I often read the blogs of really successful people who describe their “how I got to where I am” story, and while nobody asked me, I just have the urge to write mine, which starts waaaaay back to when I was 5 or 6.
As an only child, my parents wanted to make sure I was socializing with other kids my age, so I was enrolled in lots of afterschool activities, including ballet, tap, jazz, baton twirling, modelling, and figure skating. I suppose performing was instilled into me pretty quickly! I also come from a large family of many, many cousins, so being shy in the Hishon family really wasn’t an option.
In grade 2, I was cast in my first play. I played the part of Mrs. Butterfly in “The Little White Rabbit Who Wanted Red Wings.” Succinct eh? To this day I have no idea why I was cast, although my reasoning leans towards the fact that I did very well in school (I always have) and spoke well for my age, and also because I already had a butterfly costume, courtesy of my very talented grandmother. I specifically remember being jealous that Katie Driedger had 15 lines to my 3, but I did have the better costume. Who wants to be Mrs. Puddleduck anyway? I had fun, and I’m pretty sure that was when I caught the acting bug.
My class studied the Rude Mechanicals scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the Shakespeare on Wheels program in grade 4, which was my first brush with directing as well. I remember our class being divided into small groups to perform the Mechanicals scene, and I quickly took over my group and decided what parts everyone would play, and how they would perform their entrances. As we were one actor short, I took on the roles of both Peter Quince (so I got to perform the dramatic reading of the Prologue) AND Robin Starveling (so I could wear the cool Moonshine costume)! I also remember the day of the performance, a kid in our class who had been sick all week came back to school and was thrown into our scene. I was pissed that we got stuck with Sickly McAbsentface. No way was I giving up my awesome cloak and lantern! So I cast her as a tree.
In grade 5 I performed in the school production of The Nutcracker, as a Chinese Tea Party Dancer, and in grade 8 I got my biggest part yet, as Bianca in The Taming of the Shrew. That was my first stage kiss! Terrifying, especially in front of the entire school. I also remember performing in Remembrance Day assemblies, helping with the morning announcements, directing a puppet show which involved my entire grade 8 class, and performing in the Kiwanis Festival with the improv team for two years. I won the Language Arts award at my grade 8 graduation as well, which was pretty cool.
High school was a different story. I remember very clearly my first high school audition for The Secret Garden, and it did not go well. I am not a strong singer, and The Secret Garden is a musical. I did not get cast. Most everyone who did get cast was in choir and/or had taken vocal lessons. I did end up getting cast later that year in Entry Into Jerusalem, which was a pretty cool production which we took to Toronto and participated in the York Cycle of Mystery Plays, which told the entire story of the Bible on travelling wagons. We were one of only two high school troupes invited to perform!
After that, I threw myself fully into the school band. Yes, I was a band geek! I played clarinet, which I hated, until I was allowed to switch to alto saxophone, which I LOVED! I loved blasting away on my sax, often to the chagrin of the trumpet players next to me in music class, who hated the fact that tiny little me could out-blast all four of them. In grade 11, my music teacher switched me to tenor sax, saying that I had “too much sound” for the alto. Hey, it got me into the jazz band, so I was happy with that! I was the lead tenor sax player for two years in symphonic and jazz band, and sang in the choir in grades 11 and OAC (that’s grade 13, which doesn’t exist anymore in Ontario outside of the “victory lap”).
I didn’t have much to do with theatre outside of drama class (which I still loved) until grade 12, when we had a teacher strike and a friend convinced me to help him start our own, student-run theatre group, which I did. It was called Neon Black (how deep of us!) and we were quite organized, with a full executive right off the bat. I was treasurer (as the daughter of a banker, it seemed like a good fit). We put on some damn good shows, I must say. We actually put on more shows than we normally did with the teachers leading the club. I also got back up onstage, as one of the colour chorus (specifically, I was “Yellow”) in An Evening’s Ordeal that year, after stage managing the grade 12 workshop performance. I ran front of house for the production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. I also directed a scene from Pygmalion for my OAC drama class, and ended up playing Eliza Doolittle myself after my lead actress called in sick to school the day of the performance!
Looking back, I’m not quite sure how I survived high school. I was a busy, busy girl. I juggled jazz band, symphonic band, choir, and theatre, and outside of school, I was still figure skating competitively and working part-time at the golf course my uncle managed. I also still managed to get a 90% average in my graduating year, thus earning me lots of scholarship money for university!
Stay tuned for Part Two!