Screen actor shares her story

The guest speaker for this year's Living Sky School Division Student Hall of Fame had 1,700 ears eagerly tuned in to her story at the Thursday event.

The Battleford arena was the scene of a banquet and celebration of student achievement, an annual event, with this year's guest speaker being Natalie Krill, a graduate of North Battleford Comprehensive High School who has gone on to a successful career in dance, television and film.

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Krill, who was recently cast as a regular on the CTV series The Listener, playing forensic technician Alex Kendrick, congratulated the students and shared the story of how her career has unfolded.

"It really is an honour to be here," she said, adding it was amazing to see such focused and ambitious young people.

Krill is proud of her roots.

"I have to tell you I am so proud to have grown up here in the Battlefords. Since graduating from the Comp, my journey has taken me all over the world, and I will tell you this, there is nothing better to me than the smell of harvest, a prairie sunset and ice fishing - and it's hard for me not to get emotional and cry just saying that."

Krill is also grateful for the education she received, having attended Battleford Central School, Battleford Junior High School and NBCHS.

"I had such great teachers all through my schooling I always felt that my teachers genuinely cared about my growth and about me."

Krill has always been passionate about dance. It played a huge role in her school years and has carried on into her career.

"I basically grew up at the Dance Connection," she said.

Her teachers were Virginia Ross-Winterhalt and Margaret Stephen, with whom she continues to stay in touch.

"I'm so grateful to have been trained by them," said Krill.

"Dancing was my passion - and it still is."

She said the connection of the music with her emotions and the physicality of dance was a union that caused time to stand still. It was also the basis for her love of performance.

"I believe all those years that I was dancing, I was laying the foundation for my acting career," said Krill. "I always knew that I wanted to perform. It really didn't matter to me what medium that took shape in. I just knew that I had these stories and these emotions inside of me that I wanted to express and that I wanted to share."

Through elementary and junior high school, she got involved in school drama. In high school, she found herself in a drama class taught by Sherron Burns, who is now the arts education consultant for Living Sky School Division.

"In Mrs. Burns drama class I found a real desire to act, and I say desire because it wasn't just for fun, it was deeper and more profound to me. Mrs. Burns gave us such interesting material to work with and projects that ignited our imagination, and that was it for me. I knew at that point that I had to pursue this."

At the age of 16, she met with a talent agent from Toronto.

"This lady actually grew up in North Battleford," said Krill. "She actually went to school with Virginia."

Krill's family was behind her in her goals.

"My mom and the family knew that she was a talent agent, so we just looked up her number and called. The next time she was home visiting with her family we met with her."

From that point, said Krill, the agent basically took her under her wing, because "Saskatchewanians stick together."

"At that time I was mainly auditioning for dance related work," she said. "After a year of auditioning for various musical productions, I booked my first professional job. I was going to do the musical 42nd Street in Moscow."

It was a dream come true for Krill.

"I was 19 years old and I was going to sing and tap dance in Moscow - kind of a strange combination, sequins and tap shoes in Moscow," she laughed.

Her trip to Moscow proved to be a life changing experience.

"I felt like as soon as I stepped off the plane, I was so grateful for everything in my life. People don't have it so easy over there and it really put things into perspective for me.'

Krill said, "The experience of doing a quintessential American musical in Moscow was like no other. I experienced everything from Russian mafia to eating caviar with Icelandic princes - true story."

She said she has good memories from that time, but also a few frightening ones.

"Our theatre went through a period of three weeks when our theatre got bomb threats two to three times a week," said Krill. "We were actually there during the terrible tragedy that happened in Moscow. Chechen rebels held another theatre hostage for seven days. A lot of people were killed at that time during the hostage taking and I can't tell you how glad I was to come back to Canada after that." (See the Tuesday, June 17 News-Optimist's Everybody Has a Story, or visit newsoptimist.ca, for more on Krill's experience in Moscow.)

Back in Toronto, she continued to explore her career and had her sights set on film and TV.

"The film and TV world is not an easy one to break into, let me tell you," she said. "It is a very small world."

At first, she said, it was hard for her to know how to break into that world. She knew, first off, she needed an agent. She had that. Secondly, and most importantly, she had to be a good actor, which, she decided, she wasn't.

"I had done some pretty awesome high school drama, but unfortunately casting directors for big film and TV productions don't really take that into consideration," she laughed.

"So the task for me was very simple. I needed to become a good actor," she said. "I have to admit to you at that point in time I don't think I quite understood what I was getting myself into. To be honest with you, I think I thought that acting was easy, or that it should be."

It was a big wake up call, she said.

"It's not easy. It's incredibly demanding emotionally and mentally and it is a craft that needs to be honed and practiced. Just like a professional athlete needs to train and a doctor needs to study, the same is true for actors. There is a physical training for actors, there is voice training for actors, and then there is internal emotional work that you have to do."

So she began to train.

"I trained and I trained and after a while I began to work," she said. "A couple of years after returning from Russia, I landed a couple of great roles which sent me down a more prosperous path. I booked my first television series, playing a ballet dancer, actually, on MVP. I had always hoped I'd be able to merge those two worlds, and this would not be the last time I would get to play a dancer."

Her dance training proved to be a huge asset in the film work, and she was also cast as Lisa Houseman, and understudied the role of Penny, in the stage adaptation of Dirty Dancing.

"I performed eight shows a week for a year and half," said Krill. "I have some of the fondest memories from this time in my life. There's nothing better than being paid to sing and dance on stage every night."

Although she was now working consistently, the training continued. In fact, she doesn't want it ever to end. She recently completed professional level training with the Canadian Film Centre's Actors Conservatory.

"I'm always in an acting class, I take private voice lessons, and I do as many casting workshops and script readings as I can get my hands on."

Krill shared the reasons why.

"When I was first starting out, I went through a rough patch. I was pretty depressed," she said. "I felt overwhelmed by the goal that I had set for myself. It was quite daunting."

She said her uncle sent her some motivational, inspirational tapes to listen to.

"These were a big game changer for me. They taught me some very valuable things that I still remind myself of often," said Krill.

One of them was that once you know your goal, you should completely submerge yourself in that world.

"Basically, you need to read every book that's been written about that subject, take all the classes you can, eat, sleep, breathe, dream that subject," said Krill.

She said, by doing that, she realized that was actually her job - "the day-to-day work that I do on my own time."

Krill said, "I'm really grateful and feel so fortunate for the career I am nurturing. It was a dream that I had as a little girl, and to be living that dream is both satisfying and it's motivating."

When she was preparing this speech, she said, she wanted to leave her the students in the audience with something tangible, something they could take with them and remember. So she shared the top five things she practises in her life.

"Number one. Never forget where you come from. I think being raised in Saskatchewan is an asset; we are grounded, hard working, nature loving and generous people. Wherever your path takes you, remember the prairie sunsets and remember the farmers working long hours in the fields. This will keep you humble.

"Number two. Be grateful for whatever life hands you. Whether you are getting a promotion, or you're getting fired, I believe there is a lesson in all of it. Take what you need from each situation and then let it go. I feel that I've grown and I've learned the most from the hardest times in my life.

"Number three. Only speak positively about yourself. This is a tough one, but it's crucial. In order to achieve your dreams and be successful, you need to be confident. How can we be confident if we beat ourselves up? I don't mean brag about yourself, I just mean treat yourself the same way you'd treat your best friend.

"Number four. No excuses. Absolutely no excuses. If there's something you don't know how to do, ask someone. Do what you need to do to figure it out. I'm really grateful to my parents for teaching me this one. If there is a will, there is a way. And listen, nowadays you can just Google it. So there's really nothing holding you back.

"Number five. It is not a competition. It really does not serve you to compare yourself to others. Connect to your goals and your dreams and keep yourself focused on your path. There is a great quote from a Shin Buddhist priest - a flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it, it just blooms."

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