Staying in with ... Benjamin Ratner

Vancouver's Benjamin Ratner answers Postmedia's isolation questionnaire

Benjamin Ratner's reading list during these COVID-19 times has included: The Beautiful Ones, by Prince with Dan Piepenbring, So, Anyway, by John Cleese, and the play The Starry Messenger Kenneth Lonergan. Shimon / PNG

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With galleries locked, concert halls closed and theatres dark Postmedia has reached out to B.C. artists of all types to find out what they are doing during these trying COVID-19 times. Vancouver actor/director/writer/producer/teacher Benjamin Ratner has taken some time to answer our isolation questionnaire.

Q: Where are you spending most of your time?

A: At home in The West End, at my acting studio in Mount Pleasant, and on the Stanley Park seawall — in that order.

Q: Who are you with?

A: At home I am with the best COVID-companions I could ever wish for: my wife Jen (actor Jennifer Spence) and our two cats, Mao and Aki.

At my studio I am by myself in a 2,000 square foot space, blasting music, finishing long procrastinated-over scripts, painting abstract oils, pounding punching bags and very much missing the presence of my acting students. It has been a creative, productive time for me, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong or shameful with hitting the pause button and doing nothing. Whatever feels good, do it.

On the seawall I am with other walkers and joggers, and the occasional mouth-breathing superstar who huffs and puffs as they weave around people on the pathway. Hey, you with the red headband and the explosive nostril clearing technique, I’m talking to you.

Actors and married couple Jennifer Spence and Benjamin Ratner are riding out the COVID-19 crisis in the West End home with their two cats. Photo: Richard Lam RICHARD LAM / Vancouver Sun

Q: Where are you getting your information?

A: It’s all over the map. Basically, I Google, “what the f— is happening?” and hope some good news comes in. I often check up on what Dr. Bonnie Henry has to say, and she is always a bit of a calm in the storm.  Also, my father emails me articles telling me what to do and I email him articles telling him what to do and then we send each other emails saying, “stop telling me what to do, I’m not an idiot.”

Q: What is something you are doing that you don’t normally do?

A: I have started poking around on Instagram, (@havenstudio_acting and @benjaminratner) seeing what my friends, colleagues and acting students are up to, and sharing little snippets that I hope people might enjoy. Turns out there is lots of fun content on Instagram, like videos from @aronthebassist, a mind-blowingly funky 9-year-old bass player from Slovakia, and @nandi_bushell, a 10-year-old girl from Ipswich, Suffolk, who plays the drums like Keith Moon. If they “virtually” get together and jam, it will be my musical highlight of 2020.

Q: What do you have lots of in your cupboards?

A: Carbs! We have been consuming mass quantities of rice and pasta in our home, and I have recently discovered the joys of homemade risotto. Due to quarantine, I have not been wearing a belt or pants with a button on them, but that day will come, and I fear the truth that awaits me.

Q: What have you been reading?

A: The Beautiful Ones by Prince with Dan Piepenbring, So, Anyway by John Cleese, and the play The Starry Messenger by one of my favourite playwrights, Kenneth Lonergan. I also subscribe to The New Yorker, but I find it overwhelming to keep up with it, especially these days. Good cartoons, though.

Benjamin Ratner says when looking for information these days he likes to Google, “what the f— is happening?” and hope some good news comes onto his screen. Photo: Dean Buscher Dean Buscher / PNG

Q: What have you been watching?

A: Me and Jen have discovered a couple more shows we both enjoy, so that’s always like a second honeymoon. High Maintenance is an insightfully comedic slice of modern urbanity, and the drama Unorthodox stars Shira Haas, who is truly a revelation.  I have also re-watched the whole season of the excellent show Jen is on, Traces, now on BBC Canada.

Q: What are you doing for exercise?

A: In addition to occasionally whacking the punching bags at the studio and getting out on the seawall, I am doing 100 pushups every day. I spread them out, but I get them done. I tally them on a counter app and the sound of each “click” gives me a teeny endorphin rush.

Q: What worries you?

A: Everything worries me about the current state of the world. It’s a day-by-day lesson in controlling what we can, letting go of the rest, and keeping the faith.  I feel very fortunate to live in Vancouver, I have positive, funny people in my life who make it all less scary and I truly believe if we’re smart and lucky enough to stay healthy, the best is yet to come.

Q: When this ends what will be different?

A: More patience. More gratitude. Less risotto.


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