||Paying a Profession Its Due (The
When it comes to passing the hat, Equity Showcase Theatre
need look no
further than its own alumnae to attract a
Scott Speedman, co-star of TV network WB's hit series Felicity (seen
here on CTV), performs with actor/teacher Bruce
Clayton in next week's Equity benefit workshop of Edward Albee's The Zoo
And he's not just doing it out of gratitude for the training he received
in Equity's professional development program.
On a brief hiatus between TV shoots, the Toronto-born actor has had
three weeks to rehearse Albee's famous two-hander, a
long one-act play, with Clayton and teacher, novelist and director David
Rotenberg. Next week's performances (Wed. to Fri. at
Equity Showcase Theatre) will be Speedman's first live theatre
performance in a professional context.
''We wanted to work together and I wanted to do a play,'' says Speedman,
the 23-year-old former member of the Canadian
National Swim Team. ''I'm about to go back (to Los Angeles) and do eight
months of television. It was important to do
something for real before going back to spend all that time in front of
''We wanted to form a performance group and Scott was one of the initial
members. It started off as reading plays together and
it went from there,'' says Clayton, a musical theatre actor who teaches
beginning students in Equity Showcase's professional
''I teach acting for the camera,'' says Rotenberg, who instructs
intermediate and senior artists (he taught Speedman in his
advanced class before the actor got his Felicity break). ''I also teach
theatre acting by using the camera.''
From 50 to 80 people apply for each session of Equity's professional
development classes, which each take only 12 to 14
students. ''Good professional actors pay a fair amount of money to (take
classes). It's important for actors who already have a
career to continue to study and grow. ''
If you walked into his Sunday morning class, says Rotenberg, ''you'd
recognize every face in the room.'' Speedman, he says, ''was easily the
youngest person I ever allowed in my class.''
Equity Showcase, established in 1960, is a training facility for working
theatre professionals, including actors, directors and stage managers.
Every year, it produces up to four plays in its theatre.
Although the Ontario Arts Council cut Equity's grant by 50 per cent in
1998 (a loss of $22,000), the institution survives on the loyalty of
actors, directors and other theatre professionals and support from the
Canada Council and Toronto Arts Council.
''Neve Campbell, Shawn Doyle, Amanda Tapping . . . an enormous number of
the big-shot actors from Toronto have come through class,'' says
Rotenberg. ''And they come back, whenever they're in town.''
An on-going performance group Speedman joined meets in Rotenberg's
living room, where admission is a bottle of wine. So far
they have mounted three shows: Lulu (with Rachel Crawford), a reading of
Joe Orton's Loot (with Speedman) and a play of
Rotenberg's called Sins Of The Fathers.
''This place is here so you can come and fail miserably in front of a
camera and your peers and then start to build it back
together,'' says Clayton.
And if Speedman ever failed in front of his peers, he has succeeded on
the screen. His lucky break in U.S. television came after
he'd done classes at Equity Showcase. Before going into the professional
development program, he'd done what he calls
''TV-movie, jock-of-the-week stuff'' and three independent short films
shot in Canada.
''I audited the class for a couple of weeks. That's where I really
figured out that I wanted to do it. I'd do a scene and we'd watch
it on the monitor.
''It was the first time I really enjoyed acting. I was terrified of
doing it for a long time,'' says the fetching young actor, best known
as TV's Ben, the hunky guy Felicity follows to university in New York.
Rotenberg calls The Zoo Story workshop a fine opportunity to see top
actors up close. Talking about it, he recalls his early
years among young actors and directors working in New York City.
''We would hear that Al Pacino was coming to town and we wouldn't even
know what he was going to do. Everybody collected
their 150 bucks to make sure they got a ticket to see it.
''It was about the actor's art. Calling what actors do a craft it is
simply an attempt to demean the power and the force of the
actor. If it falls to being a craft, then the mass majority of modestly
talented actors can make more money waiting tables."