Introducing Eleanor Noble, your new ACTRA National President

Keith Martin Gordey
ACTRA National Vice President

Opening Act: Scene 1, Take 1

Keith: Congrats and commiserations on your election as ACTRA National President. You’re a few months in, how’s it going?

Eleanor: It was very fast out of the gate. But after the first week, I started to find my feet. I had the good fortune of spending two days in Toronto, meeting people and talking in-person because we’re usually only meeting virtually on Zoom due to COVID. What’s missing from Zoom are the impromptu chats in between meetings. So, it’s exciting, lots of work, and I am loving it.

KMG: What’s been the biggest surprise and what’s been the steepest learning curve?

EN: There’s a lot to know in full detail all at once. That’s been the steepest learning curve. But so far, so good. I know a lot of it. There are some complicated issues that now I’ve delved into more deeply. I suppose the biggest surprise is, as a result of COVID and just natural timing, a lot of staff have retired across the country. It is sad to see some of our valued friends and colleagues go. At the same time these changes have brought about something unexpected — an excitement about working with new people. So, I’m feeling optimistic. And I think it’s going to bring about something fresh and interesting. As we carry on into this new century.

KMG: We’re a federated union with nine branches of wildly varying sizes, one with half the membership, and different demands and challenges in each. How does the National President make all that work?

EN: It’s a challenge. Each President before me has done their part in making connections across the country. Marie [Kelly, National Executive Director] and I have discussed this a lot. When I’ve spoken with ACTRA Branch Presidents and National Councillors across the country, there are so many different feelings about their connection to ACTRA National. I have started sitting in on Branch Council meetings to connect, discuss, talk, and hear what people have to say across the country. And to see what we can bring from what we’re hearing across the country to the National level to continue to unify us.

KMG: One of the main things ACTRA does well is our work in public policy. When the federal election was called, Bill C-10 [an Act to amend the Broadcasting Act] died. Where does that leave ACTRA and our industry?

Eleanor Noble at the 2018 ACTRA Awards in Montreal celebrating the 75th anniversary of ACTRA alongside Don Jordan, recipient of the 2018 ACTRA Montreal Award of Excellence, Simon Peacock, ACTRA Montreal President, Sarah Booth, winner of the Walter Massey Breakthrough Artist of the Year Award and Erika Rosenbaum, ACTRA Montreal Woman of the Year. Photo: Nadia Zheng

As I get the opportunity to connect with the Branches across the country, we can find out how we can go to Parliament or our local areas to lobby for what our union and industry need.

EN: We’re not going to drop the much-needed changes to the Broadcasting Act that were included in Bill C-10. This is our opportunity to improve on those changes. We’re only going to make the next draft of the legislation better and clearer. Because we want Canadian content protected and to have foreign streaming services, like Netflix and Disney+ and such, contribute to the Canada Media Fund, just like any other broadcaster. As I get the opportunity to connect with the Branches across the country, we can find out how we can go to Parliament or our local areas to lobby for what our union and industry need.

KMG: One of the most successful lobbying efforts ACTRA has ever been involved in was around the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

EN: The emergency benefits made a huge difference in many people’s lives, especially independent contractors. ACTRA fought hard to extend eligibility rules to arts and culture workers so they could apply for and receive this benefit. We were fortunate to be included during this global health and economic crisis. I know within our membership how grateful people were to receive the CERB. It was really quite phenomenal to see the activism that helped us achieve this, a large part thanks to David Sparrow, ACTRA National’s Past President.

KMG: What about you? How did you end up in this business?

I wanted to take it to the next level. And here I am having the opportunity to do so.

EN: I went to theatre school. I have very supportive parents who love the arts and performance, which enabled me to feel very free within that world. And before I graduated, I was cast in Are You Afraid of the Dark? — my first ACTRA credit! And then, over the years, I became interested in being very active in both my unions. I started off in CAEA (Canadian Actors‘ Equity Association) on Council and eventually shifted over to ACTRA. And I never left. When I had the opportunity to join ACTRA’s National Council, well, I was pretty darn inspired by everybody around the table. I wanted to take it to the next level. And here I am having the opportunity to do so.

KMG: You chair our National Women’s Committee, which is a pretty vibrant committee. What have you learned from that experience?

Then Chair of the Honours Committee, Eleanor Noble speaking at 2019 ACTRA Awards in Montreal held at Le Gesu. Photo: Ed Yao

We have very strong women across the country that are a force to be reckoned with.

EN: We have very strong women across the country who are a force to be reckoned with. Everybody on this Committee has inspired me. We’re still dealing with inequities and it’s a struggle to be heard. It has been incredible to listen to the dialogue from all the different women sharing this struggle and bringing to the table so many different ways that we could tackle it and be fiercer and stronger. As we come up against an industry bias, we’re finding new ways to take more control of our equity.

KMG: I will attest to the fierceness of ACTRA women–a wonderful thing. I understand you were involved in the Montreal Honours Committee. Where did that lead you?

EN: I was the chair of our Honours Committee and helped run all of our award celebrations, Performance Awards one year, Honours Awards the next. I also created the Casting Standards Committee, which hears from casting directors, our agents and our membership to create a three-way dialogue. I’m especially proud that other ACTRA Branches across the country want to develop their own Casting Standards Committee because of what was started in Montreal. When we dialogue together, we start to get on the same page.

KMG: What’s been your experience with auditioning in the COVID environment?

EN: The whole self-tape thing has been hard on so many people, having to purchase the equipment, getting everything perfect. So many Zoom workshops out there, interviewing casting directors across the country, in L.A. and New York. And, in the same breath as they say “we understand,” they also say “if your lighting, background, or microphone aren’t right, you’ll lose your spot for consideration for a role.” Not only that, but performers are expected to be on call 24-7, which means we never get a break. I feel like a number. I’m expected to jump every time. I really hope we can get back to where our profession is respected. There’s some messaging about what’s happening to us performers that’s not getting back up to the top. We need to communicate it. And we will, we’ll get there.

KMG: The thing I really miss the most is feedback in the auditioning room.

EN: Absolutely. Not only is there no feedback, performers are not even sure if their audition tapes are being viewed. Also, an appointment time for your audition is completely different than a deadline to submit a self-tape. When I had to be at my audition the next day, I would have time to prepare in advance, and then wake up and go to the audition. When we’re making our own movies at home, it’s the setup, coordinating with the readers, and scheduling around other responsibilities, if you have children, other jobs, etc. Then creating, watching, uploading and editing your takes and sending it off to your agent. It’s just been a huge added pressure to what we already do, which is already so stressful in so many ways.

KMG: What do you think, as President, are your greatest strengths?

I have a strong sense of fairness — to always look out for other people.

EN: I’m a team player. I’m not afraid to speak my mind. I’m passionate about what we do. I’m empathetic and I listen. And I am so determined to make the right change – when it comes to health and safety, diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) issues, harassment-free work zones, bringing in intimacy coordinators – everything across the board. I have a deep passion for working very hard. I have a strong sense of fairness — to always look out for other people. It’s an incredible opportunity to be in this position. I don’t take it for granted. And I’m open to anybody needing to contact me. I’m here to listen.

KMG: You were at the last FIA (International Federation of Actors) Congress. What were your impressions?

We have universal concerns and issues that are worrisome. But when you hear these are shared with other artists around the world, it strengthens us to find ways to make change.

EN: That was an incredible, inspirational conference where I felt really connected to other artists around the world. We have universal concerns and issues that are worrisome. But when you hear these are shared with other artists around the world, it strengthens us to find ways to make change. And it’s an honour that we’re part of it. FIA’s Past President Ferne Downey (who is also a Past President of ACTRA) did an incredible job of connecting performers around the world.

KMG: Right. Gabrielle Carteris, who recently became SAG-AFTRA’s Past President after their convention earlier this month, was elected President of FIA at the Congress this past spring. I have great hopes for her.

EN: Absolutely. And she has a deep passion for all of the things I’ve already covered, such as health and safety on our sets.

KMG: Is there anything we need to know about you that I haven’t asked?

Our union is incredible. It’s almost 80 years old. There is a strong foundation that is set and I’m very excited to see where it’s going to take us.

EN: I suppose I would like to summarize our conversation by saying how excited I am about all this newness. I recently had an opportunity to think and reflect about my position and what really rang true to me is how we don’t talk enough about the fact that we’re in a new century. How do we define what this new century is going to represent? And new generations? I feel we’re still living in the past a little bit. We have such an opportunity in this new century and that really, really excites me, this turnover and newness. Our union is incredible. It’s almost 80 years old. There is a strong foundation that is set and I’m very excited to see where it’s going to take us. So that’s what I’m really looking forward to.

Keith Martin Gordey is the Vice President of ACTRA National and Treasurer and Past President of UBCP/ACTRA. He is a Director on the board of CSARN (the Canadian Senior Artists Resource Network) and serves on the board of the Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Foundation of British Columbia. Keith is a Past President of Western Gold Theatre and a Past President of PAL Vancouver. Keith’s extensive film and television career includes roles on Stargate SG-1, Cold Squad, The Watchmen, Supernatural and The Order.

Eleanor Noble is the National President of ACTRA. She is also Vice President of ACTRA Montreal and Chair of the ACTRA National Women’s Committee. Eleanor is actively committed to creating safe sets across Canada and broadening diversity in all aspects of our industry. She is the creator of the Casting Standards Committee in Montreal, which works with industry partners to improve the casting process. Eleanor oversaw the adaptation of ACTRA National’s guide for Best Practices for Scenes Involving Nudity, Intimacy, Simulated Sex and Sexual Violence. Eleanor’s screen credits include Incendo’s Seasoned with Love, CBC’s Detectives, I.D.’s Fatal Vows and APTN’s Mohawk Girls. Her voice performance credits include the popular series Arthur, Disney’s Trulli Tales, Netflix’s Maggie & Bianca: Fashion Friends and video games such as Assassin’s Creed, Splinter Cell, Prince of Persia. Eleanor is a graduate of the Professional Theatre Program (The Dome) at Dawson College in Montreal.

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