Virtual Discussion Provides Direction for Newcomer Actors and Producers
On Thursday, July 23rd, the Immigrant Council for Arts Innovation proudly hosted their second virtual discussion of the summer. Focusing on advice for immigrant actors and producers, the virtual discussion brought together a distinguished group of panelists from across the Calgary arts community. The panel, which included representatives from the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television Artists and Radio Artists (ACTRA), the Canadian Actors’ Equity Association (CAEA) and the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers (CSIF), discussed a wide range of issues relevant to performing on stage or screen.
Tina Alford, the Alberta branch representative for ACTRA, suggested that one of the first things an actor should do is take advantage of the resources on the union’s website in order to find reputable projects and talent agents. While ACTRA represents professional performers in TV, film, radio and digital media, Alford said that the website was still useful for new actors as it could help them to avoid the risk of falling prey to possible scams.
“There are a lot of people out there that want to take advantage of people trying to get into acting,” said Alford.
“If you see something on the internet saying that they can help you to get you a role as a background performer in a big movie, most of the time it is not necessarily true. I’d probably say fifty to sixty-five percent of the time the shows that they are promoting aren’t actually shooting [in Alberta].So, it’s really important to use our website, just as a resource, to see if it is a legit project.”
Leah Nicholson, a producer, director and writer with Downtime Productions, a Calgary based video production house, shared the same sentiments.
“When new people are coming to Calgary to get work as actors, either in film or theatre, I think that it is important to know that equity exists. Know that ACTRA exists and use the resources that they provide to make sure that you are working with people who are reputable, people who will respect you as an actor, as a performer and as a person.”
Alford further recommended that all actors need to be aware of the importance of finding a reputable talent agent as they move forward with their professional careers.
“When it comes to finding a talent agent, again, there are some serious scammers out there. The [talent agents] listed on [the ACTRA] website have signed an ethical code of conduct which has been put together by our local branch, along with the national guidelines set through the Talent Agent Association of Canada.”
“I can’t stress enough, talent agents work for the talent, not the other way around. You’re essentially shopping for a talent agent and you need to make sure that you like that person, they’re on our website, and that they’re following the ethical rules,” said Alford.
While new actors are advised to take advantage of the resources offered by these organizations, several of the panelists said that one of the best strategies for newcomers to use is to simply reach out to the local arts community.
“Take the chance at reaching out to people. I think that there’s a really good chance that you’re going to find somebody that you connect with and that you can work with and that you’ll want to work with. Don’t be afraid,” said Nicholson.
“Don’t be afraid to send that e-mail. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”
An emerging producer in Calgary, Eric Gonzalez said that having the confidence to reach out to local filmmakers directly lead to connections he continues to use to this day.
“I came here [in 2014] without knowing anyone or really understanding the landscape when it came to film production,” said Gonzalez.
“I found that the power of being open to meeting new people and connecting with groups [such as CSIF] and understanding and being confident to chat with each other [was important]. To be comfortable to go out and seek a proposal, or be able to know if you’re getting a good rate for your work, or if something is a little fishy and you want to tap into your network [for advice]; [I found] having that network continues to be something [incredibly useful today].
If newcomers can properly tap into these networks, the panelists were confident that there would be opportunities on stage and screen as the acting industry increasingly embraces and showcases the growing diversity that exists across Canada.
According to Valerie Planche, the CAEA representative for Alberta South, an association that represents performers in theatre, opera and dance across English speaking Canada, while the acting industry has been too slow to embrace immigrant actors and producers, things are now beginning to change.
“In our industry, in both film and theatre, we were slow to invite a multi-marginalized community, to bring their voices to bear. What I’m excited about right now, is that we’re really [providing] all of the supports and really making [people] understand that the time is now to tell these stories,” said Planche.
“It’s really an inter sectional world we’re looking towards, where all of our stories are important and valid and excellence comes from every one of those places. I think it’s really important, and so does CAEA, that excellence in every marginalized community is valued, lifted up and supported.”
As a casting director, Rhonda Fisekci has also witnessed this same shift across the acting industry as production companies, networks and studios have begun to place a greater focus on diversity in casting.
“It’s been like that for a number of years, but more so in the last couple of years where they are really trying to be more inclusive in their casting choices. So more and more, we’re seeing that more opportunities exist for diverse performers,” said Fisekci.
“But having said that, we need diverse performers that have a skill set to come and really [impress] us in the audition room. There are a lot of good places to train in Calgary, a lot of good people to train with. So, if you have absolutely zero experience, but really want to pursue a career in acting, training is everything. I know that ACTRA will list workshops and classes on their website and those are the ones that you want to pay attention to.”
According to Kizzie Sutton, the executive director for CSIF, enrolling in an acting workshop or club is an excellent training option for newcomers as they provide a safe environment where they can develop and hone their skills.
“I find that our clubs are really good for that,” said Sutton.
“It’s a soft spot for you to try things out and be learning with your peers, so it’s a much safer environment, rather then spending your money, [hiring] your actors and now you’re learning on the go. So, I want to mention that; there is value in our workshops and there is value in our clubs.”
Sutton said that the clubs at CSIF are free to attend and include actor and screenwriting clubs, while workshops are offered for a fee.
“When people come to this country and Calgary specifically, it’s hard to find the people who are your people. If you have any interest in acting or film based or digital based story telling, we are your people,” said Sutton.
Jenna Rodgers, the founding Artistic Director of Calgary’s Chromatic Theatre, echoed the sentiments of Sutton when she recommended community theatre as an alternative training ground for new actors.
“If you’re a little bit nervous about the professional theatres and you’re looking for a way to get involved that doesn’t conflict with your day job and you’re looking to do some stuff in the evenings or weekends to build up your resume, there is a really robust community theatre scene in Alberta,” said Rodgers.
“One of the best ways to find out about auditions for community theatre is through Theatre Alberta. Theatre Alberta has a classified section, which is totally free, and a ton of stuff that comes through there is audition notices, job postings in the theatre. That’s a really great [resource] to keep your eye on.”
While it might take time and perseverance for a newcomer to find success as an actor, Planche wanted to them know that they should always consider themselves as artists first and foremost.
“I have worked as a teacher, as massage therapist, as an educator. I have worked in bookstores. What we do does not take away from our art. Our art is part of who we are and its part of what articulates our world,” said Planche.
“If you’re not working in specifically what you [want] to be doing, don’t think of yourself as not being an artist. If this is your goal, then you will find a way.”
The Immigrant Council for Arts Innovation is proud to be supported by Calgary Arts Development and Canadian Heritage.
You can watch the full event here
For more information about the panellists and the organizations that participate in our virtual discussions, please visit the following links:
Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television Artists and Radio Artists (ACTRA) – www.actraalberta.com
Canadian Actors’ Equity Association (CAEA) – www.caea.com
Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers (CSIF) – www.csif.org
Chromatic Theatre – chromatictheatre.ca
Downtime Productions – www.downtimeproductions.ca
Eric Gonzalez – gonzalezvideo.com
Rhonda Fisekci – www.actraalberta.com/casting-directors
By Marc LeBoeuf
ICAI Communications Manager