Playing the Field

I love the movie Ferris Buellers Day Off. Love the character of Ferris. What I think that fictional character does so well, part of his charm, part of what makes him so great, is that he’s able to fit in with every group. “He’s very popular: the sportos and motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteoids, dweebies, dickheads. They all adore him. They think he is a righteous dude.”

It’s been my goal as a human man on this earth to try to be the same. To try to fit in with everyone. Part of that had to do with me moving around a lot as a kid. Part of it might be seen as people pleasing… Sure, I get that. But when it comes to acting, and my career, my life, I think striving to be known as a jack of all trades can be really helpful. The Canadian entertainment industry seems to label actors, saying things like, “Oh, she’s a film actress,” or “Doesn’t he only do theatre?” or “They just do cartoons.” And actors start to think that they can only do one thing. Or that they should only do one thing.

But I don’t believe there is a difference between stage acting, film acting, and voice acting. It’s all acting. It’s just the size and space that changes. The intentions and what you are trying to do remain the same.

Lately I’ve been noticing that when I go see a play, or binge watch a season of Orphan Black on DVD, there are more Ferris Bueller–type actors out there than ever before. Actors who fit into every group/genre/style/way to work. I mean, why does there have to be groups/genres/styles/ways to work? Shouldn’t it be just about working and doing good work?

I am loving seeing so many friendly faces from the theatre on TV. We’re so used to seeing Allan Hawco in Republic of Doyle, but how exciting was it to see him live in Belleville for Company Theatre? Or when Eric Peterson, starring in Corner Gas at the time, decided that he would be the abusive patriarch in Festen? Sergio Di Zio, star of Flashpoint, was seen having a great time in a very intimate space in Coal Mine Theatre’s production of The Motherfucker With The Hat on the Danforth. I was blown away by Kevin Hanchard’s acting AND by his ability to juggle The Mountaintop and Orphan Black schedules one after another!

The more I talk to actors the more I hear, “We just want to work,” which explains the need to become a jack of all trades, a Ferris Bueller–type who fits in anywhere. Actors want to make money where they can, and keep working. Stay. In. Practice.

But is there a cost?

Going back and forth between film and theatre means actors aren’t working consistently in either field, and they may often feel like they fall between the two communities. I think of Christine Horne, for example, as someone who’s at the top of both Canadian theatre AND film and television. But she told me she sometimes feels like trying to dedicate time to two different worlds means she doesn’t really feel she has established herself in either as strongly as she’d like to. She often worries about being out of the loop of the theatre world when she’s working in film, and vice versa. “When I’m in one for too long I start panicking that the other has forgotten me,” she explained to me last time we talked about this phenomenon. Like many actors, Christine finds it difficult to maintain a balance.

She’s definitely not alone in this feeling of being forgotten. When I pour myself wholly into theatre, I sometimes lose sight of how to audition for film and TV, my face telling stories that the camera is reading LOUD AND CLEAR. Early in my career, I remember being on a Theatre For Young Audiences tour for three months and having my first TV audition in a long time, and the reader and casting director telling me to bring it down… A LOT. I remember them leaning back in their chairs because my performance was coming at them. The camera should just catch glimpses of you and the story you are telling. Not be performed at like you’re trying to reach the back row of the theatre. There was also the time I was told I was being too natural and not animated enough in my cartoon audition. I was actually worried about being ‘too big’ for a cartoon. I was in a groove with film and TV auditions but didn’t make the proper adjustment to just go wild in the booth.

So, wanting to fit into each group like Ferris, to diversify and keep myself as best I could as a jack of all trades, I turned to books (The Actors Choice by Thomas W. Babson, for example), lots of film and TV classes, cartoon workshops; recording my own auditions before going out to the actual audition, take classes, take classes, take classes.

So here I was working on all these different aspects of acting but still at the back of my mind lingered the question, “To be the most successful actor, should I just focus on one thing?”

The artist in me says no. Labels be damned! By continuing to dabble in different mediums, I can keep everyone happy (“Including myself,” said the people pleaser): the kid in me, who loves doing cartoons and having fun with my voice; the artist in me, who loves telling stories from the stage to a live audience; the film fan who’s really excited about being on the big screen and telling big stories; and my agents, who like it when I book higher-paying TV (where you can find some of the best writing right now!).

I think, as do my peers, that we just want to work. We want to be out there playing. No matter what field we are playing on.

Colin Doyle is currently playing in The Death of the King, one of our recommendations for this week. For tickets or more information about the show (which closes Sunday), click here.

Written By

Colin is an award-winning actor, writer, and theatre producer. He has lived in New York and LA, but calls Toronto home. He’s a big basketball fan, a lover of comedy, and has enjoyed seeing some awesome parts of the world. Terrible with tools, loves music and movies.

One response to “Playing the Field”

  1. Spot on. Great insight. I believe a great many actors have felt the same way about fitting in with all the groups, it’s what helps us get behind a wide range of point of views, crucial to acting in my point of view. Love the article, love the sight. It’s like being privy to a private conversation in a pub after an acting class.

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