Shayla Brown recently starred in her first feature film directed by Canadian film family Sarah Polley, alongside Oscar winner Frances McDormand
Shayla Brown says she hit the jackpot with her first feature film.
The 19-year-old actress from Midland premiered her first film at the Toronto International Film Festival recently with an all-star cast and crew.
Women talking Not only is it directed by Canadian writer, actress and director Sarah Polley, but the cast is also packed with acting powerhouses, including Oscar winner Frances McDormand, Gemini, Genie, and Canadian actress Sheila McCarthy, Cannes award winner Rooney Mara, and more.
“It wasn’t something I expected to do at 19, because that’s not normal,” Brown says of starring in a film filled with “so many amazing women.”
“I was definitely terrified when I saw the cast list.
“For my first feature film, I really hit the jackpot,” says the thespian who got her first taste of the stage as a sheep in Boy Who Cried Wolf.
Women talking based on a book by Canadian author Miriam Toews. Both the book and the film surround the sexual assaults that take place in a Mennonite community.
“It was a very heavy film,” says the visually impaired queer actress.
The film follows a group of women in a religious colony who struggle to reconcile their faith as they discover they have been sexually abused for years.
Brown explains that this film was so special because there was a sense of community with all of us.
“It was an extremely safe cast,” says Brown, noting that he had to be given the content.
“To perform at our best we had to be vulnerable. Knowing that this cast was going to take care of me, I could really give myself to my character.”
Brown adds, “You have to have a supportive space. No other job asks you to be so vulnerable and so emotionally open.”
The blind actor says theater allowed her to open up.
“People ask blind people to do a lot,” he says. “Either you’re truly independent or you ask for help once and you’re helpless.”
Walking on stage alone in various roles gave the young actress a sense of independence.
Brown recently performed her first leading role as Matilda in the play of the same name for her high school graduation final production.
Despite having witnessed a few of these productions, Brown believed she would be less emotional as the curtains fell on the final performance.
It wasn’t like that.
“There’s this whole community in the theater,” Brown explains.
She says that community spirit has been in every place she’s ever graced the stage as a member of the children’s chorus for the King’s Wharf Theatre, right up to the recent Toronto production of George F. Walker’s comedy “Orphans for the Czar.”
“With the support you get from the people you work with, you learn the tools of collaboration in community and school theatre. When I got to Toronto, I didn’t feel any different in those rehearsal rooms.
“You still work together, you still work together, it’s just a different caliber. It’s a lot of play,” notes the acclaimed actor.
After a busy few years in her budding career, Brown took this summer to regroup and attended the Drayton Entertainment Youth Academy where she had the opportunity to direct a production for the first time.
The academy’s artistic director, David Connolly, asked Brown to assistant director Frozen Jr.
Brown says it was a nice change of pace after the seriousness of her first film.
As for directing, Brown says Sarah Polley has been a force behind me since I finished Women Talking. “He told me, ‘You should write and direct your own stuff,'” laughs Brown about how lucky he is to have such a talented and accomplished person offer that kind of encouragement.
“He really thinks I have something and he sees something,” Brown says, laughing that he has to do something now that Polley made those comments publicly.
As a blind actor, and someone who identifies as queer, Brown says being a minority has given her many story ideas.
“I haven’t written before, and still [Polley] tells me I have to,” says Brown, who says she has Polley’s number so she can call her when she needs guidance.
Brown says taking the summer off has given her time to think about what she wants to do with her career as she auditions for various performing arts programs.
“My advice to young actors is that you’re going to go through a slump where you feel like you’re never going to work again. That’s how I feel after every big role. Continue the audition. Opportunities will find you.”
We’ll be paying close attention to what’s next for Shayla Brown, because the opportunities she gets will turn into more.
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