Some of you may know me already from following me on Instagram and Facebook, but for those of you who are finding this website for the first time…
Hello! My name is Leah. I am married to the love of my life, Dennis. We have been together for since just after 9/11, and have been married since 2012. We have also been blessed with two amazing kids, Sam and Norah. Within that space and time, I became an accidental artist. How, you may ask? Our story plays like a movie, so grab some popcorn, and dive in…
Part 1: From the Beginning
Back in 1999, I was a struggling actress in Toronto. I was working as a Cosmetologist at Shoppers Drug Mart at King and Yonge, right downtown to pay the rent. I rented a bedroom in an older home on Manning Ave in Little Italy. I loved that neighbourhood so much.
It had the best cafes, restaurants, but my favourite place was this old book store that had twinkle lights hanging outside of it; it was so romantic-looking, and I just loved seeing the designs of old books. I actually recall of the first books I bought there: a baby name book. Riveting, I know. You’d think I would have chosen a classic first edition or something more apropos to the store and location itself.
Truthfully, I was drawn to kids and babies, and my youngest sister was just a new baby herself at the time. I had taken care of her for a year prior to moving to Toronto to pursue my acting dreams, but I also knew that being a mother one day was also one of my dreams.
I had a very reputable agent at the time who signed me on after seeing me perform a lead in a musical in community theatre. The agency works with some of the biggest Canadian actors, so I was quite intimidated, and let’s face it, I had no street skills. All I knew was that I loved to perform, and clearly they saw something in me.
However, trying to balance auditions and making actual money at the drug store was very hard. I basically lived off of Twizzlers and Maple and Brown Sugar oatmeal, and at work, I would have to sneak on the phone system to see if I had any voicemails from my agent at home. If there was, it was usually a voicemail that sounded like this:
“Hi Leah, we have an audition for you today at 4 at this-and-this location, it is for this-and-this part for this show/movie/commercial. Be sure to come by the office and pick up your sides (script) first”.
Panic would set in and I would need to find an excuse to get out of work. Which, truthfully became tiresome and made me HATE going to auditions. I would say my excuse, leave, head north-bound on the subway to grab the sides, then head back on the streetcar to go home to find an outfit that would suit the role I was auditioning for, and then figure out where the hell I needed to go, and how the hell I was going to get there.
Anxiety and Virginal Suicides
This usually involved a lot of anxiety, streetcars, subways, taxis, and running until I was sweaty. I hated to be late, but of course the irony in auditioning is that you actually end up waiting. A lot. The saying “hurry up and wait” is famous in the acting world for this reason.
My first movie role was for a Sofia Coppola movie called “The Virgin Suicides”. I auditioned for the lead however “some actress” named Kirsten Dunst got the lead instead (curses!!!). But I did get a speaking role – I played the role of a girl who was being interviewed on a tv show, where girls would share their “suicidal” stories. Morbid, I know. My character, Rannie, was recounting the time she had baked a pie full of rat poison to kill herself, but found herself in deep, ironic despair. Her grandmother – “who loved sweets” – decided she would eat three pieces of said pie, and well, you can imagine what happened…
I also auditioned for Broadway shows (Les Mis and Guys and Dolls), but those auditions were TOUGH. You basically needed to be a triple threat and kill on all levels (dancing, acting, and singing). I could do one really well, the other pretty well and the other… well, I could act like I could dance like I knew what the hell I was doing, but truthfully, I felt like Monica on Friends when she tried tap dancing classes. Or when Joey pretended he knew how to be a choreographer (JAZZ HANDS!).
My last audition was for a Fruit of the Loom underwear commercial, and I remember being this short, long brown-haired teenager with a baby face, but I was up against Amber Valetta-like models that were tall, blonde, and pretty without even trying. I questioned why I was even there at all – were they hiring for looks, or talent?
This was the beginning of the end of my acting career, and something had to give. While I could have fought harder, I was still struggling with the whole work/audition balance and I think deep down I knew that I wasn’t going to succeed unless I had a) lots of money, b) lots of free time, and c) the body of a model, apparently.
Holland Calling . . .
It was then I received a call to go to Holland to visit my grandmother. She came to Canada post-war but had moved back following a divorce from my grandfather. She ended up remarrying there, and had already entertained one of my younger brothers to visit a few years prior, as well as a cousin.
I figured if I didn’t go now, I probably never would, so I bid adieu to Toronto, Shoppers Drug Mart, and acting. It was bittersweet because it had been my passion for so long, but I needed to listen to my gut and realize that as much as it was a passion, it was not sustainable for me at the time.
So, off to Holland I went. With an open-ended ticket, I assumed I would be gone for just a few months and when I got back I would re-evaluate what it was that I really wanted to do.
To quote John Lennon:
“Life is what happens when you are busy making plans”
… and it is absolutely true, as I could not have predicted the paths it would lead me down.
to be continued …