For Lindsey Angell, acting is about growing up.
Chatting with the Straight in the garden of the house near Main and 18th where she rents a suite, Angell says that, a few years ago, she had started to build a performing career in Calgary, safely close to her family in High River. But she decided to leave Alberta and attend Studio 58, the theatre program at Langara College, because she knew she needed to free herself from the familiar.
“There’s a scary thing that happens when people take their first steps into the business and it takes their breath away a little,” she says. “They fall back on jobs that can be there just in case. Because I like my family so much I could have seen that happening in Calgary. But I wanted to trust that I wasn’t going to second-guess myself.”
Angell’s risk-taking has paid off. The 25-year-old graduated from Studio 58 in December, and this fall she will appear in the premiere of Aaron Bushkowsky’s The Project. That comedy, which runs November 5 to 15 at Performance Works in a production from Solo Collective, looks at a group of Vancouver artists who are making a movie about starvation in Africa.
Asked how a kid from High River turns into a rising star, Angell replies: “Being in a small town, you make your own adventure.” She remembers that she and her sister Naomi, who is three years younger, liked to fantasize about being bar singers. “One of us would pretend to play the piano,” she recalls, “and the other would lip synch—usually to Bryan Adams.”
Angell says that her time at Studio 58 has allowed her to explore difficult emotions in more grown-up terms. And her burgeoning career has provided unexpected solace.
In her last term at Studio 58, Angell was playing the title role in The Ash Girl. Her parents had come out from High River to watch her perform. When Angell came off-stage that night, she was told that Naomi, who had been suffering from an apparent migraine, had gone into a coma. A virus in her brain had resulted in encephalitis. When Naomi regained consciousness, it became clear that the swelling had damaged an area of her brain that affects memory. When Angell went to visit, Naomi didn’t recognize her.
Angell has been spending the summer at Chemainus Theatre Festival, doing a two-person version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. “Being in Chemainus has given me a chance to ease back into the reality of still being far away from my family,” she says. And she’s taking comfort from her work: “I’m living in a world right now where I get to play an eight-year-old girl and an evil queen. It’s just what I used to do with my sister.”
> Colin Thomas
Cameron Mackenzie pours tea from an elegant porcelain pot that belonged to his partner’s grandmother. We’re sitting in his cozy South Main living room, talking about gender. Mackenzie says he identifies straightforwardly as male, then interrupts himself: “Even as I say that, my drag queen in the back of my mind is like, ”˜Hello, what about me?’ ”
Isolde N. Barron, Mackenzie’s drag character, keeps the director-dramaturge-designer-producer’s creative juices flowing between theatre projects. “Doing drag for me just keeps my muscles working,” he says. “Right now, I’ve got shaved legs because I just did a show, and I love being a girl when I’m dressed up. So even though I identify as male, I still have a lot of feminine traits.”
The line between genders is even blurrier for the title character in Mackenzie’s upcoming directing project Nelly Boy, which will be presented in October as a coproduction of Screaming Weenie and Mackenzie’s new company, Zee Zee Theatre. The play, written by Mackenzie’s partner, Dave Deveau, focuses on a character who, Mackenzie says, “doesn’t connect to either gender. Nelly is biologically a boy, but refuses to say that he’s a boy, refuses to say that she’s a girl, refuses to say that she’s a girl trapped in a boy’s body.
“Just working on this show has really opened my own eyes to the fact that there is really no space for anybody that’s in the middle, and who is comfortable being in the middle,” he continues. “We just do not have any room for anyone who doesn’t fit into male or female.”
Nelly’s story is a perfect fit for Zee Zee Theatre, though, whose mission, according to the company website, is to “appreciate the marginalized”. Zee Zee launched auspiciously this past winter with an acclaimed production of Bryden MacDonald’s Whale Riding Weather. Mackenzie, who grew up in South Africa and did his theatre training at University of the Fraser Valley and Studio 58, named the company after his late godmother, who was born into a wealthy family but was marginalized by poverty later in her life. “She did the smallest little things,” he says, “but they spoke volumes about who she was and what she believed in. And that’s the kind of theatre that I want to make. What I love is those small stories where you see that small interaction that reveals so much about humanity.”
Asked what he hopes audiences will take from Nelly Boy, Mackenzie says, “I want them to think about how they interact with people on a day-to-day basis, and the decisions they make about them because of their perceived gender. We make a lot of assumptions about people, and I don’t think we should.”
> Kathleen Oliver