Long-time instructor Harry Standjofski is bringing his ilm and theatre experience to the classroom
“I’ve never really had a job,” quipped Harry Standjofski, a part-time instructor in Concordia’s theatre department, when asked about the beginning of his career. Of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Although his career may not fit the traditional nine-to-five model, Standjofski has spent years working as an actor, playwright and director in Montreal and across Canada. From quirky theatre anthologies to best-selling video games, Standjofski’s work transcends diverse mediums. While the highlights of a career spanning nearly four decades have included the publication of two original plays and a string of roles on both the stage and screen, no project has been as long-term as his work at Concordia.
“I started here as a student, actually,” Standjofski said. “A few years later, I was working here, so in that way, there wasn’t really a time before Concordia.”
After studying theatre and graduating from the university in 1982, Standjofski, who was born and raised in Outremont, spent three years traveling and working as an actor before signing his first part-time contract with Concordia. Since then, he has spent most years working with the university in some capacity, often teaching one or two studio courses per semester. Unlike theoretical courses, which focus on studying concepts, theory and the work of other theatre artists, many of the courses Standjofski teaches offer students practical knowledge of the theatre craft.
“Actors [in the theatre program] will spend most of their classes actually acting and learning in the studio,” Standjofski said. In past years, he has also taught playwriting, theory and scene study, and has been involved in the process of auditioning actors for admission.
Although most of the acting courses are reserved for students in the program, Standjofski misses a time when students from other departments were also allowed to enroll.
“One of the greatest feelings was when a student [from another program] would take a class, and then afterwards actually decided to switch into theatre, which happened more than once,” Standjofski recalled.
In addition to his work as a teacher, Standjofski is also heavily involved with the Concordia University Part-time Faculty Association (CUPFA) as a representative for the theatre department. He acknowledges the fact that the experiences of part-time staff members are varied across departments and faculties, but he has been happy with his experiences as a part-time staff member, and the theatre department has embraced his involvement with CUPFA.
“I really couldn’t ask for anything better,” Standjofski said about his experience in the department. “They’ve done everything they can to work with us, and they’ve listened to my recommendations. […] The theatre department wants the best for us. In that sense, it has been really great.”
An award-winning theatre career
In the worlds of both theatre and film, Standjofski said there is often an expectation that artists, particularly actors, have to travel for their work, whether it’s for touring theatre productions or location film shoots. For many actors, being rooted in one city might make finding work a challenge, but Standjofski has thrived in Montreal’s vibrant theatre community.
“I’ve spent time travelling a lot in Canada. I did shows in Vancouver, in Calgary […] I found myself all over the place,” Standjofski said about his early years as an actor. “I don’t see Concordia or being in Montreal as something that has limited me in terms of opportunities.”
Despite the fact he has worked at Concordia since 1986, Standjofski has balanced his position with consistent theatre work. Acting may be the craft he focuses on as an instructor, but he has also made waves as a playwright. In 1986, he began his professional playwriting career as a playwright-in-residence at the Centaur Theatre, one of Montreal’s most prominent English theatres. In 1992, he published Urban Myths, an anthology book that featured Anton and No Cycle, two of his original plays. However, he said he has seen many more of his plays produced in cities across the country, from Edmonton to Montreal.
Some of these written works have earned him notable awards. In 2004, his one-act play jennydog earned two Montreal English Critics Circle Awards (MECCA), and in 2005, his play Here & There was nominated for a Masques Award, a provincial award for theatre excellence in Quebec.
Along with playwriting, Standjofski has established himself as a notable Montreal actor. One of his standout passion projects is Urban Tales, an anthology series that runs annually at the Centaur. Consisting of multiple short pieces linked by distinct themes, Urban Tales is an opportunity for emerging and established Montreal artists to work together. Over the past 11 years, Standjofski has directed and written for the series, and performed as both an actor and musician. One of his most recent roles was the part of Russ in Bruce Norris’s Pulitzer-winning play Clybourne Park. Produced by the Centaur, the show ran in April 2017.
Standjofski said teaching part-time offers an element of flexibility that allows him to pursue other projects during the academic year.
“I’m able to teach my classes, mark my students and that’s it,” Standjofski said.
From the stage to the screen
While theatre may be his first love, many of the projects Standjofski has taken on have been on-screen roles.
Some of his film credits include roles in Canadian films like Café Olé, as well as critically acclaimed international films like the 2010 adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s novel Barney’s Version and Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning film, The Aviator.
Standjofski has also tapped into a lesser-known entertainment market: voice acting.
“At this point, if you watch [animated series] or like video games, you’ve probably heard my voice,” he said. Standjofski has lent his voice to everything from Canadian-made animated series like Young Robin Hood to mainstream animated movies like Arthur’s Perfect Christmas. Perhaps most surprisingly, Standjofski’s vocal work can be heard in a variety of video games, including every one of the popular Assassin’s Creed video game installments. “It’s a lot of f
un to do, and it has been consistent work,” he said.
Standjofski has also benefited from being a bilingual performer. He has appeared in a number of French-language television series, such as L’imposteur and A nous deux.
In Standjofski’s experience, there is much more fanfare when working in French television, compared to its much larger, more saturated English-language counterpart. While there may be more anglophone roles in Canadian television, francophone fans are much more likely to recognize him in public.
“It’s a lot different,” Standjofski said. “People you meet recognize you, they’ll know you from the things you’ve done. There’s a connection there.”
Training the next generation
While film and voice acting are fulfilling careers in their own right, Standjofski’s teaching position keeps him close to the work that made him fall in love with theatre in the first place.
“You can appear in dozens of things, and never do anything you really love,” Standjofski said about working in the film industry. “In class, we read [Anton] Chekhov, we’re looking at work on that level, and I like being able to get back to that work […] I can’t speak for every student, but most of the time, they’re here because that’s the work they want to be doing.”
Despite the versatility and longevity he has found in his own career, Standjofski admitted there are barriers for emerging and established artists within the theatre world, namely when it comes to finances. Specifically, some of the most illustrious job opportunities may be very removed from the works Standjofski is so happy to teach.
“You might have to do something that’s not really […] what you’re passionate about,” Standjofski said about the challenges of finding acting work that’s both profitable and fulfilling. “But taking a commercial and doing something like that can be what funds everything else.”
Ultimately, his favourite moments as a teacher don’t come down to a single production or class. In fact, his proudest memories don’t take place in the studio at all—they come later, when he sees his students succeeding post-graduation.
“In a lot of things, like Urban Tales, I’ve worked with students, year after year. I’ve cast a lot of graduates,” he said. “There’s something really nice when I can work with someone, and not as their teacher, but now just as a collaborator.”
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