. I take stories like that and turn them into a positive. They are truly funny as hell. Who could make them up?
Life is the greatest humbler of the soul. Always maintain a sense of humour: Check!
But truthfully my next project is always my favourite. Damn that Don (“this is the best show EVER!”) Fleckser. He was my first London director and his great example left a blueprint in me. (Maybe it’s a ‘Don/ald’ thing?)
Even so, our next show Beyond Therapy really (LOL) is actually my favourite. I saw it three times 21 years ago and its twisted humour and people are right up my alley!
Do you have a “war story” from your performing past that you’d be willing to share?
Have I got a “war story”? That’s a “loaded” question if I ever heard one. But I promised you I would be unfiltered so I’ll “fire” away. I know I’m supposed to say I’m a pacifist and I’ve only experienced peace but f*&% that shit.
My god, I have so many. Okay, I was cast in this show and when the female lead found out she was playing opposite me she made it clear from THAT moment she was unhappy. I hated the experience, hated the show. Honestly it sucked the big one. I had forty-plus people there opening night and if only they had tomatoes, or so they told me. But I’m no quitter and I tried, God I tried. I remember I signed out the album (tells you how long ago this show was, doesn’t it?) of the show from the library and asked the actress if she wanted to listen to it after I was done. Yes, she said. Just take it back to the library after you’re through, I requested. Sure, she said. That was the only pleasant interaction between us. It took her three months to act like a professional. Just before the company goes on stage, this actress does a rah rah cheer. I couldn’t resist. “Finally. Well, I guess it’s better late than never.” Then we had to go on and pretend we were in love. Who says I can’t act? Which is funny ‘cause I usually say I do my best acting off stage. That show, hell no. Anyways, as if the bad reviews weren’t enough, months later I get a call from the library telling me I owe them a lot of money. For what? Guess what? She never took the record back to the library. So I called her up, called her on it and she said NOTHING. I said how much it was and I that I expected a cheque in the mail. I’m still waiting.
There’s no divas in our area. Yeah right. I do wonder what was going in her mind? I’m thankful for every experience even if negative. I took five years off theatre after that one and concentrated on writing, even finished my memoir. So, thanks ____ ____!
What’s coming up next for you? Do you have a project on the go, or one coming up in the near future?
I am passionate about the two I’ve already cited.
DISH with Donald debuting in September on Rogers TV London. Each month I have different hosts and guests. We film two episodes the last Tuesday afternoon of every month at the market so come on out and make some noise!
I pitched the show and Rogers went with all of my ideas. It’s a dream gig actually: a place where we all say what we really think, talk about things we are passionate about. Rogers TV London is at the forefront of creative, original, London-based programming. Talk about unsung heroes!
You could safely expect more of the unfiltered voice you find in this interview.
Beyond Therapy, a Double D Production with my friend Dave Semple and co-produced with Elgin Theatre Guild is another important project on my horizon. Going home where I was born and started in theatre has rejuvenated me.
Railway City Tourism (a division of St. Thomas Economic Development Corporation) is sponsoring our show. My hometown is considered the Railway Capital of Canada. Lucky me: the sounds from the railway track were a lullaby (still are). Beyond Therapy is a full circle moment on many levels.
I love the show but don’t go by me: I asked our team and actors to come up with what Beyond Therapy means to them. My answer would be that’s between my shrink and me, but they were game:
- Dave Semple (Co-Producer/Co-director/Stuart): Narcissism at its finest.
- Charles Martin (Co-Director): Like sands through an hourglass these are definitely not the days of our lives. Or are they?
- Anne Mooney (Stage Manager): You don’t have to be crazy to be a stage manager… but it helps!
- Sam Shoebottom (Bruce): Normal has never seemed so Crazy.
- Ronda D’Haene-Stewart (Prudence): Open hearted, beyond closed minded.
- Marilyn Baron (Charlotte): Crazy has never seemed so normal, or so much fun.
- Lisa DesGroseilliers (Sound): We all need therapy ’cause in all of us is a bit of crazy that others are unable to see.
- Angie Toste (ASM/Props): I’m beyond therapy or so my shrink says.
- John Allen (Elgin Theatre Guild Artistic Director/Beyond Therapy Board Liaison): Third time’s the charm.
Beyond Therapy runs October 15-25 at The Elgin Theatre Guild at 40 Princess Avenue in St. Thomas. Tickets are available at http://www.elgintheatreguild.ca/tickets.html or by calling 519-637-3306.
What are your goals for the future?
I’m living them but I’ll let you know if something new comes up.
What words of advice would you give to a young person who would like to do what you do and follow in your footsteps?
Don’t. Create your own path.
Control your destiny.
I know you work with young people, Kerry. One other reason I am happy to answer your questions is that I believe everything can be a teaching moment.
I’m a person who lives a public life but also a very private one. I like to keep them completely separate. I remember when my first boyfriend and I split 26 years ago someone asked me why? I changed the subject. Unsatisfied, the person replied, “You are a public person. You have to let us know.”
He and anyone else who has asked since is still waiting.
No one can make you say anything or do anything you don’t want to do.
I was the quiet kid who was told you can’t/shouldn’t/won’t do anything. It just became outside noise drowning my voice but the inner voice was always there. Never discount that voice.
I experienced critiques before praise from an early age so critiques don’t carry soul crushing weight for me.
“You can’t write.”
Inner voice: Well, maybe not today but I have tomorrow.
So do you.
Where can we find you online?
Thank you so much for sharing, Donald!
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