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Inner lives of actors come alive in play written, learned and performed in 24 hours

The Actor's Foundry has its annual retreat at the Bowen Lodge this week. The 24-hour play put on Friday evening (Aug. 16) is the culmination of the week's work.
Actor's Foundry
It’s an immersive week of acting at the Bowen Lodge as visitors from around the world hone their craft.

At 9 a.m. Friday morning, islander Matthew Harrison will present the 20 actors staying at the Bowen Lodge with a play.

The play will have been written the night before by Harrison and his writing team for the students of his week-long immersive course. 

By 7 p.m. Friday evening, the actors will be on stage. And you’re invited. 

As an acting teacher and coach, Harrison owns the Actor’s Foundry, which has a studio in Vancouver. This is the fourth year the Foundry has run this week of acting “bootcamp” on-island. 

This year’s course cast members hail from Cape Town, London, New York, Toronto, Calgary, Winnipeg and Vancouver. Many are working actors. Many came to B.C. just for this retreat. 

“It’s a week about acting but it’s also about the fundamentals of being an authentic person,” says Harrison. “And figuring out who you are and what you bring to the world and how to quiet your insecurity and your shame voices in order to permit the true you to show up so that you can then become a character.”

Matthew Harrison works with participants in his Actor's Foundry retreat.
Matthew Harrison works with participants in his Actor's Foundry retreat. - Bronwyn Beairsto

Throughout the week, actors play out scenes on the grass, in the water, on the docks of the seaside property, sometimes with such emotion that the police get called (Harrison says he warned the RCMP this year). But it’s all part of the safe acting cocoon Harrison works to create. 

“Getting them to come to an island, by the time they hit that ferry, you can leave your expectations…you can leave all that noise that’s in your head on the other side,” says Harrison. “And then they come here and they just get immersed.” 

“There’s a something special about shedding that [insecurity] with each other,” says participant Lizzie Boys, who also attended the retreat last year. The 19-year old has been acting since she was 11, most recently in the Gates of Paradise TV movie series. “There’s a safety in it as well.

“It is kind of terrifying and vulnerable to do in front of other people but incredibly rewarding.”

While the retreat has many facets, Harrison makes a point of highlighting psychology. 

Harrison invites trauma and addictions counsellor (and islander) Carrie DeJong to speak to retreat participants about neuroscience and psychology. 

And then they delve deeper into the actors themselves. 

“She and I do an exercise that’s much more about therapy than acting, in which the actors are unveiling all this personal material,” explains Harrison. “Then on Thursday night, I and my writing team stay up all night, and we write the play.”

While Harrison changes genders and situations, the play is similar enough to what the actors expressed that each gets a writing credit.  

Friday morning, Harrison will present the actors with a 45-to-60-minute play. They’ll have the day to get ready. 

“The whole week is this beautiful, gentle, fulfilling week, and then all sudden, pow! Fridays. Now under the gun, you have to be able to do it,” says Harrison. 

Lizzie Boys
This is the second year that Lizzie Boys has participated in the retreat. The Gates of Paradise actor says the week-long immersive course made her a better actor. - Bronwyn Beairsto

“It’s like a tornado of panic,” says Boys.

But they get it done. 

And Harrison urges islanders to come out and see what they produce. 

“They’re legit, working actors, so it’s fun to come see their work,” says Harrison. “It will be exceptional, I think.

“We’re developing and expressing this play in 24 hours, and it’s fun. It’s an event. It’s ephemeral. It’s a one-time-only thing.”

The Actor’s Foundry play is 7 p.m. Friday evening (Aug. 16) at the Bowen Lodge (also known as CNIB) and is free.