Breaking a Leg Up: The Women in Film & TV Vancouver’s Actor Career Mentorship Program

Oct 29, 2014- Permalink

Actors Carly Pope and Jaclyn A. Smith (aka Jax) recently completed their participation in the Women in Film & TV Vancouver’s Actor Career Mentorship Program. I had a chance to speak with them and the program’s creator and director, Krista Magnusson, about the benefits of such a program.

Krista Magnusson

Krista Magnusson

Getting to the root of the matter, I asked Krista (Bloody Knuckles, Limitless, Beauty Mark) why she felt that such a program was necessary. The actors involved have agents and/or managers so what secret sauce can a more experienced actor bring to the table?

“At the beginning of your career or when you’re first exploring acting, your teachers and coaches can be amazing mentors and your agent can be a great source of advice,” said Krista. “At a certain point though, your agent really should be managing your career and not guiding or driving it, since you should be doing that yourself.” She herself had benefited from “wonderful and inspiring” teachers but those teachers and coaches don’t necessarily have the time to provide extended consultations in a one-on-one, personally-tailored setting. Since there aren’t many female acting teachers and coaches in Vancouver, she thought it would be very beneficial for female actors to be able to get career advice from someone further up the career ladder.

Krista had specific parameters in mind for the selection of mentors and mentees. Since the program was about climbing past plateaus and kick-starting a career, her mentees were required to have at least three years of acting experience so that most already had a clear idea of the type of career that they wanted to build. Mentee applicants had to outline three specific goals they wanted to accomplish with their mentor during the six month program. Krista said that the application also guided the applicants through areas the jury would be looking at, like industry involvement, initiative, ability to communicate well, and realistic expectations of a mentor.

On the mentor side of things, Krista and the jury were looking for professional actresses who already had strong careers and experience, women who had already successfully negotiated the issues the mentees were facing. Krista added, “Thankfully there are a lot of amazing female actors in Vancouver who were happy to offer their time!”

Carly Pope

Carly Pope

One of those amazing female actors was Carly Pope (Young People F*cking, Elysium, This Last Lonely Place) who saw the benefits of such a program and graciously agreed to be a mentor, saying that she agrees with a sage friend who once said that “the moment you start teaching, is the moment your studenthood begins.” I asked her if she had learned anything about herself during the mentor/mentee relationship with Jax and she said, “I truly believe it’s important to remain open to guidance and the possibility that opportunities to learn and grow can present themselves around any corner – irrespective of how it’s initially framed.” She was also thoroughly impressed with Jax, adding that “her eagerness, willingness, and ceaselessness to propel and remain in action is an incredibly refreshing inspiration.”

I mentioned that Krista started the program because she felt that there was a great need for it and Carly agreed. I asked if there was a moment when she wished she could have asked someone for guidance and couldn’t and she said, “Definitely. There still ARE those moments, always. In fact, I think I mentioned to Krista that should the mentorship program through WIFTV continue (which it no doubt will) I oughta apply as a mentee instead…I have ample amounts to learn still too!”

Asked who her biggest mentor was, Carly responded, “I’m not certain I’ve necessarily had a specific mentor as much as I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with many individuals who have served as sounding boards and examples of ‘success.’ By ‘success’, I don’t mean the trivial or surface identifiers, but rather people who have been courageous, brave, unconventional, tenacious, brazen, unrelenting, POSITIVE, kind, guiding etc. Babz Chula was one. Larry Kent, another. And there, surely, are many more.” I like that Carly had said “surely” as it points to the innate mentorship we receive by being open to learning. That unnamed person who inspires you with a random act of kindness can be just as much a mentor as the person who shows you the right way to approach a specific problem.

Since Carly had worked both sides of the border, I asked if there was a difference in advice for the Canadian and U.S. markets? She replied, “I really can’t see any borders with this mentorship,” joking that “if I HAD to choose something Canadian vs. American then I suppose it would have to do with accent reduction work.” She felt that the issues she and Jax were tackling were focused on personal development and specific areas of growth and that they should apply anywhere in the world. Carly added that “I certainly have no jurisdiction on the business side of the coin, but in terms of growing our craft, what I’m aiming to shape is a toolset that can take place in a yurt, up a tree, atop the alps, or at sea.”

Jaclyn A. Smith

Jaclyn A. Smith

I asked Jax (The Invisible Mouth, Glow, Eureka) how being Carly’s mentee had helped her. She said it had been rewarding on many levels including an increased confidence in both the audition room and on set. Jax said Carly “helped me immensely with trusting myself as an artist and she has made me feel 100% supported in everything that I’m doing right now. It’s helped me to stretch further outside of my comfort zone knowing she’s there to guide and advise me.”

Asked for a nugget of info she’s gleaned from the process, Jax said “I’ve learnt to remember I am part of a team and not to hesitate to involve myself more in that team (politely requesting more time with props if needed or a discussion with the director about character, etc.)” She also realized that the process is ongoing and “it’s never ‘done’ – sometimes we get caught up, especially with auditions, in making a polished final product to ‘present’ but really there is no end to rehearsal, there is no end to digging deeper and finding out more about the life you’re taking on.”

Why did Jax want to become a mentee in the first place. “I had never heard of anything like it so I was really curious what the experience would be like,” she said. “I have mentors in other areas of the industry who have been instrumental to my growth as an artist, so I knew the power of apprenticeship. I thought that the application questions were so helpful themselves that even if I didn’t get it, it was an exercise well worth doing. The whole mentorship application process and program has helped me to clarify my goals as an actor and artist moving forward and that was a big part of what appealed to me in the beginning.” Would she want to move to the other side of the table one day and be a mentor herself? “Absolutely, 100% yes. I would love to participate as a mentor one day. I would consider that a great accomplishment.”

Rather than asking Jax the border question I had asked Carly, I took her position as an expatriate Torontonian and current Vancouverite and asked if there was a difference in the two acting scenes despite being in the same country?

“There’s an overall different energy and vibe between the cities themselves,” reflected Jax, “but as far as acting is concerned, in my opinion the basics of working on the craft, auditioning and navigating the business are all generally the same no matter where you live. It is an ever changing landscape between Toronto, Vancouver, LA and New York.”

Finally I asked Jax, a dedicated environmentalist (check out Flicking the Lights Off) if she mistakenly thought she was going to be a manatee instead of a mentee. “Were you surprised the meetings didn’t take place at the Vancouver Aquarium?” I asked.

“Sigh, yes. I showed up at the Aquarium in my wet suit and was deeply disappointed. Luckily my mentor was able to talk me through it and we got back on track. I will however be returning to the Aquarium for an acting exercise soon. I’m working on my inner penguin.”

Carly and Jax recently completed the program but another round will be starting in 2015 with the application process starting in the fall of 2014. Since the program is only offered to members of WIFTV, it will be announced via the WIFTV members e-newsletter first and later on social media. For more information on WIFTV, visit http://www.womeninfilm.ca/.

Photo credits: Krista Magnusson/Triumph St. Photography, Carly Pope/Rob Daly, Jax/Gordan Dumka