We had the good fortune of connecting with Sonia Suvagau and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sonia, do you have some perspective or insight you can share with us on the question of when someone should give up versus when they should keep going?
I’ve had more doors slammed in my face than I have received handouts. I’ve been rejected as an actress from countless auditions and turned down by so many festivals that I’ve memorized their standard rejection letter “ We had a record breaking amount of submissions this year…” so I know a thing or two about wanting to quit. When you create from your soul like I do rejection is personal. I always check in with myself on how I feel about what I’ve done and if I’m proud of my work. I remind myself that I have done my best with the resources I’ve had available and I have no control over what happens next. I’ve done my part – telling a story from concept to screen. I’ve learned seeking validation from others is a sure way to get dependent on it. No one gets to tell me what I can or cannot do anymore. If I want to make another film I will, and if I completely want to change direction then I can. I’m the only one that gets to decide that. Whenever I feel restless I remember that I’m running a long distance race and timing is everything. Sometimes it takes years to get financing but a wait is worth it if the project finds a larger audience. I have learned to have faith that there is a higher purpose to what I’m doing so being patient is a necessary part of keeping hope alive. I’ve also learned control is an illusion and the importance of living in the present moment. Most importantly, I’ve learned that if you believe in yourself and your mission the universe has a way of helping you get there.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I strive to go to the core of our human essence and tackle the toughest questions. Who are we? Where did we come from and where do we go? Are we alone in the universe? What is the nature of our reality? How deep can we love? I love exploring the idea of good versus evil and what truly makes people happy and fulfilled. I work hard to push the envelope of what has been done and create new fresh connections. I care deeply about doing my part in ending suffering on our planet. Over the years I have seen how important pain is in creating resilience and strength. Without the storm we can’t appreciate the rainbow. One can be in pain and not suffer. I’m really drawn and relate to characters that are complex and full of contradictions. No one really knows what to do. We make it up as we go. I care about the truth behind the social mask and about freeing ourselves from inside the box thinking. There is nothing that inspires me more than when people surprise themselves with their instincts, going places they never dreamed to. As a director I strive to guide my actors to feel free, spontaneous and honest. I want my work to feel alive and seek to unravel the magic in every moment and share it with an audience. After I graduated from the film program at Simon Fraser University’s School for the Contemporary Arts, my dark comedy “Salvation” went on a festival run and garnered some awards. One of the festivals I attended was a small youth festival in Austria where I met my future husband Sebastian. Six months later I made my first feature documentary “Rose Colored Glasses” about a larger than life gallerist, Nicholas Treadwell, who at that time was living in a former prison turned pink. His life’s philosophy is one of peace, love and laughter. We created a truly unique piece of art and I made a dear friend in the process. It wasn’t until after I completed the film that it hit me. I’ve entered an industry where success is not only defined by the quality and dedication to my art. Not all great films get the attention they deserve. This realization took the wind out of my sails. I felt depressed and purposeless. So I used where I was and started to make a new film. I realized I had just entered my quarter life crisis. I traveled throughout Europe with Sebastian and we picked the brains of other twenty year olds who felt similarly. After 3 years we completed the documentary “Our 1/4 Life Crisis” which I have made available for free online so that others can watch it and see they are not alone in feeling anxious or lost. A couple years ago I created a six episode documentary series “Ecstatic!” which is currently playing on Vision TV. Ecstatic! explores how ten subjects, Canadians aged 45 and up, from diverse ethnicities and of different religious or spiritual beliefs, have managed to find peace and balance by enjoying their life to the fullest. Throughout the series we explore the five pillars of happiness: zest, gratitude, connection to others, forgiveness and optimism. Creating this series taught me a lot about what it truly means to be happy and how to love and honour myself. Most recently I have switched back to creating fiction films and am working with Sebastian on getting our original musical TV show “Inward Edward” produced. The series tackles mental health and the paranormal. Last year I shot my first fiction feature film on a shoestring budget. This was my first time playing the lead in a story I’ve written and directed. The film is called Unidentified Female Object and is currently in post production. It is my most personal film yet tackling my existential dilemma. Telling the story from page to screen has proved truly satisfying and I went far outside my comfort zone working with 20 actors and multiple locations in just 8 weekend shoots. I had kept my acting and filmmaking separate until last year as I hadn’t felt ready to wear so many hats on at once. Once I realized it was actually quite natural for me to switch from actor to director on set I was hooked. Right after we wrapped I travelled to Vancouver to play the lead Dora in my mother’s film “Box of Freedom” which I had co-written with her. It was such an incredible learning experience to work with my mother in this way. I’ve never felt more trust in and support from a director. When I work with an actor my top priority is to make them feel safe inorder to find strength in their vulnerability. I often prefer to shoot a take of a scene from beginning to end to help create a flow for the actor. I encourage improvisation and like to experiment with a variety of takes. I love having a lot of options to work with in the edit room. I let my intuition lead me in knowing where to go next. Over the years I have learned that I’m not doing all this for my own ego-based benefit, that I am a channel for something truly beyond me. I end up surprising myself with what I create and I truly love that discovery process. To me storytelling is not just an emotional expression or artistic exploration but a spiritual practice. I don’t feel connected to the universe unless I’m creating truthfully in some way. My work reflects where I am and what I’m currently resonating with so every project is a time capsule of me in some way. I’ve been creating independently for over a decade and the only reason I am able to keep producing things is because of my hunger for storytelling. I always find a way to make a film and I don’t need a large budget to make it happen. I’ve become more resilient, flexible and resourceful over the years. As long as I’m able to authentically share my stories I don’t let working with less resources hold me back.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
If I was hosting you for one week in Toronto we’d experience it the local way. You can go check out the CN Tower and Hockey Hall of Fame next time. If we are going to go to a museum we are going to the Bata Shoe Museum. It’s one of a kind. A museum about the history of shoes with over 13 000 objects. Carrie Bradshaw would lose her mind. As the museum likes to say “Footwear illustrates entire ways of life, reflecting climate, religious beliefs and the development of trades, and how attitudes to gender and social status changed through the ages.” Right after since we’re not far from it, we’d go to BMV Books and explore all their used books. You’ll find everything you need in great conditions for a great deal. Then we’d head south to Kensington Market – Toronto’s most vibrant and diverse neighbourhood. We’d have some of the best fish tacos in the city at Seven Lives and then go shopping in the nearby vintage stores which are often in the backyard of heritage houses. You can walk around the market for hours. There are often street performers and in the summers every Sunday is a car free day. Toronto is a city of neighbourhoods so the following day I’d suggest hanging out near Trinity Bellwoods and exploring Ossington Street and Queen Street West. We could go to Otto’s Bierhalle for a good bavarian stein and a giant pretzel. Before you leave you have to go and check each of the individual bathrooms that turns into a uniquely themed party with the hit of a button. A little taste of the Berlin party scene while you are washing your hands! At night I suggest a Queen Street West live music crawl. We’d get some delicious Balkan food for dinner while listening to a live jazz band at Drom Taberna. The word “drom” loosely translates to journey, voyage or travel in Romani and Slavic languages. Then we’d hit up the eclectic and intimate Cameron House for a set since they play live music 7 nights a week. Afterwards we’d head over to hear more local bands at the iconic Horseshoe Tavern that has hosted The Rolling Stones, The Police, Willie Nelson, The Strokes, The Foo Fighters and hundreds more. We’d finish the night off at the Bovine Sex Club. Don’t worry it’s not what it sounds like. When it isn’t burlesque night they play a mix of cutting edge rock, retro 80’s, punk, glam, metal 70’s funk and British pop. It’s a great place to end off the night. The decor on the outside is an artwork itself created with mashed up bicycle parts, machinery and metal. The inside looks like a post apocalyptic flea market at Christmas time. You’ll never feel overdressed here. Next day we’re going to go on a bike ride starting at The Beaches and all the way along Lake Ontario until we go up into High Park. We’ll explore the park and end up in the Roncesvalles neighbourhood where we can explore the many shops and cafes. Since Toronto has some of the best craft breweries around I’d take you to Bandit Brewery which has racoon themed brews. Did you know Toronto is known as the raccoon capital of the world? We will definitely run into one or several in this neighbourhood. Before you leave Toronto we’ll check out some live comedy, see a play or a musical and explore the rest of Toronto’s neighbourhoods: like Dundas West, Little Italy, Little Portugal, Greek Town, China Town, Cabbage Town, Leslieville and the Distillery District to name a few. We’ll take the streetcar, hopping off to check out the local stores, restaurants and cafes.There are simply too many wonderful places to name them all. I will say my favourite cafe in the city is called Voodoo Child Espresso and Cocktail Bar. Their espressos are the best I’ve come across and they serve sparkling water on the side in a tiny glass skull. On Wednesday nights it is vinyl night and you can bring your own record and they’ll play it. That reminds me of another wonderful place I’ll have to take you to – Tilt Arcade bar. Five dollar entry and you can play all the arcade games for free. They even have cup holders installed for your drink at every station. What I love about this city is how you can find something to suit everyone. It’s like taking a trip around the world where the art scene is thriving!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’ve been lucky to have had some incredible teachers throughout my education in acting and filmmaking but if I had to single out the biggest supporters in my journey for this shout out it would be my family. Growing up as an only child I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the perfect daughter getting straight A’s in school and maintaining a good girl image. My parents didn’t tell me I had to do that but I wanted to prove to them and myself that I take things very seriously and that I’m reliable. So when I decided to pass up going down a safe conventional career and pursue acting and filmmaking instead you’d think I’d rock the boat a bit. My mother was in Film and TV herself and even knew how hard it was going to be going gig to gig. I thought they’d prefer me to be a doctor or lawyer. To my surprise I was met with enthusiasm and helpful encouragement. I know how fortunate I am to have a family who I can rely on to stand by me through the ups and downs in a life filled with uncertainty so I’m eternally grateful and feel very blessed. I also ended up marrying my husband Sebastian Hugeneck seven years ago who has been a dream come true. Since he’s a musician himself he understands the lifestyle I’ve chosen and we create and collaborate together constantly. He encourages me to stay on track when I start to make excuses or get discouraged. And then there are the friends I consider family and my community of actors I train with currently at the Robyn Kay Studio led by my brilliant coach Robyn-Kay Pilarski. We push ourselves to grow several times a week and support each other in our most vulnerable moments. I feel supported and inspired everyday by my family (blood and chosen) and it really helps to keep me going!
Other: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/rosecoloredglasses https://www.imdb.com/name/nm3701179/ https://vimeo.com/user4748787 https://boxoffreedom.com/ http://www.inwardedward.com/ https://www.ourquarterlifecrisis.ca/watchnow/ https://www.visiontv.ca/shows/ecstatic/#:~:text=Ecstatic!%20is%20a%20six%2Dpart,to%20feel%20happy%20or%20satisfied.
Sonia Suvagau, Adelina Suvagau, Ernest Von Rosen, Kitty Meadows, Sylvia & Kelsey Fillo, Angel Lynne