March 13, 2017

Spotlight on Alumni: Nadine Bhabha

Nadine Bhabha
Nadine Bhabha

Nadine Bhabha is a graduate of York University’s Dept of Theatre (BFA Acting 2016) and most recently had the title role working with Canada’s oldest Black theatre company, Black Theatre Workshop. The show was called Bluenose and it toured throughout Montreal to schools for Black History Month. She was recently interviewed by Global TV Montreal on the play and the importance of diverse narratives. Since graduating, she has booked various small roles in commercials and TV movies, has workshopped a new play with Steppin’ Out Theatrical Productions entitled Through the Glass, and is working with Shakespeare in Action, teaching young children the joys of working with the “Bard”.

Nadine Bhabha and the cast of Bluenose
Nadine Bhabha and the cast of Bluenose

What attracted you to York in the first place?

I had done one year at a classical theatre school in Toronto and found out quickly that I could not keep up with the program. I was fresh out of high school and lacked the life experience to take in all of the information being thrown at me. After some time off I eventually auditioned for York and I was struck by the amount of warmth the program had. I realized I could get my training and also work from my heart. York valued talent as well as passion.

What is your fondest memory of studying Theatre at York?

My fondest memories come from working on Cloud 9 directed by Nigel Shawn Williams in our fourth year. It was our first mainstage show as a class and it was cast perfectly. Each person brought something to their role that none of us could do better. I felt like a family putting on that show every night. I was in love with playing Victoria. She was strong, but had such depth to her inner life. She was so challenging and yet she was like me in so many ways. It was also such an important play. The subject matter relating to identity, sexuality, colonization and feminism, was so poignant but more importantly hilarious! What is more fun than exploring serious subject matter in a play wrought with quick-witted jokes, all spoken in British accents? I dare say, nothing.

Nadine Bhabha in "Cloud 9"

What did you do for the first summer out of the program?

I was incredibly lucky to sign with an agent in the last week of school. I began going on auditions right as conservatory classes ended and they continued steadily throughout the summer. I was scared of going out so often in the beginning but it made them much less precious. When you have more than one audition in a week, it really takes the pressure off. If one goes badly, you’ll do better next time!

Can you tell us a story of a moment where your training at York was clearly useful?

Every time I step into an audition room, whether it be for theatre or film, I feel so well trained. I am malleable and able to take direction because of all the fine teaching in the acting program. I’ve been asked to whip out accents, dance moves, stage combat and improv; all of which I got a taste of during my training. One TV audition, I ended up saying all my lines in four different dialects! Needless to say, the casting director was quite impressed. I have my voice teachers to thank for that. The program is well-rounded and it makes for multi-faceted artists. 

Do you have any advice or tips for York students just about to graduate? about to join the job market?

I didn’t understand what “find your own personal practice” meant until I was forced to already have one. The school tour I just completed was the most demanding, intense process I have faced in over 17 years of doing theatre. If I didn’t have my knowledge of both physical and vocal warm ups to fall back on, I would not have been able to keep up. I went back into my journals to see what worked best for me over the years and crafted a go-to warm up (that can be extended or condensed depending on the time frame I have) that served me throughout the two months. You never know what you’re going to be asked to do, so keeping up with my personal voice and movement work coupled with exposing myself to current theatre is extremely important to be nimble-bodied and agile-minded. Nothing is worse than feeling rusty when the pressure is on.

Nadine in Black Theatre Workshop's "Bluenose"
Nadine in Black Theatre Workshop’s “Bluenose”

What surprised you about YOU by the end of your time at York?

By the time fourth year rolled around, I realized what it meant to let go. Making art is about screwing up and learning from trying and often failing. I began accepting insecurities and overcoming the need to be “good”. I’ve realized that my art is for me and since I have the foundation of being well-trained, the last step is just believing in the work. To this day, I surprise myself on stage with new discoveries or in auditions when I do things differently than I’ve rehearsed because acting is about being present. I’m still learning what this means every day, but I keep surprising myself and reminding myself that the brain and the body work in tandem. That’s where the magic happens; in that space when you let go.