Film Actors Take the Stage and Act out an Audition – Interview with Leah Gibson

Theatre Productions are a bit different from movie productions. But they both have audiences, they both take a lot of effort to prepare, and they both tell stories. But there’s one theatre production that recently caught my attention and tells a bit of a different story. A story that leads into what we do depending on our choices and focuses on the subjects of intricate truth. A production like this could give a voice to everyone in many ways. I’m talking about Venus in Fur, probably one of the most interesting sounding dramas to include humour and erotic tones mixed with mystery. This version directed by Brian Markinson spans for a presentation of 10 days at the Nest on Granville Island. Along with the producing help of Leah Gibson and Andrew Jenkins who also act in the play. John Cassini provides help too as the artistic director on this. I’ve never done too much looking into theatre productions before but since these are people who have had acting work in the film industry, I had to ask about the big differences and learn a little more about the other type of acting I seldom get involved with myself. 

Since Leah Gibson was recently abuzz in Vancouver having won a UBCP/ACRA award for Best Female Supporting Performance as Jeannie Keeley in the Joe Pickett episode “The Most Hated Man in 12 Sleeps”, I got in touch with her sometime afterwards since she advertised her production right after getting her award (why didn’t I mention THAT in my last article?) and we had a conversation regarding differences between film and theatre, and what went into the play. Now stay seated for the entire read, however long it is, and enjoy the show. Er, interview. I mean interview.


HNMAG: You started out in the local Vancouver film industry, and now are putting on a play. How is it transitioning to the theatre industry?

Leah Gibson: I actually started in the entertainment industry, I found performing on stage when I was in my late teens. I had years of dance experience as a kid and I loved performing on stage. Then I found a bit of a singing voice in my late teens. I found these when I was 17-18 and was so enamoured with that world, albeit I was doing these productions where I was the chorus girl but that was my hook/gateway into acting. When I began film acting, the entire focus was just on building my early acting career here in Vancouver. 


HNMAG: How much acting experience have you gained in Vancouver?

Leah Gibson: I’ve done 11 years of film acting in Vancouver, I did one stage production I was invited onto 11 years ago. It was this play called Asymmetry, and it was a 6-person cast. Other than that, I have not been on stage in any kind of professional sense in many years. But it’s an incredibly different medium of course, and Venus in Fur is kind of lead by me.


HNMAG: So you’re in charge of the whole show?

Leah Gibson: I don’t even hesitate to call myself the leader of the pack on this show. I was the one who initiated and pitched it to people. Brian Markinson and John Cassini came on board with me and Railtown Actors Studio Labs. This is a very different experience, and very unique for me. Not only because I’m starring in this play but also co-producing it with Andrew. It’s just a wildly different experience, a completely different medium, it’s an opportunity to work up characterization in a way you can’t really conceive in the film world.


HNMAG: And what is it like operating a play?

Leah Gibson: The preparation is so different, because this piece is 90 minutes of 2 actors on stage from start to finish. No transition on stage, there’s no moment where the lights go black, reset, and start a new scene at a different time. The audience tune in to these two characters for 90 minutes so that in and of itself is a unique medium of the theatre piece that exists.

Processed with VSCO with u3 preset

Leah said it was a wild ride and that it’s such a joy to be engaged in the rehearsal process and she explained how Brian’s direction has been amazing. 


HNMAG: And why did you choose to do a play that took place in an audition room?

Leah Gibson: This play kind of fell into my lap a year ago. I was in LA, just got back there and settled in after a year of being on the road working. Then just shortly after COVID, things were starting to open up again. I connected with a director down there, and a few weeks after I called him and said “Look, I have this play I’ve been wanting to do forever and you would be wonderful as the lead role.” He brought me into it, I read the play and fell in love with the role. For about 3 months, I started working on this material and we workshopped it together in a very small team in an intimate setting in San Francisco about 8 months ago. I say the play found me, kind of. I wasn’t looking for something to do, this one just kind of hooked me. To me the play is about not just an audition, it’s about this incredibly dynamic relationship between two people that confronts and conflicts and evolves quickly, then peaks and plummets. It also challenges shadow and brings in light, and does all these phenomenal things. 


HNMAG: How would you describe the character you played?

Leah Gibson: The opportunity to play a female in this capacity with this amount of range, I have to say her journey’s range in 90 minutes was what I just couldn’t shake with regards to the level of depth and excitement I felt towards this character. It wasn’t so much about this being a smart piece to do because it’s about an audition. There’s been so much joy in working this material because of obviously the directive parallels to much of my history. Andrew Jenkins and I have repeatedly mentioned that there’s an element of this production that feels like it’s a love letter to actors and what we go through. Especially now it’s nostalgic, the idea of having an in-room experience is the premise of this play. It goes haywire. (laughs)


HNMAG: Now for all the non-actors in the audience, and those who are not familiar with how auditions work. What do you feel they’ll take away from this show?

Leah Gibson: I think in some way, they’ll witness some of the stereotypes that actors have which are funny for actors and non-actors. They’ll get a little bit of an insight into the role of an actor. It’s just being in a state of deep vulnerability, deep desire, and feeling unseen, unheard, and unspoken for. Fronting that vulnerability with deep courage that you want to persevere, I mean that’s just the beginning. So it doesn’t matter if you’re an actor or an artist of any kind. Ultimately the more important piece of these themes are about self-revelations and self-confrontations and being able to be courageous enough to recognize the thoughts that we hide behind. 


HNMAG: How has it been working with Brian Markinson?

Leah Gibson: He’s a veteran so he has been so phenomenal with us. He has a level of knowledge that is cellular and comes with experience to explain it. It doesn’t come from a logical place of knowing the rights and wrongs of technique. He works from a visceral place, and his enthusiasm and compassion plus his excitement is equally cellular (laughs) so his methods with leading us are collaborative. He’s also about discovery as to truthful what is involved and I didn’t know what to expect before I started the rehearsal process because there were so many producing duties that Andrew and I had before jumping into full-time rehearsal mode.


Leah said she felt so safe working with Brian and genuinely trusted him with such intimate and talented material. She’s had an enriching and supportive experience so far and it continues to get more interesting. Trustworthiness definitely helps things get more special in the workplace especially when it’s a theatre environment. The sacred bond between a director and an actor is very strong when trust is very durable.


HNMAG: What inspired you to work in theatre production?

Leah Gibson: Well, I’m at a point in my life and my relationship to the journey of it all were honouring the idea of just total integrity in the process. It’s just so important to me, and I’m the only person that can take myself and uphold myself to that ideal. It’s a moving target that continues to expand and shift, and so if I’m not gauged in something where I feel like being challenged, I start to wilt a little bit. There’s so much of this industry that seems like it’s out of control. I just get deeply invigorated by forcing myself to stand up to task to something that seems frightening. And there’s nothing like an opportunity like this. Being on stage for 90 minutes in front of a room full of people multiple nights in a row, is what I want right now for myself.


HNMAG: And you joined forces with John Cassini. What do you hope to bring to the production?

Leah Gibson: He’s brought so much of himself, it’s such a pleasure to be in collaboration with Railtown Studio Actors Lab. They’re a pillar in Vancouver’s community, I so respect John, am such a fan of his work, and just his way with our community. Having him nearby to engage creatively in ideas, I continue to feel supported and seen. It’s wonderful to feel like this play is being helped by Railtown Actors Studio Lab and his vision and guidance. It just feels supportive and the right place, it’s been a joy so far.


HNMAG: You’re currently residing in Los Angeles, but do you hope to return to Vancouver permanently?

Leah Gibson: I come to Vancouver a lot for work, so I’ve been gone for technically 7 years. Every year I’ve come back to work, so in some ways I feel like I don’t need to do that. (laughs) I’m just so grateful for the acting community and having started out here. I’m also grateful to continue expanding my career in the US and to always remain Canadian and work in both places. Just this past weekend, we celebrated the UBCP/ACTRA awards. 


HNMAG: Yeah, I was there. I felt a magic that night.

Leah Gibson: Oh, that’s so great. I didn’t know you were there. What a special evening.

Leah continued on saying it was such a great feeling that night seeing everyone come together again after two years of pandemic. 

HNMAG: Da you think that Railtown Actors Studio Lab will have more Canadian branches soon?

Leah Gibson: I can’t speak on John’s behalf, but I will say ominously that I know they have plans for direction which is very exciting to me. I hope to be very nearby and involved somehow.


HNMAG: Do you hope to be a director someday?

Leah Gibson: It’s not nearby at this time as an idea. Producing this play is one of the first ventures I’ve taken in the industry outside of acting. This is a baby step producing a local Vancouver play. But I’m really enjoying being able to exercise and express more of my devotion to the material in a very tailored fashion. It’s a way to be able to give more than the performance preparation. So I’m not sure if directing is down the road, but it’s not in the forefront at this time. I’m more inclined with writing.

HNMAG: Does that mean there will be more productions to come soon? Possibly some of your own written content?

Leah Gibson: Definitely more theatre productions, I can already say that. I’m not sure about writing my own theatre pieces, for me the ultimate way of doing theatre is being able to perform profound writing. I’m talking writing that is just so gorgeously intelligent and there’s so much information that allows our job as actors to be educated by doing a theatre piece. I wouldn’t quite write it myself, but I’d be more inclined to have it given to me. I’d rather do more Tennessee Williams stuff on stage, I prefer performing.


HNMAG: Will we possibly see you do more film industry work as well especially since you received the award?

Leah Gibson: Yeah, there are three productions coming out that I haven’t been able to talk about yet because I haven’t been able to announce it. Hopefully I will in the next few months.


Leah Gibson is showing progress already both on-screen and on-stage. Who knows what other roles she’ll snag next or what productions she’ll help produce next? Maybe after lots of theatre productions, she’ll produce film productions next. But for now, let’s all watch her latest greatest work on-stage and how her work off-stage has made it so incredible. You’ve seen the posters, buy tickets today!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *