Toronto Film School students will tackle William Shakespeare’s greatest work when their upcoming production of Hamlet takes to the virtual stage.
Directed by Aaron Willis, the 75-minute tragedy follows Prince Hamlet of Denmark, as he attempts to exact revenge against his murderous uncle, Claudius, who killed his father to seize the throne and marry Hamlet’s mother.
Widely regarded as Shakespeare’s masterpiece, Willis admitted that Hamlet is a play that comes with all kinds of challenges for those who dare tackle it – the fact that it’s so well known; the fact that so many famous actors are judged by how well they played the role; and the fact that it’s one of the greatest plays ever written, just to name a few.
Then, of course, there’s the challenge of conquering Shakespeare’s language – an especially daunting task for Willis ’ troupe of fifth-term Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre students.
“A far more relevant challenge that came up often in rehearsal was the fact that Shakespeare’s words don’t sound like the words we normally speak and so are more harder to act, harder to lose yourself in, because you hear a voice coming out of your mouth that sounds strange and words that could be a different language,” Willis said, noting that performing Shakespeare makes huge demands of actors that most material doesn’t.
“It asks for a relentless level of technical rigor and emotional vulnerability that is both daunting and exhausting…Which, of course, is exactly why it’s worth wrestling with – it will make you a better actor, because it will show you your limitations and challenge you to rise beyond them.”
Hamlet, which is stage managed by Kat Anderson, will take to the virtual stage for a three-performance run on March 21, 22 and 23 as follows:
Tuesday, March 21 at 8 p.m.
Wednesday, March 22 at 8 p.m.
Thursday, March 23 at 5 p.m.
***Click HERE to livestream any of the above performances***
Alisha Henry as Ophelia, Gravedigger
Alisha Henry is an actor with 6 years of experience. Some of Alisha’s skills include singing and dancing, both of which she’s been doing for more than 10 years. She also showed off her singing skills in musicals with her high school drama department, where she participated in The Little Mermaid as Aquata and as a chorus member in Mamma Mia. Most recently she has portrayed Alex from the Witches of Eastwick, along with one of the Witches from Macbeth. Alisha is currently studying to receive her diploma in Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre at Toronto Film School.
Amanda LaBillois as Hamlet #2
Amanda LaBillois was born and raised in Montréal, Québec. She is currently enrolled in the acting program at Toronto Film School. In Term 3, she wrote, produced, and directed Routine Breakdown and starred in There is Hope as the main character. In 2019, she par- ticipated in a Just for Laughs skit. In her spare time, Amanda enjoys playing video games and collecting dolls. She is currently writing a comedy web series entitled The Awkward Ones and is looking forward to acting in more film, theatre, and TV productions.
Anika Rogers as Hamlet #1
Anika Rogers was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario. She’s in the acting program at Toronto Film School. She has studied various things in the program from directing to pro- ducing. In term 3, she wrote, produced and directed a short film called “The Guide”. She fell in love with acting at a young age. In 2018, Anika starred in a play at Young People’s Theater called “The Confession ‘’ where she played the lead. In High school, she took dra- ma classes where she starred as the lead in a play called “Fidget”. As heading to the next term, Anika hopes to act, write, produce and direct more films/plays.
Jennifer Laraba Wali as King Claudius
As a child, Jennifer Laraba Wali always dreamt of being a Hollywood star. Her earliest (and fondest) movie memories were of watching the iconic Gene Kelly in ‘Singing in The Rain’. She identified strongly with his character, because singing and dancing were cathartic to her while growing up and were part of how she expressed her creative side, until she decided to dabble in drama in high school. Though originally from Nigeria, she moved to Canada in 2018 and began studying at Toronto Film School in 2022.
Justine Birabwa as Horatio
Justine Birabwa is dedicated to Ending World Hunger. To do that, she knows there are times she’ll have to push through the muddy waters. With 2022 described as The Year of Unprecedented Hunger by the World Food Program, her vision to help make a contribution created sleepless nights. She couldn’t rest until she designed and created something to help do her part. To that end, she recently publihsed two books: Tidal Waves and Karamoja Cry, and End Global Hunger, both of which are available online.
Keily James Maguire as Guildenstern, Marcellus, Osric, Priest
Keily James Maguire, 19, was born in Newmarket, Ontario, where she started her acting training with Christopher Healy. After three years of training under Healey, Keily began taking acting classes with Armstrong Acting Studios, where she had the opportunity to train one-on-one and in groups with coaches including Sarah Fisher, Amos Crawley, Sarah Gnocato, Zachery Bennet, and Laura Nordin. Keily started her acting career on the set of “My Paranormal Story” and, in December 2022, wrapped her latest project, which was released at the end of January 2023. Keily is currently studying at Toronto Film School.
Lora Diakonov as Queen Gertrude
Lora Diakonov was born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario, and is currently enrolled in the Acting program at Toronto Film School. Lora has a passion for people and making them happy through her acting and writing and dancing. She is also a public influencer on social media and an affiliate on Twitch, where she enjoys creating content for her fans and followers. Lora has experience acting and dancing while performing on stage for Club Med, where she performed on the flying trapeze show.
Michael Nesterenko as Ghost, Player King, Hamlet #3
Michael Nesterenko is an actor, writer and director in training at Toronto Film School, where he’s currently studying towards making his dream of becoming an actor into a reality. Michael has been in several student and independent films, including taking on the roles of ‘Vance Everheart’ in The Heart Felt And Soulless and ‘Cicel Mcferson’ from Abbotsford Creek. Michael also helped produce Trance and Words from the Book of Dante, in which he also played the character Weston.
Nella Johnson as Polonius
Nella Johnson was born in Ontario, Canada and is currently working towards her diploma in acting at Toronto Film School. In her second term at TFS, she performed a piece she wrote called He Mattered. Her showcase impacted many people, including director of the school. Jaynella is a new mom who has been taking care of her infant during her studies. She is very determined to do her best, get good grades, and make it in the film industry. She is passionate about acting and wants to build her future success for her little one. After graduating Toronto Film School, Jaynella hopes to find an agent to help her pursue her acting career.
Siyao Liu as Barnardo, Player Queen
Siyao Liu was born in China, where she grew up with a passion for the arts, competing alone in off-campus competitions and winning awards in high school. After graduating from the Conservatory of Music in high school, she went on to study acting for a year at the International Academy of Shanghai Theatre Academy in China. She then decided to continue her acting studies in Canada, enrolling in Toronto Film School’s Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre program. In her third term at TFS, Siyao wrote directed and produced her first short film. In her spare time, she enjoys editing videos, photography and music.
Tarek Al Hamwi as Laertes, Rosencrantz, Third Player
Born in Damascus and raised in Ottawa, Tarek Al Hamwi developed his passion for acting at a young age. Tarek’s interest in learning about characters and personalities stemmed from losing his dad when he was just two years old. In high school, his friends called him Dan Aykroyd – a nickname he earned for having attended two of the Aykroyd’s former schools (St. Patrick and St. Pius schools) and for his growing obsession with filmmaking. Tarek is currently studying Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre at Toronto Film School.
Kat Anderson – Stage Manager
Kat Anderson was born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and currently resides in Goulais River, Ontario. A recent graduate of Toronto Film School’s Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre program, she is a “Jill of All Trades” who is always up for a challenge and has proven herself to go above and beyond any given expectations of her. During her studies at TFS, Kat took on lead roles in numerous student films and got involved in as many projects as possible ¬– including a short film called Neighbourhood Watch. She also wrote, directed and filmed her own short film during her time at TFS. In her free time, Kat has been expanding her artistic abilities in body painting and creating video content on her social media platforms, earning her more than 100,000 followers. Kat cannot only act, dance, and sing, (a triple threat within the acting industry), but is also talented in areas such as building props, costume design and special effects make up.
Aaron Willis – Director
Aaron Willis is an actor, director, and co-founding artistic director of Convergence Theatre with Julie Tepperman. Recent directing: Cymbeline (George Brown Theatre School), Athabasca (Convergence/Next Stage Festival), The Preposterous Predicament of Polly Peel (Polly Peel Collective/Fringe), Meet Cute (Roseneath Theatre – Dora Nomination), Stupidhead! (Theatre Passe Muraille), The Unending (Convergence), The Testament of Mary (Soulpepper). Aaron has acted at theatres across the city, including Tarragon, TPM, Factory, and (the original) Shakespeare in the Rough. TV appearances include roles in Flashpoint, Reign, Private Eyes. Aaron was also part of The Stratford Festival’s inaugural Michael Langham Workshop for Classical Theatre Training, was a Metcalf Producing Intern with Canadian Stage, and served as Associate Artistic Director and Head of New Musical Development at The Musical Stage Company. You can see Aaron onstage this summer in High Park in Canadian Stage’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.