Kwantlen student plays on the fringe of acting and academia

Rachelle Tomm discusses her role in the Vancouver Fringe Festival’s FrAcTured.

By Chris Yee
[contributor]

“It’s probably the most frightening thing I’ve ever experienced,” confesses Rachelle Tomm, speaking about her role in Seacoast Studio’s production of FrAcTured.

Opening on Sept. 6 at the Vancouver Fringe Festival and written by Robinson Wilson, FrAcTured is about a fictional school shooting, and a group of classmates who now have to cope with its aftermath.

Tomm, a third-year psychology and sociology major at Kwantlen, is an improv comic and an actress. In FrAcTured, she plays a character who is paralyzed from the neck down. For the athletic Tomm, who is also an avid fisher and hunter, it’s not surprising that she found getting into the state of mind of someone who becomes quadriplegic challenging.

Not long ago, though, Tomm’s acting career was far from her mind. When she graduated high school, she wanted to be an architect. But as Tomm was sending applications to engineering schools all over Canada and making arrangements for housing out of town, something like fate called.

FrAcTured cast members Sara Vickruck, Chanel Klein, Rachelle Tomm, Evan Hall and Amanda Graham (left to right). (Photo courtesy Seacoast Studios)

“Last minute, a friend of mine calls me and says, ‘Hey Rachelle, you’ve got to take a class with this acting teacher,’” Tomm says of her first nudge into the world of professional acting. That teacher was Scott Swan, director of West Vancouver’s Seacoast Studios.

“I called him and he said, ‘I’m offering full-time studies in the fall,’ and I ended up [saying], ‘I’ll give it a shot.’ It’s snowballed since then, and I just want to take more and more acting classes. I definitely want to [break into] the film industry.”

Acting wasn’t entirely new for Tomm. She was an enthusiastic high school drama student and event MC, as well as vice president of her school’s student council, where putting on events was her passion. Tomm says, “I like that social aspect of live entertainment.”

It’s little wonder, then, that her next step into acting was improv comedy. With six of her classmates, Tomm started an improv troupe called Unscripted Chaos in 2010.

“At first, I was terrified to go up in front of an audience and not have any lines or material,” Tomm says. “But once you’ve started doing it, you get comfortable. You have to live in the imagery of the situation, and it all just comes out.”

Living in the imagery of her surroundings informs Tomm’s acting, as well as her approach to education.

“I did just acting for my first year and I was so hungry for something else — I wanted that learning aspect that comes from being in a classroom. After a year, I decided to take whatever classes interested me,” she says.

“I ended up falling into psychology because, as an actor, you have to know so well how people think. When you’re acting, you’re not being someone else, you’re being yourself. But you have to change yourself to what that character would have had, [in terms of] similar experiences.”

Tomm needed this outlook nowhere more than in her preparation for FrAcTured, especially after spending most of her time in improv comedy.

“It’s a hard world to prepare for. You never feel as though you’re ever going to get it right, and I always had a lot of anxiety around it because I didn’t want to be offensive. I strived to get everything as real as it possibly could be,” Tomm says of her role, which involved painstaking research into the physiology of her character’s injuries, and explorations of her character’s psyche.

“She’s lost everything, her entire way of living is lost and all her dreams … she’ll never be able to experience [them] again,” Tomm said of her character.

All this work makes Tomm’s schedule snugly-packed. It’s a challenge to get everything done, especially when rehearsals run late. Time notwithstanding, Tomm advises students to “not get bogged down.”

“Try to figure out what the big picture is, the ultimate theme of that class,” she explains. Above all, she advises students to look up and step out once in a while.

“Take the earbuds out and listen to people’s conversations,” she says. “Pay attention to what’s happening around you and don’t try to soften harsh moments and heighten good moments.”

“Live in the moment and don’t try to hide who you are.”

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