Top actors Charlie Gallant and Celine Stubel stumbled into craft

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      Charlie Gallant

      Charlie Gallant took a lot of ribbing when he quit his high-school basketball team to play Nathan Detroit in the drama department’s production of Guys and Dolls. Sitting in his apartment near Broadway and Main, the slim 25-year-old laughs as he recalls, “My basketball coach made fun of me very badly throughout my entire Grade 12.”

      That coach may have heard by now that, at this summer’s Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards, Gallant won the prize for most promising newcomer, an honour based partly on his work as the hustler in the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Daniel MacIvor’s His Greatness. And, as part of the cast of Green Thumb Theatre’s Steel Kiss by Robin Fulford, he shared a significant achievement award for ensemble performance.

      Gallant is clearly on a roll. He is playing Demetrius in Titus Andronicus and a spirit in The Tempest at the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival. This fall he will shave his dark locks to become a skinhead in the locally made feature film Brother, directed by James Ricker. And he has been cast in Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing, which will run at Victoria’s Belfry Theatre (January 15 to February 15) and on the Arts Club’s Granville Island Stage (March 11 to April 4).

      The transition from athlete to artist hasn’t been easy, though. “I definitely was a jock,” Gallant says. “I was captain of the soccer and volleyball teams in high school.” The Moncton native’s interest in sports prompted him to study kinesiology at the University of New Brunswick. When that didn’t feel right, he tried biology and then English at Mount Allison University. Then he took an acting class and met a girl who was seriously into the craft. They both auditioned for Studio 58, and got in, even though they broke up shortly after.

      That’s when the real work started. “I was failing in A term,” he says, referring to his first semester. “Because it [Studio 58] was the first school I auditioned for, I was on this crazy fast turnaround. I wasn’t a 100-percent committed, and I think the teachers saw that. I was working really hard, but I was doing it the wrong way. My head felt like it was in a biology textbook—like there were all of these rules that I had to learn—and I wasn’t living it.”

      With just two weeks left in the term, Gallant decided to commit to the artistic path he’d only recently discovered. He remembers: “I decided, ”˜No, this is what I really want to do.’ And I turned that year around.”

      After that, he says, “I went through breakthrough after breakthrough. I had an incredible first couple of years at the Studio, relearning all of this stuff that I had dismissed as stupid. Like singing was something that I had given up, and that was something that Studio brought back. I find huge joy in that now.” The same was true of dancing.

      “Permission is a big word,” Gallant explains. The jock gave himself permission to be expressive and intuitive.

      Asked why acting is worthwhile, he answers simply: “I’m happy. For the last couple of years, I’ve been a completely changed person. I get to do what I want. I get to find parts of myself that I never knew I had.”

      Busy theatre artist Celine Stubel loved travelling the Fringe circuit because it’s the antithesis of divadom. Alex Waterhouse-Hayward photo.

      Celine Stubel

      Celine Stubel comes across as a star, which is to say that beyond being pretty, she’s charismatic. As we speak, her blond hair twines past her shoulders and her eyes look almost turquoise. But it’s the openness of her face and the surprise in her laugh that draw you in.

      At 28, Stubel is enjoying significant recognition for her talent, which includes an instinct for wicked humour. At this summer’s Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards, she scooped the prize for outstanding lead actress in the small-theatre stream for her performance as the cancer-fearing, marriage-obsessed Natasha in the Gateway Theatre & Belfry Theatre co-production of My Chernobyl. She also dazzled Vancouver audiences in Doll’s House 2000 at Hive2 and in Legoland, which won the Georgia Straight’s Critics’ Choice Award at the 2006 Vancouver Fringe Festival. This season, Morris Panych will direct her when she plays the flighty Marie-Louse in W. Somerset Maugham’s The Constant Wife, on the Arts Club Theatre Company’s Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage from January 29 to February 22.

      But Stubel defies expectations when it comes to ambition. Asked why she’s an actor, she replies: “I don’t know why I do what I do. I’ve never even had a real strong desire to do it.” To a large extent, she says, she simply followed her older siblings Camille and Trina, who are also professional performers. “My sisters did the [theatre] program at UVic,” she explains before adding with a laugh, “and when it came time to do something after Grade 12, I was like, ”˜There’s nothing else I want to do!’”

      Stubel was uncomfortable with the competition at university and was glad to leave it behind when she graduated. “When I started working in a professional environment,” she says, “I loved it so much more because there weren’t all of those baby egos fighting to be at the top like at school, and you know, trying to be competitive and loud and heard.”

      She particularly enjoyed travelling the Fringe circuit with Legoland, because that experience was the antithesis of divadom. “Doing the Fringe totally makes you get over yourself as an actor,” she says, “because there’s none of this preparing yourself in the dressing room, sitting down at a mirror. No, you’re putting up your set in 15 minutes and taking it all down after, and you’re washing your own costume. I love that because it takes the pressure off the acting. All of it is just a job. It’s not all about you.”

      Asked what she has to offer as an actor, she’s baffled at first, then replies, “I guess maybe vulnerability is part of the package.” She goes on, “To me, it feels like you’re stirring the bottom of the bucket every time you do a show because it brings up every possible insecurity that you have.” And what does she get out of it? “It feels like a kind of cleansing, almost,” she answers, before adding, “In my personality, I’m not loud and maybe there are times when I would like to be, so there is a real freedom.”