Howie Lai
Howie Lai

During this time of social distancing and dark theatres, Vancouver Presents continues to check in with members of our arts community to find out how they are staying creative and managing during the pandemic.

Today we check in with Vancouver-based actor Howie Lai.

1. How are you staying creative during the pandemic?

I’m finding myself viewing society’s behaviour under duress as a bit of a creative syllabus. With both a pandemic and civil unrest globally, it’s important for myself to personally get educated not only on current events but how it affects our psyche and sociological structure. Creatively, deepening my awareness of human behaviour has allowed me to endow various character types with energies and colours I wasn’t aware they would exhibit. It alters the way I view someone, such as the reluctant hero and thus changes the emphasis they would place on something like their vocal tempo, as one example.

2. What’s the one thing getting you through?

My support system. My partner, friends, family, and of course, my cat.

3. How are you staying in contact with family and friends who are not in your bubble?

I think I’ve used every possible medium that technology has given us to stay in contact. Internet video conference services, all of the functions on my phone, and social media have been incredible tools. Ironically, my quest to limit my daily use of screens has backfired in the best way possible.

4. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far during the pandemic?

Patience is easier preached than practiced. You can talk about the values of patience, even talk yourself into it, but if your mind goes its own way, the challenges of the unknown future burn really badly. I’ve found it to be a welcome lesson in not losing yourself to fear and anger.

5. What do you feel the most grateful for right now?

My health. I am very grateful for the ability to get up in the morning without pain or difficulty. With the amount of death that surrounds us in the news, it’s hard not to hold my health in high regard.

6. What is something you are doing now that you don’t normally?

I’m relatively not this inactive. I’m quite goal-oriented and have a set schedule that grounds me. With the pandemic, staying indoors has become a forced norm, and it has definitely been an adjustment. For example, the first day of my quarantine was the day we learned our show Kim’s Convenience, was being cancelled. We were actually all together, ready to drive towards the theatre to perform. That very same day, I came home and began quarantine life.

7. What skill have you developed since the pandemic started?

My ability to make homemade cookies has reached its peak potential!

8. What have you missed the most?

Comfort with friends and family in public spaces. The freedom to move around without fear of the disease or fear of the paranoia that causes many people to use racism as a coping mechanism.

9. Your #1 pandemic survival tip.

Besides the common sense adages shared by the wonderful Dr. Bonnie Henry, I have latched onto taking a shower to start your day. You don’t have to put anything on nice after or go overboard with anything that doesn’t make you comfortable. But that nice shower to get yourself started into the road of self-care has been and still is integral for me.

10. Your biggest indulgence since the pandemic started.

Veggie Straws. I’ve eaten so many bags of Veggie Straws. Ben and Jerry’s non-dairy ice cream has also been quite the revelation.

11. What have you stockpiled?

My finances. Seriously, the amount of personal expenses tied to myself has dropped significantly. You end up realizing that you have much more than you need, and if you do need items like toilet paper or eggs and flour, they will be there if you’re smart and patient.

12. What have you been reading?

Showboat by Roland Lazenby, How to be Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, and my most comfortable reading during this pandemic The Stand by Stephen King.

13. What have you been watching?

Insecure on HBO, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Attack on Titan currently. So much NBA League Pass. In addition, my friends and I have a weekly movie night over Zoom, where we watch a lot of nostalgic movies that bring us back to the days of no cellphones, but plenty of laughs and sometimes plenty of tears.

14. What have you been listening to?

Lots of Gallant, Leon Bridges, Kendrick Lamar, Stormzy, and BTS. So much BTS.

15. What are you doing for exercise?

Running around Stanley Park has been a blessing. The ability to still get in my cardio exercise has allowed my body to stay active. It’s safe to say that it’s one of the key factors getting me through the pandemic.

16. The one thing you haven’t been able to live without?

My cat. His name is George Bailey, and he’s such a calming influence because he’s like most of the mentors in my life,  he doesn’t understand how to do anything but keep it simple.

17. Do-it-yourself haircut or the natural look?

The natural look. My hair got wild. Can we talk about my pandemic moustache, though?

18. Night owl or early riser?

Early riser. I adapted into this way of life long before the pandemic, and my body clock doesn’t care if I have nowhere to go. It demands to be awake before seven o’clock in the morning.

19. Will you be the first out as restrictions are gradually lifted or taking a wait-and-see attitude?

A mixture of both. I definitely will not be first in line to eat out or rush into a concert or sporting event, but if the business is taking all the proper precautions and they are quite transparent about taking all of the steps necessary, I don’t see any reason not to expand my daily schedule to include some of the norms and activities offered.

20. What’s the first thing you will do when this is all over?

Hug my friends and family. I will never take this for granted again in my life. Human contact is to be treasured.

Meet Howie Lai

Howie was born in Harbin, China and moved to Canada when he was barely a year old. Howie’s mother emphasized the importance of the arts and helped him begin his journey performing at a young age.

After completing a B.A. in Political Science at the University of Victoria, he began training and performing full-time on stage and in front of the camera for over a decade, travelling between Vancouver, New York City, and Los Angeles. His love for powerful ideas about the human condition is his driving point, and Howie continues to immerse himself in the process of exploring roles that share a variety of perspectives and voices.

Howie recently completed Abducted: The Mary Stauffer Story, the harrowing, incredible true story of Mary Stauffer (Alyson Hannigan) and her eight-year-old daughter Beth’s (Daphne Hoskins) abduction and subsequent captivity where they were locked in a closet for seven weeks. Ming Sen Shiue (Howie Lai) spent over a decade obsessing over and secretly stalking his high school algebra teacher Mary Stauffer. His obsession culminated in kidnapping Mary and her eight-year-old daughter Beth for 53 days in the spring of 1980.

You can follow Howie on Instagram and Twitter.