Flight Risk photo by Benjamin Laird Photography
Back in September, when the Department of Drama announced Meg Braem as the new Lee Playwright in Residence, Braem had a new play in development called Flight Risk that was set to make its world premiere later this year at Calgary’s Lunchbox Theatre.
Flight Risk opened on October 23 and features BFA Acting alum Kristen Padayas (class of 2016) as “Sarah Baker” a student nurse at a retirement home who forges an unlikely relationship with “Hank Dunfield,” a World War II veteran about to turn 100.
We caught up with Kristen to learn more about her.
How did you get into acting?
I started doing community theatre in junior high, and when I got to high school in Grande Prairie, that’s where they offered actual drama classes. That’s where I started directing, stage managing, as well as acting. I was pretty heavily into it. That’s when I decided I wanted to do this as a career.
What led you to the U of A?
I moved to Edmonton and originally attended Grant MacEwan, graduating in 2009. I got hired to work at Teatro la Quindicina soon afterwards and got picked up by the Varscona Theatre. I was also doing Fringe shows, web series, a lot of young actor, non-equity work.
Then, my boyfriend (now fiancee) needed to go to Calgary for school, so I moved with him and carried on my professional acting there. While I was living in Calgary, I met Meg Braem for the first time while workshopping a play of hers called Coast. It was during rehearsals for that production that I auditioned for the BFA Acting program at the U of A, and got in.
How did you land your role in Flight Risk?
After I graduated from the U of A and moved home to Calgary, all the work I got in my first year out of school was in Edmonton. So I spent my first year out of school going back and forth between Calgary and Edmonton. Finally, the first Calgary gig I got was a workshop for another play of Meg’s called Vital Spirits at Theatre Calgary. So I reconnected with Meg because of this 1-week workshop. And during this workshop, I got an email from Lunchbox Theatre asking me to read for a role in Flight Risk. So I was auditioning for a Meg Braem play, while workshopping another Meg Braem play!
It seems like you guys are destined to work together forever!
Oh my gosh, I know! It’s a really cool, serendipitous connection I have with her and her work. She’s just always around! It’s really great because I love her writing, and I love her, so it works out.
What’s it been like working with Meg?
She is the coolest lady! Meg is so grounded, and so real, and totally lives in her own truth. And that’s how she writes.
What I like about her writing, and her as a person, is she makes really wonderful connections to people in her life. In a way, she ends up writing about them — her characters are always reflective of people in her life that have made an impact.
I’ve worked on three shows of hers now, and it’s been great having her in the room for rehearsals because you can ask her questions about the character’s motivations. And she’ll just tell you, with no secret about it — “Oh yeah, I wrote that because of a conversation with my father-in-law, and he told me that.” “Oh yeah, this is from that time in my life when I did this…” It’s very clear, and it’s very personal for her. For me as an actor, it gives me context because it’s personal — it gives me a better idea of how to approach the character.
What was your time in the U of A drama program like?
I had a good experience. When I came into the program, I came into it a little older — I already had a theatre diploma, I already had professional experience, but I didn’t think I had tapped in to my potential. And I didn’t know what my identity was as an actor. At the time, I was just accepting shows just because “that’s what you’re supposed to do,” and I was losing the love of it. I wanted to go back to school to explore what I was capable of, to face some fears, and to grow.
Before I got to the U of A, I was going into auditions with no confidence at all. I wanted to find something to give me confidence and a voice, so that when I went into auditions as a professional working actor, I could be proud of that and say “this is me.” At the time (in my early 20’s), I didn’t really know who “me” was. That was my goal in the program: to figure that out. I definitely reached my goal, and then some.
A lot of it was my own drive and hunger to learn, but it was the fact that I had really wonderful teachers who saw that was the kind of student I was, and they helped me. They invested in me because I invested in them. I had a wonderful relationship with my faculty where I could have personal meetings with them if I was feeling stuck, or scared, or having an emotional crisis. I could confide in them and get help from them on a personal and professional level that helped me succeed.
I think many students in general are scared to build those relationships with their faculty. I know I was when I went to Grant MacEwan, but with the U of A, I was older and going into a conservatory style program, which I knew was a huge sacrifice — it’s a lot of money, I moved to another city, and you basically have no life for three years except for the program. So I thought “I am here, I am going to get my money’s worth, and I’m going to squeeze out as much as I can from this experience. I’m not just here buying time to figure out what I want to do, this IS what I want to do.”
I give a lot of credit to having amazing teachers who invested in me because I invested in them and the program. If you have to go through some really emotional or dark scenes or creation, you need that support. You need to be able to trust in the safe space created by your instructors.
Catch Kristen in Flight Risk running October 23 – November 11, 2017, at Lunchbox Theatre in Calgary.