Iksokapi Profile: Sera-Lys McArthur
“Be healthy and educate yourself…follow your passion, have fun and try to enjoy the ride.”
By Jonathon Potskin
IKSOKAPI PROFILE – On a very cold wintery day in Toronto at David’s Tea on Church Street I was able to sit down with Sera-Lys McArthur, a trained actress who is presently making great strides for her career with messages of positivity for other young Indigenous Women and for Murdered and Missing Indigenous women in Canada.
Sera-Lys grew up in Regina Saskatchewan and is from the Pheasant Rump Nakota First Nation south east of Regina. Sera-Lys has been actively acting for over 15 years in roles on Screen, Television and in Theatre. Her most notable role in recent years in Canada has been as Hailey, Adam Beach’s (Bobby) Niece and Michelle Thrush’s (Deanna) daughter on the CBC hit Arctic Air. Let’s get to know Sera-Lys a bit more:
Q & A with Sera-Lys McArthur
Who influenced you to be an Actor?
Lucy Lawless, in Xena Warrior Princess was an Actress I idolized growing up. I also grew up admiring Actor Sara Polly from an early age. I was able watch her career in the many stages of her acting career and throughout my life growing up in Canada. She really sparked my interest and inspired me to become an Actor.
Also my first Director John N. Smith, he was the one who gave me a shot, even when I didn’t know I wanted to be an Actor yet. He hired me twice for really great roles and it was a wonderful experience.
What age did you start acting?
I started acting at the age of 13, it was for a CBC miniseries Revenge of the Land Directed by John N. Smith. There was filming that came to Saskatchewan and that doesn’t happen very often. I was with a modeling agency at that time and was encouraged to audition as they were looking for a Métis girl my age. When I walked in for the audition they automatically connected me to the role as Carmen Moore’s (Native Canadian Actress) daughter in the series Revenge of the Land. After this I did a lot of theatre acting in Regina.
Tell me about your education in Acting and how it helped you achieve your goals.
In my high schools days I did a lot of workshops for film and TV as well as musical theatre training (dance, singing and acting,) as well as doing a lot of shows. I then moved to New York to pursue post secondary Musical Theatre training at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.
After that I moved to Vancouver where I did studio classes and method classes and Meisner acting technique classes. I then decided to attend Capliano University for General Arts.
After that I decided I wanted to get a Masters Degree in Acting in England, I got into the only acting school I applied to called East 15 Acting School at the University of Essex. I was able to attend university overseas through scholarships with the Province of British Columbia, Premiers One World Scholarship from the Irving K. Barber Foundation and with Indspire; as well as help from my First Nation and student loans.
When I was in School in England I started exploring the message that was out there on Murdered and Missing Aboriginal Women. It was a great subject matter to share with the other students, as I was in an international program. I was able to bring this message to the far-reaching points of the world that wouldn’t have this knowledge.
When I left England I moved to Los Angeles and worked with Barbara Bain, she taught the Strasberg Acting method. I then moved to Toronto and am now in an experiential phase of learning through starting my career full-time.
In 2014 you toured with Native Earth Theatre starring in the play “In Spirit” written by Tara Beagan. Can you tell me about the play and the influence your character has had in the communities you visited?
The play was based on a real experience of a Murdered and Missing Aboriginal girl from a community in British Columbia in 1979. The play is about the young girls spirit at the time of her remains being found in her community, 5 minutes from her home. As the community is doing ceremony the spirit of the young girl comes to light and tries her best to contact her family.
Before the play was presented at the Vancouver Talking Stick Festival in 2014 we did workshops in her home community to respect her home and family. At Talking Stick the family came out to see the play, like all art they had reactions that were positive and some that were for us to work on. It was intense to see the reaction of the family of the person you are representing; it was a heavy role but it was an important message to share.
This was a very special project, I still do work with this play through ARTICLE11 with Tara Beagan and Andy Moro. This play had really strong writing that made it very assessable to me as an actor and as an Aboriginal Woman because the subject of Murdered and Missing Aboriginal Woman is important to me. As an Aboriginal woman I feel this movement needs to be more out there as it affects me and my safety. I often ask myself why? What is the societal psychology behind victimizing women? Especially women of color, particularly how the numbers get exponentially higher when it comes to Aboriginal women.
We will be presenting this play in June at the Royal Ontario Museum and were hoping to find an outdoor site to present the play this summer.
Also you co-stared in a TV pilot called Skye and Chang. Through this role you were nominated for Best Actress with the American Indian Film Festival 2013. How was this experience?
Skye and Chang was a great experience for me. For this role I learned martial arts and was able to work with Olivia Cheng who just finished starring in the first season of Marco Polo on Netflix.
I have always wanted to attend the American Indian Film Festival with my work being presented. It happened that in 2013 I had two projects I did being nominated for awards. The first was a short film I co-produced which topic was on Murdered and Missing Aboriginal Women called “The Wolf of Waubamik Woods” and “Skye and Chang.” Both films were actually competing with one another in the Short Film Category, Skye and Chang won that category. I did not win Best Actress but being nominated with strong Aboriginal leading characters is amazing, loved being in their company.
Skye and Chang has not being picked up for a season…yet. There are talks that it may turn into an online formatted series, but again that is all talk at the moment.
Presently you are on Tour with Red Sky Productions with Mistatim, what character do you play?
I play Speck, a little Cree girl from the Prairies. She shares a fence with Calvin a caucasian boy who trains horses on his Dads ranch. Their relationship is created through a wild horse, Calvin is trying to train and Specks protection of the horse’s treatment through his techniques using whips and cruelty. Speck’s and Calvin’s relationship is one that is of two cultures learning about one another. I feel it will help with the disconnect in the education system that still exists between cultures, specifically between Native and non-Native people. It really is about overcoming differences, learning about on another whether it is different genders, socio-economic backgrounds or different species, as this is about also communicating with a horse.
You have also acted in a few movies, what is your preference for acting? is it on screen, tv or stage? Or will you continue to work in all genres?
TV has always been my form of media to watch so I like to be on television whether it be on a TV series or commercials. Theatre acting is great but I find that the reach is so limited. With Film and TV you have a far reach to people, you also have the opportunity to watch TV shows and movies again. Potentially millions of people can see film rather then hundreds or thousands with theatre. I will always continue doing theatre because I think it always helps me as an actor. Again, my preference when it comes to working on a character is a TV series as you get to grow with the character throughout the series. This role also had me learn Cree, I love taking on roles that challenge me and learning a new language.
Acting is a hard career to be in, what would you recommend for young Indigenous Women and Girls looking to start their acting careers?
It is really hard and it takes a thick skin. I am a sensitive person, and that is what acting is, you have to be sensitive and brave with your vulnerability but you cannot be so fragile that if you get a door slammed in your face you give up. If you love it and you want to do it, be prepared for a tough road. You also have to be prepared for those lucky breaks that may happen because they can change your life overnight, but don’t self sabotage yourself. I would do this by not learning my lines well enough before an audition, or not getting enough sleep or drinking too much coffee or being hung over. I know now that I don’t want to do those things before an audition. I want to go in feeling my absolute best.
Be healthy and educate yourself, if you can go to school go to school for acting or get training from training classes. Just follow your passion, have fun and try to enjoy the ride.
You can now see Sera-Lys live starring as Speck in “Mistatim” touring across Canada, starting in Vancouver at Talking Stick this month and continuing on throughout Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick visit http://www.redskyperformance.com/Mistatim. Also on television you can watch Sera-Lys on the Second Season of Hard Rock Medical (http://hardrockmedical.com/) as the character Amanda.
(Photos provided by S. McArthur)