Black Box History

Linda Prystawska has preformed in several of VideoCabaret’s historical shows, seen above in Laurier, and is currently appearing in the company’s The Life and Times of Mackenzie King.

Prepare to see Canada’s longest-serving prime minister as you’ve never seen him before.

VideoCabaret’s The Life and Times of Mackenzie King, explores the behind the scenes life of King, from his romps with married women to his ardent belief in spirituality and séances. It’s performed in a format called black box theatre, which features an unadorned, black stage to put extra emphasis on colourful, elaborate costumes and makeup.

“Basically what it ends up being is like watching a cartoon almost, of Canadian history,” said actor Linda Prystawska, who lives near Bloor West Street and Runnymede Road. “And yet, you can’t dismiss it as cartoonish, because it’s actually a very factual telling of the history.”

The actor plays many different roles in the play, from a young widow to an Eastern European activist. She also plays King’s girlfriend. Prystawska previously performed with VideoCabaret in their production Laurier. She has acted in four plays that explore Canadian history, including The Canadian Pacific Scandal and Red River Rebellion.

Born in Switzerland and raised in Ottawa, Prystawska has acted all over the world. While she has spent most of her life in Canada, she said being part of a rich retelling of Canadian history has unexpected benefits.

“To be very honest, and I’m a little embarrassed to say this, but I always learn so much,” she says with a laugh.

Having recently returned from a teaching gig in Poland, Prystawska says working abroad has fostered an increased appreciation for what Toronto actors go through.

“Actors really struggle here,” she said. “Toronto is not an easy place to make a living as an actor.”

She said compared to acting in Europe, crowds are not as open to unconventional plays and it’s harder to find steady work.

“Obviously the big difference is that a lot of theatre companies here are living hand to mouth and are dependent on grants and private donations,” she said. “I find sometimes that dictates their programming.”

For Prystawska, teaching has provided her a level of financial comfort that gives her the freedom to pursue her craft.

“In that sense it kind of frees me and I can just enjoy the art,” she said. “I don’t have to think about when is my next pay cheque coming in, and that’s the reality for a great number of Canadian actors.”

But Toronto does have its strong points she says; she appreciates the city’s diversity and said it shows in the wide range of actors, directors and designers she has worked with.

Even though she’s in the show, Prystawska says that the production ofThe Life and Times of Mackenzie King is definitely worth a look.

“I really think everyone should see it once just for the aesthetic alone,” Prystawska said.

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