21 Mar INSIDER INTERVIEWS: WOMEN IN CREATIVE INDUSTRIES
Julia Finnegan is an indie-folk, Kingston-based singer-songwriter. Named one of six, winning finalists in the inaugural YGK Emerging Musician Competition in 2019, Julia seeks to create songs that highlight storytelling and evoke empathy. In December 2020, she released her debut full-length record, Listen to the Wallflowers.
Sharon Heldt is an actor who has performed across Canada and NYC in theatre & musical theatre. Most notable theatres include the Stratford Festival, Blyth Festival, and off-Broadway in the NYMF. Sharon has a wide range of film/ television credits, including numerous national commercials. Sharon is also an arts educator, director, writer and artistic director of ACTING OUT! Kids Theatre, celebrating 15 years of children’s theatre.
Jessica Clement is an actress and coach, known for her roles on Pure (2017), V.C. Andrew’s Heaven (2019), and Letters to Satan Claus (2020).
Christabel Pinto is a much sought after Music Director and Collaborative Pianist who accompanies and coaches for many string and voice studios. Christabel has been the Organist and Music Director at StoneyCreek United Church for 30 years, plays for ballet classes and coaches voice at Sheridan College. She obtained a B.A Music from McMaster University, and a B.Ed from Brock University. Christabel is the recipient of several awards, including The Lee Hepner Award, The Margaret Oswald Memorial, Intermediate Finalist for the Hamilton Kiwanis Festival (3 consecutive years), and the Reginald Bedford Gold Medal.
Cydney London Speers is one of Canada’s most respected and successful teachers of voice and piano. Educated at the Music Departments of the University of Alberta and Grant MacEwan University in her hometown of Edmonton, her students have been accepted into music programs across North America. Including the Canadian Opera Company’s Young Artist Ensemble, and the Berklee College of Music. Her students have gone on to perform with Opera and Music/Theatre companies throughout Canada, the US and overseas. As a solo pianist, accompanist and repetiteur, Cydney has worked with LiveArts National Tour of “The Phantom of the Opera”, The Canada Council for the Arts, The National Ballet of Canada, and Decidedly Jazz Danceworks and more. She was the rehearsal accompanist for the Opening Ceremonies of the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary and maintains a studio in her home in Ancaster, Ontario.
Who were the women that inspired you to enter this industry? Why?
Julia: When I was in sixth grade I did a project on Joni Mitchell and it opened up my perspective about folk music, but from a local standpoint Emily Fennel, who also goes as Ms Emily has been amazing for me. I’ve been really lucky because she’s performed some of my songs …[which] as a young female songwriter, to get that validation and support, [has allowed] me to feel like it is possible to make music your job, especially in Kingston
Christabel: My mom inspired me. She taught me every day from the age of 4 till 11, when she had to stop because she was sick for most of my life…By the time I was 11 I was playing at church, weddings, and funerals and it all snowballed from there.
Cydney: My one female teacher [a nun], was inspiring but I remember Barbra Streisand was my inspiration in the music business. I thought, here is this poor Jewish girl from New York City and she will go down in history. She won’t let anyone rain on her parade and neither will I.
Jessica: When I first started at 7 years old and my first inspiration was two young guys. I was blind to gender at first until I did a film that was written and directed by a woman. This was my first time working with a female director at the age of 20. She was so focused on the acting part and she had males who listened to her as she directed. …I thought, maybe one day I will be a director or write something! …Later in my career, Tatiana Maslany who is on Orphan Black, inspired me. She plays really strong female characters or the stereotypical weak ones. …I have always been typecast as the weak victim who dies, or gets kidnapped and cries, and it was cool to see someone who did something that was so out of reach for me. She plays characters I play, and then some.
Sharon: My mother, Kathleen, was a singer on Air India radio in 1945 and performed live. I wish I was more graceful with her because she flew me to LA to start my career. Pat Hamilton also inspired me as she supported me in Banff, helping me to prepare for roles… But I wish I had more female inspiration when I was younger. All the directors were men in Stratford or Shaw and big theatres were run by men, and in theatre school, the department was run by men.
What have been some positive and negative experiences in the music industry? How have those experiences been influenced by your gender? By sexism?
Julia: For the most part my experiences have been overwhelmingly positive…Actually at my program [at university], it was purely coincidence, the year I graduated with was all female. It was cool to meet so many talented women and to be surrounded by that energy. Music has been great because there is such a tight-knit community in Kingston, and I have felt a lot of support. The only negative experiences I had would be from audience members… I have older men [comment] on my page saying you should smile more…or people follow me to my car. There is this one man in particular who got under my skin because he stopped me in the middle of a performance to speak to me…He went on to write a long review on how I should improve.
Cydney: …When I got into the opera chorus when I was 18 or 19, I saw things but wasn’t pulled into it. Famous conductors and singers would come into town, look at the chorus, and say come here baby I will make you a star. One of my friends said a man like this would conduct her debut, but it ended up being her debut in bed. …I had one negative experience where a male piano player thought he should play for her [my client]. …I was verbally abused by this male piano player who was playing for other performers… Jealousy is rampant in the music industry, but especially when a woman can do it better than a guy. …But then you see a really good show or concert, or a student succeeds, then it is good.
Jessica: …That female writer/director was a positive experience, but there was one male artist who questioned this female director directing and writing decisions. He was condescending and acted like he was doing her a favour by being in this movie… because [she] was a woman. Many males, mostly directors, have crossed a line by being touchy with only the women cast directors. Unfortunately, most women I talk to can relate. This one director acted like he wanted us to be honoured that he touched us [the women cast members]. It was the smallest thing like touching backs or waists. My [female] agent even pushed me to audition for a film with that [same] director and almost normalized his actions… I have also been typecast as the …victimized woman which at times was harmful because I believed I needed to change my appearance to get those hero roles, but this [stereotype] doesn’t resonate with who I am. I hope that one day I can find a script that has a woman that looks like me as the hero, but if I can’t find it, I will write the script myself.
Sharon: …The positives always outweigh the negatives …I did once have to fight for my equity card …A whole male company wanted me to do a tour of Evita without it. This would’ve saved them lots of money, but I fought very hard for that myself, without an agent.
How have your experiences differed from other women in the creative industries due to factors like race, class, gender, ability, appearance etc.?
Jessica: It is about time as far as race goes. I am getting more calls about the receptionist at the office instead of the patient who has a whole story arch. Those roles [the receptionist] earlier on in my career would go to the diverse actors because everyone just wanted a sprinkle of diversity to check the box. Now we are starting to see the switch. … Some [BIPOC] students I coach do not know if they are booking this because they are talented or because I [they] am black and are going to add that diversity they need. …Classism is even present in some movies I have been in. …Hallmark doesn’t use plaid in their movies because that is the pattern of poor people. What happens if I were to audition for a Hallmark movie and wear plaid?
Christabel: I have been blessed from the start and have had all positive experiences except for one during a job I’ve held for the past 30 years, [and continue to hold]. I was told at the beginning that I have three things against me, I am young, female, and coloured. I would say that’s pretty negative but I have heard nothing since. All the other people that applied for the job were male, and here I am, 22 years old. I knew I was young and female, but I never thought about my colour [up until this point].
Sharon: …I teach many children on the autism spectrum and I think humour is a great way to do that [communicate]…Both of my parents are from India so I am going to turn a little bit browner than my average white friend so I have always felt throughout my career that I couldn’t do a role like Anne of Green Gables. … I knew of this bias, that I wouldn’t be hired or welcomed [on set].
Do you have any advice to give women going into the creative industries?
Julia: Approach things with an open mind. When you have the opportunity to collaborate with them do it! And do not let others get you down.
Christabel: Do not put all your eggs in all one basket, you need to take on a church, play for musicals, take on private lessons because when you take these jobs it opens up avenues for more. You need to believe in yourself and be confident, but also take the constructive criticism…you will grow from them.
Cydney: As a woman, you just have to be mouthy and stand up for yourself. If you enjoy it, and it’s in your blood, go for it because then you will regret it for the rest of your life.
Jessica: I am still figuring it out but I have learned to be unapologetically yourself, have confidence in who you are, and ask for help when you need it.
Sharon: Dive in, meet new people, and do it if you can. Do not compare yourself to others and lift up your friends! …Do not apologize…we [women] tend to do that in positions of power and I am still working on that myself. Fill your cup and find your muse. Produce your own work. … Be kind.
Cover Image by by Jane Bowyer