It’s Sunday and we have yet ANOTHER Successful Brit in Toronto willing to lay it on the line and let us know about their life this side of the pond.
Today it is Stephanie Bitten, an actor, performer and playwright who you can read more about on her IMDB profile. Very impressive!
Break a leg, Stephanie …
What made you decide to choose Toronto as a city of choice? Did you plan a permanent move, or wanted to “try it for a while and see how it goes” and it turned out to be longer than planned?
I originally moved to Windsor, Ontario to complete my degree in acting. Poor Windsor, not the prettiest of towns, but the acting program there is one of the best in the country. But of course, Toronto and the GTA is where actors flock to for work … so I just followed the pack up the 401!
What steps did you take to land your first Toronto job? Did the infamous “Canadian experience” hinder you in any way?
Acting is never a full-time job (unless you are a Hollywood A-lister, of course … and I’m not there yet … working on it though!). So, it was important to seek out what actors call “Joe-Jobs.” These are actor-friendly jobs, which traditionally means night work, bar work, theatre work — anything that allows you to bugger off for auditions and call-backs during the daytime.
What struck me right away about Canada and employment was the fact that you need “official” qualifications to work ANYWHERE! Bar work was considered a bit of a joke back home — no offense to bar workers, I’ve been one — but here, they want you to have courses and certificates under your belt before they will hire you. Oh, and that “at least three years’ experience” thing.
That sucks hard for those trying to scrape a living having just come from the U.K. where those jobs are so much easier to book. But luckily I did my Smart Serve and used my Cockney accent to charm my way into a few positions to pay the rent during the quiet acting periods.
As for acting, I have to be able to pull out a North American accent for many auditions — but I’ve recently used British accents in small roles in both TV shows “Reign” and “Murdoch Mysteries,” which was lovely!
What’s the best/worst aspects of living in Toronto?
Best: The people. Honestly, it’s lovely to be in a city full of artistic, friendly and progressive Canadians. Alright, there are a few not-so-friendly folk out there, but I try not to bump into them!
I love the way that many parts of the city feel like little villages; for example, Roncesvalles, The Junction, The Danforth … all feel like real community-based areas. All crazy expensive, property wise, but that’s another story.
Oh, and another major thing for me is the lake. I LOVE being close to this massive expanse of water, and yet be in an urban environment too. It’s the best of both worlds!
Worst: Property prices! Seriously, unless you come to Canada with a huge wedge of sterling to convert into $, getting onto the property ladder in Toronto is very, very difficult! Income taxes are a lot steeper than the U.K. too.
Also, from an acting perspective, Toronto is a tiny city, compared to my home town of London, England! Everyone knows everyone — which can be both good AND bad.
Do you make an effort to connect with other Brits in the city, or just meet them when chance allows it? Any recommended pubs/eateries/other places for homesick Brits to meet each other and network?
I must admit, I don’t really hang out with many other Brits over here. I guess I’ve been lazy! I did go to a Pub Quiz one night that was hosted by a Brit group, and that was a lot of fun.
I DO miss a “real” British pub, though, you know what I mean? Not the pissed-up bar fights between Chelsea and Millwall fans, but a nice roaring fire, in an old, crumbling Victorian building and a good, proper Sunday roast.
I hear good things about pubs like the Bristol Yard, and some Firkins are not TOO bad — but I’ve yet to find a REAL British pub in Toronto yet. Let me know if you hear of one! (The closest I’ve got was The Poacher in Burlington … although that didn’t have a roaring fire).
Honestly, social media is the way ahead to find out what’s happening. Twitter in particular! That’s how I found you guys!
Open question/comment: feel free to write anything here/advice/tips on a Brit living in, or moving to, Toronto.
When I first moved to Canada, I converted the cost of everything into the British Pound equivalent. It just made me think that Canada was this terribly expensive, crazily taxed place! It probably still is, but I try not to do the conversions now. It’s just depressing! (No 15p cans of peas from Tesco here, love!).
Just learn to go with the flow. Hard for us Brits a lot of the time, I know.
Enjoy and celebrate the decision to move here! I miss family in England terribly, but moving to Canada was such a great opportunity, I’m glad I didn’t pass up on it.
Excellent stuff, Stephanie. Here’s her official website for those Brits — and hiring agents! — that want to find out more. Cheers!