Like mother, like daughter When it comes to performing — and cooking — The Three Musketeers star Melissa Langdon is a chip off the old block
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/10/2022 (209 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Pasta salad tossed in store-bought dressing may not be the obvious choice of comfort food, but for actor and theatre practitioner Melissa Langdon, this meal brings a flood of childhood memories to the fore.
Homemade: Downtown Edition
It is often the simplest of foods that evoke the strongest of emotions. That first cup of tea as dawn breaks, standing still before life comes crowding in. The perfumed sweetness of a fuzzy peach. A grilled cheese scarfed down in a rush between activities, leaving your tongue slightly burned. The smell of buttery popcorn, salty on lips as you lean in for a first kiss at the cinema.
Homemade: Downtown Edition is aav kitching homemade monthly series inviting a person who works in Winnipeg’s downtown to cook and talk about their favourite comfort food; if we are what we eat then who are you?
This series would not have been made possible without the generosity of staff at RRC Polytech, Paterson GlobalFoods Institute, who kindly permitted us to use the kitchens of Jane’s restaurant.
The combination of a handful of ingredients takes Langdon (who uses they/them pronouns) back to the kitchen where they used to watch their mother make it, with music from ’70s bands Eagles or Bread blasting in the background.
“This is comfort food; it binds me to my mother. I remember eating it as a four-year-old. My mom isn’t a very good cook and I’m the same way,” says the actor. “But it was that one thing she would make at dinner and thinking about it, I can instantly taste it in my head.”
Langdon and their mother are close. Our conversation is peppered with references to Emily Langdon, a classically trained dancer who studied at Royal Winnipeg Ballet before leaving for the School of Toronto Dance Theatre. A knee injury brought her back to Winnipeg, where she joined the professional program of Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers, before leaving after a year.
“I probably wouldn’t have been born if she hadn’t wrecked her knees when she was younger. It didn’t end up healing properly, so she came back to Winnipeg, where she met my father,” Langdon says.
“Our relationship has changed over the years; she is my mom, but she is also my best friend. I try and text her every day and she’s always checking in with me. I am really lucky to have her in my life.”
Langdon is about to begin rehearsals for Royal Manitoba Theatre Company’s The Three Musketeers, which opens Nov. 24, in the role of the impulsive and quick-witted D’Artagnan. Life is busy and, for Langdon, an apprentice artistic director at RMTC, busy is good.
“When rehearsing, I use all of my energy towards the show. I’m most probably the healthiest mentally. I wake up, I grab my coffee, go to rehearsal, go for lunch and, when I get home, I’m doing script work and working on stuff for the day. I have a much stricter routine when I am working on a show. It provides stability and it’s really nice.”
Acting is a notoriously unstable profession so it’s no wonder Langdon clings to the pockets of calm. It’s a very different life from the one that might have been had Langdon become a lawyer, as originally intended.
“I changed my degree when I was in university. I studied law; I was going to be a lawyer and I hated it!” says Langdon, who graduated from the University of Winnipeg’s honours theatre program in 2018.
How did the family take this change of direction?
“I think because of everything involved in theatre, I don’t think my mother wanted me to go into it. At first, she was like, ‘Please don’t do this,’ and now she’s one of my biggest supporters. She likes seeing me do something that I love, and that means a lot.”
That support is priceless to the actor, who grew up in St. James, wanting to “just make people happy.” Langdon was a good student, excelling in musical theatre, history and English. They liked learning to play the violin and enjoyed running track, especially the races because “I liked the way it made me feel to focus on something.”
That focus, the knack of being able to “zone out” of surrounding chaos at the drop of a hat and zoom in on details, is a skill that serves them well. This is especially evident in the act of cooking. Langdon’s hands are busy dicing vegetables, but their mind is on a million other things.
“Cooking is like acting. In theatre you always have to be present in the moment and respond to everything that’s going around. I had a teacher who talked about how we have to shift through different states of awareness. Because multi-tasking isn’t really a thing, but we can shift our consciousness to different areas. So right now I am thinking about us talking but then I can quickly shift to ‘I need to focus on not cutting my hand’ and also keep an eye on my wrist because I have a timer going.”
Langdon doesn’t cook often, relying instead on takeout and delivery. Lunch is usually something grabbed from the Exchange and dinner can be anything from a McDonald’s junior chicken sandwich with small fries to doubles from Tropikis on Ellice Avenue, a dish that reminds them of their Trinidadian grandmother’s cooking.
“I love good food and I am trying to learn to cook, but it’s very difficult,” they admit. “I don’t do it a lot but the act of preparing food is interesting to me because cooking is like play and theatre is literally play.”
This chicken pasta salad is a meal they often made for their partner during the pandemic when the world had shut down and people circulated in their tiny bubbles.
And while COVID-19 still lingers like an unwelcome guest, life today has gone back to some normalcy. That temporary suspension of gathering together, and the effect it had on the arts especially, is still keenly felt in some quarters. For Langdon, who adores living and working downtown, the return to some semblance of normality is to be celebrated.
“Downtown is alive,” they say. “There is always something going on. Growing up in the suburbs everything was at a slower pace and that’s a wonderful thing for people who need that, but I find I need to be in an area where everything comes alive.”
Langdon says people are hard on downtown because of its “reputation,” lamenting the widely held, over-simplified, negative views people bring when venturing out of the ‘burbs.
“There are systems of power in place that are disproportionately affecting Indigenous, Black and other people of colour in the city. Until those problems are dismantled in all forms, it is not going to get better. We can’t just put a Band-Aid on it…” Langdon trails off.
For Langdon — who identifies as biracial (their mother’s family is Afro-Trinidadian and their father’s is white) — tackling prejudice is a collective responsibility.
“We have to do so much better,” they say. “One of the things that’s been really difficult is to witness how such a beautiful city has these issues which are deeply rooted in racism and prejudice. And you can’t say ‘I’m not racist because I don’t do this so I’m not part of the problem’ and not understand. We can’t think it’s another person’s responsibility to fix it.”
Langdon concedes that being cocooned in the suburbs contributed to some ignorance when they were younger, but living and working downtown has “illuminated” things.
“The only thing I am concerned about is that when people come downtown, they come with fear and prejudice. And when they come with fear and prejudice it becomes a really dangerous combination for people who are currently living here and have been living here for decades, if not longer,” Langdon says.
For someone who says they want to make people happy, these are hard truths to tell. But there’s no denying the depth of emotion when they speak. And while it’s all well and good identifying the issues, Langdon ruefully agrees there is no simple solution.
For now, they will be the change they want to see, continuing to live and work in the heart of the city they love.
“There’s just so much going on — you can hear jazz just down the street, literally two blocks from Portage and Main. It’s just so alive! It keeps me going,” Langdon says joyfully.
Melissa and Emily Langdon’s Chicken Pasta Salad
PASTA SALAD INGREDIENTS:
3 or 4 chicken breasts
4 cups of coloured rotini
Kraft Greek with Feta and Oregano Dressing, to taste
7.5 ml (½ tbsp) of margarine
Salt and pepper to season chicken
Boil water for pasta in a saucepan.
Preheat a frying pan to cook chicken
Chop chicken into bite-sized pieces. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Cook chicken on the stovetop on medium-high heat until cooked through.
Boil pasta until al dente.
When the chicken is done, remove from heat and let cool.
Drain pasta and mix with margarine.
Mix everything together with Kraft dressing and cool in the fridge until chilly.
SIDE SALAD INGREDIENTS:
1 English cucumber
½ red onion
1 yellow pepper
½ package of grape or cherry tomatoes
Roughly chop all ingredients and toss with dressing of choice — either olive oil with a pinch of salt, or balsamic dressing.
Recipe serves four and is best served cold or the next day.
AV Kitching is an arts and life writer at the Free Press.
Updated on Monday, October 31, 2022 9:10 PM CDT: typo fixed in headline