Spotlight on Alumni: Aris Athanasopoulos
What are you up to these days, Aris?
These days I’m in rehearsal for a production of New Jerusalem by David Ives, directed by Mitchell Cushman, and produced by the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company running at the Toronto Centre for The Performing Arts from March 15th to April 13th. I play Baruch Spinoza, the 17th century philosopher. Since graduation I’ve been lucky to work in a variety of areas of the acting profession. Everything from commercial work, to voicing cartoon characters, to theatre gigs with great companies like Mirvish and Marquis Entertainment (The Railway Children), the Classical Theatre Project, and a bunch of wonderful indie theatre groups. I’ve also worked in a number of Canadian and American films and television programs like Rookie Blue, Love, Rosie, and, most recently with Guillermo Del Toro on The Strain. The most fulfilling jobs I’ve had were with theatre companies started by old classmates and peers I met at York. Particularly two theatre projects. One called Theatre of The Film Noir by George F. Walker that I toured in Poland and Austria with a collective of my fellow York graduates (Matt Drappell, Miroslaw Polatynski, Taylor Graham) and their company, Atlas Stage Productions Canada. The other was a show called This Is It that was written by York grad Sasha Singer-Wilson, directed by a professor from York—Mark Wilson—where I played opposite Sarah Jurgens, another Yorkie. Both opportunities came directly from the relationships I forged with my peers from my student life. The first, taking me to parts of the world I’d never been. The second, forcing me to mine new personal depths, in terms of my creative process. It’s also turned out to be the most artistically fulfilling job of my career thus far. In between acting gigs I, organize play reading groups with other actors, directors and playwrights, produce audition workshops for actors called the Actors Workshops Canada series, watch as many movies and theatre productions as I can, and write (creatively and for my sanity).
What is your fondest memory of studying Theatre at York?
My fondest memory was a main stage show in my final year, called Comedy of Vanity. It was my first taste of what it’d be like to be an actor in a professional theatrical production. Nothing was spared. I found myself quite surprised at how high the standards were at York and how a York show could surpass the production standards of most professional theatres in Toronto and around the world.
Do you have any advice or tips for York students just entering the dept.?
Theatre school is a buffet of vocational skills. Be a glutton and try everything. Even when you’re streamed into your second year of more specific study, devour everything. Every instructor has something to offer you – even if it’s the knowledge that whatever technique they’re teaching, isn’t right for you. You’ll only know for certain, once you’ve commit yourself to the work and are patient with the process. When you stumble across techniques, instructors, theoretical ideas, or practical applications of your vocation that really speak to you, remember them. This leads me to my next piece of advice, below.
Do you have any advice or tips for York students just about to graduate? about to join the job market?
Remember the classes from York that enlightened you or spoke to you. If it was a particular acting technique or method (not to be mistaken with THE Method), find out who (in the city you hope to make a career in) teaches it and take their class. Education doesn’t end upon graduation. Great actors continue to take classes. The learning curve is never-ending. Also, the promise of fame and fortune can be blinding. The only thing anyone has any real control over is how good they are at their craft. Auditions and opportunities to work can take weeks, months, or years to come. Be patient with yourself and work diligently at honing your artistic skills so that when those opportunities do arrive, you’re prepared to make the most of them. Fame and fortune may, or may not, follow. It’s the personal satisfaction you get from enjoying the fruits of your labour that you planted from years or decades before that will build your confidence and prepare you for everything.
Also, keep in mind that the business side of being an actor is very seldom related to your craft. Becoming business savvy in the theatre industry or film and TV world requires a lot of persistence and a willingness to fail. Your best resources for learning about the business are your professors, fellow actors, people you’ll meet in classes after York, and professionals you might run into or work with. Keep yourself informed and ask questions. There is no blueprint or instruction manual on how to succeed in the business. For your own sanity, define success by your artistic fulfilment, not by how much money you make, and have deep faith in your talent and ability. Also, be kind to yourself and others.
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 relax, have patience, and to quit trying to make everyone like me or think I’m good. Theatre school is a safe environment to let your work get messy. Ignore the grades, and give yourself permission to be bad in class. You’ll learn a lot more from great failures. I’d also tell myself to commit to everything with greater ferocity.
Then I’d tell myself to read Letters To A Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. It’s become my personal scripture, of sorts, and I only discovered it in my seventh year after graduation. The advice in that book is priceless. Being in the acting stream and graduating from York with a BFA didn’t make me an actor. Even booking roles in commercials and professional productions didn’t make me an actor, though I got paid to do it. I became an actor when I recognized that acting was my vocation and true calling, and that it was a necessary part of my life. When I consciously chose to commit to my work and constructed my life in accordance with serving that necessity, my work got better (and subsequently the roles I booked got better too). To quote Rilke: “A work of art is good if it has risen out of necessity.” If I knew that when I was a student it would’ve given me the foundation to take better advantage of all the wonderful gifts of instruction and endless well of knowledge that lies in the Theatre Department at York (in the faculty members, as well as the course material).