Stephen grew up in Ottawa and currently lives in Brooklyn. He studied acting in New York City at Circle In The Square Theatre School and is a professional actor, writer and director. The Bone, a short film he wrote and directed, screened at New York City's Landmark Sunshine Cinema as part of NY Shorts Fest. Stand Sentry, his first short, screened in London at The Portobello Film Festival and at The Strasbourg International Film Festival where it was nominated for several awards, including Best Short. Check out his website at stephensheffer.com
What’s your earliest memory of acting?
I've been acting pretty much since I popped out of the womb. In the family room of the house I grew up in, there was a bay window with a built-in chest where we kept all our board games and that served as my very first stage. I'd emerge from the curtains and perform for whomever would watch. From there, I started performing for larger audiences, such as on the lawn at the cottage (again, for family - but more of them!). Then I joined a choir and that opened up opportunities to perform on professional stages in Ottawa. By the time I headed off to Queen’s, I’d performed at The National Arts Centre and various other theatres in Ottawa.
What experiences did you have (both in class and extracurricular) and what skills did you learn while at Queen’s that helped prepare you for an acting career?
Queen's is where I figured out that I wanted to pursue acting as a career. A friend encouraged me to audition for Queen's Players, and I discovered that people found me funny. It was definitely a watershed moment. It gave me a lot of confidence, and I started writing (John Lazarus's playwriting class taught me the importance of consistent and dedicated work) and putting up shows in Studio 102 (a student-curated performance series). Being a student at Queen's taught me how to set a goal and achieve it. I was surrounded by plenty of resources, like-minded smart people, and good mentors. That's all you need!
How did you launch your professional career after leaving Queen’s?
I started a theatre company with some fellow Queen's grads, Megan McCoy [Artsci'01], Christine Gresham [Artsci'01] and Phil Connell [Com'01], and we rocked out a bunch of shows. We sold out the Tarragon Extra Space in Toronto and went on to produce two more ambitious shows. I still can't believe we did that, actually. It was great and we got a lot of attention from the press. I also started working with Daniel Nyman [Artsci'02, Law'11] to produce some smaller-scale shows, including the play I wrote while at Queen's and a play by another Queen's grad Jason Hall [Artsci'01]. The relationships I built at Queen's sustained me then and continue to do so now.
As well as acting, you also write, produce and direct. How do all these aspects of your working life intersect and play off one another?
I have a bunch of skills that I call upon depending on what my role is for any given project. For some projects, I'm hired as an actor only. Other projects I work to get off the ground and stand behind the camera, as it were. I think wearing many hats enables me to engage my colleagues on different levels and understand their perspectives.
What kind of professional development do you do as an actor?
Tons! I work weekly with a vocal coach and train regularly by taking classes; there's always more room for growth and learning. I work at marketing myself and building relationships. I read, see art, go to plays, and stay in shape. I see my professional development as being fully linked to my personal development. I don't really separate the two, I guess.
Aside from talent, what do you think are the key personal and professional characteristics that actors need to have?
Setting goals is key, as is believing in yourself. It's very easy to fall into a negative head-space when dealing with constant rejection.
How would you like your career to develop over next few years? What kind of projects do you have in the pipeline and what projects do you hope will come your way?
I want to keep working with people whose work I admire and respect. I've had a great year this year. I appeared Off-Broadway in The Threepenny Opera and we were nominated for a Drama Desk Award. Next up is a role in Tze Chun's new feature film, Cold Quarter. His last two films both premiered at Sundance, so that bodes well. I'd love to take another trip out to Park City to see films and meet people whose work I admire. I have a film coming out called The Naturalist, and I'm busy working at pre-production on a feature-length comedy that I wrote called Birth Control. I'm also auditioning all the time. Growing up, we had magnet on our fridge of a beet (as in the vegetable) on roller skates with a caption that said, "The beet goes on." I think of that magnet often.