Andrea Menard is a multi-talented actor, singer and writer who grew up on the Prairies without a clue that there were jobs in the creative industries. That is, until she created her one-woman musical show The Velvet Devil, which opened up a whole new world of possibilities.
thought every child liked to sing and act in their own talent shows… in full costume, with an a cappella soundtrack taped on a 1980s cassette recorder, with little brothers and sisters placed just so, to highlight the star, with parents and neighbours forced to pay admission. You’d think this extravagant performance streak would have been my first clue as to my future profession but I was not all that aware of careers in the arts. I was a creative kid, not the brightest. In fact, when something is so natural to your being, you don’t see it as a talent, or a separate thing to capitalize on. It just is. My Dad was the star of the family. I grew up with the “King of the Kitchen Party” holding us all captivated at the kitchen table with my Mom singing back up vocals. This was something normal in our household, but not something that one chose to do as a living. I inherited a belief that one has talents, one does not use their talents. I sang and I acted all my life…so what? Needless to say, I took a long time in figuring out I was meant for this business. Maybe it was because I was a nomadic, small town prairie Métis kid, but I was extremely unaware of the film, theatre, and music industries in Canada. I thought if a person wanted to become an actor, they had to move to Hollywood. I didn’t know about local film companies, casting agents, agents, producers. I didn’t even know about professional theatre companies, or university film or theatre programs. It wasn’t until I went to the University of Saskatchewan to become a Drama teacher, (because that was the MOST creative thing I could think of ) that I found out about all of the above. My first year in the drama department opened up my creative horizons. I acted on a theatre stage for the first time, (Threepenny Opera with Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan). I started a jazz and blues band called H’rattitude, (with the late Angie Tysseland), and I got a lead in a feature film (Private Dance by Petros Danabassis). Not bad for my first year. Not only did my mind expand to fit all these new artistic possibilities, but more importantly, my network of creative minds expanded. I started to meet other performers living this life, and started to develop a long line of supportive personnel from the film, theatre and music industry. Individuals who arrived in my life to push me to the next level. I suppose all industries can claim to be built on the backs of people, but my experience of the film industry is that it is nothing without the network of hardworking, talented people. This magical network was responsible for many gigs, new directions and creative journeys I was to experience. Somebody in some artistic position would go out of their way to make sure I auditioned, or sang, or showed up to an important time to meet my destiny. If I hadn’t had people’s help and the network hadn’t kicked in to find me hanging around in the background, sticking my nose up against the glass, many things would not have happened. The Velvet Devil for one. The creation of this onewoman play was the beginning of my real life as a creator and several blessed champions appeared to force me to create the damn thing. Someone introduced me to the Canada Council, which lead me to receive a writing grant, from which a jury member from the Globe Theatre sought me out to be a part of its experimental theatre series, whose opening night introduced me to my future CBC radio play producer and my future director/co-writer for the film version. When I began the journey of creating this one-woman show, I was not a
Reel West January / February 2013
writer, I had only co-written two songs, and I had never acted in a one-person play. But when you are meant for this business, you just do the work. Ok, maybe I got pushed a little! But I did the work, and it turns out The Velvet Devil was my emancipator. This 1940s jazz diva was the first fictional character to haunt my dreams, but she certainly wouldn’t be the last. When The Velvet Devil play was made into a made-for-television movie for the CBC series, Opening Night (WestWind Pictures), starring moi of course, something in me crossed over. Its like the bossy kid diva found her home in the adult world. I was not a savvy actor who cooked up ways to meet the producers and directors of shows (I hear that’s how other actors do it!!). I was more of a bumbling, but trusting, lazy lump who happened to be in the right place at the right time. A singing gig would put me in front of the producer of a new TV series, and an acting gig would bring me to the attention of an artistic producer. Perfect accidents. For some reason, producers and writers, for both theatre and film/TV would be inspired to actually write parts, if not whole series, for me. That is how my role in Moccasin Flats (Big Soul Productions) developed. And when the pilot for Rabbit Fall came around, the producers at Angel Entertainment and Red Cloud Studios had me in mind the whole time. Hard Rock Medical, which is my latest venture, came about the same way. Writer/producer/director Derek Diorio had me in mind from the inception. Thank goodness my audition matched the vision they had of me in their heads! I did have to audition for my other significant roles in TV series: Wapos Bay (Dark Thunder Productions), renegadepress.com, (Verite Films) and my current series, Blackstone, (Prairie Dog Film & Television), but from what I hear from all my producers, I was in their line of vision already. I’m not sure if other actors act so they may transform their identity every so often, but with my mixed bag of tricks as an actor, singer and writer, I’ve managed to mess around with all the different aspects of who I am. In The Velvet Devil, I got to play out all my fantasies of being a glamorous 1940s star. In Moccasin Flats, I was the slutty lesbian cop who struggled being blue in her brown world. In Rabbit Fall, I got my ass kicked in this supernatural small town by beings from other dimensions. When I wrote the teleplay for my holiday television special, Sparkle: An Evening with Andrea Menard, I got to share the “Métis spiritual messenger” in me who talks about love, opening our hearts, and uniting all peoples. This spiritual part of me is most familiar to my music fans, so when I became the “bitch” in Blackstone, the raw, shocked faces of dedicated fans was enough to satisfy the real devil within me. What a life! I’m not sure if the five Gemini nominations prove I’m a lucky, multipersonality’d megalomaniac, or a good enough actor to be respected by my peers. Maybe a bit of both. Most of my career has taken place on the prairies. I’ve been in Vancouver just over a year, having made the transition to Pacific Artists a few years before. The discovery of a whole new magical network of skilled and talented people delights the little creative child in me. To my new friends and colleagues, if you are looking for me, I’m that lazy lump in the corner just happening to be standing at the exact spot where you will be in two minutes and will have exactly that “thing” you’ve been looking for. Can’t wait to meet you. n 11