We're so lucky to have amazing staff and Zoe Sweet is no exception. Zoe not only has her Masters in Acting from York University, she is in training to become an Anusara Yoga Instructor + runs her own theatre company, FeverGraph. Is there anything this girl can't do?
Drake: How long have you been acting for? How did you first become interested in the art form?
Zoe Sweet: I've been acting professionally since I was 19-years-old, but first took to the stage when I was 9 years old as an Oompa Loompa in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I was clearly type-cast. From a very young age I was always involved in performance of some nature. I started out as a figure skater (trained with Elizabeth Manley's coaching team) and then was a dancer, but come high school I fell in love with acting. In an effort to keep me out of trouble during the summer months, my parents signed me up for acting camp with the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. From then on I was hooked. Throughout high school, I went to an extra curricular acting conservatory called the Ottawa School of Speech and Drama and then onwards and upwards to theatre school!
D: What was the strangest role you’ve ever played?
ZS: Oompa Loompa- I killed it. Oh and there was also the "dead baby ringmaster" named Slim that I played in Fly, a Summerworks show by Natasha Mytnowych. I got to perch on high up set pieces and siphon green "gasoline" through tubes - career highlight!
D: When did you start FeverGraph? What was your inspiration?
ZS: I created FeverGraph in the summer of 2011 with Tosha Doiron and Kate Gordon, who were also in my MFA class at York. We were inspired by a couple of things: how being an actor can lead you down two garden paths, a] you sit around and wait for your agent to get you an audition or for a casting director to deem you "worthy" to be in their show or b] you exercise your artistry and fight the battle yourself by creating your own work. And we went with B!
Secondly, we feel that the process of developing / producing shows in this country is obscenely rushed and the creative process is really undermined. We were really excited by the idea of working with a set company of actors over an extended period of time and allowing the creative process to take as long as it needs in order to produce something that felt full and complete. There's something invaluable in working with a company of actors on a weekly basis, regardless of whether we're working on a show or not, in order to create relationships and developing a creative language. You develop a process of working that is much deeper and more nuanced than if one were to just be slammed together. Finally, we believe it's important to constantly stay in practice as actors. For the vast majority of us, work comes along sporadically, so to be able to stay creative in the off season keeps your tools well-oiled and also cuts down on the the out-of-work insanity. So we formed FeverGraph as a training ground for ourselves and others to stay in dialogue with our actor process and to be able to help others along the journey of their process as well.
D: Why is movement important to actors?
ZS: Oh, why isn't it important?! I deeply believe that the more in touch the actor is with their body, the more freedom they have to express a diverse range of characters and emotional responses. Through movement, you become aware of your physical and emotional patterns that may not serve all the characters you inhabit; once you have the awareness, you can then actively chose to keep those habits or discard them if they aren't serving you. Movement also frees up emotional blocks and self consciousness, so that you can PLAY! It gets the actor out of their head (where we judge ourselves and ultimately crush our best impulses) and into the body so that the actor can simply follow a physical sensation, without regard to whether the product will be "right" or "wrong." The last century has seen styles of acting emerge from a very brain centered way of developing characters. You often see actors "think" their way into character. In that process, the body often gets left behind in the creative work where in fact, if we tune into the impulse our body has, it generates a lot of information about characters and the scene. In that vein, what FeverGraph uses in our play development/creation and what we teach is to fine tune your awareness of physical sensation so that when you're with your scene partner you can check in and see how your body feels in that moment and allow it to drive the scene. I could go on and on...
D: Would you ever cross over into film acting?
ZS: I would never leave the theatre, but I say bring on the money!
D: How long have you been practicing Anusara Yoga? Does that influence your acting? If so, how?
ZS: I've been practicing Anusara pretty aggressively for the past two years. Before that, I just sort of dabbled in different styles of yoga but never really loved any of them until I found Anusara. It definitely affects my acting and my teaching. In fact, much of the language in yoga is akin to what we teach in movement. Presence, sensitivity to one's body, breathing, release; all these concepts play a huge role in both practices. Plus, my cool yoga party tricks are great to whip out in movement class too.
D: If you could play the lead in your favourite play, who would it be and why?
ZS: Oh, anything in a Tennessee Williams play - particularly Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I'd love to play Dr. Vivian Bearing in Margaret Edson's "Wit." The character is a brilliant professor dying of cancer. She is epitome poise and intelligence but is crumbling beneath the surface. And the personal challenge of taking on a role where death is imminent would be a terrifying challenge. Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar cause I want to rock out! And although I'm too old now, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. Maybe I'll commission some crazy geriatric adaptation when I'm 80 so I can live out that dream.