Happy New Year! It's officially 2020, the year my UK visa expires. This morning, I've been sitting here in my small flat near Stratford looking at flights back home to Canada in July. The fact that I will have to go back in six months is becoming a heavy reality which is causing me to have plenty of mixed emotions. I'm excited to see my family and friends back home who I haven't seen since last Christmas, but I'm also dreading leaving the UK, because I feel like I've made a new home here with friends I can't imagine living without.
All that being said, I still have six months. A lot can happen six months. I'm producing a show that I've written at the Brighton Fringe in May which is going to keep me pretty busy. In this last year and a half, I've discovered so much about myself, and I've experienced an exceptional amount of personal growth, which has led me to switch career paths from acting to writing. I've discovered that the reason I wasn't making an effort to pursue an acting career in the UK was because I wasn't in love with the process of acting. I didn't love auditioning, spending a ton of money on headshots or courses, and most importantly, I hated not being in control of whether I got a job or not. I want to be in control of the story. I want to write the stories. Ultimately, I love the process of writing. Regardless of the medium, I want to write.
My plan is to eventually come back to the UK on an ancestry visa. Whether that will be in a year, or five, I can't tell you. Ancestry visas are expensive, and I need to be able pursue my career as well as save money to come back to the UK. I'm planning on self publishing my first novel by next Christmas, and following that, a book of my poetry. I'm excited to see what 2020 has to offer!
Just over a year ago I wrote my first instalment to this series comparing my life in Toronto to my life in London. Then, I had been in London for only two months. Currently, I've been living here for 14 months, so I figured it was about time I write a part 2. Most of the things I mention are pertinent to not just London and Toronto, but also the United Kingdom and Canada as entire countries, as I've travelled across both (apart from Eastern Canada).
1. The UK absolutely LOVES Harry Potter
This isn't exactly an entire UK thing, but England and Scotland absolutely milk the fact that Harry Potter is British. In London, its the massive amount of Harry Potter filming location tours, and all the HP paraphernalia at literally any Primark. Then, of course, you have the Cursed Child on the West End, Kings Cross Platform 9 3/4, and the Leavesden Studio Tour (which is in Watford.. so technically not in London).
Furthermore, I spent a day in Oxford where they filmed the Great Hall and other areas of Hogwarts and there were TWO Harry Potter stores. There's also two Harry Potter stores in Edinburgh where the Queen herself, J.K. Rowling, lives. You can also have tea at the Elephant House where she wrote the first book. Lastly, up in the Scottish Highlands you have the Glenfinnan Viaduct railway, famous for being the tracks that takes the students to Hogwarts.
If you're a Harry Potter fan, you NEED to come to Britain. The whole country (minus Northern Ireland and Wales) is a HP museum.
Toronto, of course, has no relation to Harry Potter. However, We do have the Lockhart which has some amazing HP inspired cocktails. Also, lets not forget about Curiosa, which, legally can't say they're a Harry Potter store for copyright purposes, but has some awesome HP inspired goods.
2. "You alright?"
This is a Brit's way of saying "what's up?" They don't really care if you're alright. This was a huge learning curve for me after actually trying to answer honestly the first few times. It's just a formality over here.
3. Reality TV
I will never understand the UK's obsession with reality TV. If you're here when Love Island or the Great British Bakeoff is on, they will literally be ALL you hear them talking about it. I actually attempted watching Love Island once and barely made it through the first episode. There's also the X Factor, the Voice, the Circle, Naked Attraction, First Dates... the list goes on.
We have reality TV in Canada, however I'd argue the only show that really matters is Hockey Night in Canada. We prefer our comedy shows, such as Just for Laughs, the Rick Mercer Report, and This Hour Has 22 Minutes.
4. Free From
Now, this is something that the UK is definitely doing right. "Free From" is a section in every supermarket that has food specifically meant for dietary restrictions. Each item is clearly labelled whether it's gluten free, dairy free, vegan, etc. As a vegan myself, this is a life saver. Canada doesn't have anything comparable. I really hope that changes soon.
If you thought coming to London involves buying expensive alcohol, you'd be absolutely right... If you're not at a Weatherspoons. Weatherspoons (Spoons, for short) is a chain of pubs that has the cheapest booze and food you will ever have in the UK. Their menu is the same wherever you go, and they have an app just in case you don't feel like queueing at the bar and want to order directly from your phone. They have locations all over the UK, so you're never far away from cheap beer.
Sadly, we have nothing that compares to this in Canada. If you want cheap alcohol, just don't go to the Toronto downtown core. It's as as simple as that.
6. Lack of bugs/ no screens
Yes, the UK still has bugs. No, they don't nearly have them as bad as we have them in Canada. In London, no house has a screen on their window. That's because big blood sucking mosquitos don't really exist over here. The most I've seen are small flies and ants. It's bloody amazing.
7. Rolling Cigarettes
I'm not a cigarette smoker, so I'm not an expert by far on this subject, but I've never seen anyone roll their cigarettes in Toronto. If they do, it's not common. Over here, you're more likely to see someone roll their cigarette than take a pre rolled one out of a package. It's cheaper, so most people choose that option. People roll at work, on the train, while walking...it's as normal as rain in London.
8. So many Bank Holidays
I'm not sure who decided to give this country so many Bank Holidays, but it's absolutely amazing. I feel I work less days of the year over here than I did in Canada. It's awesome.
9. Snow= Panic
The UK simply doesn't know how to deal with snow. Trains are delayed the moment a sprinkle of snow falls, and everyone makes a fuss. That, and people complain how utterly cold it is. I try telling them that's nothing compared to -40 degree weather with snow up to your knees, but they'll never fully understand. I will be honest, I do miss a proper snow fall, but I also love not needing wear full on snow boots with thermal socks every time I go outside.
10. Each country in the UK is distinct
Do you want to know the easiest way to get a Northern Irishman, a Scotsman, or a Welshman to hate you? Lump them in with the rest of the UK. Specifically, England. England has a bad reputation for taking things that aren't their's, and Welsh, Scottish, and Northern Irish independence are all examples of that. I understand historically, it's a lot more complex than that. As someone who has travelled all over the UK, the one thing all countries have in common is that they are all proud of their culture. (Northern Ireland is REALLY complicated.. let's not go there.) The Welsh language is still fluently spoken in rural areas, as well as Gaelic in parts of the Scottish Highlands. They are proud of their history and are absolutely stubborn when it comes to lumping them in with the English.
Canada also has it's own unique cultures and traditions. Eastern Canada is very different from Western Canada. However, the most comparable issue we have is obviously with Quebec. French Canada is very proud of their heritage and culture, so much so that they've been struggling for independence for years.
You know when you're doing something really fun and you take a second to think that whatever you're doing won't last forever and its only a matter of time before it ends, and then you shake it off because you're trying to enjoy each and every moment? That's been my thought process over the last month. I passed my year anniversary in the UK on the 14th of July. Oddly enough, I wasn't even in the UK. I was in Chernobyl. Yes, I was wondering around the site of one of the most dangerous radioactive accidents in history. Before that I was in Barcelona. So far, 2019 has brought me to Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Greece, Spain and Ukraine. In September I'll be headed to Italy, and who knows after that where I'll end up? Living in the UK has spoilt me in terms of travel, which I'm trying to take advantage of because I don't know whether I'll come back here to live.
I came to the UK to travel and act. Obviously, I've been doing a lot of the former. I've been submitting myself to castings and trying to take initiative, but my motivation has shifted. Ever since I produced my film "Sugar," I've had this urge to continue to make my own work. Over the last few months I've been taking writing more seriously and have gotten good headway into the feature for "Sugar," as well as some other film projects I have in mind. Furthermore, I started writing a novel, and have really gotten back into writing poetry. Prior to "Sugar," I never thought I could make a career in writing, but it does make sense. Its been one of those things I've enjoyed since I was young. I still love acting, but I want to focus on acting in the work I write and produce.
Whether I stay in the UK or not is largely dependant on this altered career path. It would make sense to stay in Toronto to produce my own work, largely because I already have connections there and to go through another UK visa process would be expensive. However, there's this burning inside me that doesn't want to go back. As cliché as it sounds, I feel at home here. With less than one year left, I'm trying not to think about the inevitability of me having to leave London. I just need to enjoy this last year as much as I can.
One of the many reasons I decided to move to London was because I felt in Toronto I was just another blond actress in her mid 20s trying to compete with the thousands of other actress who looked just like me and sounded just like me, but started their career much earlier. The first agent I met with fresh out of school basically told me "there are many actresses within your type and age range who've been doing this much longer than you have so they have an advantage." I was 24. Needless to say, I needed something to help me stand out. In the UK I have an accent, which even my agent here said is unique and will run in my favour. Needless to say, since arriving on British soil I've been busy settling in and haven't exactly been completely focussed on acting. However, over the fast month or so I've found my focus again. This is a list of things I've noticed so far that differ between the Toronto and UK acting industries. (I won't include information about Spotlight because I already discussed it in one of my previous blog posts: Moving to London: The Struggles)
Don't even think about bringing your $500 headshots from Toronto to the UK thinking you can use them. The style here is so different, after getting my new headshots here my agent didn't even want me to use my Toronto headshots at all, which is a shame, because they are good headshots. In Toronto the style is very much capturing your 'type.' Your headshots are a reflection of what casting directors will see you as. They're very stylized, with posing being used a lot. Here is one of my headshots by the lovely Hayley Andoff from Toronto.
In the UK, however, simplicity is key. Headshots are supposed to represent you, not who you can play. They're much more close and intimate, allowing the casting directors to see you as a blank slate. Black and white is still used here, as well, however, I think its currently on the way out. I received my new headshots in both black and white, as well as colour. Below is one of my new headshots curtesy of Yellow Belly.
One of the most significant differences I've discovered from being an actor in London vs. Toronto are the job opportunities. Toronto is such a film and television hub. Productions from the U.S. as well as our own home grown media is filmed there. From Workin' Moms to the Handmaid's Tale, there are always a ton of film, television, web series, commercials, etc, filming at any given moment. From an actor's perspective, this is awesome, because that means a lot of work. Its unfortunate though that most American productions only cast American actors for lead roles. Basically, a working actor in Toronto has probably done a few dozen commercials and maybe a few one liners in an American television show by the time they retire. (If they can ever afford to retire.) Oh, and also a stint on Murdoch Mysteries, of course. Film and Television is where the money is, so even actors who are faithful to theatre will probably do a commercial or two. Speaking of theatre, compared to screen, its a smaller industry. Of course you have the likes of Stratford, Mirvish, Soulpepper, etc. The people I know who make a living in those companies and are regularly paid theatre actors are mostly those who are well trained from proper, established theatre schools. (I'm not sayings screen actors don't train, but its more common practise for them to do short courses and private coaching. Not to mention screen acting is very visual so its less about talent and more about looks, unfortunately.) I don't want to jump the gun and say theatre is harder to get into than film and TV, but perhaps because I've been in London where theatre is so massive compared to screen I now know just how small the Toronto theatre industry is.
London is a whole other ballgame. I mentioned how enormous the theatre industry is, and it is enormous. Musical Theatre especially. I'm almost at a disadvantage because I don't want to do Musical Theatre. Furthermore, because theatre is so huge, drama school is taken into the highest regard. The UK houses some of the best drama schools in the world, and most working actors you meet probably trained at one of them. Moreover, castings are much more diverse. One of the biggest casting categories in the UK that you never see in Toronto are cruises. So many cruises cast in the UK, and most of them are musical theatre (again, I'm at a disadvantage). Furthermore, there are many more international castings in London. Commercials filming in Turkey, Spain, Italy, Norway, etc, are constantly popping up on casting websites. This is just an example of how attainable Europe is (well, until Brexit comes into place).
Pantomime is another huge casting category in the UK. I remember studying Panto a bit in school, but you never really see it in Toronto at all. The UK has loads of it, especially now around Christmastime. Lastly, student films in the UK can be PAID. In Toronto, film schools have an agreement with ACTRA which basically makes each actor work for free, regardless of union status. In the UK its a bit different. Not all student films are paid, but some are, which is kind of refreshing if I'm being honest.
I'm still learning about the UK's acting scene, but I'm excited to dive head first into into. Hopefully in the New Year I'll start auditioning more and really experience what its like to be a working actor in London!
Everyone has their own thing that helps them establish a sense of permanence. Something you do when you know you're going to be in a place for awhile. It could be joining a book club in your area, a class of some sort, or simply getting a loyalty card at your local coffee shop. For me, it was a gym membership. After the craziness of moving to a new flat (again) and travelling (again), I felt I could finally fall into a routine in my new life. (Furthermore, I should mention I was so out of shape it was embarrassing.) Having that routine of waking up in the mornings and going to the gym before work was, and continues to be important to me, because it finally gives me a sense of normalcy after the craziness of the last three months. Having said that, I'm going to be travelling again in a couple weeks so the craziness will start up again. (At the beginning of October I went to Germany for Oktoberfest and in November I'll be headed to Ireland.. it never stops!)
I've been in London for just over two months now, and ever since I started walking on British soil I've been mentally collecting a list of everything different from Toronto. Some of these things are noticeable within the first couple of hours and any tourist would see them too, and some of them you wouldn't know until actually living here . This list is constantly growing, so I figured I'd break it down into segments. Furthermore, there's so much I could write about the differences of being an actor in London vs. Toronto, but that's for a whole other list.
It's been about a month and a half since I've arrived in the UK. There have been some absolute highs, most of which were spent in that first three weeks during my program. It seems moving to a new country is never all highs, however.
Looking out the view from Castle Campbell in Dollar, Scotland
Its absolutely crazy how time flies by when you're in a full time acting course in a new Country while simultaneously trying to find a place to live for the next two years. It's still hard to believe I'm actually here. The program at Guildhall was incredible. I can now compare training in the UK to that of Canada, and even though there was some overlap, I found in London, (or at Guildhall, at least) there is a huge sense of play which my former training lacked. It was a lot more physical which I found incredibly useful. Furthermore, after studying in a film acting intensive course for two years while also being wrapped up in camera acting since graduation, it was so nice to be able to jump head first into theatre again. I know for sure I made the right choice to move here knowing how viable theatre is in London compared to Toronto.
As for Flat Hunting, I was super lucky. The first flat I saw I took. Its in Newham, so a little far out from the centre, but its a good area with great flatmates (who have dogs!), and decently priced rent. The next things on my checklist are to get a job and an agent, but thankfully I know people who can help in both departments. I'm also prepared to really tackle the networking thing, because as any actor knows, it's all about who you know.
Before I do those things, however, I'm spending the next week in Wales visiting relatives. I can't wait to see more of the UK!
Well. The time has come. I fly out tonight on Iceland Air.
When I think about the last couple weeks saying goodbye to loved ones, packing, and purging my stuff (which proved a lot harder than expected) I'm just amazed at how fortunate I am to do this. If anything, this experience has made me realize how many people truly love and support me. Saying goodbyes were hard, even if it is just for two years. However, as my mom pointed out, it is a lot easier to live abroad now than it was when she was my age. I'm sure skype and facebook messenger will become a huge part of my life when I'm over there.
I do have to constantly remind myself to look forward instead of back. I'm a nostalgic person, so I often get caught in the "remember when" trap. One thing that I do try to remember is that fire that spurred in my body when I had this idea in the first place. The excitement that ejected through me as I talked to my mom on the phone all those months ago. One chapter ends as another begins. I can't wait to see what London has in store for me.
Onwards and upwards!
Days till move: 20
I still remember it like it was yesterday. I was just a child, maybe 8 or 9. I was seriously obsessed with Harry Potter, and I told my dad that I wanted to move to England. He informed me I couldn't, because both my parents were born in Canada; but he, however, could. My grandparents were both born in Wales so he was eligible for a UK passport. I however, was not. I remember my heart sinking, all my dreams shattered.
You can imagine then, how thrilled I was to learn that, over a decade later, I actually could move to the UK. Not only that, but it was pretty easy for me to do so. I was 25 with two grandparents born in the UK. This made me eligible for two visas: The tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa, and the Ancestry Visa. Here are the requirements for both visas:
Youth Mobility: Two year visa. Must return to home country after two years.
- Be between the ages of 18-30.
- Have British nationality or be from certain commonwealth countries.
- Prove you have enough funds in your bank account to support yourself.
- Provide address of the place you will be staying in the UK.
- Pay visa fee and health surcharge.
- Earliest you can apply is 6 months before arrival.
Ancestry: Five year visa. Eligible for extension and to settle in the UK permanently.
- Be over the age of 17.
- Prove ancestry by supplying documents such as grandparents' and parents' birth and marriage certificates, as well as your own birth certificate.
- Prove intent to work.
- Prove you have enough funds in you bank account to support yourself.
- Provide address of the place you will be staying in the UK.
- Pay visa fee and health surcharge.
- Earliest you can apply is 3 months before arrival.
(Click here for more information on UK visas: www.gov.uk/browse/visas-immigration )
Initially, I was going to apply for the Ancestry Visa. I liked the option to stay in the UK if I wanted after the 5 year mark, especially if I got an acting job that would require me to stay longer. I started collecting documents which proved pretty easy considering both my grandparents are still living. What became stressful, however, was the price difference between the two visas. I was looking at a price difference of about $2000 required for my bank statement, the visa cost, and health surcharge. I was also doubting whether I really did want to stay in the UK for five years since I'm ultimately going in blind, not really knowing anyone or having a plan. I might get there and want to come back in six months. I would rather take that chance on a two year visa rather than a five. Ultimately, I applied for the Youth Mobility Visa with the knowledge that if I wanted to, I could always still apply for the Ancestry Visa later as that option will still be available to me.
I wish I could tell my dad that I am moving to the UK after all. Sadly, he passed away three years ago, so I'll never have the opportunity. I'm sure he'd be very excited for me though, since he absolutely loved to travel and live life to the fullest. If you were wondering how I'm able to afford this new life direction, it is because of his inheritance. I firmly believe you should jump at any opportunity life gives you, and my dad did, too.