Facing My Stage Fright at a Vancouver Film Actor Bootcamp

Is this it? Am I on the cusp of my big break into Hollywood North? Should I ditch the writing gig and wait for my callback from Ryan Reynolds for the next Deadpool?

I’m at Vancouver Film School ready to be put through my paces with a gaggle of wannabe actors and stars of the future. As we gather on one of the sound stages, my adrenaline runs high under the heat of klieg lights. I look around at the living room setup, noticing the cameras and boom mics ready to record.

Our marks are taped on the wooden floor, guiding us to the best spot to deliver our lines (I’m by a side door and directed to look at the far camera). A couple of instructors jump in to help us interpret the scene in this makeshift live audition: a bunch of lazy roommates (virtually horizontal, much shrugging) refuse to help clean up but suddenly change their minds (jump into action, look animated) when offered the promise of free rent.

It’s not exactly Oscar Wilde, but for me, comic timing will still be everything. A few awkward rehearsals follow. “Pop out, and quickly back,” one of the tutors booms, clapping his hand for dramatic effect as I linger too long on set. My slapstick stumble into the door that only swings inward isn’t part of the script. Then there’s the call for us to quickly return to our first positions.

Fresh from learning some tips to warm up our vocal cords, I rap repeatedly at whiplash speed: “They-wanna-know-how-many-rhymes-have-I-ripped-in-rep.” (Eminem’s “What-I-gotta-do-to-get-it-through-to-you-I’m-superhuman” works just as well.) Then I call on my own well-honed yogic breathing—in for four, hold for four, and out for four—to engage my parasympathetic nervous system.

“Don’t mess it up. This is the big one,” we are instructed as we aim for the martini shot: the final take of the day, after which the cast and crew can knock off and have a drink. “Camera rolling,” the director shouts, “and… action.”

Now, as comfort zones go, I’m more of a prompter than a performer. The last time I acted was at university 30 years ago, and I froze in front of 500 people, completely blanking on the words in a French farce. Yet I’ve been on stage many times since in support of a career that has spanned journalism, festival programming, and most recently, special events curation at Heckfield Place, a luxury hotel in England.

I’ve had the privilege to be up close with some of the biggest names in their field, from actor Frances McDormand and her director-husband, Joel Coen, to CNN anchor Christiane Amanpour and the late poet Maya Angelou. After years of experience, I’m pretty confident introducing and interviewing in any theatre. As long as I’m well prepared, it’s a joy to hook in and riff with an audience without notes. In fact, I’m a bit of a show-off.

But being me in the spotlight feels easy compared to morphing into a character. It’s a whole different challenge figuring out how to play a part beyond my bubbly nature. Reflecting on such colourful McDormand roles as gym instructor Linda Litzke in Burn After Reading and Fern in Nomadland while working with her and Coen on a recent cultural exchange at Heckfield, I’d say fastidious curiosity is at the heart of a brilliant performer. That, and a great sense of play.

Of course, her theatrical chops are out of my reach, but I muster the courage not to hold back, leaping in front of another camera in the green-screen room that features a moonscape backdrop on the monitor. Given half a chance, I would rip off the skin-tight bodysuit and its sensors from the motion-capture actor and launch myself into a virtual battle zone.

Back on set, I’m ready for my moment to shine. Heeding all the pointers and feeling more relaxed—albeit ridiculously rosy cheeked—in front of the camera, it’s a rush to land the intonation and jack-in-the-box reaction.

“Hell no!” I proclaim right on cue, opening the door correctly, before later finishing the play with a wide-armed, “Anything for you.…” With a little swagger, I even ad-lib a spot of dusting of the furniture until the “and cut” sign-off.

The audience in the surrounding darkness whoops it up, and I’m aware what felt like an absolute age is actually over in minutes. “There’s a saying in the film world—there are no small parts, only small actors,” the director tells me later, kindly adding, “You’re certainly not ‘small’—you nailed it with gusto.”

It’s a lovely redemption of my flop at college. And this much I already know: Ryan ain’t calling anytime soon….

Read more from our Spring 2024 issue.

Post Date:

June 5, 2024