It’s a foggy early afternoon as Amy Reitsma and I drink coffee at the quaint Two If By Sea on the beautiful Halifax waterfront. Amy and I have known each other since our days at Sacred Heart School of Halifax and I can honestly tell you that from the very first time I saw her perform, I knew she was going to grow up to be a big success on the stage. Since then, she has performed in musicals at Neptune Theatre, as Anne Shirley in Anne and Gilbert on Prince Edward Island, did Shakespeare with LunaSea Theatre Company and has performed here and in Germany with DaPoPo Theatre. She has most recently been accepted to the very selective (14 people, worldwide!) and prestigious Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in Bristol, England for their Master’s Of Professional Acting Program and she is fundraising to help get her there. Amy and I sat down together and had this lovely little chat:
Amanda Campbell (AC): I’ll start off with the question I ask everybody right off the top. Who are you? Where are you from and how did you get so talented?
Amy Reitsma (AR): I’m Amy Reitsma, daughter of Linda Bateman, the hippie, and Alex Reitsma, the musician and hippie. I’m from Seabright, Nova Scotia, which is about fifteen minutes away from Peggy’s Cove. And, how did I get so talented? I don’t know! I think it’s all smoke and mirrors. I dunno, my mom taught me to surround myself with good people and I have been really lucky that I have gotten to know really wonderful theatre professionals who I can learn from. I can just be a sponge when I’m around them.
AC: You are one of the only people that I can say this about, but I first saw you perform when you were twelve years old. I was ten.
AR: In Annie?
AC: Yes! In Annie. (At Sacred Heart School). It’s funny because you didn’t have a really big part in that show-
AR: I was Pepper.
AC: That’s right. Yet, even at ten years old, I remember noticing you. I sort of picked you out of that cast as someone that I should watch for. The little baby critic in me… (laughs)
AR: I think that most people in the audience know, they can tell when a person really enjoys being on the stage and not just that they’re having fun, but that they’re good at telling the story. I think that’s something that even young people can see when they’re watching a show.
AC: I think so too. I know that my child instincts ended up being pretty good. The people I sort of sought out at that time usually did go on to pursue careers in the theatre. So, I was wondering, did you always know you wanted to act?
AR: I think I did. It wasn’t the sort of thing where, when I was two I KNEW I was going to be a STAR, but I always play acted in the backyard, with a wand pretending to be a Fairy Princess. I think most little girls do that. In elementary school I was always involved in plays. They did one about bullying and I played the bully because I was a heavier kid. You always want to get the character roles! They are so much more fun than playing an ingénue. That’s one of the reasons mom wanted me to go to Sacred Heart. I mean, she wanted me to go there for the academics and the all-female environment for sure, but she went and saw the musical before Annie, was that… Joseph?
AC: Yes. Joseph [And the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat].
AR: Yeah, she saw Joseph, I didn’t see it, for some reason I couldn’t go, but she said it was awesome. My parents both had a great appreciation for the Arts. My dad was a musician, so I come by singing and theatre honestly! I do remember the moment when the seed was planted in me that theatre was something that I could pursue. It was at the Old Neptune, they were doing Our Town, I think, or maybe it was 1949… anyway, my mom knew some people in the cast so I went to the cast party. There was this kid there, I don’t know who he was, but he was holding this prop of a tongue or tonsils or something. I asked to see it, because, I’m a kid and he’s the only other person my age there. I was really young. And I remember he said, “I don’t get paid enough for this.” All that wisdom from a kid! But that was the moment, if it’d been a cartoon there would have been a light bulb above my head, “You get PAID for this?!” That was when I realized that acting was a job and not just something that people did for fun. So that planted the seed, which was always there as I got older, but it didn’t really flourished until I graduated from University and got hired at Neptune. Before that I always assumed that I wasn’t good enough. I never thought that I would do theatre professionally. I knew I was a good singer, until I went to Queens and started having to sing classically and that sort of stripped me of that idea, because I can perform a musical theatre song, but when it comes to doing opera (laughs)… So, after I graduated I was a little lost. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. University doesn’t prepare you for what happens the day after you graduate. I thought maybe I should go to Sheridan [College], but I didn’t make that a possibility, because at that time I already had a student loan. Now, I am really happy about the way things have turned out. I ended up working professionally for Neptune and LunaSea and all these companies that have done great work and with really fantastic artists here on the East Coast that I learned a lot from. I did my first professional play with Bill Forbes, Mary Vingoe and Deb Allen. All giants.
AC: What play was that?
AR: It was Ivor Johnson’s Neighbours [by Charlie Rhindress] and the first professional musical I was in starred Susan Gilmour. I’m sure she would never remember me because I was just a random Argentinian, but still I got to watch her and observe how she works! That was my musical theatre school. Ron Ulrich hired such good people to be in those shows.
AC: I read that you have wanted to go to Bristol Old Vic since you were sixteen. How did you first hear about it? How did that come about?
AR: (laughs) You will enjoy this story. Bruce Godfree went to Bristol Old Vic and we knew each other a little bit because we were both in the Young Neptune Theatre School crowd that I was affiliated with for a short time. Bruce was one of the “cool kids…” anyway, there was this performance that I went to at one of the Dal Theatres… maybe it was the Dunn, maybe it was one of the studios, and Bruce performed his audition piece for Bristol. I remember asking [fellow student] Katy Pedersen what this school was and she was talking about it with such reverence, and Bruce was so talented, even then, and I might have had a mini crush on him… as we ALL did…
AC: Yup, I did.
AR: Yeah! So, that was how the Bristol seed got planted. I knew that it was one of the best schools to go to for theatre. But, of course the insecure and self deprecating part of me would say, “you’re never going to be able to go to a school like that. That’s where Bruce Godfree is going and you’re not as talented as Bruce Godfree. There is no way you’ll ever be good enough to go to the UK’s Juilliard.” But then, because I am stubborn, the other twin, because I’m a Gemini, would counter with, “Well, maybe SOMEDAY you WILL.” And then I was advised to go to school for music, and I sort of forgot about Bristol. I knew, financially, at that time in my life Bristol wasn’t in the cards, but I had always aspired to continue my education somewhere grand like Harvard or Bristol. I ended up at Queens because it is a good school, it was one of the best in the country at that time. Then, after I graduated and started working in the industry, suddenly there were people I knew here who had gone to Bristol Old Vic. Mary Fay Coady. Jeremy Webb. Keelin Jack. So, that made it more realistic, maybe? Or maybe it was just more in my face. It became clear that even if I had forgotten about that dream or pushed it aside, it was definatley still there and my desire for more training was still there.
AC: So then, how did you end up getting a degree in music?
AR: My music teacher at the time, Gwen Dawson, sagely advised me to go to a school where I would earn a degree. She also told me that getting a music degree was quite difficult and as soon as she said that I wanted it. Also my dad was a musician but he got a commerce degree and as soon as he graduated he was like, “Okay, got that, now I’m going to go do this other thing!” He didn’t have the opportunity to get a music degree so, in some small way, I got mine in honour of him. So, I got into Queens, even though I TOTALLY failed my theory exam! (laughs) That was the one thing. Theory always plagued me! But, it wasn’t until I played Juliet in a production of Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet, that I realized that I really loved working on the development of a character. I had just done three musicals back to back at Neptune and growing up there had only really been musical theatre camps for us to do. I had done a lot of the summer camps that the Feast used to do, which was Jim Petrie and Nancy Marshall. But this production of Goodnight Desdemona really sealed the deal for me about my love for acting in plays. It reminded me what I loved about the theatre. In my experience, working in this industry is all about being reminded. You go off and do a show, you go off and do another one because you need the money or whatever, but it’s really when you’re not working, I think, when you realize what it is that you really enjoy- more than just doing your job. And that production reminded me why I do theatre. I am not as much of a singer as people think I am. I think I’m more of an actor who can sing, even though my career and my life choices may have said different.
AC: Well, the more musical theatre I see the more adamant I become that for a musical to be really terrific the acting needs to be just as strong as the singing and the dancing. Even when we were doing the musicals at Sacred Heart we were focused so much on acting and creating those characters.
AR: Yes! Nancy [Marshall] taught us from a young age that we needed to act in our musicals. There was much more emphasis on acting at Sacred Heart because that was what Nancy was most interested in and she had the strongest personality of everyone involved. In musical theatre I find that it can become such a competition. There is such a focus on how high someone can belt and the whole, “Dayum, that gurl can siiiiiing!!!” Canadian Idol sort of thing and I hate that. I have enough issues competing with myself. There will always be someone who is better.
AC: Agreed. So, what do you feel like you’re going to gain from going to Bristol Old Vic? Why go now?
AR: Because I am older, I know how much work has gone into getting me here- the fundraising, the application and the audition. I know people who have graduated from this school and, while I know that they probably went and were already good, I also know that they came out better. Yes, I have trained vocally and yes, I have professional experience, but I still lack the confidence in my own ability and I know that going to this school will help with that. There is still so much I feel I don’t know. I can perform Shakespeare, I can say the words because I understand them and I understand the technique, but there are things that I still am not sure of. Like… what do I do with my arms? There are things that people may not see as being important but I know that I am missing part of that training. I have been fortunate to work here on the East Coast and I love the community here but, ultimately, I want to be able to work all over the world and to work at theatres like Stratford or Shaw.
AC: One of your younger sisters is in New Zealand, the other was just in Iceland and is now in BC, you Reitsmas are gypsies. I think you come by that desire to travel honestly too.
AR: That was part of the attraction of acting for me, that not only would I be able to work across Canada but that I could travel all over the world. I would love to work for a tiny little German company or an itsy bitsy little Finnish company! I feel that having the opportunity to study abroad will finish up my formative years, the end of my twenties and into my thirties, I am a little more mature than I was at seventeen (laughs) and I want to learn. I’m not done. I don’t think that we ever really are but I think that if I wait until I’m fifty to go back to school it might be too late. Something in this long dreary winter inspired me to do something, to change my life. I want to do something different, something satisfying. Something more than satisfying!
AC: It’s exciting! You are having a fundraiser, Blonde Ambition: Amy’s Bristol or Bust Fundraiser to help get you there. Can you tell us a little about that?
AR: The fundraiser is on May 28th at the Bus Stop Theatre. Jeremy Webb is Emceeing it and there will be performances by some great performers and good friends of mine. Martha Irving. Deb Allen. Stacy Smith and Jeremy are going to do a scene from [his new play] Fishing. Keelin Jack. Mary Fay Coady. Ryan Doucette. Lisa MacDougall. I’m going to perform because Jeremy says I have to… It’s going to be a great show! There will also be a silent auction and Keelin and I are making up specialty cocktails… at least I hope we are! Ah! There’s so much to do! There will also be appetizers, which will be complementary… once I figure out what to serve. (laugh)
AC: I know that Jeremy Webb is a big supporter of you, which is especially apt now because he’s a graduate of Bristol Old Vic. I was just wondering how your professional relationship with him got started?
AR: Jeremy taught me when I was sixteen years old and we had a good rapport, I guess. And then I went off to University and we lost touch and then when I came back we ran into each other at a lineup at the movie theatre and I was like, “HEY!” and he had no idea who I was. So, that was embarrassing. I sort of hated him a little bit after that. Then we did Oliver together at Neptune, where he mended my broken heart over the movie incident, and we ended up having a really great time! So, then we became friends and colleagues and he was always there as this person that I really respected and liked in the theatre community. Sort of like a friend/mentor. So, when I was trying to figure out what I was going to do this year, Mary Fay Coady and I were talking about her experience at Bristol and then I had this coffee date with Jeremy where he said, “It’s interesting that you mention Bristol because I was just talking to them yesterday about someone I’m helping coach for their audition.” He told me the auditions were in two weeks and that two spots had just become available in Toronto. He asked me if I would like him to contact them on my behalf saying, “I have this other person who would like to audition as well.” And I was like, “Fuck it! Yeah! Sure!” I applied that night, the application was received and I got the last spot in Toronto. Martha Irving coached me on my pieces and Jeremy coached me on my Shakespeare technique. And Jeremy happened to be in Toronto for an ACTRA meeting at the same time as my audition, so afterward we went for a drink and we were joking about how if I got in we’d have to do a fundraiser… He was one of the first people I contacted when I heard that I got in. I texted him from the law firm where I work and he was in rehearsal for Titanic, and he called me back and said, “What. The. Fuck. Your life just CHANGED.” I was just going on a mile a minute on the phone, and he has been so generous. He is EMCeeing my fundraiser, he’s helped me apply for grants. I asked him once why he has been so wonderful to me and he said, “Because I love you, darling. And so does everyone else.” … I have had so much support, so many Bristol cheerleaders already. I feel so lucky.
AC: It’s like you said at the beginning, that you were taught to surround yourself with good people… and you have.
AR: Yeah. Thanks mom!
AC: She’s a good one.
AR: She is.
AC: How can we all help you get to Bristol?
AR: You just log on to http://www.indiegogo.com/blondeambition and there are a variety of donation amounts that you can choose from and there are different perks that you get for each one. You can select your payment method, either VISA or MasterCard or PayPal or whatever. It’s all pretty straight forward on the website. It will be up there until August 15th! It’s been amazing to see the support pouring in already, and from people you might not expect… some people who have donated I went to school with at Queens. It’s weirdly bringing all these different people from my past together. Also, I have a sponsor. He wants to remain anonymous. I have known him for a long time, and we met and discussed my decision to go to Bristol and what I thought I could achieve with further training and at the end of it he said that he would help me and that whatever amount I raise, he would match. So, now it is really going to happen! I am really going to get to go to this school I’ve dreamt about since I was sixteen! It’s just been such an incredible experience already.
Help make Amy’s dream come true. Head to the Bus Stop Theatre (2203 Gottingen Street, Halifax) on Monday May 28th at 7pm. “This fundraiser/performance/ party will be a celebration: of artists, food, friends, local business, specialty cocktails, sword-fighting and the positive side of ambition.” She is adorable and genuine and funny and one of the humblest people I know. Watch this video, you will see! Donate the heck out of this!!
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