Spotlight on Alumni: Shaina Silver-Baird
Please tell us about what you're up to these days, and about some of the most exciting work that you've done since graduating.
Since graduating I've been doing a lot of work in indie theatre and film. I really enjoy the passion with which people approach their own projects and the opportunities to play provided by working in the independent market. This includes of course the Toronto Fringe, Summerworks, Festival of Ideas and Creation etc. Getting involved with these festivals has provided me with an amazing opportunity to get involved with the theatre community and build my own career.
I've also been doing a lot of work in classical theatre, primarily with Shakespeare in Action working on productions of Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth as well as tours and teaching workshops.
Over the past couple years I've reveled in the opportunity to artistically expand outside of acting. I currently sing in three bands: The Book Club — a folk quartet I formed with 3 other York Acting graduates: Emily Coutts, Kat Webber and Natalie Novak; Oozakazoo – folk rock for kids!, and as a solo vocalist singing my own originals. Working on my own music projects has been unbelievably freeing. It gives me the power to walk into an audition with a sense of my own artistic voice and not rely on the outcome of that audition to determine whether I am a working artist.
I've also worked with Nightwood Theatre over the past year as Marketing Associate and am currently a writer/contributer for inthegreenroom.ca — a website for theatre artists to connect and promote off stage (check it out!). I've found working in theatre outside of acting really rewarding, especially in terms of meeting other artists and forging bonds with the community.
I'm looking forward to spending three months in Alberta in 2014 studying in the professional training program at the Banff Centre for the Arts and performing as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet at The Citadel Theatre in Edmonton. I could act all cool and pretend it's no big deal, but the truth is I'm crazy excited to get to tackle such an iconic role with this prominent company. I've been pinching myself since I got the “you booked it” call to make sure I'm awake.
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?
Don't take it all so seriously. Yes, work hard and be fully committed, but take the time to do things outside of the program. I think it's so easy to get tunnel vision because of the intensive nature of the training. When that happens it's really important to get off of campus and experience something, anything else to give you some perspective and remind you why you're doing this in the first place. Live a little. It'll give you a story to tell and something to draw from.
The best advice I heard recently was that being an actor is about serving the story, not about how people are judging your performance. It's easy to lose track of that, especially because people are constantly watching you, giving you feedback, criticism and judgements. But I find it much easier to not let the ego of it all overwhelm me when I have a life outside of acting. It's so important. I can't stress that enough. Travel, play, explore! Now is the time.
Did connections, friendships, relationships you made at York help you afterward?
Absolutely. Probably the most significant contribution York University made to my life was the amazing friendships I forged in the program. I gained the best of friends and left armed with a solid support system to carry me through my life and through this crazy, difficult business. Of course I also forged an amazing professional network. Many of the gigs I've booked since graduating can be traced back to connections I made in the program. For example I was called in to audition for Shakespeare in Action because Michael Kelly knew my work from my time in York University. Similarly, during my first summer out of the program I worked on Saved (Toronto Fringe Festival) with Theatre Bassaris and Bound to Create theatre (both theatre companies run by artists I worked with in the program); Little Crickets (SummerWorks) with director Byron LaViolette whom I also knew from York, and Program with Samuel Sholdice who composed several fantastic shows for Theatre@York.
What did you learn at York that has been of greatest value?
How to work my ass off and then let go. It's still hard to do sometimes. You've worked so hard in theatre school, but I think the wealth of experience you get from simply doing it all the time is the most important aspect of the training. There were scenes I spent hours and hours working on in school and others that I had to just wing in the moment because there simply was no time to prepare them. As an actor you need to be able to do both. You have to have the ability to delve deeper and deeper into a script to mine its potential over a period of time — especially when working in professional theatre. And then there are times in film and audition situations when you have no time to prepare. You have to just be present and go from there. The overwhelming amount of work in school actually set the foundation for both of these skills for me.
What did you NOT get taught at York that you wish you had been taught?
I wish that I had realised during my time at York how integral all my skills outside of acting were to my acting career. The wealth of actors in the industry makes getting jobs fiercely competitive, so any other skills you can bring to the table are exceptionally useful. Being able to sing or ride a horse or even mix a mean cosmo with aplomb, could be the difference between getting the job or not.
Secondly, I didn't realise until about a year out of school how much I needed to think just as much like a business person as I did like an artist. I am my own business. In lieu of that, it's exceptionally important for my business to get out to events and see film, theatre and music so I know what's going on in the city and so I can meet potential collaborators and employers. I need to shamelessly promote my own projects in person and using social media. Sometimes it can be really tiring, but I've realised that it's just part of the business, especially when working on my own projects.
What is your fondest memory of studying Theatre at York?
My fondest memories are of the late nights after full days of class and rehearsal when my classmates and I would go to The Ab for a drink or gather in an apartment and order late night food none of us could afford. Those nights when you've past the point of exhaustion; everything is a little bit brighter and fuzzier at the same time and you're quick to laugh or cry at the slightest prompting. I really got to know the people who became my best friends in those moments when they were extremely stripped down. Those moments when our need to be young and social out-weighed even our burning need to sleep. There were too many nights to count when my roommate Kat Webber and I would stay up too late, laughing maniacally over a bottle of wine and a party platter of sushi we could never finish.
What was your favourite place at York, and why?
It may sound cliche, but my favourite places at York were the theatres: both the CFT theatre and the Faire Fecan. At heart I fucking love the stage and I just love being in theatres whether it's to watch, perform or rig a light.