Spotlight on Alumni: Oksana Sirju
Oksana Sirju (BFA Acting 2017) is a graduate of York University’s Department of Theatre and has continued working in Theatre as a member of the Stratford Festival Company and their Birmingham Conservatory. Since graduating she has appeared in various commercials and booked a reoccurring role on CBC’s Workin’ Moms, playing the role of Elle. You can see her next in the Stratford Festival’s 2018 Season, appearing in The Tempest, The Comedy of Errors, and Napoli Millionaria!
What was the most valuable thing(s) you learned while studying in Theatre at York?
I learned the important of having a process for yourself and how everyone’s can be different, or your process may vary depending on what you are working on. York gave me the space to explore different mediums within the performing arts and allowed me to learn about myself more and what interests me. I was able to determine what type of actor I wanted to be and what kind of professional I wanted to be in the room.
Performance wise, I learned importance of breath/breathing for performance and for life. Breath helps to keep me grounded, to keep me present in the moment with my scene partner, it helps get me in tune with my impulses, as well as allow me to get my lines out clearly with intention. I learned there is a lot of “trust’ required in theatre. One needs to trust themselves and their ability; trust that they are enough and doing enough; trust the story they are telling; trust their scene partner and so much more. Finally, that there is a lot of hard work you must do in the theatre, but there is just as much fun to be had.
What are you doing for the first year out of the program?
I am working as an actor at the Stratford Festival. During my time at York, I got the opportunity to participate in Theatre Ontario, where I showcased my work with my fellow conservatory members. This event opened a lot of doors for me, it got me seen by my agent (who I adore) as well as seen by Beth Russell, the casting director for the Stratford Festival. I was invited to a General audition and from there I received a callback for the Festival’s Birmingham Conservatory, which I booked.
Before moving to Stratford however, I booked a couple of commercials and a spot on the tv show Workin’ Moms, which was such an exciting experience for me, getting a chance to do screen acting before dedicating myself to the stage for a year.
Since September 2017 to February 2018, I have been a part of the conservatory, training specifically as a classical actor, but as well getting many opportunities to acquire new tools and skills as an actor. Since the ending the Conservatory, I have been in rehearsals for the Festival’s 2018 season and we open in May!
Do you have any advice or tips for York students just entering the dept.?
Take in everything, don’t put too much pressure on yourself, work hard and have fun. You will meet people, some will stay with you some won’t, that’s ok. You will change, you will face hardships, but also have great successes and joy. It’s a roller coaster of a ride but what’s important is to embrace every moment, cherish every lesson, and stay true to who you are. We are so lucky to be doing what we are doing, and (I can only speak as an actor, but I think it’s true to most people) the lessons and the learning never stops.
Do you have any advice or tips for York students just about to graduate? about to join the job market?
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to have everything figured out. The piece of advice I got upon graduating from York was that “the first year is the hardest”. I think this is true whether or not you book something right out of school or continue to struggle from audition to audition, trying to catch a break. You are being thrown into a new world, which I will assume most people have not experienced. You will learn how certain audition rooms work, you will learn how different theatres are run, you will learn how different it is to be on set than being in rehearsal, you’ll have directors you will be able to work with and some you will not. It’s scary and exciting, and uncertain. Whether or not you feel 100% ready (which is great!) know that you will face something and you will not know the answer and that’s ok. It’s your FIRST year out of school. I had extreme anxiety going to Stratford not knowing how to cope with the prestige of it all, yet slowly but surely I found my way and I continue to find my way. The first year is the hardest, for everybody, don’t feel like you are a failure and DO NOT compare yourselves to your other friends or artist, this is your own journey.
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 would tell my younger self not to be afraid of what everyone else thinks and to be gentler with myself. I was shy and scared and sad, I felt like this wasn’t the place for me and like I wasn’t really making a lot of friends in my first year when everyone else was. I was so caught up on getting into the conservatory, and comparing myself to others that I forgot to take care of myself. I would tell myself to be brave, take risks without the fear of failure, and to have more confidence in myself. You are there to learn and grow, and although it can be tough, you can mess up and learn and try again. Friends will happen, success will happen, life will happen but you need to just keep working hard and believe in yourself. I would also remind myself not to be afraid to ask for help, because it is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength.
What surprised you about YOU by the end of your time at York?
I was surprised by my resilience and my unwavering hope for the future. Some people tell you the conservatory will take it all out of you and you might rethink your decision to be an actor… however I was fuelled and ready to experience the world for myself. I was also very surprised I was to memorise 68 pages of dialogue and speak for two acts in one of our final shows at York. That was a monsoon I never imagined getting through but I did, with a LOT of help I will add, but I still did that thing and it still shocks me even now.
What were some of the things about Theatre that you believed to be true but found to be either false or fluid?
That the audition room would be terrifying and intimidating. Don’t get me wrong, auditioning is still nerve racking, but audition rooms are not as scary (not in Canada anyway) as I imagined. I find that people are supportive and kind most of the time. Remembering that the people behind the table want you to succeed helps, and allowing yourself to delve into the literal few opportunities you get to act, make it less terrifying and more enjoyable.