For Ian Lake, a young actor who has dabbled with television roles, his real passion is for the stage.
In his fourth season at the Stratford Festival, 28-year-old Vancouver native Lake said that acting has been a huge part of his life for the last decade.
“I had parents who were very appreciative of the arts and would always bring me out to shows and made it an important part of my upbringing, but it wasn’t until I went to university when I was 18 that I really took a more serious approach and started to consider it as a career choice,” said Lake, who plays Joey in Nobel laureate Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming.
“Joey is the youngest of three brothers. He’s a boxer, and it’s a family where everyone is like a pack of wolves, and there is a real fight over territory in this family,” Lake said, explaining the character he plays.
“It’s not the friendliest family… Joey is really quite an innocent. He doesn’t really engage so much in verbal sparring, because I don’t think he has the mental ability to do it. He feels like if he leaves well enough alone, nobody will come after him. He’s a boxer, a construction worker, he likes to chase women and eat food, and that is his world. He doesn’t speak very much, he speaks with his body language more than anything and it’s a really fun character to play.”
Lake, who is also part of the ensemble cast in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, said that his role in The Homecoming was the first one in his acting career that inspired him to prepare extensively, by training for months at a boxing ring.
“This is the first time I have really taken on such extensive preparation for a part,” he said.
Lake has a number of sought-after Shakespeare roles under his belt, including Silvius in As You Like It, Florizel in The Winter’s Tale and Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but this past winter was the first time he was able to land a role to which he felt a personal connection.
“For the first time, I had a chance to play a Jewish role,” said Lake, who described his upbringing as secular, but his family was a part of a “network of several Jewish families,” who were members of the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture in Vancouver.
He said his first and only Jewish role came when he was working at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton, Ont.
“There is a play called For This Moment Alone, which is a talmudic reference that when you do a mitzvah, God looks down and says, ‘for this moment alone is was worth creating the world,’” Lake explained.
The play – by Canadian playwright Marcia Kash, who borrowed heavily from her own family history to tell this story – was set in Toronto in 1948 and is about a Holocaust survivor who deceives a family of survivors that settled in Canada.
Lake’s character, a survivor named Freddy, pretends to be a relative of the family so they will sponsor him for immigration to get him out of a displaced person’s camp.
“This was the first time that I played a part that meant so much to my history and my family’s history, and it wasn’t just about it being an emotional story. It was actually something that mattered to me,” Lake said.
He said even though he was never pushed into roles that have Jewish themes, he felt that this role honoured his family in some way.
Although his own family didn’t suffer through the Holocaust first hand, as his grandparents were born in Canada, “for my grandmother, [teaching about] the Holocaust is one of her reasons for being.”
Lake said his grandmother, who once served as the director of the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre, used take him on tours of the centre.
“I remember… being affected quite strongly by that.”
But it was his recent trip to Israel on a Birthright Israel tour that helped make this role more meaningful for him.
“Going to Israel gave me a stronger sense of what it means to be a Jew. Leaving Vancouver, I felt disconnected from that part of my life, because I work in Stratford, where there are so few Jewish people – there are only a handful of us, and we get together for High Holiday Days, and every now and then, someone will have a Shabbat dinner. There’s about six of us in the whole company of 100 actors.”
He said his trip to Israel helped him play the part of Freddy better.
Lake said his trip also helped him solidify his convictions and seek roles that mesh well with his ideals.
“If there is a story that conflicts with my ideals, it’s important for me to have an opinion about that and have the opportunity to say, ‘That isn’t something I’m interested in doing…’ Going to Israel was part of me beginning to understand exactly what my ideals are,” he said.
Although much of Lake’s acting experience comes from his time on the stage, he has recently landed a television role on the CTV drama Flashpoint.
“That was my first foray into television and it was a lot of fun… [But] my real passion is for the stage,” said Lake, who trained at the National Theatre School of Canada and at the Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre.
“I’ve been very fortunate to work at Stratford and to work on some big stages and get to play some really phenomenal parts,” he said, adding that there is nothing like performing on stage.
“Here at Stratford we have some pretty big theatres where you can get about 2,000 people in a room. It’s pretty special to get the chance to go up there and perform in front of that many people, especially when the plays we get to do here are such wonderful plays.”
He said although he wants to put more of an effort into landing more television gigs, “I think my heart will always belong on the stage in theatre.”