Hello. It’s been a while. I should probably update you and write about how completely my life has changed in a very short amount of time. I’ll keep this as short as I can, but who are we kidding. I’m wordy.
Back in May, I happened across an Instagram post on the CFC’s (Canadian Film Centre) account, announcing they would soon be closing submissions for their 2022 Actors Conservatory. I had never heard of this conservatory and barely knew anything about the Canadian Film Centre, but it piqued my interest, so I did a bit more research. Here’s what I found on their website:
“The CBC Actors Conservatory is a full-time, 6-month immersive onscreen acting program designed to increase an actor’s confidence working in film and television; expand their onscreen portfolio; and establish strong creative and industry partnerships.”From: https://cfccreates.com/programs/actors-conservatory/
Ha, I wish. As you know if you’ve been here long, I’d been wanting to leave Calgary for longer than I’ve had this blog (PrecariousWriter celebrated 8 years this week!) and acting was the main reason why. Calgary’s film industry is small, making it a great place to start out, build a resume with non-union work, and meet people. Beyond that, there’s not enough work for acting to be anything more than an expensive hobby. Once you become union in Calgary, it’s tough. There’s only a handful of union projects happening at any one time, and they often cast larger roles out of Vancouver, Toronto, or Los Angeles. Of those, many are period pieces or westerns or both, and often need actors who are either white-passing or indigenous. There are exceptions, and things are definitely improving, but this is what I believed in May 2022 based on the last 20 years of Alberta’s film industry.
I joined the union in January 2021 and booked one job that year—a non-speaking role that I was very fortunate to have been offered without an audition. (The film is called Dark Nature, if you’re interested.) It was a lot of fun. I used one of my vacation days, was on set for no more than 6 hours, and I made about $500. I also got paid residuals from a commercial I did in 2020, so after giving my agent her cut and taxes, I made about $740 from acting work in 2021. Not bad. But then I take into account the $5000 I spent on acting in 2021. I’d gotten a decent acting gig at the end of 2020 which I put back into my practice: classes and coaching sessions took the bulk of it, but there were also membership dues and website fees, etc.
I’d been considering going to Vancouver, but didn’t want to take the leap without at least having a Vancouver acting agent. I’d sent a couple feelers out in autumn 2021 and one got back to me, saying they were interested and please keep in touch when I booked more work. They were a good agent from a good agency—my dream agency, actually—so this was exciting. But it’s hard to book more work without getting more auditions, and it’s hard to get auditions in Calgary. Catch-22.
But life was good, so I couldn’t complain. In May I was making enough at my full-time job to afford living expenses for me and Skipper. I’d spent what was going to be my tuition for Spring 2022 acting classes on Skipper’s adoption, a twice-broken down car, unexpected vet bills (thank god for pet insurance) and the monthly fees for the Author Development Program I hadn’t budgeted for because I didn’t think I’d get. I also had to save up for the car insurance payment I knew was coming for me in September. By May, I’d managed to pay for a cheap musical theatre course and then a two-week summer acting intensive. I was keeping my head above water, but there was no way I could afford an acting conservatory, especially a full-time conservatory which would take time from my job or require me to quit working altogether.
But as it turns out, the $8000 tuition was covered by scholarship. It was free, and that meant it was possible. In September 2021 I posted this blog post where I said acting and leaving were “the two things I’ve wanted most for such a long time.” Here was an opportunity to leave Calgary and study acting full-time for six months, right in front of my eyes. The deadline for submissions was in three days. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t try.
So I submitted. I wrote the essay portion in one go, from the heart, and didn’t check for typos because I was afraid that if I looked back I’d overthink it. I knew I wouldn’t have time to choose a scene, memorize it, and find someone to read with me before the deadline, so I sent a tape from acting class. It was a scene that meant a lot to me and a take that my teacher hadn’t coached me on, so the CFC would have an honest idea of where I was at. The quality wasn’t as clean and clear as I would’ve liked, and I hadn’t done my hair or makeup, but I was proud of my work in it.
I don’t think I told anyone about it after I sent off my application. Because I’d never heard of the conservatory before, I doubted anyone would know what I was talking about anyway. The CFC extended the deadline, so I figured they wouldn’t be looking at auditions for a while and didn’t think much about it again until two or three weeks later, when I got an email inviting me for an interview and an audition over Zoom. That’s when the possibility of actually being accepted finally landed, and I told a handful of people; those who’d notice if I left.
I remember talking non-stop in my interview, driven by a mixture of nerves and excitement but freed by the prevailing belief that this was a long shot so I’d might as well just have fun. The next day, I did my audition—a two person scene for which I was given the choice of which character I wanted to do. (It took three days for me to decide which of these two characters I’d do, so you can imagine the chaos if I’d tried to do something new for my submission tape.) As I set up my laptop for the audition, I felt the character in my bones. I didn’t know how she’d show herself, but I knew she was there and that was all I needed. There was a fifteen-minute rehearsal with the reader, an alumni of the program, who asked me a bit about my process and read the scene with me a couple of times. Then we joined the selection committee and I did the scene for them three times. Then it was over.
I was happy with how I did. I even thought they’d be lucky to have me. This didn’t last. While I waited to hear back, I did more research about this conservatory. Turns out, it’s kind of a big deal. They offered a variety of acting classes, workshops for acting stuff I didn’t know existed, opportunities to meet big-time Toronto film industry folk, and they only accepted eight actors per year. I really wanted this, but suddenly I didn’t feel good enough and started second-guessing myself. They were taking applications from across the country, after all. Actors would be applying with more years of experience, and better credits on their resumes from higher-calibre productions. I began replaying everything I’d said in the interview and going over everything I did in the audition. My worries churned and grew for weeks, sending me spiralling a bit, until I eventually wrote an email at 2am, thanking them for the opportunity, explaining a bunch of things I’d said, and apologizing for my verbosity. But I was aware of my tendency to overthink things. I did not send it.
A couple days later, after a long work day and a rough rehearsal, I got my acceptance email.