This One Goes to Eleven: Anna Cummer

Anna is the very model of the modern Vancouver working actress. Born in Singapore and raised between Southeast Asia and Saskatoon, she graduated high school in Hong Kong and went on to earn two theatre degrees in England. She now lives and works tirelessly here in Vancouver in TV, film and theatre.

On stage she has worked for a multitude of outstanding local companies, from Bard to Rumble to the Arts Club, and most recently The Secret World of Og for Carousel. She received a Jessie in 2005 for her work in Goodnight Desdomona (Good Morning Juliet).

And as is apparent from her interview here, Anna has no problem being candid, a trait we appreciate very much.

anna

1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Hungry.

2. In your own choice of word count, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.

I have to admit I’m a bit disillusioned with Vancouver theatre right now.  I know there is so much talent in this community and yet I find our theatre run-of-the-mill.  I would love to go see some good local fare and be bold over by the performances and innovation but typically I see the same faces doing the usual.  So I suppose I would describe our theatre scene as not fulfilling its potential.

3. As a working Vancouver actor, where do you feel your greatest opportunities lie?

With more and more shows being cast outside the audition room, it feels as if there are fewer opportunities to compete.  Most of my serious prospects are discussed over coffee or a beer with a friend who has the gumption to self-produce: “If only there was money to mount the production”.  I appreciate both methods of casting but there’s nothing like acing an audition and getting that much anticipated call.  Truthfully, it’s beginning to feel like there aren’t any real opportunities out there.  It just comes down to whom you know and who likes you enough to work with you.

4. What is your personal measure of success as an artist?

This is a tough question.  I’d love to say it’s the work itself.  Not having to hold down another job to make ends meet but more often than not that success isn’t celebrated.  Critical acclaim and peer recognition are the measure sticks most actors use.  And I hate to admit that I do to.  Ideally, artist achievement should be measured by work satisfaction and that the artist is active. Any outside confirmation of a job well done should just be gravy.  Oh, if only I could remember that on those dark nights of artistic self-doubt and loathing!

5. What is our surest method of developing the next generation of theatre-goers?

Well, I think it starts at home.  If parents are theatre-goers, their children will be too.  The sooner someone is exposed to the theatrical experience, the longer they will be a consumer of this experience.  At least that’s my theory since my parents nurtured a great love of the arts in my siblings and me.

Ticket prices and programming affect early accessibility too.  Maybe family ticket packages or youth price incentives (that rival the cinemas) could help encourage parents and the next generation to venture out. From a programming point of view, I’m not suggesting everything needs to be TYA, but relevant, discussion-starting shows that entertain a generation that has the latest diversion downloaded to their i-phone.  Because nowhere in the modern wasteland of media, can they experience that visceral response of having the performer in the same room as them.  We just need to get them in that room any way we can.

6. What is your fondest theatrical memory?

A production of King Lear I saw in London in the late 90’s.  I don’t remember at which theatre or who the actor was but he broke my heart. Lear appears in his long underwear, back flap agape, dragging Cordelia’s corpse by the hair.  The sound that came out of this man was unlike anything I had ever heard – it gives me goose bumps just summoning the memory.  He threw her around like she was a rag-doll (I assume she must have been).  And then would be so tender with her the whole audience pined with him.  When the curtain fell on the curtain call, I had to sit in the audience for ten minutes before I could compose myself and rejoin the world.  What a performance!  It made me not only want to be a better actor but a better person.

7. What’s your #1 all-time industry pet peeve?

I hate the opening night party.  I never know what to do with myself.  I’m most anxious when it’s my opening.  I understand the point of the post-show celebration but I have yet to master the intricacies of the evening.

8. What style of theatre would you like to see more of on our stages?

I’m a big fan of mask and puppetry work.  I’d love to see more mask/movement-based storytelling with an emphasis on the dramatic.  Masked characters and puppets seem relegated to children’s theatre or the comedic.  Companies like Improbably Theatre or Théâtre de Complicité have been doing some fascinating work in London in this vein for well over a decade.  I’d love for some local companies to explore this avenue of highlighting a compellingly told story with mask and puppetry elements.

9. What’s your best piece of advice for new actors just starting to work here?

Don’t be put off by how closed the community seems to be.  Create your own opportunities.  Self-produce.  Audition your ass off.  Eventually you will be noticed and doors will open.  And remember, even if an audition doesn’t win you a part, it may just get you another audition that does.  That’s right from The Big Book of Anna.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

– Something Shakespearean

Standing Naked in the Wings (a compilation of actors’ experiences in Canadian theatre)

True and False (David Mamet)

11. What’s next?

A marriage this summer to Craig Hall of Rumble Productions and some auditions that may or may not yield contracts.

1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Hungry

2. In your own choice of word count, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.

I have to admit I’m a bit disillusioned with Vancouver theatre right now.  I know there is so much talent in this community and yet I find our theatre run-of-the-mill.  I would love to go see some good local fare and be bold over by the performances and innovation but typically I see the same faces doing the usual.  So I suppose I would describe our theatre scene as not fulfilling its potential.

3. As a working Vancouver actor, where do you feel your greatest opportunities lie?

With more and more shows being cast outside the audition room, it feels as if there are fewer opportunities to compete.  Most of my serious prospects are discussed over coffee or a beer with a friend who has the gumption to self-produce: “If only there was money to mount the production”.  I appreciate both methods of casting but there’s nothing like acing an audition and getting that much anticipated call.  Truthfully, it’s beginning to feel like there aren’t any real opportunities out there.  It just comes down to whom you know and who likes you enough to work with you.

4. What is your personal measure of success as an artist?

This is a tough question.  I’d love to say it’s the work itself.  Not having to hold down another job to make ends meet but more often than not that success isn’t celebrated.  Critical acclaim and peer recognition are the measure sticks most actors use.  And I hate to admit that I do to.  Ideally, artist achievement should be measure by work satisfaction and that the artist is active. Any outside confirmation of a job well done should just be gravy.  Oh, if only I could remember that on those dark nights of artistic self-doubt and loathing!

5. What is our surest method of developing the next generation of theatre-goers?

Well, I think it starts at home.  If parents are theatre-goers, their children will be too.  The sooner someone is expose to the theatrical experience, the longer they will be a consumer of this experience.  At least that’s my theory since my parents nurtured a great love of the arts in my siblings and me.

Ticket prices and programming affect early accessibility too.  Maybe family ticket packages or youth price incentives (that rival the cinemas) could help encourage parents and the next generation to venture out. From a programming point of view, I’m not suggesting everything needs to be TYA but relevant, discussion-starting shows that entertain a generation that has the latest diversion downloaded to their i-phone.  Because nowhere in the modern wasteland of media, can they experience that visceral response of having the performer in the same room as them.  We just need to get them in that room any way we can.

6. What is your fondest theatrical memory?

A production of King Lear I saw in London in the late 90’s.  I don’t remember at which theatre or who the actor was but he broke my heart. Lear appears in his long underwear, back flap agape, dragging Cordelia’s corpse by the hair.  The sound that came out of this man was unlike anything I had ever heard – it gives me goose bumps just summoning the memory.  He threw her around like she was a rag-doll (I assume she must have been).  And then would be so tender with her the whole audience pined with him.  When the curtain fell on the curtain call, I had to sit in the audience for ten minutes before I could compose myself and rejoin the world.  What a performance!  It made me not only want to be a better actor but a better person.

7. What’s your #1 all-time industry pet peeve?

I hate the opening night party.  I never know what to do with myself.  I’m most anxious when it’s my opening.  I understand the point of the post-show celebration but I have yet to master the intricacies of the evening.

8. What style of theatre would you like to see more of on our stages?

I’m a big fan of mask and puppetry work.  I’d love to see more mask/movement-based storytelling with an emphasis on the dramatic.  Masked characters and puppets seem relegated to children’s theatre or the comedic.  Companies like Improbably Theatre or Théâtre de Complicité have been doing some fascinating work in London in this vain for well over a decade.  I’d love for some local companies to explore this avenue of highlighting a compellingly told story with mask and puppetry elements.

9. What’s your best piece of advice for new actors just starting to work here?

Don’t be put off by how closed the community seems to be.  Create your own opportunities.  Self-produce.  Audition your ass off.  Eventually you will be noticed and doors will open.  And remember, even if an audition doesn’t win you a part, it may just get you another audition that does.  That’s right from The Big Book of Anna.

10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?

– something Shakespearean

– Standing Naked in the Wings (a compilation of actors’ experiences in Canadian theatre)

– True and False (David Mamet)

11. What’s next?

A marriage this summer to Craig Hall of Rumble Productions and some auditions that may or may not yield contracts.

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