Acting wasn’t on Paul Welch’s radar until a local production company came to his Ottawa-area high school to film a police training video. Even though he’d never acted, he begged to be involved and was thrilled to land the role of Victim #1.
This was on the heels of the Columbine tragedy and the video was meant to help first responders — like police officers, firefighters and paramedics — respond to a school shooting. Welch (`07 BFA, Acting) played a student who was pistol-whipped in the forehead by a teenage gunman. “I had no lines, but I got to have some pretty cool special-effects makeup,” he says.
This whet the 18-year-old’s appetite for the dramatic arts. He enrolled in a scene study class at a local community theatre in Ottawa and began auditioning for performances. Soon he was doing three or four shows a year, while taking courses at university. After finishing his degree, he decided to give acting a shot.
“I was single and had no debt at that point, so I figured I had nothing to lose,” says Welch. At the advice of well-known theatre director, he applied for the top three acting programs in Canada — including the University of Alberta’s Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in acting. In Toronto, he auditioned for Arts drama professor Beau Coleman. “I left feeling so excited that I wanted to cancel my other two auditions,” he says. “Fortunately, I got accepted.”
The program at the U of A was world-class, he says, and emphasized voice, speech and text (the interpretation of scripts). When he graduated in 2007, Welch joined his graduating class on a cross-country auditioning tour before snagging the role of Puck in a production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream by Calgary’s Shakespeare in the Park. He moved to Calgary in 2009 and quickly established himself in the city’s burgeoning theatre scene. “After a while, you’re making a name for yourself, building a career for yourself and buying a condo,” he laughs.
But like many LGBTQ actors, he didn’t often see himself in the roles he was performing. After meeting a budding actor named Jonathan Brower at an industry event, the two men decided to do something about the lack of queer representation in theatre. In 2012, they co-created the city’s only queer theatre company, Third Street Theatre. With so many stereotypical, unflattering portrayals of LGBTQ people in television and film, they hoped to produce plays to show audiences “the human being behind the label” and allow queer people to see themselves on stage.
Welch served as co-artistic director for the company for two years before stepping out on his own again in 2014. Now, he’s performing as an actor in theatre and film, directing plays (like Story Book Theatre’s Red Riding Hood, coming Spring 2015), teaching acting, coaching budding performers and writing. Welch has several plays in the works, as well as a fantasy novel that’s being shopped around by a literary agent in New York City. His work has earned him numerous accolades, including theatre awards and nominations, and inclusion in Avenue Calgary’s 2014 Top 40 Under 40 list.
It’s not an easy career choice — even for someone as talented and accomplished as Welch — but this is precisely why he loves it.
“It is always a challenge — to try to listen and communicate, to find presence, to effectively tell the story as best as possible and to work towards moving the audience.”
“A lot of things come pretty easy for me, and as a result I lose interest pretty quickly. However, with acting, coaching, directing, it is always a challenge — to try to listen and communicate, to find presence, to effectively tell the story as best as possible and to work towards moving the audience,” says Welch. “That’s what appeals to me the most: doing what I can to help people come together as a community, witness a story and be moved by it.”