Ottawa woman drives to Toronto and back for acting class every weekend in light of film industry growth.
Film production in Toronto is set to hit a record-high in 2022, with several new studio spaces being built and a larger workforce emerging as a result. This workforce includes Idile Bouh, an Ottawa-based woman who works for the government and drives a total of eight hours to Toronto and back every Saturday to take an acting class at LB Acting Studio.
“I had been telling myself to just go to Toronto,” says Bouh. “If you’re passionate about this and you want to invest the time and money into it, then might as well book a class in a city that the entertainment market. Like it’s here, you know, it’s not really in Ottawa. So I was like, take the chance, take a leap.”
According to a press release from the city, expansions related to this industry will increase by 63 percent by 2025. This projected growth of around 5.3 million square feet of new space comes right off the heels of Mayor John Tory’s November 16th announcement to build and operate a film studio complex on 8.9 acres in Toronto’s Port Lands. Hackman Capital Partners will make the hub, and its affiliate, the MBS Group and will cost $250 million. In addition, Netflix revealed in 2021 that it would open one of its Canadian headquarters in Toronto.
Bouh fell in love with theatre while attending a performing arts high school. But as she got older, she felt she needed to move away from the arts to pursue a career that would be more financially stable.
"Being the child of an immigrant, there was a lot of expectations to have a STEM major, or like major in something that would guarantee you a job when you graduated. And obviously, acting is a volatile industry."
Currently, the average hourly wage for an actor in Toronto is $19.55. Suppose an actor can book a job in the first place or has the resources to do so. Jessica Myrie, an actor, and co-founder of Black Actors Canada, an organization dedicated to helping support Black people in film, says that starting as an actor is not easy because there are a lot of costs involved.
"With like casting networks, you're looking at, at least like $1,000 or more, and that's minimum on a low scale," says Myrie. "So you know, not everyone's capable of getting into the industry, just because they just can't do it financially."
Still, Bouh says she thought a lot about her life during the pandemic and decided to revisit acting as a career. And with that came another driver: helping create more diverse representation in film.
"Being a Black woman growing up, there wasn't a lot of stories that I could relate to within film and TV," says Bouh. "So as I've gotten older, you know, you're seeing a lot more diversity in the industry. And that's been inspiring me and pushing me to pursue a career in this industry because I want to. I want to tell diverse stories."
Myrie says that the industry's growth in Toronto will allow more opportunities for people of colour.
"This is going to allow us to work on television shows that are going to be more on an international basis, and not just within Canada and will help us to be more recognized."
According to Myrie, often, film companies are flying in talent from the U.S. because they are not familiar with the people in Toronto.
"So if there are production houses here that they're mainly working in, it allows them to meet more of the talent, and you know, give us those opportunities with those directors or these producers that normally wouldn't be here."
Last year, Bouh took online acting classes, signed with an agent in Toronto, and booked her first role. The city produces celebrated series and films, such as Good Sam, Murdoch Mysteries, and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. It is these sorts of growth opportunities that she is hoping to be involved in on a more regular basis.
"I am hopefully moving there in August," says Bouh. "I talked to my job about it, and I have this thing called a telework agreement. So I'm going to be signing a document saying that I'm working remotely from Toronto for the near future."
But according to her, networking is still the most significant challenge—especially in a big city like Toronto. However, she says that the acting classes have helped her immensely in building connections. This includes a working actor she met through the school's BIPOC mentorship program.
"She's able to give me advice on like what like websites to use to apply to short films because the biggest thing for me right now is creating a demo reel, which is something that I don't have," says Bouh. "I think sometimes I've been hesitant to message somebody is asking them questions and just trying to find a mentor. So I think the fact that I found one through the studio has been a big help growing my network."
Myrie says that networking is precisely the issue within the film industry in Canada. She says there is growing film production all over the country, but that there is a lack of connection between each industry hub. This is one of the reasons she and her co-founders, Duke Robinson and Jonathan Grandchamp, chose to create Black Actors Canada in the first place.
"There's a huge market in Toronto," says Myrie. "There's a huge market in Vancouver, but there's that disconnect, and we just wanted to build more community."
According to Myrie, Black Actors Canada receives hundreds of requests for help with casting and resources.
"And more and more, we're having castings reaching out to us to reach out to put information out to our community so they can have opportunities. And this is exactly what we wanted to create."
And Bouh's ultimate goal is to eventually take those opportunities and sustain herself financially with just acting.
"Nothing worth fighting for is easy. Like, the things that you really, really want in life are never going to come to you easily. So you, you have to put in the work. And if you're passionate about it, it's not like it doesn't just take passion, it also takes hard work and discipline."
And for her, Toronto and its growing industry is the right place to do it.