“Rooted” is all about the people and places that make us proud to call our community home.
“I think a lot of actors dream of making it to Broadway,” says Tamara Evans.
The North Bay native realized that moment for herself 17 years ago, on October 22, 2003, when she played Tanya in Mamma Mia! at the Cadillac Winter Garden Theatre in New York City.
“I had done the show in Toronto for two years before they asked me to go down to New York. And in my first big scene when the stage pivoted and I’m lying there as it turns towards the audience, I just remember thinking to myself, ‘This is it, this is the moment you have been working towards, this is your Broadway debut and then the stage clicks into place and I stood up and started singing my song which was a little bit surreal.”
It was a path that Evans was set to follow from a very early point in her life.
“My mother (Joanne Bernier) was very heavily involved in the Gateway Theatre Guild in North Bay. She was an actress and a director, and she would bring me to rehearsals when I was a baby and so I definitely got an early exposure to the entertainment industry. I guess I developed an affinity for it and just really enjoyed it.”
As a Chippewa Secondary School graduate, Evans participated in school plays and community programs such as TOROS to begin fine-tuning her acting skills. She then looked at pursuing that affinity in her post-secondary education.
“My dad made it very clear that I should have a post-secondary education to fall back on, in case things didn’t go well and so I chose a post-secondary education in acting!” says Evans, who did four years at York University and graduated in 1991.
A big break came shortly after when Evans landed an agent and then a gig with the Young Company at the Stratford Festival.
“I sort of made a promise to myself that if I didn’t get to the Stratford Festival by the time I was 30 I was going to quit the business, and then I got there in my early twenties I felt like that was a good sign that I should keep going. I could pay my rent, and buy my food so I decided to keep going.”
Evans says she feels she was fortunate to find that success early on and didn’t take it for granted.
“If I’d had a clue how hard it was for the majority of people out there, if I’d known the statistics, I don’t think I would have been as confident. So I was sort of blissfully ignorant. I had some very wise teachers in university who said ‘you can get the first job based on your charm, but if you don’t do the first job well, you won’t get the second one’ and so I never forgot that advice and I always made sure that I brought the work. I was really detailed, and did my homework, and learned my lines, and that way people knew I could be counted on if called upon again.”
After spending several years at Stratford and getting Mamma Mia! she moved with her husband Richard Evans to Los Angeles to start working in film and TV.
“I did voice-over work for a lot of different animated series which was a very enjoyable side gig. Often I was sent to Warner Brothers or Sony Pictures to try and win a voice-over role. What I didn't realize at first was that, for feature films, the voice-over audition often becomes the actual recording. So, directors take their time with you.
Once, at a massive Sony Picture soundstage, for a very successful feature film, I was reading along with five other actresses for the role. I was satisfied with my first take and said that I was happy with that and prepared to leave. The director looked a bit confused and asked for a few more takes, which I did.
When I got home my agent called to say I'd won the gig. I was really happy and asked when I would be recording. The agent laughed and said, ‘you already did! Your cheque is in the mail.’ It was always fun walking around giant production lots where movies and series' were being made all around you.”
Evans then started to transition into other areas of the entertainment industry as they were starting a family.
“The world can change for an actress when you have a kid,” she says.
“I really wanted to focus my energy on my kids, so my acting career started to take a backseat. I had my kids six years apart and the other thing that came into play is that my husband is a conductor, (composer and pianist Richard Evans, who has done Come From Away and other big musicals). So when I had my second child, he was working the shows at night.
We really had to balance who was going to do the night shows so that we both weren’t gone in the evening and no one was raising our kids. So my pivot at that point into directing meant that I could focus my work during the daytime hours. Directors go to rehearsals during the day while the kids are at school, then my husband would go and conduct shows at night and I could be at home with the kids.”
A quick check of Evans credentials will show you how much work and experience she has had not just as an actor, but also as someone who has a tremendously diverse portfolio as a director, writer, singer, and more.
“When you work in the entertainment industry in Canada, you can’t focus on one thing if you want to pay the bills. You have to be able to do all kinds of things to earn a paycheck all year round. I’ve always felt that if you focus on one thing you cut yourself off from other earning opportunities,” she says.
Evans says the pandemic has also put a spotlight on having to be multifaceted in this career. She says the next step for her was a TV production company she co-started last year called Awen Entertainment.
“We were gaining momentum and we partnered with Northwood Productions which produced Anne with an E, and we did our first major pitch to Corus Entertainment on March fifth of this year,” says Evans. “Literally 10 days before the world shutdown. We’ve kind of been struggling through this. However, everyone has turned to television during this time because no one can go out, which is great for the industry. But all of a sudden we were now competing with the big wigs because everything got funnelled through streaming services and networks and we were at the back of the line because we were brand new. So it’s been a tricky time for us and the industry at large and it’s hard to justify a career in this industry, which is perceived as non-essential; even though we bring in $40 billion to the economy.
There has been a big push by people in the entertainment industry to lobby for a universal basic income as artists and performers are having a hard time making money during the pandemic.
“We really have to ask ourselves as a society, what kind of people we want to have living among us, and do we think that the arts are an important thing?” says Evans. “I suspect we all go home and watch amazing shows like Succession and Schitt's Creek. But the people involved in making those shows are artists born of theatre and creative lives that need to be supported if you want to get to that level of expertise. So, yes, I would support a basic universal income. In fact, I recently signed a petition looking at that issue.”
Right now Evans is playing the wait and see game as she looks to get her TV production company ready for whenever the industry reopens.
“All we can do is go inward. This is the time for our writers to write. We’ve got 10 projects right now that we’re working on and we’ll keep doing that until this all lifts and then, hopefully, we can start sharing our ideas with a wider audience.”
If you have a story suggestion for the “Rooted” series, send Matt an email at [email protected]