Chantria was born in Cambodia. She lived in the Thai refugee camps for three years before arriving in Canada. Chantria and her family resettled in Hull, Quebec when she was six years old. She grew up in a small town, Brantford, Ontario (where the first telephone was invented). She was the only Cambodian in her neighborhood surrounded by predominantly white Canadians. Chantria had identity issues; she felt isolated and lost in her teen years. In order to fit in with her new home and society, she made up a fake name, Mary. However, she soon discovered that she was not alone when she attended a Cambodian New Year at a temple in Ontario with other Khmer Krom that shared common interests and experiences. This helped her to stay connected to her roots and close the gap in her identity crisis.
Chantria has always had a passion for theater and acting. She grew up watching her mother perform and this influenced her to want to become an actor someday. She continued to pursue her degree in Theatre at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. Through her journey of self-discovery, she created a one-woman show and felt comfortable right away in theater performance.
Based in Toronto, Canada, Chantria is working with a Khmer Youth project in Montreal to create and share their personal stories through a theater. This will turn into a short narrative documentary later. She is also working on her one-woman show along with coaching and mentoring acting courses from Toronto and Montreal. Her most current work is a one-woman show, “Someone Between,” a piece she both wrote and performed. She explained, “Essentially, it is the story of the 1.5 generation: those born somewhere else but grew up in a new world and the negotiation that takes place in that process. But to me, on a personal level, it is my homage to my parents and community and their courage to survive.” It is the inaugural production of Apsara Theatre Company, which she co-found in 2009. “Someone Between” premiered at Le Monument National and she has been invited to present at several institutions and festivals in Montreal, such as Centaur Theatre’s Annual Wildside Festival in 2010. She looks forward to bringing “Someone Between” to the Toronto audience. She continues to teach and has begun working on her second play.
“I would say my biggest challenge so far as a performer was my one-woman show, ‘Someone Between,’ which I wrote and performed. Because it is a semi-autobiographical piece, I had to really dig and search within myself for some answer [to a question] I had never dared to ask myself before. I had to also play my parents, which is another emotional journey all on its own. I had to deal with the animosity and resentment I felt towards them and my culture and heritage and come to reconciliation with those subjects. It was and still is a healing process for me. The more I perform it, the more discoveries I make and the deeper it goes for me, the more appreciation, love and respect I have for my family and community.” – Chantria
Are you a 100% Cambodian/Khmer? If not, what else?
Chantria: I am Khmer-Krom: 100%, with Chinese ancestry.
Where were you born?
Chantria: On paper, I was born in Soc Trang, Vietnam. In reality, I was born in Kandal, Ta Kmoa, Cambodia. The discrepancy was due to trying to get into a refugee camp. My parents were both born in Vietnam and did not want any trouble trying to get into the camp.
Where are you based?
Chantria: Although I consider them both homes, I was based in Montreal for 8 years and now am based in Toronto, Canada.
What kinds of performance to you do?
Chantria: I am an actor. I do contemporary, experimental, collaborative and collective work such as Shakespearean.
What inspires you?
Chantria: The innocence, playfulness and curiosity of children, the presence of animals (especially dogs), the flowers blooming in spring, the sun setting and rising, inspiring people like the Dalai Lama, my parents, family and community, the human potential and capacity to achieve great things and change the world, the need to speak, my students and their courage…
When did you realize you wanted to become an actor?
Chantria: My mother was a performer back in the Mekong Delta, performing plays and touring in a band with her family. Her whole family is very musical and still is. I think it runs in the blood. I grew up watching her rehearse for gigs and was always amazed at how comfortable she was on stage. I admired that. It’s just something that connects with me and something I know I can offer to the world. Now that I am older and have been teaching acting and storytelling, I am realizing the significance of those two (the outcome and process) and its potential in transforming both the performer and audience.
What was your first performance like? What was the title?
Chantria: My first performance was when I was eight years old, in “The Secret Garden,” the play version. It was during a summer camp. That was the first time I made my own acting “choice” with my character, as small of a role as that was. The teacher/director wasn’t too happy with me that I didn’t follow her instructions but I was so sure my way was right. I was eight.
Through your performance career, do you try to send a message to your audience? If so, what is it?
Chantria: I believe the work of an actor is to show the humanity in any situation, in any being. I think it brings us closer, because in the end, we are all the same. The only difference is culture, which shapes our beliefs, which shapes us and how we see the world. But essentially, we are the same. We love, defend, reject, cry, laugh, inspire, aspire, dream, fail, succeed, support, hate and so on. In all my work, no matter what character I play and how unusual or how much I disagree personally with their actions, it is my duty as an actor to find their humanity – to understand WHY they do the things they do. No one is simply black and white. To see things in such shallow and narrow ways is to be ignorant of how complex and multi-layered each and every one of us is. That’s definitely what I try to convey in any character.
A character is defined by their actions so I must discover through the creative and rehearsal process what drives their actions and intentions. And if I have succeeded in doing my job, the audience will connect with the character/play. Then, I hope the audience will bring that understanding and sensitivity in the real world. This, I hope, will in turn, help us to connect with each other even more. There is enough ignorance and war in the world. I wish through this craft and my own work as an artist and creator, to contribute to the abundance and positive growth of the planet.
It is an amazing craft that takes a lifetime to master and I am enjoying every step of the journey. There is nothing else I would rather do.
What would you say has been your most embarrassing moment?
Chantria: First thing that pops into my head, and I can’t believe I’ll be sharing this, is farting out loud in an acting class! We were stretching, totally silent in the room, only the sounds of deep breathing. I was lying on my back on the studio floor, with my legs over my head (as everyone else’s), and then I let one go – unintentionally. I froze for what felt like eternity until I realized that the entire class was too focused to care or just polite and respectful to laugh. Thank god!
What would you say is the most rewarding part of being a performer?
Chantria: The most rewarding part for me is feeling that sense of connectivity with not only your partners on stage, but with the audience. You can FEEL when they are truly listening, right there with you in that very moment. You are taking them on a journey that can’t be repeated because that moment only happens in that moment. We have no other moment but the present.
When you perform in front of a large crowd, do you get nervous? If so, how do you control that nervousness?
Chantria: Of course I get nervous! I heard from an acting teacher that if you stop being nervous right before a performance, you should probably stop performing. The key is translating and channeling that nervous energy into performance energy that drives you throughout the play. It’s your fuel. And the way to that is by grounding yourself. In acting school, we spend A LOT of time grounding and centering. It’s absolutely essential for several reasons. You can ground that energy which keeps you focused and forward. You stay in tuned and in touch with YOU. When you play multiple characters, especially the more extreme ones, it can be very emotionally and psychologically draining if you don’t know how to channel that energy properly. And that comes from technique. That’s the tool to keep you linked to reality and not lost in the imaginary world. And the technique is all about proper breathing.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced thus far as a performer?
Chantria: Where do I begin? I think if there weren’t any challenges, I wouldn’t do it. There are artistic challenges which come with every character you play but that’s the fun part about it. Connecting who Chantria is with external characters is always a challenge. I try to meet them in the middle. Some are easier than others because those characters and I have a lot in common. But for those who don’t, I have to create those connections and that requires a lot of reflections and self-exploration. On a business level, it is a very competitive field. Seems everyone and their dog wants to act. But that doesn’t intimidate me. I’ve learned that the only competitor is yourself. I used to look outwards, comparing myself to other people and creating an inferiority complex for myself, which I’m sure stemmed from childhood as well but definitely played out in this arena. But everything just switched when I made the choice to stop doing that and only to look at the craft and me as a tool to tell a story. To me, there is no competition because there is only one of you of all time, and so only one of me of all time. I have learned to embrace what I can offer and that only I can offer, as well as respect what others can offer as well.
I would say though, my biggest challenge so far as a performer was my one-woman show, “Someone Between,” that I wrote and performed. Because it is a semi-autobiographical piece, I had to really dig and search within myself for some answered I had never dared to ask myself before. I had to also play my parents, which is another emotional journey all on its own. I had to deal with the animosity and resentment I felt towards them and my culture and heritage and come to reconciliation with those subjects. It was and still is a healing process for me. The more I perform it, the more discoveries I make and the deeper it goes for me, the more appreciation, love and respect I have for my family and community.
Do you write and perform with a political viewpoint? If so, in what way?
Chantria: I think there is politics in everything, whether we like it or not. If you have an opinion, or not, towards a subject, you are being political. And because the nature of the arts is to reflect, explore, question and expose the human nature as well as the given circumstances of the times, I feel there is always an element of politics. And because an actor is a tool with which to tell a story, there is no escaping the politics. But to say that I perform for a political view would be incorrect. As an actor, I investigate the complexity of human nature and the human condition. Now, my character may have a particular political view that may be opposite of mine and that’s O.K. It is my job to understand why they have that opinion and go from there. Unless the piece is outright propaganda, I won’t reject a project based on politics.
You also do playwriting; what are some of your scripts? What are the themes?
Chantria: Thus far, I have only written one full script, “Someone Between,” which has been produced and presented in the last few years in Montreal. I am working on bringing it to Toronto and eventually, across Canada. And who knows, maybe the States! I think the best way to describe it is to share the play’s synopsis: “Someone Between” is a one-woman show that explores questions of identity, belonging, and intergenerational dialogue in contemporary multicultural Canadian society. Beginning with the story of her family’s escape from her birthplace of Cambodia, “Someone Between” chronicles the struggles of a daughter as she tries to reconcile the traditional values of her Khmer parents with her own emerging intercultural beliefs. From the challenges of childhood as a new immigrant, to the negotiation of conflicting adult roles, responsibilities and desires, the play follows a young Khmer-Canadian woman as she realizes that she will always be “someone between.” Using this position of “insider-outsider” in both cultures to her advantage, the play touches upon taboo subjects such as sex and racism as Chantria searches for her own truths.
Essentially, it is the story of the 1.5 generation: those born somewhere else but grew up in a new world and the negotiation that takes place in that process. But to me, on a personal level, it is my homage to my parents and community and their courage to survive.
What do you enjoy most, writing plays or performing?
Chantria: I am first and foremost an actor. Definitely performing.
Who are the influences in your life and as a performer?
Chantria: My mother. Absolutely, my mother. Because I understand this great need to perform, I know how much of a sacrifice she has made to give her family a better life here in Canada. I want to do this, yes for myself, but also for her. Her courage, energy and love as a mother inspires me to go for the gold. I look to my mentors Bryan Doubt (my acting coach and long-time teacher from University) and Janet Lumb (the artistic director for Access Asie, a Montreal-based festival for Asian Heritage Month) and many others who have guided me through my young career. I am also a huge fan of Johnny Depp, not just because he’s a hottie, but because to me, he is a true actor. He is a creator. He is so imaginative and playful with his characters. They are always so multi-layered and fascinating to watch. But most of all, he is authentic and truthful in his acting. There is always a sense that he remains connected to his being- that Johnny Depp-ness that makes him, him. I aspire to be like him as an actor.
What are your goals and hopes for the future for your company and your acting career?
Chantria: Company: create more plays, continue to work with an ensemble of creative and skilled team, tour “Someone Between” to as many Khmer communities as possible (including and especially Cambodia and Khmer-Kampuchea Krom), turn “Someone Between” into a radio play, write more plays, direct plays…
Acting Career: Keep training as an actor (the training NEVER stops), perform in N.Y.C., make interesting indi films that go around to international festivals, play a kick-ass ninja, play a “crazy” person, be in a romantic comedy, be in a psychological thriller, be in a movie with Jonny Depp, get to the point in my career where I can use my popularity to bring awareness to and create positive change through humanitarian work in Khmer-Kampuchea Krom and the political and social issues there… win an Oscar- just cause it would be cool. J
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into acting and playwriting?
Chantria: Believe, stay strong and just do it! Live truthfully moment to moment, one step at a time. I think most people hesitate to follow their hearts because of fear: fear of failure, fear of judgment, fear of the unknown. We all have the same fears. The way I see it, is you have ONE life to live. Why not live the life you want to live and not someone else’s dream? Your need to act or write MUST be stronger than the fear. The biggest challenge of all is not on the outside, the exterior world we can find so overwhelming and scary, but it is our own will and perseverance to keep striving. Oh yes, and always always stay humble and grateful.
What is your favorite Khmer dish?
Chantria: There are so many! I love Khmer food! And for most, I’m not sure what they are called or how to spell them. I know it sounds nasty, but I love anything with pra hoc in it. The more it smells, the better. I am a huge fan of boc la hong. Yum…
Originally Posted by Yenly T.
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