• By: OLM Staff

Acting: The Craft of Deceit to Get to the Truth

Acting and poetry saved my sanity as a teen. At 13, I auditioned for the role of  Juliet – Shakespeare’s daughter. I was in grade nine, and I was up against grade 13 gals. I’d never taken an acting lesson, but I got the part. Getting up on that stage was an epiphany; I found my voice. I was a lonely kid who turned to the piano for solace. I dwelled in a world of make-believe where nature was my trusty friend. I thought that music, animals and stones were gentler than people. People were complicated; an emotional decipherer – I wasn’t. This mystery about human nature became most important  when I took up acting professionally in my late teens.

High school gave me confidence to move beyond and so I found myself playing the lead in Sinbad and The Mermaid. It was my first pro gig, and I was a teen. Things picked up when I moved to Toronto to pursue acting seriously, studying at York University and then Manchester University, followed by a stint at Granada Studios. Returning to Canada, I auditioned at Stratford and was rejected. I eventually toured Canada doubling as a mime and story teller for Global Village Players.

With each role, I began to see there were two parts to acting. First, you had to make the character your best friend and take her into your heart. Second, you had to be grateful that this character allowed you to be ‘her’. Roles demand you uncover aspects in your own being that are rarely activated. Can you embrace the life context of this character? Often, the process of ‘becoming the other’, as I call it would take weeks.

Acting became a way for me to dig deep into who I was. After playing a mad woman in an insane asylum who thought she was Amelia Earhart, I had burn out. For the role, I studied Alzheimer’s patients. Maybe I found myself in these souls locked in loneliness – living in a world far removed from the daily rat race. I ventured into madness.

Acting is the art of deceit. I remember playing Gerd, in Ibsen’s Brand. One night, a young woman from the audience came to talk to me back stage. She told me she couldn’t believe I wasn’t really Gerd. You seemed to be that wild girl from the mountains. In England, I had the honour of playing Bianca in Middleton’s Jacobean tragedy, Women Beware Women. Evidently, my phoney English accent was ’authentic’ enough to fool a few: a sweet lady visiting me backstage gushed over my Oxonian accent and ‘perfect’ diction. It was time to uncover the deceit. I blurted out in my Ottawa Valley accent. “Thanks a lot; I’m Canadian.”  She looked stunned.

While on tour, performing The Trojan Women in Greek amphitheatres, I played Andromache and Athena. Playing a princess and a Greek goddess was a double dose of acting deceit!

The desire to stop acting happened in an instant. I was waiting to go on stage to play Helena in A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. In a flash, I realized I had outgrown the desire to deceive. I no longer needed to be another person to accept myself. Ironically, the deceit of acting had led me to myself. I no longer became excited about entering the psyche of others.

Instead, I wanted to share this wonderful craft with youngsters and allow them to express themselves in ways that would be accepted and embraced. I wanted to give them opportunities for self-discovery too. I became a creative dramatist and acting teacher. I have found acting can embolden the shy and calm the wild.

The truth is, acting demands the suspension of disbelief by everyone except you. Those characters held up a mirror to me. I see and accept who I am now – not who I would like to pretend to be.