Josh Downing

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I was a star. I could feel it in my bones. In grade 2 I acted and directed my classmates in an adaptation I wrote from a school storybook. Teachers were so impressed they let me tour my little show to other classes. I was the only grade 5 student to get lines in the grade 7 musical production Bye Bye Bizertie! By the time I was in high school I was winning trophies for my acting ability and winning championship theatre sports competitions. 

Going to theatre school was not going to be for me. 

I took my grad money and blew it on a trip to Toronto. For a West Coast kid, Toronto was a gleaming treasure trove of arts and culture. Toronto would be where I would get my big break, I just knew it. Getting back home to Surrey B.C. I heard a rumour that my high school ex was going to the Douglas College Theatre program and that was all it took for me to beg my parents to let me (pay for me) to go to theatre school. The last day before classes officially started, I marched into the empty college, found the director of the theatre program and told her I wanted to be in. 

It would take 30 years for me to find the courage to come back to the theatre.

She chuckled and told me that the class was starting in a couple of days and that the students had to go through several auditions and a waiting list to get into the program. I was not to be stopped and in 45 minutes she told me to get down to admissions with my tuition so I wouldn’t miss my first class! 

Turns out my ex had not gotten into the program, but I did and that was all that mattered. 

It was a comprehensive program and included stagecraft, dance, history, design and a little bit of acting. At the end of each year was a full production in the college theatre. At first it was a dream meeting new artsy people, feeling a little like Montgomery in Fame, wearing leg warmers. But the glamour faded pretty quickly. The program director that taught most of the programs gave all the good roles to the pretty actors when she showed up. A lot of the classes were handed off to me to run improv while she sat in her office with a box of wine. There was a less and less teaching and more wondering what we would do that day.

During my two years in the program I made some amazing friends, wrote my first short one-act play and had it produced by my high school friends in a local community theatre and starred in a video for a law firm. I only got the role as the lead, one of my classmates was too drunk to show up. At the end of the program I was involved with a group that got a summer grant to create a theatre company. We spent that summer touring an original children’s show to festivals all over the lower mainland. When that was done, I workshopped with the original Theatre Sports team which included Colin Mockrie and Ryan Stiles but their fame didn’t rub off at all. Theatre gigs were tough to get in Vancouver. 

So, I packed my bag and moved to Toronto.  I pounded the pavement, took volunteer positions at some local theatres and did some stuff with Toronto Theatre Sports but the whole acting thing just wasn’t taking off. Thankfully I had my bartending certificate so I was able to work and pay bills but that was all I was doing. Theatre school meant nothing. A pretty face meant everything. I was no Jason Priestley although I was good friends with his sister. I was more of a Brad Pitt, before he became famous. 

One day I was standing near the bar at the restaurant I was pouring drinks at and I heard some of the waiters talking. They were complaining about all the awful auditions they had, were going on, all the T.V shows that were coming up that their friends were going to get and it was that moment I accepted my fate. It was not for me. I was not going to be on the big screen or the big stage or even a little one. I didn’t have what it would take. My theatre school experience wasn’t going to carry me on its feeble shoulders. Shortly after that day I accepted a salaried management position at the restaurant and made a solid career out of it. One that didn’t require me to be beautiful, or “on”, or wonder where my rent would come from.

It would take 30 years for me to find the courage to come back to the theatre. As an actor. A director, a playwright. Maybe that’s what I needed. Life experience. A lifetime to explore. The school of life. 

A couple of people that are dressed up and posing for the camera

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Douglas College Theatre Production of The Would Be Gentleman by Moliere
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