He's a 'sarmer.' Or a 'factor.' Whatever you choose to term it, Gerrad Everard is a successful musician and actor who makes his living performing mostly in musical theatre productions across Canada. But despite the fact that he lives in Toronto and has been working as a performer for the past 20 years, each spring and fall, he comes home to the family farm in Wawanesa to help his parents, Grant and Nancy, with seeding and harvesting. His singing and acting career has taken him far, but his dedication to the land, to his home town and to his family equals his passion for music. He took time from the field one rainy day a couple of weeks ago to chat about his dual career. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
So farming obviously was the family business — was it in your blood all the way along?
I guess so — yes. And I don’t think I realized how much loved it until I went away from it, if that makes sense. It’s just like, growing up in a small town or a rural community, people always think, ‘Oh, it’s bigger, it’s better, it’s out there.’ But now that I’ve lived in downtown Toronto for over 10 years, I love the small community feeling. It’s great. It’s a great way to grow up.
Tell me about the evolution of your music career. It was fostered in school, right?
Absolutely. (Teacher) Danita Borton was a huge influence on my career because she got me started. And then my parents were both very supportive of me always doing it, so I had great family support, and support from the community. And I always say, ‘I never picked this road — it picked me.’ It just kind of snowballed from there, and it started in school. Choir and singing and band, and then the shows. Those were pretty much all ensemble — everyone got a chance to shine.
And what was it about music that encouraged you to pursue it?
Music to me is just — I just love it. I love everything about it. How you can be captivated by it. And I just love performing. I love making other people happy. Having said that, as I move into my career, you do other plays and other parts where you’re supposed to make people unhappy — if you play a villain or something like that. But starting out, it was making people smile.
The beautiful thing about shows, a lot of shows, is people can come and see you perform and they can get taken out of their world and brought into my world, or our world — whatever story we’re telling. So if we can tell stories, it’s very important for people to have that release and have a good time.
Or at least have their thoughts provoked.
Exactly, yeah! It takes you away from real life. Because what we do is not real. We play roles, we play characters — like when I’m up on stage, that’s not me. Those are personas, those are characters, those are roles. Some people don’t think that — I’ll play a show and it’s like, ‘Oh, you were this person and you behaved like that.’ And no — those are my character’s choices — that’s not to say how I feel. I get paid to make different choices as an actor and read the text that the script has given me.
So how do you go from the farm in Wawanesa to downtown Toronto to all over? What was the path?
It was crazy! It was a whirlwind. And it still is, to be honest with you — just life on the road. I’m 36, so I’ve been doing it for almost 20 years. But it’s a great balance — I guess that’s what makes it doable. I live right in downtown Toronto — I live in Stratford now with my wife, singer-dancer-actor Laura Nason — she’s doing "Hairspray" right now — but I still have an apartment in downtown Toronto — I lived there for over a decade. I love the excitement and you’re never bored — there’s always stuff going on, and then there’s work and it’s fast-paced. But then I love coming back to Wawanesa and the rural community and working on the farm and just getting away from it all. Because it’s draining in its own way. But they both are! They both have their challenges. So it’s not wrong — it’s just different. But it does create a balance. And it’s very humbling. I find small-town people are so humble and they’re hard-working — they’re real people. I just love that about rural communities. They’re just real and they help each other and it’s just great.
So did you get discovered? Or just sort of put nose to grindstone and just decide to pursue this?
A bit of both. I auditioned for Celebrations Dinner Theatre in the ’90s and I got booked — I got the gig. And then I was doing a show in Calgary with Celebrations and another casting director came and saw me in that show, and they asked me to audition for a role they were doing for British Invasion. So I ended up doing Mick Jagger and the Beatles and Ozzy Osbourne — that’s when my pop-rock or characterizations or personas of these people kind of took off. That was in 2001. And it just kind of snowballed from there. And it’s the kind of industry where you try to keep on working and you gain experience as you go along and it just never stopped.
Did you take any formal training — theatrical or musical?
I didn’t go to university for it. But I’m always taking courses. So yes and no. Experience is education, but it’s tough to keep getting experience. But I’ve been very, very lucky with work and it hasn’t stopped — my phone hasn’t stopped ringing. I have great agents who help me out.
So what sort of work do you have coming up?
This summer — July and August — I’m doing a British Invasion-type show. It’s all Herman’s Hermits, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals — stuff like that. And it takes place from 1962 to 1968. And they’re fun shows — the crowds love them and they sell out — a thousand people a night and we do eight shows a week, which is great.
But you’ve travelled all over the place doing this, right?
Yeah — I think I’ve gigged in over 30 states, and in Norway, Sweden, Finland when I was with Up With People in 1996. And that was a great experience and a great year of my life. I really grew as a person and got my eyes opened up to a lot of different things. And I gig right across Canada now and it’s been awesome.
Has it always been live theatre for you, or have you done movies?
My main career has been all theatre, but now I’ve been doing some film and television. Whenever I have a break from theatre, I’ll audition. Last year I had a good year — I filmed two episodes of two different shows. I did an episode of "Close Encounters" and "Paranormal Witness." So I’ll do whatever — as an actor, you try and be as versatile as possible.
If you had to pick, have you got a favourite genre? Would musical theatre win out over straight acting?
They’re so different. I love live theatre. I love it, I love it, I love it! The money can be better in film and television. But I love them both — I really do. I love being on set, but I also love the immediate reaction of live theatre. I was filming for 10 days on the one thing and you have no idea what it’s going to look like or how they’re going to edit it or if you’re even going to make screen — you have no control over that. Whereas with live theatre, you get immediate response.
What I’ve always felt about the theatre is that, for both the performers and the audience, there’s that electricity, because anything can go wrong at any time, and you don’t get a chance to do ‘take two.’
Yessss! It’s exciting! And you really take an audience with you. Like you get a thousand, two thousand people on the same journey as you, and it can be magical. And we have those magical nights all the time. But you can never take those nights for granted. And when I do so many shows, like eight a week, every night you want to make it special for that audience, because they pay good money to come see the show. So you want to give them a good time.
I thought it was interesting when you said at Music Career Day in Wawanesa where we met, that your hair was under contract because you have to maintain this look — to play Jagger, I presume.
Yeah, I do. So the show that I’m doing this summer, I’ve already done it for a month in Cambridge, so my hair is cut for Jagger. So I wear a wig for the other roles — I play Ringo in The Beatles. And I’ve booked another contract in Edmonton — I’ll be at the Mayfield Dinner Theatre, and I’ll be playing Mick Jagger there, too. So longer hair!
And it’s pretty wild. I’ve had to dye my hair for different roles. This past winter, I did a Jerry Lee Lewis tribute, and so I cut my hair exactly like Jerry Lee Lewis had. So my hair and my look — I don’t really care off stage. I just do what I have to do for the current gig I’m doing.
Have you a favourite role or show that you’ve done?
My favourite show I’ve ever done was "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." I’ve done it three times. I’ve played Frank N. Furter and I’ve played Rocky a couple of times as well. That show is so weird, but the music’s so great, and people come out of the woodwork to see that show. It’s just the weirdest show — it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense — but it’s one of my favourite ones to do. You see lawyers, doctors, dentists come out and just go on this weird journey with you. And they dress up and shout out at you — it’s so interactive. I love it.
How do you work a music career around your commitment to your dad and the farm?
I try to really focus on seeding and harvesting. But because I’ve never really had a ‘real’ job, because it is contract work, I do my best to book around those seasons to come home and help my dad. Because I also enjoy that as well. It’s tough, but I do my best and I haven’t missed a spring in more than 10 years now. The last time I missed, I did "Hair" in downtown Toronto, which is another favourite show. And that went from February till July, so I missed spring that year. But my parents are very, very supportive, so if a big opportunity comes up, then they tell me to do it. But the farm’s just as important to me. It really is.
And my sister Jennifer is very much a part of the farm, too — she can drive a combine better than I can! And she’s the event co-ordinator for the athletic department at the University of Manitoba. But she comes home, too.
I’m sure that getting back home really, pardon the pun, grounds you.
Absolutely. You can get caught up in these little show bubbles, as you know. Because it isn’t real life, but it is a real job, and you’ve got to keep working hard and you’re always trying to get better and you’re always looking for your next job.
It never ends — I’m always auditioning. Whereas another career, if you get a job, then you’re there for how many years? I have three or four auditions a week sometimes. You’re always looking for your next job. Farming and acting — there’s no security in either one of them! You’re five minutes of hail away from having no crop, and then I could have no job in acting. It’s just crazy, the two worlds I picked, but they seem to complement each other.
I have some friends who are celebrities — like George Wendt — Norm from "Cheers" — is a friend — and I don’t know how they handle it. Even I have stalkers — people come to my gigs, and I get crazy emails — it happens, you know. They find out where you live, and if you’re being put up in a hotel — I’ve had fans knock on my door. And I am nothing in the grand scheme of things. But it’s crazy — people get attached to you for who you are on stage. And some people just can’t make the distinction between that and reality.
So that’s another reason why I love coming back to the farm. Here, I’m a farmer. And I love it. I get to come back and I get to be Gerrad and from a small town. People don’t know half the stuff I do in downtown Toronto and some of the gigs and the following that I have. And I want it that way. I just like it that way. The farm’s almost an escape for me — to get away from all that, the people, the fans and the pavement — and just be a farmer. Because it’s a great way of life.
Everard has recorded a CD entitled ‘R0K 2G0’ — Rock to Go — which is, not coincidentally, the postal code for Wawanesa. He does his own take on 11 cover tunes, including "Honky Tonk Women", "Pinball Wizard", "Always on My Mind", "Come Together", and "Purple Rain". The album is on iTunes or available through his website, www.gerradeverard.com
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 31, 2014