Doug Sroka is having a moment.
The Toronto Film School alumni has had a full plate of projects since completing the Acting for Film TV & Theatre program in December 2021.
First up is the play Flowers for Alex, running from July 8 to 17 as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival. After two years of virtual programming, Toronto’s largest theatre festival is returning to the stage, celebrating its 34th year with in-person productions of 88 different shows.
For Sroka, this is especially exciting news, because it means he gets to make his professional theatre debut performing for a live audience.
“I was fortunate to be able to perform in studio with my classmates at TFS, which was one step closer than Zoom,” he reflected. “But I definitely missed the live audience. I’m excited to get that rush of being in person and sharing this story with so many people each night.”
Flowers for Alex is a story about best friends Alex and Jesse, who have the strength of their bond challenged after Jesse causes a major car crash and then runs away to start a new life. It’s a play that explores betrayal, forgiveness and what it means to live with the choices you make in life and whether those choices become regrets later.
“It’s a two-hander and an hour-long play, so it’s a lot of lines,” he said. “But it’s going really well. I’ve learned to go with the flow and roll with the punches. There have been last minute cast changes, illnesses and I’ve been doing it while balancing a full-time job and trying to find an agent.
“It’s been exhausting, but also very rewarding. I’m proud of what we’ve created and I’m excited to see the resilience of live theatre after Covid.”
Growing up on a farm in rural Saskatchewan, Sroka spent most of his youth interested in agriculture and participating in a 4-H club. But he always had a knack for performing, as well, and got involved with high school theatre. His mom was an early supporter.
“Since I was 7, mom used to always take me to dinner theatres and to the Ukrainian Village in Edmonton,” he reminisced. “I loved it, but I never considered it a legit career, because growing up there, it’s not like I was surrounded by artists.”
Initially, Sroka attended the University of Saskatchewan for a Psychology degree. But a year into his studies, he realized that his heart lied with performing and he applied to TFS. Starting in July 2020, all of his courses were delivered online because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He revealed the Zoom delivery was not ideal. But Sroka said he made the most of it and found ways to connect with his fellow classmates.
“When I started at TFS, I always viewed it as that was me starting my career in the film industry,” he explained. “So, it was all about making connections and good impressions and I tried to make a very diligent effort into networking.”
He also credits the Acting program for helping develop and hone his skills.
“I grew very steadily over the 18 months at TFS. From where I started, to where I ended off, it’s very incomparable. As far as being a working actor in the film industry, TFS offering production, writing, stage combat, all of that stuff – the program creates a well-rounded person to work in the film industry. Especially now, I think it’s more important than just being a technically sound actor.”
One of the highlights of his time at TFS was his Term 6 thesis film, Chivalry Ain’t Dead. Sroka described the story as being about a “cross-dressing hooker who ends up at the wrong apartment.” Making this thesis film was incredibly demanding, he said, and challenged every aspect of his creativity.
“I wrote it, directed it, produced it and starred in it,” he laughed. “It was the most stressful week of my life. I was getting up at 4 a.m. to get in drag, to go on set for, like, 14-hour days.”
“But it was an experience!”
There had to be a COVID supervisor on set at all times and shooting while meeting the COVID restrictions made for some memorable moments.
“There was one scene where I had to take gum out of my mouth and put it into my scene partner’s mouth,” Sroka remembered. “And we had to movie-magic it so it wasn’t the same piece of gum. And we had to have chicken wings in one of the scenes, too. But because they had been exposed to open air, the actor wasn’t actually allowed to put them in his mouth. So we had to have a bite taken out of it and he had to mime eating the wing. It was weird.”
The hard work has paid off. Sroka submitted Chivalry Ain’t Dead to numerous film festivals, where it has not only been chosen for Official Selection but has been an award-winner.
“I’m super proud of all the work that went into it,” he mused. “I definitely bit off a lot, but it was worth all the effort.”
In the future, Sroka dreams of opening his own Queer theatre, with drag queens and kings performing Shakespeare.
For now, though, he’s looking forward to opening night of Flowers for Alex at Toronto Fringe.
“This is my first live opening night since high school,” he enthused. “I’m so excited for that adrenaline rush and the energy I’ve been missing these last few years without live theatre.
Festival Accolades for Chivalry Ain’t Dead: