Category Archives: Actors

“LIVE LIGHT, TRAVEL LIGHT, SPREAD THE LIGHT, BE THE LIGHT.”

This blog post is brought to you in part by the wind-down from a seemingly productive Monday – a day that still allowed me time for reflection and enlightenment of the pen. In departure from my past couple of weeks – which were also characteristically reflective… in that funny way a mundane stream of thoughts surfaces and envelopes the skull during a routine morning city bus ride; or the way I occasionally indulge in an inconspicuous second glance at a unique New Yorker strolling about from a weekday’s point A, to point C, and X etc… All of this was supplemented by a nice little compilation of Crime and Detection plays from the New York Public Library that I’m making my way through. BTW – I totally suggest weaving in and out of crime and detection plays throughout the day – it has been doing something to my imagination – spurring attention to detail for no other reason than to satisfy the mind’s need to solve puzzles when it’s reading Sherlock Holmes or Elmer Rice and the like…

 

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This blog post is also brought to you by my Yogi Tea inspiration sipped while writing these reflections, which read: “Live light, travel light, spread the light, be the light.” I sought ‘light’ at two Broadway productions recently that became special experiences because I shared them with friendly-visiting-friends! First I made it to the musical, Waitress, in a house-right box with two life-long lady friends visiting from Vancouver, Canada. Both had never been to NYC before! Next I rushed tickets to The Encounter with a bestie, Melissa, from London, England! Speaking of lightening up… I have to say it was nice to escape the pre-election madness that I feel in the air (and have admittedly been following closely and caring about intensely) by stepping into theatres where the scary world tends to fade away and be processed in my psyche-safe-zone.

 

WAITRESS is a Broadway musical playing over at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre and it features lyrics and music by a singer/songwriter I adore named Sara Bareilles. It stars the soul-melting voice of of Jessie Mueller as Jenna. This waitress has made herself at home in a small café baking pies from recipes handed down by her mother and the new, elaborate pies that she creates. The stage is lined with actual pies and the theme is carried through to metaphor with different pies inspired by Jenna’s pleasures and perceived failures in her life and relationships. Following Jenna through a rocky relationship are her quirky friends/ coworkers and love interests. It feels like a romantic–comedy meets musical meets dramatic film featuring a strong female lead. All the actors of all the characters in this production made me laugh – so this was definitely a place where I got to ‘live light’ surrounded by supportive female friends. Disclaimer – I say ‘meets dramatic film’ because anyone with half a heart will cry at least once (I cried at least thrice as Jenna strives away from emotional abuse).

 

There was a place to write Thank You “Guest Checks”- so I did!

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THE ENCOUNTER, playing over at the Golden Theatre, was one of those theatre experiences that I didn’t quite know what to make of. It is inspired by a book called Amazon Beaming by Petru Popescu. It takes us from Conceiver/Director/Performer Simon McBurney telling us to turn off our mobile devices as he sends his daughter a picture to prove that he’s only away from her because he’s doing this show… towards his transformation into a deeper-voiced photojournalist on the prowl for a story and photographs.

 

I’m always curious about one-person shows in general because I can imagine it is probably quite difficult to generate all the energy required to make the audience believe that all other characters are in the room; as well as to push the narrative towards blackout or curtain call… ALONE ON STAGE! I always admire actors that achieve this feat and make it look fun – and secretly wish I could just jump into the scene with them as all the other characters! I was very struck by McBurney’s ability to do something that makes actors beautiful – to make molecules move out of thin air! In the program he wrote,

 

“Rehearsal derives from the word ‘hearse,’ which means to rake over, to prepare the ground. To prepare for The Encounter, we had to engage with the unfamiliar, ask questions about everyday life we take for granted. Such as… what is Time?” – Simon McBurney

 

What is time?

 

Sifting through the many definitions representing ‘time’ –  it’s hard not to acknowledge there is grey area we are encountering all the time. What we consistently are a part of, but don’t always acknowledge. A link that we have a measure & clock for, yet it doesn’t quite, fully contain an accurate link to what we experience as memory, dreams, envisions or the future we are creating. The Encounter didn’t feel like a sci-fi novel though – it felt more like a documentation of a man’s experience with grey areas in his mind and in the world. A photojournalist who can’t quite get life into focus as with a camera device that creates the illusion of ‘capturing a moment’.

 

To take the audience through time this production is uniquely aided by technological devices (the audience wore headphones the whole time so that sounds seemed to sweep up from behind us, or beside us and the noises were also regularly found on stage being funneled through several sources – including a standing mic located center stage shaped as a cranium). The effect was that we were unusually transported to the spaces that a National Geographic photojournalist travels to – including a Brazilian Amazon village with Mayoruna people. The heat of a community fire was felt, a really intriguing lighting effect expanded McBurney’s shadow into several shadows dancing around the fire so that he became a part of the village and we saw the village people through his shadow.

 

I was so struck by McBurney’s ability to use so many technological devices during the performance – I know I would have been like – can I just use the black box … do I really need another gadget or whatchyamacall-it?

 

McBurney passed along a message directly from the Mayoruna people that he actually met in researching this character. He carried forward the message that these Mayoruna people, although isolated geographically from the modern world, very much exist!

 

What a great experiment with integrating technology on stage – and very fitting in that the content of the play deals with communicating with remote Indigenous villages through old, intuitive (ESP-like) communication methods that surpass language barriers. The photojournalist that McBurney plays ‘captures’ and grasps at undiscovered moments because he wants to tell a story and show an indigenous way of life is being led. However, the more he journeys into the Mayoruna people’s time and space the more he seems to be able to engage in the ability to intuit and trust in the origin and motion of the universe without a need to lock anything, or anyone, in by photograph or any other limited man-made means.

 

I was definitely transported into a different space and mind-set (at least until Melissa and I bopped our way back to 45th Street to plot some theatre-making adventures of our own!

 

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(photo courtesy of Melissa Jean Woodside)

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DISCOVERING WHAT’S BEYOND EXPRESSION IN NICE FISH

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One unique part about attending a play at St. Ann’s Warehouse is the stroll down Water Street looking onto a lit up Brooklyn Bridge. Given New York generally bustles along so consistently it can feel soft and other-worldly; which is not a bad state to engage with when going to believe a piece of fiction come to life!

 

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In my attendance of the American Repertory Theatre’s NICE FISH at St. Ann’s Warehouse yesterday, a new play by Mark Rylance and a collaborator poet/playwright Louis Jenkins, I reserved best efforts to sit in my house left back row seat with quiet resolve to innocently spy on the work of a beloved actor that I’m dying to collaborate with one day.

 

Success!

 

As I was one of the first to slip away down the stairs after the 95 minute play I think I may have gone unnoticed (at least my obsession). I did notice that I was changed! I was specifically enthralled with the ability to “stitch together [poems and passages] like an old American quilt of beloved garments, each one bearing a piece of history, an experience.” (as Rylance put it in his A Word or Two of Welcome…)

 

This play is unique in that the text itself is comprised of a series of prose poems by Louis Jenkins who noted that putting this play together was like a “jigsaw puzzle… except that there were extra pieces and places continually shifted.” Being a person that is daily fueled by poems this play simply solidified my not-such-a-secret-anymore-and-I’m-not-the-only-one need to watch Rylance collaborate! As he put it:

 

This play is, truly, a collaboration between all the actors [Kayli Carter, Raye Birk, Mark Rylance, Bob Davis, Jim Lichtscheidl], a poet, a playwright, a director [Claire Van Kampen], the stage managers and designers, and now you, the audience and spectators.

 

In this playful show I was formally introduced to the prose poems of Louis Jenkins who described his discovery that his poems didn’t need to sit alone by watching a YouTube clip of Rylance humorously reciting one for a Best Actor Tony Award. And so the collaboration ensued… leading towards Nice Fish.

 

Now it’s not a conventional play. I’ll just put that boldly out into the blog-sphere. The characters make relevant conversations and thoughts that seem to swirl in and out of their consciousness far into a Midwest winter. In that sense an absurd quality surfaces throughout the play and even a fourth wall break give the sense that ‘all the world’s a stage’.

 

What struck me is that with prose poetry the language seems to fit within the characters’ world. Unlike the use of more metrical and rhythmic poems that would tend to become interludes and transitions (minus Shakespeare of course)… these prose poems became the characters’ own words and hence choices to communicate with each other and express their ideas, annoyances, senses of humor etc.

 

According to Van Kampen the “component” of time is noticeable in the play because there becomes a consciousness of the fact that there are things above the ice and hidden below the ice… “the fullness of [the characters’] psyche has time to emerge and confront them.” while confronting nature.

 

In using the poems as methods to communicate the activities of the characters such as fishing, building a tent or simply standing on the ice confronting nature the activities became secondary to the inner life of the characters. Possibly even obstacles to the characters being able to either talk about what they were feeling, or affect the other character in some way. Seemingly ‘ordinary’ lives of some Midwesterners became active through the prose by reminding each other of old crushes, debts due and by making each other laugh while avoiding the numbing sensation of the cold.

 

One particular moment where ice unexpectedly melted was when the young girl, Flo (Carter), who doesn’t seem to know much of loss yet recites a poem that effectively reminds everyone else around her that there is an entrance into a dark lake of feeling that normally must stay relatively covered up. It was like the characters around her could hear the ice creaking underneath their feet but didn’t want to show her that elaborating on their losses could result in them all slipping under the ice at any moment if not careful or quiet… instead her guardian pats her on the head to hint that she is loved beyond expression.

 

Beyond expression… it’s funny that poems and plays are elaborate efforts to express human experiences and yet it ends up being the moments where our language (spoken or non-verbal) is limited that are most interesting. Every so often there’s a collective pause and understanding of a mysterious connection to everyone and everything that is just beyond our expressions.

 

Except maybe the expression of Rylance’s character Ron as a talking snowman – a talking snowman reminding ice fishing humans about global warming captures it all.

 

Okay I’m off to use my gathered intelligence to figure out how to incorporate poetry of all sorts into my daily communicative efforts and expressions. Like maybe this free verse:

 

…but looking back

the memories

flash

bright and true

quick

transparent

and gone

but held onto

somehow intangibly… 

 

Signing off,

 

Truly Inspired!

 

KEEPING WHAT WE LOVE ALIVE

 

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I AM MORE THAN INSPIRED… I AM PROUD!

 

It happened because I went to see an Off-Off-Broadway show that my classmates and friends staged last night!

 

Dolores is a one-act play shedding light on sisterhood and struggles with domestic violence. The play was written by Edward Allan Baker – whom I happened to meet last night- as I was helping out at the box office at The Playroom Theatre. (Yeah… so that was cool…)

 

Most importantly the play was raising awareness about domestic violence and violence against women. The beautiful and talented ladies Paulina Cossio (in my drama school grad year!) and Luisa Muhr (Artistic Director of the Fengari Ensemble co-producing this play) worked with director Kathleen McNenny to bring forth this story of sibling love and strive for healthy lives despite unimaginable, violent and cyclical circumstances.

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I learn by going where I have to go. – Theodore Roethke

 

I’ve shared this quote in a Thank You card that I once gave to the dialect coach of this play, Julia Lenardon, who was also one of my voice and speech teachers in drama school. I like it because it embodies what she instilled in me when learning about a dialect (she informed me that in this play the ladies are from Rhode Island). By taking the time to get very specific and learn how to speak and sound the way that another person speaks it can often give an actor insight into how to look through the eyes of that character.

 

I was reminded of the Roethke’s quote because I witnessed my friendly friends embody and transform into two characters (dialect and all) that have suffered and/or witnessed violent crimes. In doing so I began to be introduced to Dolores (Cossio), a woman currently compelled into retaliation and self-defense after years of domestic violence, and her sister Sandra (Muhr), who grew up watching Dolores enter abusive relationships and has journeyed into a marriage of her own that she finds comfortable and safe. These two contrasting personalities and experiences highlighted a journey from childhood until this very crucial point in their lives where Dolores has decided she can’t take the abuse anymore.

 

The play inadvertently helps the audience understand better what abusive and/or violent cycles of behaviour look like, how they disguise themselves into domestic life and relationships from an early age, and (if the cycles are not addressed or broken) how they will unfortunately resurface in adult relationships again and again.

 

We try to keep what we love alive. We do it by our daily living and by our work. My need to learn about other people’s lives through books and plays has been a need to make life more vivid as I am living it. Not to let the days go by unnumbered or without meaning. And the longer I have lived the more I have counted on the life force of work to keep me alive. – Marian Seldes.

 

I like, and was reminded of, this Seldes quote because as actors and theatre makers and participants we get to do exactly that – keep what we love alive. We can do it by learning about other people’s lives; women like Sandra and Dolores who can shed light on breaking cycles of violence. In doing so, even if we don’t share the extreme experiences of the characters by transforming into them we can recognize that some people do. We can recognize that these lives and these issues matter. We can work together to do what we love to do (embody other people) and it’s inevitable that we will touch other souls that way. Maybe even contribute to ending cycles of violence!

 

Our work, if we give ourselves over to it and support each other’s efforts, can keep stories alive! A tradition even older than Shakespeare himself! In following this tradition, and in focusing on doing our work well… it will in turn keep us alive in our love of working. I saw my friends do this last night – and they’ll do it again for the last two performances on Wednesday night. Oh and I’ll be in the box office helping out… I wonder who else will show up? Hehe

 

Tickets and information about DOLORES, the Fengari Ensemble and/or how to donate to SHEARED (an organization raising awareness about domestic violence): https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/dolores-fengari-ensemble#/ 


 “…[t]he most reliable predictor of whether a country is violent within itself— or will use military violence against another country— is not poverty, natural resources, religion, or even degree of democracy: it’s violence against females. It normalizes all other violence.” – Gloria Steinem, My Life On The Road

(photo courtesy of Rob Douthat)

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MELISSA JEAN WOODSIDE

BLOGMelissa02

 

www.mjwoodside.com

 

 

1. What kinds of things inspire you, as a Canadian actor living in London, U.K.?

I love the originality of work and the English film scene. I find that like any big city, it’s very metropolitan but at the same time, it doesn’t lose its essence of history and timelessness.

I can’t go a day without discovering something unique or walking past a beautiful old cinema or theatre (that to me is very much like a church). I’m performing next month at the Camden Head and other London theatres with a comedy sketch group “Fans of Comedy”. Just being in the old classical buildings lights me up straight away and I feel alive inside.

I know that the film industry is leading towards greatness in Canada, but there is something insatiable about the English film industry that keeps me here.

2. Where do you train as an actor? What is the importance of training to you?

I’m currently taking a variety of workshops at the Actors Centre. It is incredibly beneficial and I constantly chip away at my craft through their guidance.

I have to admit, however, that I find that I learn mostly “on the job”.

3. You have started up a comedy web series, Bertie & Gerdie, what inspired it? What is the series about? Where do you see this work leading?

Bertie and Gerdie was a satirical web series inspired by a bad breakup. Sounds cliché, but acting really helped me forget about the guy. A friend and I started making fun of failed relationships and I had a problem with Middle Class gold-digging women in particular that do nothing for society. Through this, I was able to create this strange relationship with the male character on screen that represents everything toxic in modern day marriage. It’s great because we take suggestions for writing, so if someone is going through a bad breakup or their spouse said something strange, we will consider it in our scripts!

Bertie and Gerdie was fun and has grown in terms of technical expertise more than anything.
 As you will see, the earlier episodes are on essentially a Sony Handicam. Over time we got the attention of a BBC Studio manager with a decent camera/team and even jingle on board!

In the long term this will die out as Bertie + Gerdie’s marriage is doomed, but there will be a second series and related sitcom style series coming up.

4. Any favorite performances while you’ve been in London?

YES! I love London for performances. I can’t walk around the West End enough!!

Recently I have noticed a surge in North American Historical performances. Last week I saw No One Loves Us Here by Ross Howard, a staged reading black comic portrait about a Native American dealing with love, obsession, the aspiration of youth and a crumbling white-collar class.

Next week I’m going to see a play called The Low Road by Bruce Norris about the slave trade.

Apart from that, I can’t get enough of catching more mainstream stuff with Q + A sessions attached to the end. I saw The Browning Version with Anna Chancellor, as well as a Keira Knightley performance this way.

5. When collaborating in creative endeavors what do you admire in your peers?

I admire actors and creative types with the ability to be down to earth, spaz out, and just have fun. Everyone has a different upbringing, a different story, and filmmaking is all about storytelling.
 There are too many actor types that take things too seriously and as a result I feel alienated.

Whilst it is a very serious industry, it is very much about having fun and doing something you enjoy!

When people let go like this and enjoy what they’re doing the quality and uniqueness of the work is far richer.

As a result I find myself working on multiple projects with writers and actors that I really admire.

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EMILY KINNEY

Actor, Singer, Writer

To preview or purchase Emily’s CD “Blue Toothbrush” visit:

www.emilykinneymusic.com

To check out Emily’s blog visit:

http://unscripted.backstage.com/emily_kinney/

I truly felt like I was waiting for a pen pal. A mutual friend connects you up with a person you might have something in common with, and then you end up sharing your intimate thoughts over long distances… without ever meeting.

By the time I received Emily’s personally mailed CD, “Blue Toothbrush”, from New York City (and read her friendly little sticky note message to me), I’d already been directed to her biography.

Definitely an inspiring young woman… shortly after moving to New York Emily was cast in Off-Broadway plays and popular television shows such as The Good Wife and Law and Order: Criminal Intent. Her Broadway debut was as Anna in the Tony Award Winning musical “Spring Awakening” before she appeared as ‘Emily’ on The Big C (Showtime). You can also see Emily playing ‘Beth Greene’ in the second season of The Walking Dead (AMC).

While living in New York City, in between acting gigs, Emily wrote poems and short stories based on her own experiences and self-discovery. While on The First National Tour of “August: Osage County”, she found time by herself in hotel rooms and turned her notebooks into melodies about love, hope and sex.

Sex is dealt with daringly without losing, what I sense is a fun, sweet and sensitive girl, behind catchy and quirky tracks. Best yet, as an artist and a female I related to her genuine sentiments, questions about life and relationships. Listening to Emily’s voice felt like getting coffee or working on a bottle of nice wine with a girlfriend as we indulged in the details of our latest news and relationships; yet ironically managing to have a delightful time while covering things like heartbreak.

Another pleasant surprise that I found while listening to Emily’s album and realizing her commitment to honesty… I became excited to discover more of Emily’s work as an actor too!

I also asked her a few questions:

 

  1. What made you start making songs?

 I’ve always written little poems since I was little and I’ve always been so into music.  I would spend hours all by myself in my room listening to music and singing.  I played around with writing songs a bit in high school/junior high, but I was very judge-mental of myself and I quickly threw away the practice.  I felt the songs I was making up were silly.   However, I never really threw out the practice of writing poems and short stories.  I met Conrad Korsch doing a show called “Spring Awakening”.  We became good friends and when I went on tour with another show called “August: Osage County”, I decided to buy a guitar and teach myself a little.  Then, I started writing songs.  I started singing them to Conrad over the phone and he told me that they were good and was just so encouraging.  I started writing songs all the time on that tour.  I would say Conrad’s encouragement and friendship was a huge inspiration to me to start writing songs and really take it seriously.  Also, I saw a creative drive in him that I recognized in myself and I just wanted to tap into that.

Some of my best friends are also musicians and actors.  I go to shows alot, and watching my friends sing and perform at places like Rockwood, Living Room, Mercury Lounge in NYC has always been so inspiring.  Their boldness inspires me!

 

  1. As an actor, singer and writer how do you feel these different modes of expression are all linked?

 There was a time when I decided I really, really wanted to be in the theatre as much as possible.  I was just obsessed with rehearsing and plays and doing a show every night.  I thought to myself that I was first actor, and I sort of threw away a bit of my drive to train as a musician, but music was really my first link to performing and telling stories… and now writing my own material, I have enjoyed having the creative control in expressing an emotion and telling a story of my own.  So now I guess I think of myself as simply a storyteller, and if it’s through a musical or tv show, or through a song that I write and then perform, doesn’t matter to me as much as the quality and honesty of the work, and then finding which mode suits telling the story best.  Not all poems should be songs.

 

  1. Why the commitment to honesty in your work?

 I just think the best jokes, and the best plays and the best songs are the ones where you think to yourself,  “Wow that’s soo funny because it’s true, or that character is just soo much like my mom, boyfriend, etc……”  I write and perform and sing not only to express myself, but to connect with other people and their experiences and I just think the only way to do that is to be as honest as possible in your work.  Plus, in real life you don’t always get to say how you feel, you don’t get always get to have that moment where you freak out or explore another side of yourself.  Finally, i get to do that a bit in my work.

 

  1. What do you respect in a creative collaboration?

 What is so great about collaborating is that everyone has different talents.  Working with Conrad was awesome because he is a trained musician with sooo much experience and he’s really good with recording and computers.  I’m really not the best with computers!  He would have ideas about instruments to use or the tempo of the song that I would have never heard or thought of, but when we added a musical line or changed the tempo that song became this new thing that was so perfect.  It’s so fun to have someone to bounce ideas off of and it’s so fun to have someone to share in the joy of making a song.  I also trust Conrad and his ear and his judgment.  I think trust is important.  He’s not going to lie to me if he doesn’t like a lyric or doesn’t think something sounds right.  In theatre, If I’m on stage working with a director i need to know that the director is going to be honest about what is coming across to the audience and not just say, “that was great!”

 

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TOM TODOROFF

 

Actor, Director, Producer, Voice, Speech & Acting Coach

Tom Todoroff Studios:

http://www.tomtodoroff.com/

 

1.  After spending the majority of your life either acting, writing, producing or instructing other actors, do you have a key piece of advice that you’d tell an actor to remember at every point throughout their journey?

100% of the time, give 100% of what you’ve got. Always do your best.

 

2. Why do you find Michael Shurtleff’s 12 Guideposts within his book, “Audition” so essential for an actor?

15 Guideposts (I added the final 3 with Michael’s blessing) [13. Mischief, 14. Vulnerability – what am I revealing/ concealing?, 15. Architecture] They always work – for any material, any tone, any era, any actor etc. They work. Only technique in the world where this is true.

 

3. What role has mentorship played in your acting career?

Everything. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the mentors in my life. Hence the picture frame with their faces in it that’s next to me every time I teach.

 

4. Have your experiences as an actor informed the way that you produce a project, and instruct other actors?

Yes. These experiences have given me a global perspective on this business – not just the actor’s perspective.

 

5. What do you respect in a creative collaboration?

You answered the question – respect. A collaboration is nothing if it’s not mutually respectful.

 

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PATRICK SABONGUI

Actor, Stunt Performer, Director, Co-founder of ACT Vancouver

IMDB Profile:

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1150775/

 

1. What were the first key moments in your life where you found yourself thinking, “I love acting”?

It was weird. I think I somehow always intuitively knew that it would be a part of my life, even before I officially did it. I remember the first time, I was in Junior High, and I was actually in a dance class, so I was always into performing, dancing and martial arts. I somehow just fell out of love with dance… I got caught in the hall one day by the Principal when I was supposed to be in dance class and I said, “No- ya I left dance class because I was going to come see you”. He was like, “Oh really?”. I said, “Ya, how can I switch into drama?” Because I got caught skipping, I got put into drama class and then it just kind of took off from there. I just felt really at home.

We staged a production of a play that we wrote that was putting humanity on trial. We had this really cool acting teacher, Mr. Cohen… he was always trying to get us to use drama to say something, to express ourselves as young people. And so we had this play where we put humanity on trial and I was the prosecution and I killed it. I totally condemned humanity to death. That is kind of where I found my stride and where it took off.

2. Where did you train?

Montreal Theatre Scene

After Mr. Cohen’s Junior High acting class I didn’t train for a long time. I started just doing theatre in Montreal. That was a great training ground and I was learning by doing. I knew I was still very raw. There was still a lot I didn’t understand about acting. I knew a lot of people liked watching me act and I’d get cast in shows. Montreal has a very vibrant theatre scene so you can get along doing art and not doing technically good acting. There is a lot of movement based theatre, expressive theatre and exploratory theatre and so I did a lot of that.

I started a theatre company because I wanted to do Shakespeare. I played Hamlet and found somebody to direct it. It did really well and that’s how I got into the professional theatre scene in Montreal. By starting my own company.

Formal Training

I took time off school and travelled. And then I came back to university and I studied religion for about a year and a half. I realized there isn’t much of a career in religion if you’re not going to be a priest or a professor. I switched into theatre and I saw a lot of parallels between religion and theatre… there’s a text and audience, a stage… I thought, “why don’t I get back into my theatre training?”

I trained at Concordia University for a little while. Even there… we were still very exploratory. I actually got an undergraduate degree for Drama and Human Development. It wasn’t a specialization in performance. It was still using drama to build community, to build theatres in the classroom and use it for educational purposes and human development. There was a lot I didn’t know, didn’t understand about the technique of acting. I was still doing pretty good. I was still getting professional gigs, but I didn’t feel 100% confident in my abilities.

I continued doing theatre and then I got into stunt work. I started working for film and T.V. with my athletics and martial arts background doing stunts. I wanted to cross over into acting in the film and T.V. world. It’s kind of a round about way into it. I started working but I was getting very limited casting. It was all action-oriented stuff. I knew I needed to retrain myself or go further.

I started auditioning for about 3 years for graduate schools in the [United] States to work towards a Masters degree in acting- it was a long process and I failed a lot. I’d travel to New York or Chicago or California and do these massive auditions and travel from school to school and visit and having some success- people would see my potential but I wasn’t there. When I met Kyra… [Co-founder of ACT Vancouver & Patrick’s wife] she had a very strong foundation in her undergraduate degree of Acting. It wasn’t until she coached me that the gates flew open and I had my choice of graduate schools to attend. I chose the University of California at Urvine. I studied there for a Masters degree specialization in Acting.

3. What brought you into the world of stunt performance?

Stage combat. All of my work in the theatre. I started being recognized as ‘that stage combat guy’ because of my martial arts background and my physicality. I would always play the sword fighting guy in the Shakespeare plays, or even if I wasn’t I would do the stage choreography. I studied stage combat, which is a formal stage fighting techniques. There is a Federation for that and I did a lot of those workshops.

In the theatre there is no difference between the actor and a stunt performer. It’s the character. If the character is a fighter then you as the actor have to fight. I looked at the film and T.V. world and thought, “well I can do that”. I was actually on the phone with Kyra one day, and… it just clicked for me at the moment that’s what I was meant to do and so I hung up and I called the union and said, “how do you become a stunt guy?” They said, “I don’t know! I guess the stunt coordinator does the hiring.”

It turned out at that time in Montreal it had been 15 years since any new stunt guys had been hired. It had been the same old guard since the beginning of the industry and no new guys were coming into it. I started my search and tried to get in front of these guys and meet these guys. I did and one guy gave me a shot. Luckily the first stunt day, they needed one of the stunt guys to fight and shoot guns and throw out some dialogue. I did that and it earned me respect in the stunt community.  Right from the very beginning in my career as a stunt guy I was recognized as this stunt guy that has the skill set, but that could also perform as he’s doing stunts.

In the stunt world, the way it’s structured, you can be a lot more proactive about finding yourself work. As an actor you have to do a lot of waiting. You can put your best effort forward but it’s really up to your agent to submit you, the casting director to call you in, the director to like you, the producers to approve you, the networks to approve you. You’ve got to wait on so many people to make a decision. In the stunt world, you just train, you acquire the necessary skills, you meet the person that does the hiring and they make a decision whether they hire you or not. You can continuously upgrade your skills and put yourself out there and meet these guys and so that career kind of took off before the acting career really did.

4. You played a Spartan in the film 300, do you have tips for actors preparing for a role involving an accent?

Go For It!

Yes… on top of everything else that you have to do as an actor in terms of your research to understand the part, your personal work to be able to connect to the role, to understand the material, to understand the style of the story that you’re telling and the directors vision- to be able to suit it, and memorization. On top of all of those things, working with an accent can so easily throw you off. You hear yourself and think, “that sounds like such bullshit and if you don’t believe yourself then nobody’s going to believe you, right?”.

My number one tip for somebody working with an accent is to go all out. Go for it. You have to just throw yourself at it and it is going to sound like crap to you, but you’re not performing for you. You’re performing for someone that’s never heard you speak before. You never know what they’re going to believe or hear, so you have to trust and focus on everything else. Try the accent and just throw yourself at it and trust that it sounds believable. That’s if somebody walks in right now and said I got this role for you, do the accent right now.

Train

On the other side of the coin, train… train. There are some very specific techniques to acquire an accent and there are a lot of paths to get there, but all of them require a lot of time and commitment because speaking is a physical activity. You have to retrain the muscles of your mouth to do what they do. It’s like when you walk, if you put your left foot forward, your right hand is going to swing forward. Then when you switch, it’s the opposite hand and leg always. It’s like all the sudden someone came and said, “well I need you to walk but when your left foot comes forward your left hand comes forward”. Now they want you to walk like this and it’s going to feel really awkward and unnatural at first.  You have to just keep training at it until it feels natural because once you’re out there performing you don’t have time to think about the accent.

Be Ready to Make Adjustments

The tough thing is that you have to be so adept at working with an accent that when they come to you and ask you to make an adjustment, because often that’s what a director will do. He’ll come to you, “okay more accent, less accent, can you not roll your ‘r’ on that…” You have to be able to now adapt to the notes that are coming in.

It’s a two-fold answer: Train and spend a lot of time on it. Listen to it obsessively. Pick a technique or get a coach- someone that’s going to be an outside ear and help you get there. Then spend the time repeating it, repeating it, repeating it. Then once it’s show time go for it.

5. What inspired you to start your acting school, Vancouver Actor’s Centre for Transformation?

A couple of things. It had always been a long term goal for Kyra and I to start a school that was more than just a place to train… we wanted to have our own kind of artists community… we love working with actors and developing artists. We wanted a community centre where we could keep developing ourselves as artists and collaborate with other established artists, but also help pave the way for the next generation of artists.

…We felt that there was a need for us to offer our approach to acting, our understanding. We both taught at the highest level- at the University level in California. There’s a progression to teaching acting and there’s a technique in place for a reason…

We wanted the Actors Centre for Transformation to be a place where young artists could come and fully develop themselves as artists. To work their voice, their movement, script analysis, understanding of dramatic structure, work their ability to express themselves as a human being. Then, understand the technical aspects of the camera, film and T.V., coverage and angles, editing and all the other things that go into making a movie.

6. How have your experiences working as an actor inspired the way that you coach other actors?

A lot goes into helping an actor get to where they are going. I say this in my classes all the time: I operate in 3 capacities. Sometimes I’m teaching, sometimes I’m coaching, sometimes I’m directing. Each one of those is a very different thing.

If you’re asking specifically coaching in an audition situation- getting someone prepared for an audition or a performance, I think I’m an encourager of actors. I’m an encourager of their choices. Because I’ve had so many experiences as an actor myself, I try to learn from what works for me and then I try to provide that for the other actor. It’s not always my opinion or my take on the scene that’s going to help the actor best. As a coach, my job is to cheer them on, encourage them to live up to the choices they’ve made. Sometimes an actor will make an intellectual choice, but they’re not living it. As a coach my job is to help you get what you intend to do.

If you were in my movie and I was directing it, my job would be to encourage you to make the choices I want you to make- right? So as a coach I try to focus on what they’re doing that’s positive and encourage them to go further on that, so they neglect what they’re doing poorly or weak, so all their focus is on what they’re doing well so they go in that direction. And then I try to send them in a direction rather than bring them to a destination.  I say, “Let’s see where that goes” as opposed to, “do it like this”… [which] is an end result and then you have a puppet up there, and not a living, breathing human being anymore.

I ask them questions because I find for me when I’m being coached, if I can spark my creative juices more magic happens and that’s what I try to provide for the actors that I’m coaching. Magic.

7. Can you tell me a bit about the short film you recently directed, The Letter and why it’s special to you? 

The process of The Letter for me was different from any other film I’ve directed because it didn’t come from me. I didn’t write it. I didn’t produce it. It was brought to me and I was asked to be a part of it so I could bring something very specific to the project. I think what I was there to bring was my vision of what that story was, but also to make sure we had the performers in place and the right team in place and for everyone to live up to their potential. In a sense I was an encourager. From a technical side, that’s why it was special to me. It was different. I was there for a very specific thing. I wasn’t there to oversee the whole project. I say I didn’t write it- I wasn’t the creator of the story, but I did help write the final draft that we ended up shooting.

The story that was in there was probably one of the most meaningful things that I’ve gotten to work on because it speaks to a very specific community. It was very specifically grounded in the Aboriginal culture. It speaks very specifically about 1 family, but in as much as it’s extremely specific and it’s unique to those characters, it also applied universally to everyone and every family and every culture.

At the base of it, at the heart of this story, the main conflict really is alcoholism, substance abuse, is a family struggling to keep it together in the face of adversity. Alcoholism has affected so many lives and particularly in the Aboriginal community here it’s a huge issue- and yes in the Aboriginal community it’s a central issue and in our story it’s a central issue, but the same is true for other Native communities, the same is true for other cultures in other countries where they feel they have a particular propensity to alcoholism, or where alcoholism is a particularly destructive force for that culture. In as much as we recognize it as a specific Native issue, it’s a specific cultural issue for a lot of Nations, not just Native nations, but around the world.

Tackling that issue, tackling what it can do to the nuclear family, and what individuals have to do to kind of overcome the effect that it has … the road to exploring that topic is at times very personal, but also very public. It’s touched everyone… It was special in that we were telling a story that’s touched everyone in a very specific way. Anytime you can be doing something that’s more than a just a piece of entertainment, more than just a piece of literature, it’s story that might hold a mirror up to your life or make a comment on a very real issue, it’s important. We were working on something that was important.

Then what was special in the shooting of it was the family that came together to shoot it. You were a part of it and everyone that was a part of it- somehow it felt like we were all a part of a family. Everyone gave so much. It was one of the most generous casts and crews that I’ve ever worked with. The cast was unbelievable and they pulled out all the stops. Those actors went as far as they could possibly go and were willing to go further. They were constantly trying to contribute more. Everybody on the crew was so generous and trying to give as much as they could. In itself it was an incredible experience just shooting it.

8. What do you find challenging about directing and how do you overcome the challenge?

The main challenge about directing is making decisions.  Everybody is there to realize your vision. Everybody is trying to crack your head open to see what’s there and present it to you. In as much as you can have a very specific vision, you can see it in your head, the challenge is to then communicate it and help people materialize it- everybody from the costume designer, to the set designer to props. Then you have to communicate to your camera operators, and then to your editor and to your sound designer and to your visual effects creator- and everything rests on your vision. It’s like waking up from a dream and then somebody says, “what did you dream?” and you’re like, “Uh… I kind of know, but I think it was a mermaid, maybe it was a car…” To you that makes sense in some way, but trying to communicate that to everybody is the main challenge.

How do you overcome it? You make sure the story is being told. You know your story as best you can and in the first few meetings with the crew and the team you make sure to communicate it in as much details as possible. You hope that their understanding of the story and their vision falls in line with yours. As you get closer to go time, you have to make a lot of concessions. Maybe you’ve never seen that colour jacket before, but if it fits into telling the story then that’s your vision now and you have to internalize that. That’s how you overcome all the obstacles- is making sure, knowing the story that you want to get out there, and then making sure the story’s getting there. If what ends up happening on that day isn’t exactly what you dreamt, then it’s okay because it was part of their dream and now you’ve inspired their vision and now you’re collaborating with them to tell the story; which is really the important thing. You’re really just a guiding force for the story.

9. What do you respect in a creative collaboration?

Collaborating with artists who understand the priority. The priority is not to win an award, is not to be thought of as cool or creative, the priority is never to be commended for your great idea. The priority in the instance of a film is to tell the story. I love collaborating with filmmakers- and when I say filmmakers it could be props, the gun wrangler, the guy painting the sets all the way to the actors- I love collaborating with people who have story at heart. If they come to me as a director, or as a fellow collaborator and say, “well I think that this is what really tells the story… it started out it was about this, but really it’s about this.” As long as they’re coming from a place where they’re trying to tell that specific story, then we’re on the same page and I’m going to love the idea. If it’s something I’d never thought of or something that’s totally out of left field- if it’s coming out of left field and I think it’s ego driven… it’s tough because that’s not falling in line with the momentum of the piece.

If someone brings me a three-headed monster and tells me they think it tells the story then… awesome! Let’s shoot that then! It’s really having everybody’s common thread being in line, everybody’s motivation being in line. In the case of a film it’s always the story.

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