Connecting the Creative Dots with Kiran Friesen
One Flow: Warrior Kiran Friesen
Toronto Actor, Writer & Performer
Artisans Exposed Projects presents: One Flow: A series of short interviews with uniquely passionate performers and artisans. By: Jojo D Houseofjoartistry.com
CONNECTING THE CREATIVE DOTS with KIRAN FRIESEN "When I'm deeply connected to my body and openly sharing that with another person, whether it be through acting, through dancing or through conversation, I get that sort of thing." KF
What: Depends when you ask me. :P My career is acting, but I also am a trained singer, a third generation painter, a writer, and a dancer.
When: Flow can be a very in and out thing for me. I'll be in whatever art form I'm practicing at that moment, and it's like I take a dive, and grow wings at the same time. Usually, I call it obsession, but flow is a nicer way of saying it.
Where: I live in Toronto, so here. It has always been my dream to travel. I wanted to make endless movies in exotic places, but so far, I'd say Hamilton has been the most exotic. As a dancer, I’ve competed in different places throughout Canada.
Why: That is a very fascinating question, really. Because part of me wants to say "who cares?", but I am also a person who loves to ask "why" (one might say, almost obsessively ;) ). So.... Going back into my childhood, I could say that being different was a huge factor. I was different to the point that I felt unable to communicate with my fellow kids. They honestly seemed like a different species than me. The way they talked to each other seemed like a code I would never crack, and sometimes, it felt downright mean. I was an HSP, which meant I felt everything to the point that I was overwhelmed a great deal of the time. So...why? Yes... this is becoming a long answer. That's what happens when I have the freedom to write ... and I'm procrastinating.
Singing was the first thing I remember being rewarded for. And there was something so incredibly powerful about having something, literally vibrations coming from inside your body, being seen as beautiful. Felt as beautiful. Nothing feels like opera. It feels like soul beauty when ... it's in flow. It really does.
Art. My mother and Grandmother were both painters. But, besides being exposed to it always, I am a very visual person. I would get images stuck in my head. Metaphors for my inner life. I HAD to externalize them. So, I painted. To understand myself, mostly, but also to share. Acting. Right...so.... what do you do when you have so much inside of you to share with people, but don't have the words? Put a script in your hands. Suddenly, the world opens up. You can talk to humans, be deeply seen, learn more about yourself and others by living in different skins/worlds/situations, and help others sitting in the dark feel less alone. What could be better than that? Dance. I always wanted to be a dancer. I found pole dance, which is a mixture of acrobatics and sensuality. As challenging and free as you can (or dare to) get.
One more.... Writing. My Mom always thought I'd be a writer. I do live in a fantasy world a lot of the time. I was/am an only child so... disappearing into a story is a kind of natural development of that. Writing is one hundred percent yours, but, like acting...the more honest you are, the more you are connected to others.
I guess, the short answer is: to be challenged, seen, and connected to other people.
How: How? Oh my. No idea. :P Stubbornness.
By Defintion: existing, acting, or considered as a single unit, entity, or individual, being a particular, unique, or only individual, item, or unit.
What tribe do you belong to?
My ethnical background is shady... hahaha. Ok. I’m half Swedish. That was my mother's side. Pure Viking Blood. yes... I have two kinds of pickled herring in my fridge right now. I’m quarter Mennonite. My Grandfather grew up in a Mennonite community outside of Winnipeg and ended up writing a history of our experience settling in Canada. Things like "of 12 children, 5 survived". My Mennonite family originated in Holland near Germany, then spent a hundred years-ish in The Ukraine. And... the last quarter is a bit fuzzy. I think it's split between British (but maybe Scottish ultimately), and Native American. I think Ojibwe, considering where my great grandmother came from.
What was your childhood like?
Well, I think I've alluded to this answer quite a bit already. I was a shy, sensitive only child who lived in her imagination and desperately wanted friends. I didn't fit in. And the thing that I am most grateful for about this, is that I would sit in the middle of class and hear the social world of the other kids around me. I would hear who's making fun of who, or breaking up with who, and such, and I gained huge compassion that way. I am a champion of the underdog in my spirit, but I try to find compassion for everyone. Because we all have a wee bit of underdog in us, no matter how hidden under Instagram makeup. Was that judgey? :P
At what age did you begin your creative journey?
I don't remember not being creative, honestly. If you want to call flirtation a form of creativity (which I do), then I started at six weeks, apparently. Making eyes and rolling my shoulder for Mom's employer.
Did you grow up in a family of talented people?
Yes. In a way. Mom was a painter (and interior designer). Grandma was a painter (and doll maker). My aunt (Mom's side) was a hair stylist and stained-glass maker. My cousin has recently started painting and he's truly wonderful at it. My other cousin is a musician. The rest...are pretty athletic. Water-skiing. My Dad's side was mostly doctors and engineers, but out of my generation we have a designer who opened a design store (and her whole look and way of living is purely artistic. Pink hair... pink fun fur furniture... pink and blue and green and orange walls...), and my other cousin went through film-making school and is doing very well for herself her first year out. I see big things for her. So... I guess we're a generation of artistic rebellers.
Which came first: writing, acting or dancing? Which came most naturally, and which proved to be most difficult?
OOOOOOOOH. Questions! Singing came first. Well...actually, drawing. I didn't think acting was even an option until high school. I was deeply in love with movies, but I think I believed them so deeply that it didn't occur to me that I could step into the world(s) too. Mom said from a young age, I would dance around and walk on the tops of my toes. I don't know what age, but I do remember desperately wanting to be a Solid Gold Dancer. I tried to write my first novel at age 9. Didn't succeed until 29. Most difficult…Acting. No question. It could be partly because I've invested so much in it, but really... I sincerely think it's the most difficult one. That's why I chose it.
Of all the training & schooling you've had, which experience/s stood out as most valuable to you and your creative journey.
Just doing it :P..Honestly though. I'd say travel, and paying attention in general, are the greatest tools. Being present and curious about the world whether it be anthropology (another pet interest of mine) and the history of art and humanity, or structure of the world (I have a friend who has a degree in high math which he ascribes to his genius in poetry),...I guess I’m saying be deeply interested in life...and you will learn art from every direction. Although I do have some conflicting regrets education wise. One side of me wishes I just went to NY, threw myself into some classes, and went for it. Part of me wished I stuck to my ‘plan’ of going to Yale. I kind of let that go early without realizing that is what I was doing with the choices I was making. Beyond that... find a teacher who is truthful and challenging and who sees you clearly in a compassionate and deep way.
Tell us about your first real opportunity to shine publicly? And what was the experience like?
Hm.... Well, other than the first time I sang for people as a solo in grade four... I’m not sure that counts. I was mobbed (it felt like) with praise. People seemed shocked, which was both electrifying and... kind of insulting. :P In Grade eleven, I was Mrs. Anna in the school production of The King and I. It was my first lead role and I put everything into it. Obsessive. The feeling of being bathed in light, going through a huge journey, in front of people giving back their energy.... it was heaven. Outside of my terrible self criticism, of course. But it was an interesting transition in my life because, at 16, I became a kind of famous in my small city (Ft. McMurray...an incredibly isolated place for someone with big dreams). I was given a full interview by the local paper, in which I was misquoted - so that's how you know you are famous, suddenly I went from being my Mom's daughter to her being my Mom, little girls would hide behind their mothers when they saw me because they had seen the show and it impacted them so much (this happened for years), and my school life became a kind of celebrity culture for a while. I had status, simply by being an actor. So... kind of weird. I thought of it as training wheels for my inevitable...hey...wait a minute! The short answer: I feel more myself when I’m in flow in whatever art form I’m involved in at the moment. I feel open, and naked, and free, and often, yes... bathed in light. Nothing feels more beautiful.
A mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. To move or progress freely as if in a stream.
You are a professional Actor and have an extensive resume in stage, commercial and television. What is it about acting that you love?
Hm.... other than all of my previous rambling answers? I chose acting partly because it was the most open, easy things I'd experienced, and because it is also the most difficult. To be honest, and to face yourself, and the truth of the moment. But... like I said....terrifying, because in order to get there, you have to face not only yourself, but your fellow actor. When it works, the flow is actually what lives in the energy between you and your acting partner(s). It's out of your hands, really. It's like being hyper-alive. Which is what we really should all be all the time.
You are a graceful and talented pole dancer. How did you discover pole dancing and how has it benefited your creative journey?
I discovered pole...well, first, I had heard that it was being taught in California as a fitness class and thought "sigh...only in California". Then...I was taking an acting class in a studio run by a filmmaker and an ex-exotic dancer, who would audit the class. I asked her about herself and she handed me her card ‘strippercize for every woman’. Yes please. There wasn't a pole for the first four months. It was floor, chair, and wall. But it was raw, and deeply womanly. I was not long out of an abusive relationship during which I had experienced a miscarriage, being cheated on, and been isolated from friends. I felt like a shell. Through the exotic dance classes, I found the dormant, powerful woman waiting to live again. Then...the pole showed up. So... now I was a powerful woman flying on an apparatus like a four-year-old. There is more to it as well. The community of women who support each other's sexuality, which had been a point of contention several times in my life, was also intensely healing. And... I let go of a lot of my body issues. I not only gained the body I always wanted, but I also learned how to move it in a way that felt feminine and strong. How has it benefited? I think every empowering choice enhances you as an artist. I formed a deeper connection to my physical instrument, and the flow of movement in general (I've been trying to avoid using the word "flow" out of redundancy but... it really applies here). So... yes. Trust in the flow. Because, seriously... you can break your neck. You have to breath, and trust and be solely in the moment. Or you suck...or fall.
VIDEO: 2012 Toronto Pole Dance Fitness Showcase on May 6th, 2012 at the Crown Bar & Lounge on King Street in Toronto.
What style of writing do you practice?
Most of my life, I'd done some kind of journaling. Most of my writing seems to emerge through that. I used to write a lot of poetry. My novel is in journal form. My play was a lot of direct to audience. My screenplay... is a little different, and it's... a challenge, to be honest! So... self exploratory. Whatever format I use. I take something from my life and ask a question. What I write is an exploration of that question in (mostly) story form. And almost always erotic. :P
You wrote, directed and acted in a successful stage production called PEELER, a small cast play about women's sexuality and empowerment. How & why did that manifest and what message were you hoping to send?
The question that I was looking at with that play was originally that of femininity and identity. I wanted to explore the old sacred feminine religions, where women were seen as embodiments of fertility and ...well, life, really, and then juxtapose it with the commercialization of the female body of today's world. The idea wasn't to vilify men in the process, but to include the brokenness and pain of society as being (almost) equally damaging to them. So, a kind of male/female relationship exploration in the microcosm of a strip club. But also... and more importantly, my main character (the exotic dancer), was going to be losing her breasts in the morning to a double mastectomy and was afraid that she would be not only losing her femininity, which she cherishes, but also thrust into the "real" world as a deformed, unlovable monster. Oh...and it was funny. I actually got the final idea of giving her breast cancer the morning after my grandfather died. I closed his eyes, which was an intensely powerful experience for me. Something about ceasing to be, in a way, lead me to this story. The message I was hoping to send... well, I did write it as an exploration, but what I think I learned from it, and so...maybe others as well, as actually about loneliness. About willingness to be open, not just as a symbol, but as an imperfect human, and take the first step into the world from that place. Because that's where you are going to grow from.
When it comes to sexuality in the arts, you have been casted in a fair number of roles that exhibit a strong sexual presence. As a woman, did this empower or demean your talents and how did it effect your professional endeavors, if at all?
AhhA! That's also why I wrote Peeler. To play a stripper on my own terms. Yeah... I mean... it would be terrible for me to complain too much about being seen as sexy... but, I actually left film and tv for three years (before writing the play, actually), because I got so tired of it. I felt myself becoming disillusioned so... went back to theater and started to do some Shakespeare. My favourite movie genre is "art smut". A term coined by an ex-boyfriend who would always go straight for the horror section, as I sought out steamy covers, when we went to the video store. So...there is irony there. Or self-fulfilling prophecy. Either way. Truthfully though... there are a lot of problems in how the film and tv system approach nudity and sexuality. It's very frustrating to get an audition for that show that everyone wants to be on and it's a stripper role. "Partial Nudity Required", and then reading the script only to realize that the role is simply the network trying to be more edgy. Yeah...did I say frustrating? Infuriating. I wish I could say that I used it to my advantage and beat the system (like Sharon Stone, I suppose?), but truthfully, I did feel worn down by it.
In your experience, would you say that Toronto is a liberal or conservative city when it comes to sex and sexuality in the Arts?
I would say that Toronto is filled with amazing, wonderful, sexual, kinky, perverted, and expressive people. BUT...the city itself has a ceiling on that, which all of us freaks bump up against. I’m hoping that this will eventually change, along with the undertone of racism that comes from being so proud of being multi-cultural.
Pole dancing was once limited to the stages of dark strip clubs, but it has since seen the light of day and has become one of the most popular forms of fitness for women. It's interesting that it used to be something women looked down on and now the same women are paying for pole dancing classes. It was revolutionary, it opened a Pandora's Box of sexual empowerment. Please elaborate
Oh...I could say SO much on this topic. I don't want to condemn any businesses, but there are places (or have been places) who make money on the pole dancing craze, while condemning its roots. To me this is a problem. If you teach classes with a flirtatious brand, and a style of movement which stems from sex work...then it's best to embrace the fact that we are celebrating women's choice to be sexual beings.
I taught at a women's gym that held pole, ‘lap dance’ (which were really cutesy burlesque classes, and not authentic lap dance), and ‘striptease’ classes (again...cutesy burlesque, not stripping). All of this is fine. If this is the energy that the students want, awesome. But... I can say that when I was hired, they knew I was a bit of a .... let's say a more sexually raw style dancer, I was told flat out to never teach the women to crawl. That crawling is waaaayyyy too raunchy and sexual and that the professional women who come to the gym aren't interested in that kind of thing. Of course... when my students found out that I knew more than I was teaching - a more authentic kind of exotic dance style, they always begged me to teach them to crawl. So, there is a disconnection there between assumptions, and desires. This same studio refused to host any kind of event or traveling teacher who might be connected to real pole, lap dance, or striptease in any way. So, basically prejudiced against the art in which their whole business was based on. That kind of hypocrisy really bothers me. Women monetizing something on one hand that they condemn on the other for fear of being seen as a certain ‘kind’ of woman. This is what keeps us separate and misunderstanding our power as women on terms of being women.
Even with the #metoo movement, I see women standing on both sides of an argument who really should take no sides, except what empowers women to be free. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that I’m being free as a woman is an iron clad excuse for actions which hurt or disrespect people but being fully powerful as female is the goal. And sometimes, that means being unapologetic as sexual beings. And sometimes that means recognizing that the fences drawn around what is decent, were drawn by those who meant to keep us down, and unfortunately often sustained by one another. So, sexual empowerment has some training wheels and differences of opinion and backlash, even within the world of brave women seeking to explore it.
Plus, I think being an empowered woman has a bit of a secretive and subversive nature. This is a part I also embrace.
VIDEO: Kiran’s winning performance-Semi-Pro category for Ontario Pole competition
Is there a woman that you admire for her liberal ideals, open-ness, & feminist forward thinking?
You! I don't have a specific feminist goddess whose footsteps I want to fill. Honestly, I could find an answer to this question in almost every woman I know. They have all taught me something. Oh...Um... I do highly admire Catherine Skinner. She created a burlesque group called Les Coquettes, and she would host each show with a kind of intelligence, wit, sexiness, and freedom that blew me away each time. Especially when she ad-libbed. Beyond her incredibly dedication to truth in herself and her sexuality (of which she is a great celebratrix), when she would grace the stage herself, her performances contained a kind of deep human exploration and beauty, that no one can top. Really, she did one where she slowly put her clothes on at a bus stop and I was crying WHILE turned on. So... her.
What, if any adversities have you faced as a woman in the Arts and how have you overcome?
Being a set piece or a prop as a sexy woman, for sure. I've had 1st ADs on set (women) treat me like I'm garbage when playing a porn star role. I’ve had guys come up to me after doing a job on a closed set to brag how they sneaked on and "saw my work". I've had a director ask me to move my hand on a broom during an audition (basically motioning a hand job - for NO script-based reason) blah blah blah. The main challenge is that there has been a kind of groove etched out in popular culture which just accepts the roles we are accustomed to seeing women play, and the attitudes that go along with that. The same thing as all women face, really. Overcome? Hm...well... My efforts to overcome have been my play, this screenplay I’m writing, trying to choose my roles carefully, and have clear and simple boundaries for myself. I also would very much like to be a support to other women who come across nudity and such in film and tv. Whether it be having a person on set who is on their side, or someone to talk to when they are deciding whether or not to accept a certain role.
A great writer must be an avid reader. What are you reading currently? and what are a few of your favourite reads?
Oh, I’m often in the midst of ten books. But I’ll choose one. The book I am most obsessed with at the moment is called "The Emerald Tablet: Alchemy of Personal Transformation" It's very dense, so a bit tricky to describe, but it basically gives a history and validity to alchemy as a spiritual pursuit, outlines its aspects, and then breaks each step down in a practical way. I find it fascinating on many levels. There is a theory that the emerald tablet has existed for ten thousand years. And, it could be the basis of almost every religion that exists today, depending upon how a group chose to interpret the rubrics (seven statements on the tablet). I am very interested in history of religion. Spiritual progression, spiritual psychology, etc.
In your production of PEELER, you sang Opera....beautifully. A veiled talent of sorts. Have you given any thought into exploring this talent more?
OH....all the time.
What are you working on right now?
A screenplay adaptation of Peeler. I'm pretty much putting everything into that at the moment. I would very much like to be on set making this thing in 2019. No links at this time. I’ll keep you posted. ;)
The Warrior in you says:
I don't, or rarely ever, think of myself as a warrior. I think of myself as a person who is dedicated to being authentic and true in the face of a culture which celebrates ‘business’ and ‘fake it till you make it’ above attention to genuine artistic pursuit. For better or worse. Maybe this is why I’m not famous. :P But if I think about how I see this reflected in other women, I would say that one thing I admire greatly (and see as a kind of warrior like virtue in this day and age), is a person's ability to stay open when everything in the world is pushing you towards bitterness. Someone who dies with an open heart. That's a warrior. So...I hope to be one. That's my plan.
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