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Life and Work with Sophie Labelle

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sophie Labelle.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Sophie. So, let’s start at the beginning, and we can move on from there.
I was born in Ottawa Ontario Canada and soon moved to a small town outside of Toronto called Hamilton. I say this because I often think about the dirt roads I grew up on and the acres of forest I used to play in with my dogs. *sighs longingly while also appreciating current surroundings*

I have two older sisters, one now lives in Vancouver with her partner, she’s a lawyer, and the other in New York, she’s finishing a Ph.D. in art history, and I’m wildly proud of both of them. My parents are both in healthcare and have artistic passions of their own, my mom is a brilliant painter and dollhouse maker and would someday like to write a children’s book, and my dad’s a guitarist and triathlete.

I grew up training extensively in dance and later in classical and musical theatre voice. Dance was my outlet and my first real passion I was extremely committed to. Looking back I was a performer since day one; always dancing, singing, trying to make people laugh.

I moved to Georgia during my senior year in high school, and that’s how I got my green card. Obviously, moving to another country in your senior year isn’t ideal, but I am so aware of how that challenge was also a huge blessing and has allowed me to be where I am and do what I do.

Prior to moving to the states, on a family trip to NYC, I remember telling my mom I would go to New York University. To me, it seemed completely doable, and I am so grateful that she supported that goal 100% no matter how out of reach it seemed. When I started thinking about my future I knew I loved performing, but I also knew I wanted to help people, I was interested in international relations, and in politics. I applied to NYU and didn’t get in. I did, however, get into the University of Miami for international relations and decided to attend but defer for a year so I could move to L.A and become Britney Spears before going to school (this all seemed logical to me). During that year my mom encouraged me to reapply in the arts. I did that. I also retook my SAT’s, making my total a whopping three attempts.

I auditioned for NYU drama while living in Los Angeles. I remember telling my interviewer, the head of the ‘Experimental Theatre Wing’ at NYU’s Tisch School Of the Arts, that I wanted ‘a Grammy, an Oscar, I wanted to help kids, and save the monkeys in the rainforest.’ That still remains true although I need to remind myself of the certainty I had in that interview every now and then as I get older.

I had never acted before, but I could recite every ‘Friends’ episode, and I could tell you how every movie I loved made me feel, and I loved to perform. So I found a monologue that resonated with me and felt so much comfort performing it for my audition. I got in that time.

I struggled for the first two years of school. I was dealing with a lot of personal issues, addictive tendencies, and a consuming eating disorder. During this challenging time, I also met some of my closest friends and colleagues that I continue to work with often, namely River Gallo and of course my production company partner and ‘No Chill’ co-creator Janelle Renee Pearson. Experimental theatre was a challenging experience that I now see as extremely liberating. I am so grateful for my time there, it was no doubt where I was meant to be, it made me explore who I am, break down what I thought I was, and it strengthened and supported who I want to be.

I started a minor in gender studies and found real comfort and passion in that area. During my second year, I created a piece called ‘How to be a good girl’ it was funny. It opened with me in a spotlight, wearing an apron, rubber gloves and drinking from a vodka bottle, I made jokes, I danced, I sang, and it felt like all of my passions were together in one stage. I have so many teachers to thank for opening my mind to what art is, what it can look like, how there is no wrong, and to the juicy intersection between personal, political, and performance.

The last two years of school I studied in Stonestreet Studios for film and television and learned more about acting for film and tv.

I lived two more years in New York and did some theatre that I am so grateful to have been a part of. I miss the theatre so often and feel most alive on stage. I then moved to L.A once again. I was a bit tired of trying to be on camera and wanted to try my hand behind it. My roommate River Gallo was in grad film school for directing at USC, and I started assistant directing some of his short film projects. I then saw that my friend Janelle was making a short and she needed an assistant director. Having never truly assistant directed a large project I reached out and told her I was interested because I just wanted to put my interest into the universe. And bless the universe she welcomed me on board. THAT WAS AN EXHAUSTING AMAZING EXPERIENCE! I remember crying one night like over 13 different printouts of a changing script, trying to make the shot list while wincing in pain from the most severe period pains I had had in years.

The movie was great, I did a great job, and I learned so much. After this, we created ‘Highly Evolved Productions.’ I am so grateful to Janelle for forging ahead in a business sense whereas I tended to gravitate towards thinking like an actor- waiting for someone to call.

After that, she called me saying she wrote a webisode for a web series idea she has called ‘No Chill’ and I’d be great for a part. We did the episode, and it was so great to be acting, improvising, and making something with a friend and terrific actress. It was also very new and liberating to not be answering to someone else on set (aside from Janelle of course who gratefully gave me creative liberty.)

Initially, she wanted different directors and different people to be in each episode; thankfully, my mom encouraged me to share the idea that the show should be about us. I remember telling Janelle “It’s us, it should be about us. WE are No Chill!!” and so ‘No Chill’ became!

We funded our entire first season. We learned so much. Janelle wrote the episodes. Most concepts came from real life events. ‘BBD’ was a true story about an interaction I had with a guy one night as well as the episode ‘Bust it Open.’ I did actually bust my face open on a date once- and what I thought was the end of my brief modeling career (which it was) was also the story for one of my favourite episodes.

After our first season, we were so fortunate to be chosen by Whohaha to be a part of their spotlight program. Whohaha is a streaming platform created by Elizabeth Banks dedicated to showcasing women in comedy. We had an exclusive deal with them for three months. I remember walking into their offices and being greeted by these three amazing women who were just there to support us, congratulate us, and tell us they liked what we do! That feeling was amazing, and I was VERY MUCH not used to receiving it nor did I know what to do with my arms and face while it was happening.

After that, we were lucky enough to get a spot in a showcase on the Comedy Central stage. We showed every episode and wrote bits that we performed on stage in between each episode. I wrote a song about words that perhaps shouldn’t be said anymore, Janelle wrote a poem on anxiety, it was hilarious, amazing, and combined so many things that I love once again. Clips from this show can be found on our Instagram @nochillltheseries.

We are now in our second season. We have three more episodes to film. We did an indie gogo campaign prior to this season, but we both need to work on our campaigning skills because our budget is low and we work jobs to pay for out of pocket production costs. We have an amazing way of making it work no matter what challenge. I am so proud of this company and this show. And so grateful for the opportunity to continue to grow in my creative, business and personal abilities. We now co-write and co-direct most episodes, and I am grateful for a partner who allowed me to overcome my apprehension about moving into those roles. We’ve shot an entire music video for the show which will be the first episode to come out in 2019. After the season is out, we’ll be writing a full-length pilot episode to pitch!

Outside of the company and No Chill, I am still dancing, I am always looking for opportunities to act on film, tv, and on stage, and I am interested in making documentary films about witches as well as a children’s book or film.

I’ve written about SO many different events in this story of how I got here. My point in all this is that most challenges honestly became huge blessings and that the path or as my mom says it in french, my ‘cheminent’ (path someone walks) has rarely been clear or direct.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Ahaha this question both makes me excited to write and puts a lump in my tummy wondering if I can get it all out. Also, it makes me feel less extra for writing about all the challenges in my last response (I am confident, but I, of course, have a voice in my head at times that says ‘You’re saying too much and taking up too much space.’ I try to work on quieting that voice.)

It was most certainly not a smooth road. I am incredibly privileged, and in large part, I had a very fortunate road free from tragedy and difficulties that so many people face, and for that, I’m incredibly grateful. But my struggles, even if they don’t seem huge to some, were very real and very valid to me, just as I feel anyone’s struggles no matter how big or small are incredibly valid and deserve attention and care. I had a breakdown over a haircut at some point, and it sounds funny, but it was VERY real and painful for me.

Personal journeys and artistic journeys are so often intertwined, in fact, they can’t not be. Hence the idea of the tortured artist. Add on being a woman in capitalism, in patriarchy, in a world where science, history, language were all created by white men and it’s tough, even more so for WOC, women with special abilities (both physical and mental) and non-binary folk.

I don’t say this to discourage you, or us, (or to sound like a condescending white woman), not at all, but to highlight that I think these people are magical super beings that have the most immense wealth of talent and ideas, but they encounter unique personal challenges that may not register to everyone. So first of all- know that your challenge or struggle is valid. If no one else has said that, I’m saying that.

These are some struggles I went through, how they turned out, and what I learned from them and would like to share with you:
Growing up I moved a lot. I realize now that made me adaptable. I’m super grateful to be from Canada, to be an American, to have lived in the east, west, and south.

When I was younger, I had a very clear vision of what I wanted to be. I wanted to be Britney Spears. So when I finished high school, my mom said if I apply to college and get in I can go to L.A and try to reach that dream for a bit. I was confident. When I got here, I lost my rigorous dance schedule, I wasn’t in school, and I didn’t have parents around. I filled my need for schedule with the more destructive patterns and ended up getting a DUI that changed my life. Thankfully no one was injured in the DUI, but I say it changed my life because court-mandated visits to the morgue, gave me an appreciation for life and reminded me of responsibility to myself and others. Doing court-mandated community service I met a Wiccan womyn who I realize now helped spark a deep interest in wytches, she also believed in me as a person. I’m thankful for her and to everyone else I met who were kind to me with nothing to gain from it.

Shortly after my DUI, before I went through court-mandated programs, I attempted suicide by overdose. Never in my life did I think that would be part of my story, but it was, because anything can become your normal, and that is not to be put down or shamed, it’s just a fact. My normal was my eating disorder, drinking, and eventually taking a bunch of pills seemed to be the way to get out. If this is your normal, I hear you I see you, and I’m sorry you’re going through so much pain. Please reach out when you can. This is the national suicide hotline 1-800-273-8255 You matter to me.

Once I finished a summer of community service I moved to New York to go to school, I was still in an outpatient rehab group, and I was very much not in a healthy place. It was a struggle. But I am grateful for the reasons I found to get better. I found performing again. I found creativity. I found academia I was passionate about, quite honestly I found reasons to get up every day. And for me, that was how I think I eventually started healing. So my advice if you’re in a dark place, yes tell someone, yes seek help, but also try to feed the spark of hope you have deep down. It may be watching ‘Friends,’ it may be reading about Russian royalty, it may be kickboxing, but try to find that thing that excites you and DEMAND time and space for it. It is not a want it’s a need for your survival and anyone who doesn’t understand that just has to deal!

During my first year, I got a huge chest tattoo that said ‘May passion be my saviour.’ I removed it very quickly after I finished school while I was in the peak of my eating disorder. I’m grateful for the ability to do that, but I wonder now if I removed it because I was trying to fade into something ‘normal’ something unmemorable, something that didn’t stand out. Now in a time when everyone is celebrating uniqueness (which is amazing), I miss it, and I realize it was a very deep real part of me.

So to that, I say- and I mean this from the bottom of my heart- YOUR DIFFERENT IS AMAZING. Your different is a power. Your different is magic. I know it’s easy to say that in hindsight, so if you are in the thick of it, I hope this still resonates because I know your different is also difficult at times, very difficult, and sometimes full of doubt. PUSH ON YOU MAGICAL HUMAN!
**also, now when we cast for the show, all we look for is different. So know that your different is supported by many!

Years after my attempt I felt my experiences gave me a set of tools to help others who are going through suicidal thoughts and depression, I volunteered at a suicide crisis line for almost two years and trained to be a volunteer crisis advocate. It was a real gift to be able to do that.

On a more practical note for women wanting to get into the industry or film making, performing, academia, anything:

1. Follow what excites you. It doesn’t matter what it is, how small it is, how ‘out there’ it may seem to others. I always value ‘the goosebump effect’ the most: IF IT GIVES YOU GOOSEBUMPS, IT’S PART OF YOUR CALLING. Follow the goosebumps as much as you can. **That’s not to say everything needs to give you the most amazing feeling; while I’m producing my show, I don’t get goosebumps (I get exhausted, hungry, stressed) but I get them when I get to act and when I see the finished product, and when I realize I’m creating something from scratch, and when I get to do live showcases of the show.

2. Also- if you have many passions- follow them all. Save the monkeys, get a Grammy, get an Oscar. I’m not saying it’s easy, but you do not need to focus on just one thing (although that’s awesome if you want to do that). I often fall into the trap of wishing I had just focused on one thing, and then an opportunity comes along that needs my unique, eclectic combination of talents, and I see that I’m not the only one who is interested in many different paths.

3. Know that many people will test your moral compass, your creative instincts, your common sense. It is human to be thrown off from time to time, just learn from it and continue on. Build on what you believe in while incorporating what you’ve learned and what others teach you. Also, allow others to feel differently.

4. It’s okay to change your mind. It’s okay to change your mind 80 times. I’ve been trying to decide if I should go to grad school for two years now. I’ve applied, deferred, came back. It’s a saga but it’s okay. You are not one thing, you are many wonderful things.

5. Do what you need to do to heal. Whatever that looks like for you. These past two years I chose to put my eating disorder recovery first, that meant some things came second, but my life didn’t stop, far from it, it flourished in many ways. It’s not easy, but you deserve to give your healing attention and time. You are important. ❤

6. Speak to people how you want to be spoken to, it’s rare and necessary and so wonderful.

7. BELIEVE YOUR CREATIVE VOICE. FOR REAL. Even when you don’t.

8. Figure out who you think is amazing and then literally read about their lives. I do this so often, in my attempt to try to find role models. Some of mine have been (in no order) Lisa Kudrow, RBG, many queens, Chelsea Handler, Jane Goodall, (and everyone else in my ‘wimmin I look up to’ section)

9. Instead of freaking out about a seemingly impossible thing (I do this), honestly make a list and do each thing. You can do this. I believe in you so much.

10. Learn how to use icloud and then honestly please teach me. Why is my storage always full?
–Which bring me to if you’re scared you don’t know how to do something, but you kind of want to do it, figure out the way you feel comfortable learning that thing, give yourself time to warm up to the idea, and then learn it. You as much as anyone else deserves to know how to do something yourself. (This is definitely a take on the quote ‘you as much as anyone else deserve your love and affection” – its debated who wrote this but this version of it is attributed to Sharon Salzberg, and I love it.

I used to think I disliked writing, and I didn’t want to make my own content. It took me about two years to finally start writing for the show, and I’m so glad I overcame that fear. I’m now trying to learn more about the camera, lighting, and editing. I find it really unsettling to not know how to do something, but I realize everyone has to start somewhere. SO LEARN WITH ME!

Please tell us about ‘No Chill’ and ‘Highly Evolved Productions.
‘Highly Evolved Productions’ is a production company formed by Janelle Renee Pearson and myself. ‘No Chill’ is a comedy webseries co-created Janelle and I as well. We also produce, write, and direct the series. We’re wrapping up filming on our second season, and the first season can be found found streaming on the site Whohaha. 

The show follows Janelle and I having ‘No Chill’ while we navigate what it is to be authentic in any situation. It invites you to explore what is possible in a world without the limits of our society’s conditioning and says it’s OKAY TO HAVE NO CHILL!! Wimmin are so often told to ‘chill out’ when they are passionate about something, upset about something, or when they’re literally just speaking- so this show aims to create a space where you don’t have to do that, whether it’s in regards to relationships, racism, texting, twerking, politics, inner peace, and living your best dope goddess queen life.

It’s funny, it’s fun, it’s thought-provoking. It’s written and directed by wimmin, assistant directed by a womyn (Tonya Ingram),  and filmed by a womyn (Kwanza Gooden). With the majority of the people behind and in front of the camera being POC and WOC we are creating a new supportive, empowering, loving, dynamic that is rare in the industry but natural to us. Our first season was filmed by Sean Cruser, and we are so grateful for him and his work! (We love, support, and respect awesome dudes personally, creatively and professionally!!)

Janelle and I believe in compassion and kindness for people, ideas, animals, nature and ourselves. We are funny, interesting, different and similar. We don’t agree on everything but that doesn’t stop the dialogue; we learn from each other and our experiences, and we love and support each other no matter what. I think our show is really indicative of that and very special in that way.

Who have you been inspired by?
My mother. Because she’s my mother and she’s amazing. She’s French Canadian, and she went to college in English barely knowing the language. She will make anything possible; you need to move to London in two weeks? No problem. You’ve lost your passport, your shoes and you need to treat a wound? She’s got you. That woman has No Chill at all and takes care of business. I’m grateful for her passing that ability on to me. I see very few things as impossible now.

She also got two masters over the age of 50 and moved to the other side of Canada. Aside from being the head of pharmacy at BC cancer, she is an amazing painter and visual artist. She does not do just one thing, and she is everything. I take from that.

Chelsea Handler- because she’s hilarious, open, and always learning. I think we have similar humour. And she has a way of not leaving space to be questioned by others. It’s remarkable. I’m trying to practice that. She is also an amazing advocate for other women.

My sisters – BECAUSE THEY ARE SO BRILLIANT.

Kate McKinnon, Julia Louis Dreyfus, Leslie Jones, Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton, Diane Lane – Just so great at what they do and at being themselves.

My grandmother ’cause she don’t give a f*ck, she’s super French, and her support is unwavering.

My other grandmother who left Croatia and started a life and raised my dad.

All the women in ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ as well as the writer and director of the movie the late Audrey Wells.

Missy higgins.

Catherine the Great- she usurped her husband’s throne and became Empress of Russia for over thirty years and in many ways revolutionized Russia. Read up on her!

Queen Liliuokalani- the last Queen of Hawaii. She was powerful, kind, unique and unwavering. Go read.

Moira from ‘Schitt’s Creek’

Jane Goodall- she followed her passion. She was not a doctor of any kind but she wanted to go study chimps, and she did. She also brought her mother as her chaperone. Her mother gave out first aid help in the village. She is a fountain of kindness and compassion and hope.

Queen Elizabeth- cause her growth through history is incredible. Also, read up on her.

Yoko Ono – I am so inspired by her herness. By her organization of thoughts that look different from others. I feel like she would be standing in a grocery line one day with sunglasses on, singing the word ‘blue’ in 4 different languages, because that’s how she felt. And then I assume she would give everyone in line a melon of some sort. I think that’s amazing and groundbreaking and beautiful. I also feel like she doesn’t leave space for other people’s negative questioning of her. She takes up her space in her own way.

I remember this “25 things you don’t know about Yoko’ interview I read years ago that gave me so much life. I should read it more as a reminder. Excerpt; https://www.usmagazine.com/entertainment/news/yoko-ono-25-things-you-dont-know-about-me-w165101/

13. I never wore makeup until I turned 50.

14. The last time I had alcohol was a Pink Lady sometime in the 1950s.

15. I’m Japanese, but sometimes I feel I am Swiss-German.

16. I’ve tried to wear pink or purple. But I only feel good in black or white.

17. I’m happiest performing heavy rock on stage. But I listen to only Brecht or Schoenberg at home.

I dream of creating with her. Or just having her over for dinner.

Recently I learned about Fannie Lou Hamer- an American voting and women’s rights activist and a leader in the civil rights movement.

Rita Schwerner- a civil rights activist and lawyer.

Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich- writers, poets, activists

Artists: Marina Abramovic, Kara Walker, Karen Finley, Annie Sprinkle
(When I first learned about performance art I read ‘Angry Women’ by Andre Juno and was so inspired. I still have it. It’s a great book to look into.

Last but not least, BRITNEY SPEARS. Always and forever my first and biggest initial inspiration. An incredibly talented performer. And someone who gave a dream to a lot of young girls! (including me!)
Also the Spice Girls, Christina Aguilera, Beyonce, Alanis Morisette and most women that I see performing, living, creating with their heart and soul, giving me goosebumps. <3 <3

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Image Credit:
Tarina Doolittle
Alex Cole
Victoria Myrthil

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