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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

In conversation with: Melissa Oei

"I am never happier than when I am performing onstage. I feel incomplete when I am not working on a show."

In our newest series, contributor David C Jones meets some of the artists from Vancouver’s performing arts scene.

First up is actor, Melissa Oei.

Born and raised in North Vancouver, Melissa is a graduate of Studio 58, Langara College’s professional acting school. Her career has taken her across the country working for such companies as the Arts Club and Pi Theatre in Vancouver, Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre, and many others. Melissa also keeps busy work-shopping and performing new scripts. As an emerging director, Melissa most recently directed Keara Barne’s one-woman show Traveltheatrics and she adapted and directed a production of Romeo and Juliet for Place Des Arts’ summer teen program.

Melissa is currently appearing in the Slamming Door Collective production of The Sea at the Jericho Arts Centre in Vancouver May 2-19.

This interview has been edited.

You work pretty steadily as an actor in theatre, alternating between professional shows and co-ops? How did you build your career?

Interestingly, I don’t see myself as a steadily working actor, maybe because I always feel like I am struggling to get ahead. Yet I recognize that I have a continually full and vibrant creative life and am pretty consistently working on projects. I think that is because I do choose to work on passion projects and collectives while still striving for those more prominent paid gigs.

I can’t stand being stagnant when it comes to acting, and if a project comes along that speaks to me in some way, whether because of the script, the role, or the people involved, I almost always try and do the show if I can.

There is usually something interesting to be gained from every experience, and I want to keep learning, growing and experiencing as much as I possibly can. I have pretty much built my career by saying yes, and by never feeling like I am above anything.

What drives you as an actor? Why do you keep doing it?

I am never happier than when I am performing onstage. I feel incomplete when I am not working on a show. I feel that consistently, with every show, I get better at what I do.

I believe that I am privileged to choose to be an actor for a living, and it would be insane of me to not pursue what I love when so many others never even get the opportunity to figure out what they are passionate about.

Also, I am honestly no good at anything else whatsoever.

How do you make connections and maintain professional relationships?

I try to be as authentic as I possibly can. I have always been very shy and introverted and I can suffer from intense social anxiety.  I always knew that I would never become successful if I had to rely on schmoozing, so I try to be really good at what I do when I am onstage, and as real as I can be when I am offstage.  This has probably held me back from getting farther in my career than I could, but I know I would be deeply unhappy if I did it any other way.

What are some important things for new actors to consider? Practical tips as well as things to avoid?

Do not compare yourself to other people. It is a recipe for suffering and unhappiness.  I use to constantly compare myself to those around me, and still do if I’m honest, but the truth is, we all come from completely different places in life. I don’t know anything about the circumstances that got others to where they are.  But I do know where I came from, and when I think of where I am now compared to where I used to be, I am proud of what I have accomplished.

Also, try to find balance in life. Self care is important, relationships are important, mental health is important. We need all of these things to be happy humans. This industry can demand so much of us and make us feel as though we are not dedicated unless we give all of ourselves all of the time. But having lost some important people in my life in the past few years, I can say for certain that none of them left this world wishing they had worked more.

As artists, we are a rare breed in that we make a living doing what we love, but it is important to find passion outside of work. For me, that comes in the form of travel, connecting with friends, and nurturing my amazing relationship.

How do you supplement your income as an actor?

I have a wonderful part-time job at The Cultch working in the box office. I work with the best ragtag collection of artists, and have made some wonderful personal and professional connections there. I also occasionally work as a simulation actor, workshop new plays, teach drama, and have been trying my hand at directing as well.

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