Isabel Kanaan is a 2014 Seneca College Acting for Camera and Voice (ACV) graduate cementing her roots as a flourishing actor, performer and comedian in Canada. Recently, Isabel played the role of Irene in a new production, ANAK, by Carlos Bulosan Theatre (CBT), a Filipino-Canadian theatre in Toronto celebrating its 35th year in 2017. ANAK, which means “child” in Tagalog, is the first full-length production written and performed by the new CBT Collective. Isabel, a member of the Collective, now plays the lead in several productions and has starred in numerous films, show series, comedy shows and theatre productions.
We spoke with Isabel to learn more about her journey from the Philippines, to Seneca, to the stage and screen.
I was studying at York University when I joined the Filipino Student Association and met a Seneca alumni who had just graduated from the Acting for Camera and Voice program. He spoke very highly of the experience and introduced me to the program coordinator. After switching academic interests several times in University, I made my final shift to Seneca. I never thought that conversation would lead to my career a few years later.
How would you describe your Seneca experience?
Seneca was fantastic! The faculty were so supportive and hands-on, it felt like I was getting one-on-one coaching. All the classes I took were very well structured and planned. They knew the exact skills we needed to learn and taught them with efficiency. I learned how to be on screen and what goes on behind the scenes, which gave me a better understanding of the film industry.
What did you take away from your experience that has helped you most in life and in your career?
Discipline plays a big role in any career and Seneca taught me not only to take on responsibilities given to me, but to fulfill obligations I entrust on myself. It’s easy to get sidetracked after graduating when the structure and routine disappear, but I learned to discipline myself and stay focused. This mindset has contributed greatly to my success. I move from one project to the next and I am loving every bit of it.
To what other life experiences do you attribute your success?
Carlos Bulosan Theatre has really helped me become a better performer overall. The workshops helped me enhance the skills I learned at Seneca. They also taught me to create my own work instead of waiting for an opportunity to arise. Another is The Second City. Being in their Conservatory program and having been awarded the Bob Curry Fellowship (offered to qualifying actors and improvisers from diverse multicultural backgrounds) made me a stronger writer, actor and comedian.
How would you describe yourself as a person and as a professional?
I am very ambitious and I never stop working. In my downtime, I'm always looking for more projects or making my own to keep busy. I am also a big people person! I love talking and just spending time with people. If there is an opportunity for collaborative work, I always say yes! A lot of my communicative and collaborative skills related to my craft came from Seneca.
What do you consider your greatest career accomplishment?
Having fans message me about how my work has changed their lives. Through the web series, Haunted Or Hoax, I started advocating for LGBTQ stories in the media. I hope to connect with more industry professionals to create work in the film and television world for people of colour and the LGBTQ community. Through this, I hope to touch more fans and more hearts.
What is your most unique trait?
I like feeling vulnerable. People often hide their sadness or anger because it feels like a sign of weakness, but to me it is more courageous to show it. To show my vulnerability makes the audience think that it's okay to feel emotions and that is just a part of being human. There is no need to hide.
What advice would you give to someone following in your footsteps?
I have always been a performer. I was a dancer, actor and singer in the Philippines and when I moved to Canada, I was able to pursue what I have been doing my whole life – turning my hobby into a career. It is going to be tough. There will be a lot of rejection and discouragement, but you just have to be true to yourself and keep going. If you’re thinking of attending Seneca’s Acting for Camera and Voice program, do it! It was the best choice I have ever made.