Jessica Hunt’s Story

Originally posted: January 14, 2018

I was at George Brown Theatre School for less than a year between 2015 and 2016, and upon reading many of the stories circulating about the treatment of students and the problematic leadership, I have been reflecting on my time there and why I left. To get to the point I would like to in my story we must start where my love of theatre did: high school.

In high school I was in many productions and was a known favourite of my drama teacher. Nearing the end of my final year at this school he recommended to me George Brown, stating that it was perfect for my type of work – less hypothetical and more hands on – and its astuteness in the theatre world. Naturally I saw it was a perfect fit and applied, nervous as ever to find out that I was not cut above the masses in acting. I had heard of the cutthroat nature of the school and the drop out rate, but still I persisted. I had not met a challenge I had not conquered before.

Clutching my acceptance letter in my hands, I moved further south and began my weekly grind of going to school, getting torn down, and coming home exhausted.

This was not entirely out of the norm however, as my teacher in high school was harsh in criticism and this new acting teacher reminded me of him. The difference was my high school teacher knew that it was not his place to comment on someone’s character, rather his or her work.

As many stories have already exposed, we stood alone in front of the class and our acting teacher as we were pigeonholed into categories based on what he saw. Considering what he told me, I got off easy. A quick summary of, “an astute observer.” Not much else was said. Nothing offensive –yet. But I watched as my classmates went up and were told things like “you hid behind your quirky nature to avoid men’s gaze.” Or “you’re afraid to be ugly.” Or “headstrong, uses her sex to get what she wants.” Many of his comments horrified me, and I watched my beautiful and vibrant classmates swallow these comments bitterly before sitting down and waiting for the next person to take that solitary spot in the middle of the room.

This practice obviously made me uncomfortable as my teacher was harsh in high school, highly critical, but he respected us as people at least.

Despite this culture of fear, and the vibrancy of my classmates slowly leaving to be replaced with a cynicism and a quiet sadness, I thrived. I did well – minus the written work – I figured out what my teachers wanted and I gave it to them. I did better than I ever have as an actress, I learned fundamentals, I cried at will, I dealt the bitter analysis of my work, of my acting.

I did so well, in fact, that when I went to my acting teacher, telling him I was leaving the school, he asked me why and tried to convince me to stay. He summed it up to me not being used to hard work, that I was a quitter when things got rough. My whole life, nothing of the sort had ever been said to me. All I know, is in those few months I was at the school, I had never been more unhappy doing what I once loved.

I realized one day that I felt good when my classmates did poorly, when I got praise and they got criticism. I revelled in the words “that is what I was asking for”, “very well done”, “I love all the different things you tried.” I ate these crumbs up as if I hadn’t eaten in weeks, and it still wasn’t enough to fill me.

I didn’t leave because I was quitting. It was because my self worth was completely based on external factors, i.e. praise, reaching with my heels, being better than my classmates – which I was not. I watched the high spirit of my classmates wilt away. This is not to say that criticism is not needed, or that we should be overly delicate with people; having a backbone is important especially in the industry. But to associate one’s work with self worth is exceedingly dangerous. I was depressed for a whole year after I left George Brown because people treated me as if it was too hard and that’s why I left, because I felt alone in this whole process.

I speak up now after reading those stories, hoping perhaps I can reach someone who had a similar experience, because I finally feel as if my decision to leave George Brown Theatre School was the right decision, I finally feel as if I am understood and not judged for leaving such a prestigious school.

To those reading from my class, you were the reason I didn’t want to leave. You were the reason I fought for so long to stay even though I was so unhappy, because being with you wonderful people was the light in this tunnel.

To George Brown, I think the work you do is incredibly important, and it is important to shape young lives into beautifully vibrant risk-taking actors, but you need not destroy someone’s self worth, or bully a young adult to get results. There must be another way.