Evalyn Parry is an award-winning producer, singer/songwriter and spoken-word poet. Recently named the new artistic director of Toronto's Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, the largest and longest-running queer theatre in the world, she has a mission to create boundary-pushing projects and to develop an even greater diversity of LGBTQ voices and perspectives.
Here, she shares some of her secrets to success and why we shouldn't fear being hard to categorize.
Curiosity is the quality that keeps me engaged and energetic about whatever new project or subject matter I'm developing material around. It's about reading and talking to people and just being awake to what's going on. When you're diving into research, it starts to inform everything, such as the way you learn a new word and suddenly it keeps popping up in conversations. Following your instincts is a piece of advice inside of that: Try to pursue the thing that is of interest to you, for whatever reason, even if it seems obscure and strange. See how things unfold. My experience is that things will reveal themselves to you in time, if you become tuned in to the possibility.
Keep a trusted inner circle and sweat
My close ones keep me connected. I'm blessed with an amazing partnership, and my wife definitely plays a big part in reminding me what's important when I'm spinning off in the stress of a project or getting distracted. Having good people that know you and are part of the conversation is key, as creative work can be a bit all-encompassing. Exercise is also huge. What a big difference it can make just to go for a walk, or sweat, or do something really physical to shift the energy of the stress, distraction and chaos. That is usually the answer to almost any problem.
Fail, fail again, fail better
That's a great quote from Samuel Beckett. It's a good old standby of remembering that, actually, quote-unquote "failure" is absolutely part of the creative process – a necessary part of that process. Learning is really what life is about. Nothing is ever really finished. You're always building on something that might seem to be a failure, but it turns out to be the compost that fertilizes the next quote-unquote "successful" project. Put those quotes around everything. If you only listen to the critics (or accolades), you can lose a sense of your own compass. It's not easy.
Give yourself permission to explore deeply
Coming up myself, I was impatient for recognition. When you're starting out, you're hungry and just want to be noticed, seen and acknowledged for having a talent and putting yourself on a map and all that stuff. But the thing to know is that there's something about playing for the long game and letting things take time. Something I notice is that a lot of young artists are good at marketing themselves and their projects and packaging what they're doing, but I work hard to put the emphasis on the creative work, not the package. Don't put the cart before the horse. Allowing yourself to be in a process that has a mystery to it, to not be so attached to outcomes and to be true to your own creative exploration is really important.
Follow your instincts and don't be afraid to buck definitions
This applies to both the theatre and to life. Trust your instinct in decision making, relationships, in guiding your day-to-day choices and in keeping your body/mind/soul together. I also encourage artists to not be timid about bringing what you believe to your work. I've been known for making work that's politicized, socially conscious, feminist, queer, outspoken. This kind of subject matter has been a matter of passion and necessity for me, but as a multidisciplinary (artist) I felt like it took a long time to get established because people couldn't define me. But then you keep going and, in the long term, that becomes a strength – even if it originally felt like a liability. If you stick to it and keep trying to find your own unique voice, it will eventually pay off.
This interview has been edited and condensed by Laura Beeston.