Saskatoon

Can you survive as an actor in Saskatoon? The professionals say yes, but it won't be easy

Many professional actors have committed to building a career in Saskatoon despite the unique challenges of doing so in a smaller city.

Despite unique challenges of being in a smaller city, many actors committed to career in Saskatoon

As the PotashCorp Fringe Festival puts theatre centre stage in Saskatoon, professionals say being an actor in a smaller city is tough but they wouldn't have it any other way. (Peter Mills/CBC)

Every actor that appears in front of an audience at the PotashCorp Fringe festival or Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan this year will have a story of what it took to earn their place on that stage.

Some would have been drawn to bigger cities with a greater density of people, productions and job opportunities.

But many professional actors have committed to building a career in Saskatoon, despite the unique challenges of doing so in a smaller city.

Aaron Hursh, who has been a regular performer with Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan, said there were only so many roles for an actor of a particular age or gender in Saskatoon every year. 
Aaron Hursh is a regular performer with Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan and a director at Live Five Independent Theatre. (Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan website)

He added that the number of acting jobs in the province has dropped dramatically since the provincial government's cancellation of the film tax credit in 2012.

But Hursh said he has been able to survive as an actor in Saskatchewan by having other skills and travelling to perform in other cities.  

"It sort of depends on what you're doing," he said.

"If you want to be just an actor in Saskatchewan you better be pretty good at eating Ichiban [noodles].

"But if you are also a producer, and also a director, and also a creator of theatre then you can make opportunities happen like that."

Getting established

Sum Theatre artistic producer Heather Morrison, who has been acting professionally in Saskatchewan for about 10 years, started her company with her partner Joel Bernbaum in 2014.

Before taking the leap to launch a company, Morrison juggled multiple jobs while trying to make acting her main pursuit, in between stints working in marketing and as a radio host.

Heather Morrison is a Future 40 winner, actress, playwright and mother. (Heather Morrison/Sum Theatre)

Morrison agrees that many of those who make a successful career as an actor in Saskatoon do so by being multi-talented and working hard.

"There are so many wonderful people that make a living here in theatre and are so crafty in how they can do that," she said.

"And so they really diversify themselves in terms of, you know, how many different ways they work in theatre in order to make a living."

Building community

Morrison said leaving Saskatoon was never an option for her because the city is as important to her as doing the work that she loves. 

'You're working from paycheck to paycheck and wondering when you're next gig is going to come so it's a labour of love for anyone who does it, rather than material gain.' - Joshua Beaudry, Saskatoon actor

She and Hursh agree that contributing to the growth and evolution of the city's theatre scene is one of the rewards of staying in Saskatoon.

"I take a certain amount of pride in being one of the people that helps to build this community, build the art community in that sense and collaborate with people who have managed to stick around and make a go at it," said Hursh.

Although staying in Saskatoon has its rewards, neither actor would say it's easy.

Joshua Beaudry at the Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan grounds in Saskatoon. (Victoria Dinh/CBC)

Self-production creates opportunities

Joshua Beaudry agrees. He's been working steadily as an actor for a number of years, but in the past he created opportunities to perform by producing his own shows.

Beaudry did that as a founding member of the Live Five Independent Theatre, where Hursh is also a director.

He too raised the cancellation of the film tax credit as one of the obstacles to keeping talented actors in the province.  

Beaudry said younger actors who want to stay in the city will likely have to build their career slowly, likely by working on their craft in their own shows.

Always uncertain

Although he was always working regularly, Beaudry said the financial uncertainty of not knowing when the next job would come along had been a struggle at times.  

"You're working from paycheck to paycheck and wondering when you're next gig is going to come, so it's a labour of love for anyone who does it, rather than material gain," he said.

His advice to young actors was to "audition all the time", be eager and persevere despite the stress of doing the equivalent of multiple job interviews every week.  

Beaudry said one option was to live in Saskatoon and, like Hursh, seek work elsewhere as well.

No reason to leave

Asked why they stayed, each of the actors said they just hadn't wanted to leave. A passionate and dedicated theatre community was part of the reason behind their commitment to the city.

As PotashCorp Fringe continues to put theatre centre stage in Saskatoon, creating opportunities for new and established actors, media relations spokesperson Colin Grant said there was a reason many actors were never driven to leave the city.

"Saskatoon is really, really interesting because it does sort of have this elevated level where it can do more than maybe what our population would allow," said Grant.