DEVELOPING ARTISTS GRANTS
2012 Grant Recipient
English Theatre Winner
Originally from Paradise, Newfoundland, Edmund Stapleton is a 25-year-old student at the University of Alberta who will begin his final year this autumn. He completed a BA degree at Memorial University of Newfoundland, with a cumulative GPA of 3.94, demonstrating grades above 90% in his philosophy, political sciences and logics classes. He has maintained a high A average throughout his time at the University of Alberta.
In his final year, Edmund will be performing in three shows while receiving his final training in voice, movement and singing.
In submitting the nomination for The Hnatyshyn Foundation English theatre grant, Sandra M. Nicholls Co-ordinator of the BFA Acting Program, University of Alberta wrote, “Edmund is possessed of a far ranging imagination. He comes with curiosity and an open willingness to investigate every learning opportunity presented to him. His efforts reflect a mature and engaged process, a sophistication, and pliability of physical, intellectual and spiritual aptitude. Edmund demonstrates a deep and abiding respect for the views, values and creative offerings of his working colleagues. His creative efforts are characterized by generosity of spirit, personal initiative, bold, inventive choices, and his greatest strength lies in his committed drive to the generation of work of value.Edmund always has all the dials turned on high and the energy that he radiates has a profound effect on the daily climate of the classes and productions of which he is a part. He is an informed and perceptive analyzer of the human condition through scripted material.”
In adjudicating Mr. Stapleton’s performance submissions, the jury commented. “A superb young actor with the range to play very maturely the role of Titus and to take his time and to make all of the text ring out. Great material, incredible command of text, clear and appropriate physicality. Original choices & interpretation, a real dynamic range, brilliant detail, personal and original choices. A sense of reality, circumstance, truth. A truly original personality, rooted and passionate, specific in his interests, truthful, unusual and sincere. His statement was lovely and full of his love of his native Newfoundland and his desire to build on those who have gone before him. I believe this person will go far and has loads to offer. I look forward to seeing the many ways that this young artist contributes to the future of theatre in Canada.”
Members of the jury included:
Marti Maraden, former Artistic Director, English Theatre, National Arts Centre.
Vanessa Porteous, Artistic Director, Alberta Theatre Projects.
Robert Metcalfe, Artistic Director, Prairie Theatre Exchange.
* The English theatre acting grant is funded by CIBC.
Acting is the greatest challenge I have ever faced.
An actor is a bearer of Truth. We wade through the muck and shit of the human experience in an attempt to find that which is necessary, that which is most human, and bring that before a witness with an open soul. Plays are not reality and actors aren’t there to trick you into thinking that they are: the Theatre in a heightened reality where Truth and Imagination reign and where actors are your ferrymen, guiding you down a river to some form of enlightenment.
I grew up in a small town just outside of St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador called Paradise. From my bedroom window I could see the North Atlantic Ocean; trawlers trying to fill their quotas, gulls swooping to make their catch, whales coming to the surface from the icy depths and ambitious waves attempting to dissolve the rugged coast. Where I come from cannot be separated from who I’ve become nor from the work I produce. For me, acting is rugged and harsh but holds within it an ethereal beauty that is unparalleled. Acting must come from within but be manifested without (a very Stanislavskian notion); the process must be organic and rooted in Truth and crafted with the utmost care.
But one must not get too precious. This, if anything, is what my time in the BFA Acting program at the University of Alberta has shown me. You cannot be afraid to get dirty, to make all the wrong choices, for it is those exact choices that lead to the most dynamic and captivating moments on stage.
My training over the past two years has focused on freedom: freeing my body so that it may move in unexpected ways, freeing my voice so that it may move my scene partner and touch an entire audience, freeing my imagination so that every choice is unique and honest. Of course within each of these disciplines there have been very technical elements. I’ve had to learn difficult choreography and improvisational structures, I’ve had to negotiate vowel sounds to “turn off” my Newfoundland accent and I’ve had to understand analytic script work. Then I’ve had to integrate all these elements into performance. One model of learning that has stuck with me has been that of Conscience-Competence. One begins in ignorance of their lack of skill (Unconscious-Incompetence) then becomes aware of their shortcomings (Conscious-Incompetence) then begins to train to improve (Conscious-Competence) then through repetition and understanding gains the skills thry lacked at the outset (Unconscious-Competence). My second year of training has been developing the skills I learned in my first year so that by my final year I will be able to easefully integrate movement, voice, character, etc, into my performance.
I believe the best performances blend the aforementioned elements (movement, voice, character, imagination) together into a full-bodied and fully imagined life. This past semester I was given the challenge of playing Titus Andronicus in Titus Andronicus. Titus is a man who has grown up on the battlefield, who holds honour and respect as deities, and who vows to revenge the wrongs done to his family by baking two young men into pies and feeding them to their mother. As always I began looking at the text for clues into who this man was, what others thought of him and what he thought of himself. What images has Shakespeare associated with this character? Titus talks at length about the stormy seas so I fashioned my choices around this image; one minute he is calm the next he is raging the next the sun is breaking through the clouds. These choices were guided by the work I had done analyzing the script but the truth only appeared in rehearsal and performance.
I can be a very serious person and this bleeds over into my acting. My challenge has (and continues to be) to find that sense of play in my work. The more I stop caring about the “right” choice and just make the honest, in the moment choice, the more dynamic my performance. Two books that have helped me understand this seemingly easy concept have been Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of Pooh and W. Timothy Gallwey’s The Inner Game of Tennis. Both of this books (and I would say philosophies) don’t deal directly with acting but the lessons they have provided me about acting and in-the-moment living have been priceless. The Tao of Pooh explains the tenants of the Taoist philosophy through the stories of Winnie-the-Pooh and how one must be open and accepting to react to the world around us. The Inner Game of Tennis shows how to quiet that critic inside all of us that takes us out of the game and into our heads and keeps us from reaching or full potential. As a tennis player I also see tennis as a perfect metaphor for acting: the ball is the dialogue (or communication) between myself and my scene partner each of us trying to win the point, each of us having to react to what the other is giving and each of us having to use different techniques to win the game.
I’ve been presented with various schools of thought on acting during my training including Meisner’s repetition exercises, Halprin’s RSVP creation process, Grotowski’s emblems (archetypes), Linklater’s resonating ladder and many, many others. A great emphasis has been placed on creating my own method; taking the elements that make sense and work for me and combining them into a personal process. The breadth of what is covered at the U of A has allowed me to place countless tools in my toolbox that can be used to solve any acting challenge I meet.
With the recent troubles present in Canadian Theatre (one needs only look at the closing of the Vancouver Playhouse or Dancap Productions) I believe that now is the time for my generation of creators to make their mark. Canada is such a vast country (believe me, I know) and it is impossible to have a distinct “Canadian” theatre. It is, however, possible to have a distinct Newfoundland Theatre, a distinct Quebec Theatre, a distinct Alberta Theatre, etc. Stories from each region of our country can illuminate what makes every place unique but also what unifies us as a people, as Canadians. This is where I think my path lies. I want to bring the stories from my corner of the world to the national and world stage. People like Jillian Keiley, Rick Mercer, Gordon Pincent, Seamus O’Regan and Alan Hawco have been trailblazers in promoting Newfoundland culture and bringing our stories to a larger audience. They have helped to open the door that I now want to kick it in and show the incredible talent present in Canada’s youngest province. I also have a huge love affair with classical work (Shakespeare, Shaw, Ibsen) and will continue to pursue work in this milieu.
It is impossible to tell where the future will take me (Television, Film, America, Europe) but my past and heritage will always be a part of it. I have a fire and passion to tell stories (my own and other people’s) and to bring Truth to those who seek it. I grew up on the water and have my sea legs and am ready to be that ferryman, transporting an audience to another world where they may see themselves in a new light, perhaps more clearly, and will return to this world changed and enlightened and a just little more human.