Jake Anthony (second from right) celebrates a successful run of the play “Sequence.” Left to right: Rena Cohen (Director); Arun Lakra (Playwright); Actors Byron Noble, Krista Skwarok, Jake Anthony and Amy Amantea. (photographer: Rick Parnell)
“As an actor, I’m a story teller, and part of that involves being an open book, and being able to draw on my own experiences to make a point about a specific issue or topic,” says Jake Anthony, who was appointed to CLBC’s Board of Directors, along with six other new members in December.
In addition to being a professional actor and acting instructor, Jake has been an advocate for persons with disabilities for over a decade.
Jake recently shared the importance that acting, family and advocacy have played in his life.
From life-skills tool to passion
“What started me with acting was actually through having autism,” says Jake.
When he was diagnosed with autism at four years old, a psychiatrist suggested acting lessons as a way to develop skills for interacting with others.
“At the time, I couldn’t read body language and had no awareness of emotion,” says Jake. “Acting demands you have that ability to connect with people, to give and receive and to understand human emotion and human behaviour. Soon, I was able to look people in the eye and have conversations.”
Over time, what had started as a life-skills tool, grew into a passion. “Originally, it wasn’t something I ever thought I’d be doing professionally, but it became an interest and eventually something that I love to do.”
Jake’s many acting credits include stage, film and television. He cites a recent role in a play called Sequence, put on by Realwheels and Presentation House Theatre in 2018, as both his most challenging and rewarding.
“It was the largest role I had done. I was on stage with three other actors for the full hour and 20 minutes. The big challenge, both artistically and personally, was that I was portraying an individual who was a paraplegic. There’s a stigma about able-bodied actors portraying characters with physical challenges. I knew that if I didn’t portray this character correctly, then everything I stand for as an advocate, in terms of truth and not playing into stereotypes, would be jeopardized.”
Jake’s preparation for the role included using a wheelchair to navigate around his apartment building for several weeks and learning from two athletes who are wheelchair users about how to get out of a chair with only his upper body.
“It meant a lot to me to be successful in this role. It was hugely gratifying, and a relief, when a number of people in wheelchairs, including the artistic director, told me that I had done the character justice,” he says.
Acting and advocacy
Jake carries many of the skills he has developed as a performer into his advocacy work and serving on boards.
“Like actors, advocates do a lot of public speaking and meet a great number of people, through the boards, committees and organizations we work with,” he says. “Both roles involve interacting and collaborating with many different people. In a play you’re working with 10 to 15 actors and you may not know any of them when you start out. It’s not that different when serving on a board.”
Strong supporting cast
Jake’s credits his family for supporting him to follow his passions, and for instilling the values he lives today. “If it wasn’t for my family, and my friends, I wouldn’t have what I have today. I wouldn’t be living independently, being an actor. I wouldn’t have found my own voice or become an advocate. Both my mum and dad have been amazing advocates for me throughout my life.”
Jake says his mum, who sadly passed away last year, was a key inspiration for becoming an advocate for others. “I was raised on the principle that if you can do something to make the world better, you should do it.”
His next act with CLBC
Serving on the CLBC Board is an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the many people CLBC supports across the province, says Jake, “It’s exciting to be able to have some impact towards making a society that’s more equal and inclusive.”
One area in particular he’s passionate about is helping to make the process of getting CLBC services more accessible for people and families, including those who speak English as a second language.
For Jake, a principle that he carries into his role on the board is to focus on what people are capable of and what they can contribute.
“People are doing things, and living lives, that 30 years ago just wouldn’t be happening. A big part of that is seeing that there’s so much to every person beyond their disability, and recognizing what they have offer.”
CLBC’s board of directors includes self advocates and family members. Read their biographies here.
Realwheels Theatre, based in Vancouver, occupies a valuable and necessary niche in the arts community. They aim to inspire a new generation of artists to participate in the arts and further develop an audience to embrace the inclusion of disability onstage, and, more importantly, offstage in the real world.
MANDATE: Realwheels creates and produces performances that deepen audiences’ understanding of the disability experience.
VISION: Full inclusion and integration of disability both on and off Canadian stages; a barrier-free, diverse performing arts world that reflects the real world and all of its people.
To learn more, visit RealWheels.ca