The resilience of the Vancouver acting community was on display when its union included a virtual red carpet and amusing skits as part of its annual awards show.
It's normally a glitzy affair at Vancouver Playhouse, but that was kiboshed by the pandemic.
Instead, the ninth annual UBCP/ACTRA Awards were presented online for free on November 21 (see the video below), preceded by interviews with many of the nominees.
Carmen Moore won Best Lead Performance, Female for playing Susan, the mother of a missing Mohawk girl in the late 1990s in Rustic Oracle.
During the virtual red carpet, Moore quipped to host Sabrina Furminger that she showered for the event and put on a nice top.
But she delivered a very serious message in her videotaped acceptance speech, emphasizing that Rustic Oracle is "first and foremost for the families of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls".
“I would like to thank UBCP/ACTRA for spotlighting our very important film," Moore said.
"If you’re not aware of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls epidemic that is ongoing in Canada and the United States, please do some research on that," she added. "And if you’re up for it, read the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry.”
The mammoth final report, which was issued last year, concluded that Canada perpetrated "deliberate race, identity, and gender-based genocide".
Cassini praises fellow nominees
Veteran actor John Cassini, the incoming vice president of UBCP/ACTRA, won Best Lead Performance, Male for his role in another serious film, Daughter.
Cassini played Jim, a man struggling in the aftermath of his daughter's death. He also produced the film, which was written and directed by Anthony Shim.
“Shoutout to all the other nominees in my category, wonderful actors all of them, and I guess someone gotta win every year—and this year's my year and I’m thrilled," Cassini said in his virtual acceptance speech, which he jokingly referred to as a "hostage video".
"It means a lot to have your peers watch your work and give you a thumbs up," he continued. “It was a real passion project, right from the beginning. So thank you, I miss that we can’t be all together at the Vancouver Playhouse tonight. I wish we could be dancing and having a couple of cocktails.”
Cassini, a costar on the FOX show neXt, also produced Daughter.
Daughter featured his wife, Jenn MacLean-Angus, who won the UBCP/ACTRA award for Best Supporting Performance, Female.
“There was so much heart, both in front of and behind the camera, from everyone," MacLean-Angus said in her videotaped acceptance speech. "It was the kind of experience and the kind of role that was just so satisfying—and really fulfilled for me why I love acting.”
The Best Supporting Performance, Male went to Brendan Fletcher for his role in Night Hunter. Fletcher played Simon, a man with a mental disability who was arrested for several kidnappings. The film starred Henry Cavill and Ben Kingsley.
“Night Hunter was my first job back from being grievously injured on a set in Ontario," Fletcher said in his videotaped acceptance speech.
"So a lot of pain and angst and ultimately love went into this role and it truly changed my life. So I want to thank the wonderful writer and director David Raymond for probably the best collaboration of my career.”
Giles Panton won the UBCP/ACTRA award for Best Voice Performance for voicing Norman Osborn in Marvel's Absolute Carnage.
“This is one of the most fulfilling character—character duos—I’ve gotten to play," Panton declared in his videotaped acceptance speech. "I was physically exhausted at the end of this.
"I spent four hours fighting myself," he added. "Literally, I was a puddle on the ground by the end and [it] was one of the coolest experiences.”
The Best Stunt Performance award was shared by Corry Glass and Adrian Hein for a car crash in "The Sister" episode of the comedy TV series The Detour.
Glass was behind the wheel when the vehicle struck Hein.
"I got hit by a car," Hein said with a smile in his acceptance speech. "It was awesome."
On a more serious note, Hein added: “Thank you to UBCP/ACTRA Awards for honouring our stunt performers that put their lives on the line. Thank you Stunts Canada.”
Sanders and Haggquist praised by colleagues
UBCP/ACTRA also honoured two pillars of the performing community for their long-time service.
Catherine Lough Haggquist received the Lorena Gale Women of Distinction Award. The presenter, her friend and actor Bronwen Smith, described Haggquist as a "true leader" who has amassed more than 140 credits.
In addition, Haggquist operated a film-oriented bookstore that employed many actors and now offers web-based acting education through dramaclass.com.
"She's thoughtful. She's filled with empathy. More importantly, she acts with compassion," Smith said.
In accepting this award, Haggquist quoted writer Maya Angelou: "I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you make them feel."
The John Juliani Award of Excellence went to veteran actor and longtime UBCP/ACTRA president Alvin Sanders.
In presenting this award, actor Jackson Davies pointed out that Sanders was a founding member of Seattle's Black Arts/West Theater. By 1973, it had become one of the largest Black theatre groups in the United States.
Sanders moved to B.C. in 1984 to perform in Barkerville and later, he sang in Ain't Misbehavin' at the Arts Club Theatre. He joined UBCP/ACTRA's board in 2002, became treasurer in 2009, and served as president from 2010 to 2017.
In his acceptance speech, Sanders emphasized the importance of respect. He noted that actors must respect each other before they'll get it from agents, producers, and others in the film sector.
"Without us, we performers, this multibillion industry we helped bring to B.C. wouldn't be here," Sanders said.
Union helps performers adjust to pandemic
This industry continues to thrive, even in the face of a pandemic.
UBCP/ACTRA's director of member services, communications, and community relations, Sue Brouse, credits the provincial government for recognizing the importance of the Film and TV sector to restart B.C.’s economy in the pandemic and to the entire industry working together along with the union to develop safety guidelines early on. That includes wearing personal protective equipment wherever possible.
"There are now zones on film sets," Brouse told the Straight by phone. "Obviously, when performers are in their scenes, they can't wear PPE, so there are a lot of protocols in place to ensure their health and safety on-set—and to make sure COVID-19 doesn't pass from one person to another on set."
In the same phone call, UBCP/ACTRA president-elect, Ellie Harvie told the Straight that the pandemic has changed everything for people in the film and television industry.
"You used to go into casting directors' offices to do your auditions," she said. "They have studios, but now everything is considered self-tape. Where I am sitting right now, I have a blue screen, lights, and a circle ring-light that I put my phone in to record my audition. And everyone does that."
Brouse added that the union has given a great deal of support to members—even reimbursing some of them for equipment and creating how-to videos—to help them understand how to self-tape.
UBCP/ACTRA advocates for better policies and regulations to encourage production in recorded media, as well as improved pay and better working conditions. That leads to more opportunities for performers.
In addition, UBCP/ACTRA is committed to achieving gender equality, equity, and inclusion.
In a speech at the beginning of the awards ceremony, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged that the film industry has experienced challenging times due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
"That hasn't stopped you from bringing our stories to life," Trudeau said. "It is a testament to your professionalism and dedication to the film and television industry right here in British Columbia. Our government is always here to support talent and Canadian industry."
UBCP/ACTRA president and ACTRA vice president Keith Martin Gordey celebrated how the virtual awards ceremony allowed members to come together to celebrate their best and brightest, despite the pandemic.
"These accomplished individuals, from a field of accomplished individuals, truly deserve this recognition," Gordey added, "and we are delighted to have found a way to honour them in these challenging times."
During the recorded speech, Gordey also quipped: "I kind of miss the rapturous applause that accompanied my entrance in the past.”