Breton Lalama is a Halifax-based comedian, actor and writer.
They have participated in a variety of American and Canadian TV shows, musicals and theatrical plays throughout their career, and are involved with LGBTQ+ rights activism. In the play Fully Committed, which opened Neptune Theatre’s first season of shows since closing in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they starred as 41 characters in 90 minutes.
The Dalhousie Gazette: How did you first get into theatre?
Breton Lalama: I grew up in a really small town and used to put on shows by myself when I was a little kid. I would sing and dance around the house and try to make my parents clap for me… I moved to Toronto when I was 18 to study international relations.
I got a full scholarship in this journalism program – which I really enjoyed. I just really enjoy storytelling. I was really missing performing though, so I skipped class one day to audition for the national tour of the musical Hair, which is a hippie musical about the Vietnam war and protests. I ended up booking it, so I dropped out of university and I went on tour across the United States at 18.
What do you feel when you perform theatre?
I think what it feels like is, honestly, you kind of lose yourself into it. It’s almost meditative in the sense that if you are in the pocket of the moment… you kind of have to trust all the work you’ve done.
It becomes this adrenaline rollercoaster. I think ultimately it feels like it’s expansive. You get to connect with hundreds and thousands of strangers in a really intimate way, but it feels ethereal and magical. It feels like being so alive.
Was it difficult to get used to the rhythm of in-person shows as opposed to doing TV shows or online presentations where you have more time to react and prepare?
Yeah, I mean, especially because this show is only me by myself and I have to do 41 different characters…
I spent 12-13 hours a day since the first week of August up until yesterday on it. It was difficult but so worth it. You work really hard so you can have fun.
What drew you towards Fully Committed in the first place?
My agent and I were approached by [Neptune] Theatre asking if it would be of interest. I read the script and I thought, ‘Well this is the most challenging thing I’ve ever seen or been offered.’
Before the pandemic, I did stand-up comedy, so I also really like making people laugh. It’s one of the best things you can do for someone. Scientifically and biologically, the endorphins from laughing and laughing with other people are good for your body and your nervous system… I am an adrenaline junkie. I love to push myself as an artist. I think it’s a gift to continue doing more than you think you can do as a person.
What was the most difficult part about playing all these different characters?
All of it. All of it was really hard. Every person carries themselves differently. As humans we all carry ourselves in different ways. We all talk differently. To define 41 people and keep them straight and have all of them talk to each other… getting it straight and figuring it out and more was the difficult thing, and then keeping it and remembering it.
Do you have a favourite character to play amongst all characters?
I really enjoyed playing Miss Winslow because she has such an over-the-top southern drawl – which is something I would never play. I really enjoyed the lead, Sam, because he is similar to me as an actor who worked in service and was just trying to make the dream work. There is something very cathartic about getting to play something so close to yourself.
What has been the main takeaway from this experience?
I truly didn’t think I could do this and now it happened… It’s kind of incredible how capable we are as people when we really work.