Furnace

I can tell you the exact moment I knew I would never be a professional actor.

It was the fall of ’84. A Toronto call-back audition for a national touring production about the Riel Rebellion, a 2-hander featuring the characters of Sir John A. MacDonald and Gabriel Dumont. I was reading for MacDonald. The producer had lived above my brother and sister-in-law’s in Vancouver, so I thought I was a shoo-in.

When I did it, it wasn’t what they wanted. They explained carefully, wanting to help me. I knew what they wanted. I tried again. I couldn’t get it. Even on the third time. They sat there looking at me with thinly-disguised disappointment, friends on the other side of a narrow chasm, urging, “Come on. You just have to jump this far.”

A while later, an acting school friend who knew the company asked me, “What happened? You were considered.” I replied, “I don’t know.” I knew. I had reached the ceiling of my talent. I had been fueled by well-wishers in my hometown saying that I was the next star. I wasn’t.

I kept the charade up for another 4 years — auditions, classes.

I accumulated a drawer full of rejection letters. (We were taught at Humber to hold onto them as guides.) My favourites were from this summer stock company that kept changing artistic directors. Every year, the intro and concluding paragraphs would change, too, but the body paragraphs remained exactly the same.

Yet, if I had gotten that role, I would have had to drop out of Hair and _____ and I would never have become a couple. That would have been a tragedy. As turbulent as that relationship was, we still had some good times. The irony is, despite her complaint of being a “theatre widow”, she was the one who went on to professional status and fame, not I.

There are those at cattle call auditions I identified as the Wallpaper People. They are the mediocre actors you see at every audition, year after year. They watch the same actors get the roles. They watch the young ones straight out of theatre schools get the roles. After 5 years, I realized I had become one of the Wallpaper People, and it was time to leave.

There is a furnace in every profession. A place where you must go to find what you are made of. Mine was Toronto. Actors come by the thousands from all over Canada to that city to have their dreams made or broken. I have many regrets in my life. The regret of not having tried is not one of them.

I tried. I tried my damnedest.

Margaret Avison’s poem The Swimmer’s Moment warns that those who don’t try are doomed by their fear to circulate about the rim of the whirlpool, while the daring venture within and beyond.

Which are you?

There is no “ready”. There is no perfect résumé. You just do it.