Arts

After burning out as a child actor, theatre turned Bryce Hodgson's life around. Now he's giving back

​Hodgson and his theatre company Blood Pact Theatre have opened Grand Canyon in Toronto to cultivate the same community that's been so important to him.

Grand Canyon Theatre aims to cultivate the same community that's been so important to Hodgson

Bryce Hodgson. (Photo by Graham Isador)

After burning out as a child actor, Bryce Hodgson found himself hanging with a rough crowd and developing a drug habit. He believes it was independent art spaces that turned his life around by offering him direction and community. Now, after a successful run on the CW's iZombie, Hodgson and his theatre company Blood Pact have opened Grand Canyon Theatre. The affordable space caters to emerging artists, and he hopes the venue can offer young people the same type of environment that he valued in his youth.

Hodgson's earliest role as a child was Jesus of The Bible fame, performed in the basement of a United Church in Vancouver's West Side. Onstage, he was expressive and lively, his childhood exuberance winning over the weekly practitioners who encouraged the young thespian's energy. While many of his contemporaries lost focus during the long lull between Christmas and Easter pageants, Hodgson pushed forward with his craft: he perfected his physicality by sprinting around the sanctuary and proved his vocal chops by singing hymns really, really loud.

"The United church has always been good at supporting wild children. They wanted my energy to go to something helpful," Hodgson tells CBC Arts. "My parents were always trying to find places for me to put my ADD energy. My mum always pushed skateboarding and acting. Ever since I can remember she has been hustling selling clothes, but she still found time to drive me to auditions and run lines."

Eventually the showboating paid off. Hodgson found himself represented by an agent — another member of the church who worked in entertainment — at the tender age of seven. Over the course of the next five years the young actor was all over the screen: walk-on parts with the popular sci-fi show Stargate, a short-lived NBC sitcom called Sk8, and most notably a small role as a mutant in X-Men United. While Hodgson had obvious talent in his craft, over time the young performer grew tired with the industry.

"Being a child actor can be isolating. It's you and maybe two other kids, day in and day out. There are people whose job it is to plan out your every movement. My mum always made sure I knew how not normal this was. She is very big on gratitude. She always made sure I knew it was a job. Which it was...and at 12 years old I didn't want to be at work."

Bryce Hodgson. (Photo by Graham Isador)

After stepping back from the world of commercial film and television, Hodgson found himself getting into trouble. While embracing the anarchic nature of Vancouver's punk rock scene, he began hanging with a rougher crown and seriously experimenting with drugs. He rarely went to school. Recognizing a need for structure in his life, but not wanting to force himself back toward big-budget productions, Hodgson's parents made a suggestion. They asked if he wanted to try black-box theatre and pointed him toward a small Vancouver acting academy.

"I ended up at a place called Lyric in Gastown. I studied with a woman named Kate Twa, who's still a close friend and mentor to this day. At the time I think Kate was kinda disheartened by her adult students. Teaching teenagers brought her something different."

​Hodgson — a young punk rocker with a burgeoning drug habit — found an unlikely home at the Lyric. The school doubled as a social scene where serious actors were able to hang out and hone their crafts on heavy-hitting writers like Kenneth Lonergan and Judith Thompson.

"Our little crew of teenage actors were different from the other kids I was working with on film sets. They were a perfect balance of discipline and chaos — pushing each other completely to the edge while always supporting one another. I saw that theatre could be full of danger...it blew my mind to see a kind of atomic bomb energy happening in real time in front of me. I loved that I could be a part of it."

Theatre gave the actor's wanton energy a direction. The Lyric served as a community environment where Hodgson could pursue his craft in a meaningful way, and ultimately contributed to him finding sobriety. The serious pursuit of theatre, in combination with the guidance of his mentor Twa and the passion of his colleagues, steered him away from a potentially life-ruining path. While the school ultimately closed down — Twa now runs the Tempest Theatre in Penticton, B.C. — it was pivotal to Hodgson's upbringing.

Bryce Hodgson. (Photo by Graham Isador)

In his mid-20s Hodgson hit a big break and was cast in a featured role on the CW show iZombie as the handsome thug Don E. With the show drawing to a close, the actor has turned his attention back to the independent stage, putting on plays with his company Blood Pact and relocating to Toronto to open the Grand Canyon performance space, located in the city's Junction Neighbourhood. Grand Canyon has been home to a variety of different events including theatre, music, visual art and dance.

This October the venue will play host to Hodgson's latest script Dock Mother God Society, a story of resilience, family and grief set in Kelowna, B.C. amidst the worst wildfire season in Canadian history. "I wanted to write a widow character," he says. "But the thing I really ended up exploring is about property owners in British Columbia — people sharing property lines and their obsession with 'mine.' It's always kinda tripped me out: the concept of owning dirt, what it does to people. While this isn't what the play is about, it's easy to see parallels between that and the erosion of independent art spaces in major cities."

For Hodgson, Grand Canyon is an opportunity to make the same kind of space that was so valuable in his youth. Being able to fully commit to the love of serious theatre has been a blessing, but being able to give back to an indie theatre community is something truly special.

"It's like the Lyric or the skate shops I knew growing up. When you're not skating, you crave being around skating...so you go to the shop and talk skating and watch skate movies and trade zines and draw and take pictures. You share art and laugh. I want Grand Canyon to be like that."

Dock Mother God Society. To October 26. Grand Canyon, Toronto. grandcanyontheatre.ca

About the Author

Graham Isador is a writer and theatre creator based out of Toronto. He trained as a part of the playwright unit at Soulpepper Theatre. Isador's work has appeared at VICE, The Risk Podcast, and the punk rock satire site The Hard Times, among other places.