“I played the Big Bad Wolf in our grade 5 production of “The Three Little Pigs”. As soon as I stepped out on stage, an adrenaline and an excitement that I had never felt before swept me off my feet and I felt like I was flying. I made all the parents laugh. I was transformed. “This is where I belong!” I thought to myself. I locked that moment away in my mind and in my heart, determined in the future to return to the stage.”
Harveen Sandhu has done just that! A 2012 graduate of Ryerson Theatre School, she has already been on stage at Soul Pepper, The Fringe, Mirvish and been featured in The Globe and Mail and chosen as one of Toronto Life’s Lucky Stars! Still an ingénue on stage she has taken on the lead role of Eliza Doolittle in one of Shaw Festivals most popular plays – Pygmalion.
Tell us about Pygmalion…
Pygmalion (written by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, or GBS) is a classic story of the student surpassing the master and of social engineering. By teaching street girl Eliza Doolittle to abandon her native dialect and to speak posh English, Professor Higgins bridges the significant gap that exists today between classes of people – socially and economically. The premise that “anyone can be a duchess” simply by performing (italicize that word!) a class of society is a radical one. But by gaining privileges of upper crust society – Eliza risks losing her soul, her identity: the vivacious, spirited and deeply unapologetically unique young woman she is at the beginning of the play is whipped by Higgins into a bland prototype of high society – but her soul is too strong to be tamed. Eliza is born again at the end of the play, but not without some loss. A romantic tragic-comedy, with an emphasis on the tragedy!
What attracted you to the role?
Eliza’s spirit. She’s a fighter. She’s brave, charming, witty, a genius, a survivor and she has an enormous heart. She goes on an incredible journey of transformation in this play – one of Shaw’s finest.
Is there a dream role you would like to play?
This is it!!!! I am still pinching myself!!!!
Will you stick to the stage or do you want to act on screen?
I would love to try my hand at the screen. It is definitely a dream of mine. Acting for the screen would be quite different from acting for the stage, I imagine. I’d be interested to train for the screen and learn how much overlap there is in the skills it takes.
If you weren’t an actress what would you be doing?
Oh goodness, there are several things I can think of, fortunately – I may do yet! I depend enormously on yoga in my life and would love to learn to teach it. There are few gifts as generous as the gift of passing yoga on to a fellow human being. I could go into the culinary arts – food is truly my favourite!! I come from a family of great cooks and I find great joy in cooking – whether following a recipe to the tee or improvising like mum does. I would write – something I hope to get back into one day! Whether plays or novels, I have a few ideas rolling around in the back of my brain. And I think I would compose music and try to live from it. I compose on the side, for the piano, but if I were not prominently acting, I would make more of an effort to get my music out there.
You mentioned your family, have they been supportive?
Tremendously. Initially, there was friction with mum and dad – and I would have been very surprised if there hadn’t have been! Maintaining a career as a performer is a superbly stressful, unstable, and constantly changing reality. It puts a real strain on everything from finances to relationships. My parents saw this before I did. But with the encouragement from my brothers (who have always rooted for me in everything I ventured to do), they bit the bullet and sent me to theatre school. When they saw over the years not only how happy I was in the craft, but also that I could potentially live from it, their confidence in it double and tripled. Even for me, it’s a matter of one day at a time. There are good months where the work is abundant, and there are not so great months when things are slower and harder. But I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. I can’t think of anything more rewarding or more beautiful.
What’s next for you?
Well as of now, we are still in rehearsal for Pygmalion. We start previews on May 31 and then we open June 27th. We run through the summer and early fall until October 24. After that, hopefully I will have another exciting project lined up – or some classes- or, even better, a little vacation somewhere! I do my best to get away for at least part of the winter every year. I was made for warmer climates.
Featured image sourced from www.thestar.com