Spotlight on Alumni: John Fleming
John Fleming (BFA 2009—Acting) has been working as a dialect coach and in voice over since he graduated. He shares his story on where he's at, and how he got there.
It’s always exciting to be asked to talk about yourself; it makes me appreciate the successes I’ve had since graduating from the Acting Conservatory in 2009. BFA in hand, I started working as a dialect coach, both for productions and individual actors. This skill set (and even the idea of coaching as a second profession) came entirely from being hired for Eric Armstrong's Research at York grant, where he and I really expanded the Ontario section of the International Dialects of English Archive. Though their names aren’t displayed in the archive, there are a couple of YorkU faculty and alumni in that Ontario mix.
Eric later forwarded my name to Seventh Stage Productions when they were in need of a dialect coach for a Summerworks show they called Or, (sic). That was the first production I coached, and it still proudly sits in my resumé. I've been working as a coach steadily since. In fact, if you google 'dialect coach toronto' I'm at the top of the list! Commercially speaking, I recently coached an Bell commercial for these last Olympics, including the French version (teaching people to speak French with a Cockney accent; great fun).
As an actor, just a few months after graduating, I worked with the Classical Theatre Project for a full season. After a bevy of good roles in that season, I recently returned to play Romeo for a 3 week US tour up the east coast. The producers there (Charles Roy being an MFA grad from 2005) are a couple among many who have a bias towards skilled York grads.
Beyond classical theatre, I joined ACTRA entirely with voice-over credits, radio commercials, specifically. I've done three or four this year, after switching to a fantastic voice agent last year. I audition regularly for both commercials and animation, and most recently worked on a Thomas the Tank Engine television spot voicing not only the energetic announcer, but also the 6-year-old boy visibly in the commercial! Each month, I also perform in a live radio show with a dedicated group of audio entertainment actors. You can hear the podcasts at Radio's Revenge and Radio Project X, or come see them at The Black Swan!
Did connections, friendships, relationships you made at York help you afterward?
The professors at York certainly were of great assistance to me just out of school. Whether they were actively helping (like Eric Armstrong sending work my way), or were just names on my resumé, their reputations certainly lifted me above others in this strange rat race of the Toronto theatre scene. I have since met many other York grads who graduated before me with whom I have become fast friends simply because of our shared history. And, of course, the people from my classes have gone on to work in some of the biggest theatres in the country. It never hurts to know talented people, and have them know you.
What surprised you about YOU by the end of your time at York?
I am still surprising myself about how meek I was during university. In my earnestness to be a good student, I often contained my personal opinions and feelings for fear of insulting others, getting bad marks, or just being perceived as an ass. What the three years of the Conservatory began to show me, and certainly the three years since have taught me, is that those individual thoughts and feelings are the most desirable qualities in anyone, and especially in me.
If you had the chance to go back and visit your younger self as you were beginning at York, what advice would you give yourself?
I’d tell myself to talk back a lot more. It’s allowed in the real world (without being belligerent, obviously). And I would tell myself to flirt with more strangers; there were (and likely are still) hundreds of interesting people on campus.
What did you learn at York that has been of greatest value?
While the Conservatory certainly has a distinct mandate they teach (and a good one, I’ve learned, now that I’ve seen some others), I learned that there are no performers who work the same way. We were always told of the perils of the industry, and how few of us would likely succeed. During university, I always felt I was at the bottom of my class in terms of skill and talent, but when I finished, I didn’t feel like a failure, and I knew I would continue and be successful. That determination has since manifested into my own style of working: at my core definitely using the principles and skills the Conservatory teaches, but with my own spice and verve. The Conservatory trained my eye and gut to pick out good actors from bad, skilled directors and playwrights from mediocre, and – with some experience to back it up – eventually taught me how to professionally self-critique (most of the time), something I know other people struggle with. Perhaps that was the intention all along…