Between her first and second auditions at the Grand Theatre in London, a lot happened in Alexis Gordon’s young professional life. She went from being a teenager with no acting training to a three–season Stratford Festival acting company member by the age of 27. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts acting degree. And she continued to sing her heart out, gaining growing attention from the likes of Donna Feore, Director and Choreographer at Stratford Festival. Meet Alexis Gordon — our choice for this spotlight on an up-and-coming actor.
“Alexis a huge talent! Her voice literally soars, and she is one of those rare actor/singers that can tell the story no matter how difficult the music is. She brought warmth, charm and a great deal of humanity to Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls and it was a joy to work with her,” says Feore of Gordon’s 2017 role in the extended run production at Stratford last season.
Of her breakthrough role as Julie in Carousel at Stratford in 2015, Gary Smith of the Hamilton Spectator said, “she sings with rapturous abandon.” That same year at Stratford Gordon also performed the role of Sister Sophia in The Sound of Music. She returned to the Festival in 2016 as Anne in A Little Night Music and Eagle in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Still, her hometown stage had eluded her. The Grand has special significance for Gordon. It was where she saw her first professional play — Oklahoma by the High School Project Company. Gordon was in Grade 10 at Medway Secondary School in Arva, minutes north of London. “I never realized that a love of music could translate to the stage,” she says with a smile. She auditioned for the High School Project without any acting experience but with a lot of enthusiasm. Audition rejection in hand, she joined the Original Kids Theatre Company in London. “I had to learn to put my two left feet in front of each other,” she says.
Besides learning the craft, Gordon also worked as a summer camp counsellor for Original Kids and while coaching others, she further educated herself. Recalls Sam Shoebottom, OKTC Director, “It was such a joy to direct Alexis when she was in Original Kids. She worked hard and was always prepared when she came to rehearsal. She just seemed at home on the stage and would have the biggest smile, a smile that could light up the room, every time she stepped onto it.”
Gordon says that her mother, Sharon Gordon, asked her a pivotal career question when she was finishing high school: did she want to be a singer who could act or an actor who could sing? “She also added to that question, please, God, get a degree!” laughs Gordon. She says she knew she would always be a singer. She had enjoyed training with Ken Fleet in the choir at Medway High School and she had furthered her vocal training with Jennifer Fagan. As well, Gordon had studied at The Dance Movement in London. With all this raw talent, she headed to the University of Windsor to learn how to put the whole package together as an actor. From there, she landed work with Starbright theatre company at the Victoria Playhouse in Petrolia and took on some small workshop roles in Toronto, which is where she caught the eye of Stratford directors.
Besides landing full-time acting work, Gordon has received two awards as a young performer. She is the recipient of both the Amy Wallis Memorial Guthrie Award from the Stratford Festival (which recognizes an up-and-coming actor who has a keen interest in both classical voice and musical theatre), and the Syd and Shirley Banks Award for Emerging Artists, which included cash, training and a role with The Musical Stage Company of Toronto.
“Through it all I tell myself that there is a lot you can get from theatre and there’s very little you can get from theatre,” she says reflecting on how many actors supplement their passion with side jobs. “I really believe it’s up to you what you can get.”
What Gordon did get was one of her “dreams” — to act in London over the Christmas holidays. Her Grand Theatre debut in December 2017 was in the role of Belle in A Christmas Carol. The spectacular production had Gordon doing everything from roller-skating to singing and acting in various roles.
“Alexis is a beautiful discovery to me. She has a multitude of talents that she draws on in this production,” says Artistic Director Dennis Garnhum. Gordon was thrilled to work with Garnhum, saying he brought a special atmosphere and appreciation to rehearsals. “He says thank you and not a lot of people lead that way, which I love. I left the theatre with a smile on my face.”
Gordon hopes to keep smiling in 2018 when she returns to Stratford where she will leave musical roles and concentrate on pure acting. She will play Ceres in The Tempest, Virgilia in Coriolanus, and she will appear in Napoli Milionaria! Her ultimate goal is to follow the example of her hero, Audra McDonald, the six-time Tony award actor who sings and acts on Broadway.
“My roots in London set me up,” says Gordon. “You learn from this business. The audition I didn’t get has made me work harder.” Now, she thanks the Grand for rejecting her as a young teenage wanna-be actor, since that rejection help to set her on the path fulfilling her acting dreams. We shall follow with anticipation.