Abby Blinch

No one said it would be easy.

Few professions hand out as many rejections as acting, yet actors Steve Belford and Sarah Cornell have accepted this as part of doing what they love.

“If you don’t like people saying ‘no,’ the industry is not for you,” Belford explains.

Belford says he sees every rejection as a learning experience, a chance to hone his skills. But in recent years, Belford and other Toronto actors have been facing a new challenge: a lack of auditions.

According to the Ontario Media Development Corporation, 35 per cent of Canada’s film production takes place in Toronto and the city’s Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) boasts over 13,000 members.

Still, actors and talent agents in Toronto agree that the city’s film and television industry is not what it was five years ago.

As a result, Belford left for Vancouver and Cornell is applying for a green card to pursue a career somewhere else. Both are hoping a new location will mean more acting gigs. 

The number of feature films being produced in Ontario has decreased dramatically. As indicated by the Ontario Media Development Corporation, in 2005 there was 22 provincially homegrown films.

Just a year later, that number dropped by half, causing the province to lose over $100 million.

Talent agents Gillian Byron, owner of The Byron Agency, and Shari Caldwell, president of Caldwell Jeffery, both say the industry is in constant fluctuation.

While filming in Toronto is losing popularity, Caldwell says Vancouver and New York are feeling the benefits of an upswing.

“The government isn’t helping,” says Byron. “There’s no incentive to being here.”

A 2005 press release from Film Ontario, a consortium promoting Ontario as a destination to produce and create film and television, claims the Canadian Television Fund promises “broadcasters a larger share of CTF funds if they agree to produce their shows outside Ontario.”

Byron also says Toronto’s industry is struggling because “we don’t have studio lots like the ones in Vancouver.  We can’t handle special effects or Sci-Fi.”

With every passing year, Toronto struggles to pull itself out of its slump.

Caldwell explains that almost all filming in the city continued in spite of the recent ACTRA strike, but Byron insists that Toronto lost out on potential work in the March pilot season.

That’s not something Toronto actors want to hear. “The one thing that is frustrating is not auditioning,” Belford says. 

Caldwell, however, is encouraging actors to use their creative skills in other areas.

“Our clients are returning to the theatre in full force,” she explains.

Cornell agrees that as an actor, you have to be flexible.  “You have to be able to do everything to work in Toronto,” she says.  “You can’t be choosy.”

So Toronto actors have a choice: stay and sweat through the lack of work or leave and go where the shoots are. Cornell’s advice: “When you’re a gladiator you go to Rome.  When you’re an actor you head to L.A or New York.”

Cornell still thinks Toronto has a place in the industry, but she says it may need to sacrifice Canadian content to get back in the game.

“Rather than being obsessed with finding our identity in Mounties, canoes, gas stations and prairies, we should switch the focus back to telling good stories that people everywhere can relate to,” she says.

One thing is certain: Toronto’s actors are quickly disappearing. Once they’re gone, Toronto may not have the talent left to renew its reputation as Hollywood North.