Living on a Lighted Stage

Story by Matthew St. Amand 

The paradoxes inherent in creating art are never more apparent than they are in acting. Playing a fictional role provides an actress with a layer of protection, while at the same time, to affect an audience’s emotions, the role must possess some humanity from the artist, herself. 

No one knows this better than Windsor native, Elizabeth Adams, a professional actress in Stratford who received the 2023 Mary Savidge Award for demonstrating outstanding commitment to her craft. As a Stratford actress, this is like being named MVP of an all-star team.

“The best actors allow themselves to be seen,” Elizabeth says. “What makes a good actor? Harnessing what is innately you and moving that through the story.” 

However, Elizabeth’s passion for drama nearly ended before it began. 

Elizabeth Adams, 2023. Photo by Ann Baggley.

“I did my first audition at age five or six for a role in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever for a community group,” she recalls. “I was chosen to play the angel. The other kids trying for that part were ten to twelve years old. But I didn’t end up taking the part! I thought everyone was laughing at me when they applauded my audition.” 

Elizabeth eventually got past the misunderstanding and gave the stage another try.

“I was a shy kid,” she remembers. “I know that sounds like a contradiction, but I think it’s different because, you have this level of protection playing a character: ‘It’s not me!’”

“I started doing summer theatre camp in grade school.” Elizabeth continues: “I remember the summer before high school, preparing to audition for the Walkerville Centre for the Creative Arts, lying in my bed at night and having the conviction that I would, one day, be a professional actor. I was impatient to get there.” 

Elizabeth passed her audition at WCCA in 2014, and studied drama, dance and vocal there. She continued doing theatre camp each summer and participated in Theatre Alive under the direction of Brian and Florence Raisbeck. Following graduation from WCCA in 2018, Elizabeth embarked on a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly known as Ryerson University). 

“After theatre school, I wasn’t focused on theatre,” she explains, “and pursued roles in film and television. But it wasn’t meant to be—at that time, at least. I was lucky in theatre school and connected with an American manager and a Canadian agent, who had me auditioning for huge things. I got very close to a few jobs that would have changed my life—but I just didn’t get them.”

Elizabeth portraying Rosa Intrugli in Stratford Festival’s 2023 production of Grand Magic. Photo by David Hou.

In 2021, Elizabeth rethought her options, reappraised her ambitions. As her focus turned back toward the stage, she thought: “I just want to be at Stratford. I just want to do theatre again. Be in a small town. Focus on the work.”

If anything, this was setting the bar even higher for herself. According to Intermission Magazine, “many Canadian theatre actors consider the Stratford Festival to be the pinnacle of classical performance opportunities.” Countless theatregoers believe this, too.

Around the same time, one of Elizabeth’s former teachers, Dean Gabourie, who directed her in a production during theatre school, sent her an audition link for the Birmingham Conservatory at Stratford Festival—the festival’s artist incubator that provides actors with opportunities to develop their craft and refine their classical technique.

“I auditioned for the Birmingham Conservatory with a self-tape,” Elizabeth says. “About nine hundred other people auditioned for nine spots.”

Elizabeth submitted her audition and hoped for the best. Soon after, she received a “call back.”

“They brought twenty applicants to Stratford to audition in person,” Elizabeth says. “That was followed by about two weeks of agonized waiting! Then, one of the producers sent me a cryptic email. There was no Subject line. The message said: ‘Hi Elizabeth, we have an offer for you. Give me a call.’ I called and she explained I had been accepted. I was so excited. I was living with my sister and her partner in Toronto at the time. Mentally, I said to myself: ‘Here we go!’”

As a member of the Birmingham Conservatory, Elizabeth is contracted like any other actor at the Stratford Festival but receives supplementary training. 

“When we are in-season, I’m like any other actor,” she says. “The season runs from February/March until September/October, but the Conservatory is for emerging artists and gives them work opportunities. In the off-season, we workshop plays. I played Cassandra in a production of the Greek tragedy, Agamemnon.” 

And it was in this arena of artistic excellence that Elizabeth’s work ethic and commitment to her craft were recognized when she received the Mary Savidge Award.

“I was told my name had come up in the committee,” she recalls. “A group of elected actors and Festival employees decide who receives the award. When I heard it was me, I was shocked. I was not expecting it. Hard work feels implied when you’re chasing a dream, when you’re doing artistic work. I do work hard. It feels nice to be recognized.” 

Currently, Elizabeth is rehearsing an updated version of Anton Chekhov’s play Three Sisters. 

From left: Amaka Umeh as Rosaline, Qianna MacGilchrist as Maria, Elizabeth Adams as Katharine and Celia Aloma as Princess of France in Love’s Labour’s Lost. Stratford Festival 2023. Photo by David Hou.

“In the play I’m rehearsing now, Three Sisters, I portray the eldest sister, Olga, though I have always yearned to play Masha, the middle sister,” she says. “It’s interesting, in the Conservatory they cast you based on what will help you grow, and that’s the role I have. I want to play Masha because I identify with her more closely. The role of Olga is the greater challenge.”

As her two years at the Birmingham Conservatory near their end, Elizabeth sets her sights once again on movies and TV. 

“Acting is not a linear career path!” she says. “I love movies, it is a dream. For whatever reason, my journey has brought me to Stratford. I recently moved back to Toronto to focus on film and television. Sometimes you’re a wrench and the people you’re auditioning for are looking for a hammer. Auditioning is the job of the actor.”  

You can find out what Elizabeth is doing next on Instagram at @eilisadams.

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