Fall arts preview: Actor Emma Slipp leaves pain far behind
Sitting in her funky apartment on Main Street, her hair tousled, Emma Slipp looks every inch the young artist. She says her lot in life was fated. Referring to her career as an actor, the four-time Jessie nominee begins: “It was inevitable. There was never anything else. Ever. Although I wish there was sometimes!
“My parents met doing a play in university,” she explains. “My mom was directing and my dad had never been in a show, but he had a crush on Mom, so he auditioned and he got in.”
Slipp, who grew up in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, says that although her parents soon gave up making theatre for a living, they still travel in a creative circle, “so it was just always there and I loved it—going to shows, going backstage. The first show I did without my parents, I was eight. It was The King and I.”
School, on the other hand, was not so comfortable. “I wasn’t a very good student academically,” Slipp acknowledges. “I have some pretty severe learning disabilities. It’s a sequencing thing and it affects anything that goes in order—like reading and writing and math. So I’ll read a line 20 times and not be able to process it. I have to read it out loud. Or, when I’m writing, I’ll write the same word over and over again, not realizing that I’m doing it.
“It’s frustrating, but I think it actually helps me with what I do now. Because it’s so hard, when I sit down to memorize my lines, I get it done. And, because it’s so difficult, it sticks with me in a different way. Once they’re in, they’re in.”
Acting presents other challenges as well. Slipp is an immersive performer, and when she gives herself over to anxiety-ridden characters, she herself sometimes suffers panic attacks.
The first time it happened, she was playing a woman who fed her own flesh to her mother in a Studio 58–Rumble Productions coproduction of San Diego. “My body was just confused,” Slipp remembers. “I was fine emotionally, but my body was feeling all of that pain, and when I came out of the work, my body needed time to catch up.”
The instructors at Studio 58, where Slipp was a student, were supportive, and voice coach Dale Genge offered particularly helpful breathing exercises. Slipp has had a couple of attacks since, but she takes them in stride. Her approach is simple: “I acknowledge what’s going on and I’m kind to myself.”
This season, Vancouver audiences will benefit from Slipp’s dedication when she appears in Aaron Bushkowsky’s new play, Farewell, My Lovely, which will run next spring at the Arts Club’s Granville Island Stage. It’s the dedication of somebody who, you might say, was born to the work.