"It wasn't a failure. It got me out of where I was, and onto the next thing: Writing and finding what I had to say."
About Beverley Elliott – actor, singer, songwriter
Beverley grew up in the farming community of Listowel, Ontario. She was drawn towards creative expression from an early age but, an actual career in the arts felt like a complete fantasy. No chance. Don’t even dream about it.
“I didn’t know what it would look like, but I was just following my gut – and my heart – that there was another way.”
Since then, Beverley has released four albums: Yellow Dress (solo), The Sweetest Day (with her group, August) and two children’s CDs – Dream Child and Magic Carpet Ride. Her children’s CDs have been used to soothe sick kids at children’s health care facilities (including Ronald McDonald House and Canuck Place.)
As an actor, Beverley has amassed over 100 film and television credits. Currently she is most well known for her role as Granny in ABC’s ‘ONCE UPON A TIME,’ but she also delivered highly memorable performances as a series regular on ‘HARPERS ISLAND,’ ‘BORDERTOWN and ‘HOPE ISLAND.’ For her role in Clint Eastwood’s Academy Award-winning feature ‘UNFORGIVEN’, Clint specifically acknowledged her in his ‘best feature’ Oscar speech.
As a theatrical performer, Beverley’s one woman show ‘… didn’t see that coming’ won pick of the Fringe at the Vancouver Fringe Festival in 2014. She has also toured all over Canada with various theatre companies – most notably performing the title role in ‘Back to You, the Life and Music of Lucille Star’. She also completed 5 tours with the internationally successful show ‘Mom’s the Word’.
Beverley is also a highly sought after MC; most notably bringing a little bit of humour to the Leo Awards in 2014.
1. What is the force that drives you forward? What fuels your ambition?
It’s just so much fun, and I feel like I’m seeing results… I feel like I’m getting better. For me, the most important thing is that I can contribute to making a difference in someone else’s life, and by doing something that I love and enjoy. I feel completely alive whenever I’m involved in theatre, singing, songwriting, playwriting, story-writing, and story telling.
What fuels me is making a living. I need to keep hustling because I need to keep paying bills, but in the meantime I get to do all these fantastic jobs, and work with people that I love. Still, the real drive for me is money, and being able to keep my head above water. I would love for that to change. I think in your 50’s is kind of the time when you start thinking ‘enough!’
But you know… I’m just loving life right now. I used to say that I wanted to live a bigger life. Well it’s getting bigger! It’s cranking open. So, I want to keep doing what I’m doing because I love how it’s unravelling, and that it is getting bigger, and that I am flying off to conferences and fan conventions, and performing my show in different cities.
I love that.
It’s amazing what else gets offered up when you follow your path. I’m operating from my heart, doing the best work that I can, and letting it expand rather than reaching and chasing. When I do that, the stuff that comes in is mind-blowing. I get surprised by opportunity all the time – so I’m glad that I’m not in charge of making it all up. I’m just in charge of showing up.
What inspired you to do your recent one woman show?
It’s something I always wanted to do. I took part in the ‘The Flame’ – a storytelling event that takes place the first Wednesday of every month at the Cottage Bistro in Vancouver – and got a huge response.
I get a lot of joy out of entertaining people with my own words and my own stories. I love making people laugh. That fuels me.
I also wanted to see if I could do it. (I have an my incredible team, that works with me).
I did a one woman show many years ago in the late 80s, and it was an incredible experience and loads of fun. I always meant to do another one… it’s just taken me this long to finally do it.
Are you going to do another?
Yes, I’m working on it now with a writing group. It’s still in it’s early days – it still needs to be shaped, moulded, and put together – but it’s there.
2. Can you talk about your greatest “failure”? (something that led to your most significant shift in consciousness, and made you who you are today).
So many to choose from!
Is anything really a failure? As I get older, I’ve started to think that ‘failures’ happen because they were supposed to happen. You learn something from them. But when I was younger they were all ‘failures.’
Anyway, here’s one of the big ones for me:
I used to sing country music. I won a singing contest in a country bar, which brought me to a national contest, and next thing I knew I was of thrown into the community.
I never really sat back and thought ‘hey, I think I want to be a country music singer,’ but I ended up there. It was sort of working for me. I was gigging regularly these loud country bars with a really loud band, playing the local circuit. I wasn’t really enjoying myself. I was really just trying to make it work. Get ahead. I was chasing ‘the dream.’
I rode that wave for quite awhile. I started feeling that this wasn’t my dream. It wasn’t my voice. Instead of quitting, I just tried harder to keep it going.
I used to sing country music. I would sing in these loud country bars with a really loud bad… I wasn’t really enjoying myself. I was only chasing that dream on this local circuit.
I won a contest singing country music, which brought me to a bigger contest, and next thing I knew I was sort of thrown into this community. I never really sat back and thought ‘hey, I think I want to be a country music singer.’ But I ended up there, and it was sort of working for me, so I rode that wave for quite awhile.
And then I did serious vocal damage to my voice and had to have surgery.
I had a cyst lasered off my vocal chords. After that I had to be quiet, and not speak for 6 weeks. This was life changing.
In order to communicate with people, I had to either mime or write down what I wanted to ‘say’, but I mostly stayed home, by myself. I put a message on my answering machine that I’d gone away on holidays, but really I stayed home and made art and painted, and healed.
When I got out, I never went back to the country music world again.
Instead, I joined a song-writing group, and in that song-writing group I started writing my own songs and finding my own voice.
It took me years to be able to forgive myself for what happened. I thought it had happened because I didn’t have proper training and I was singing improperly in those bars. I felt that I should have left that world earlier.
‘What a failure!’ I thought.
I won the local contest, I thought I was supposed to go on and win the national one, but I didn’t.
My song was supposed to get airplay on the radio, it didn’t.
I made a video and and it was supposed to air on much music, that didn’t happen.
So it was just failure, failure, failure. But I kept pushing, and pushing, and pushing… till I blew my vocal chords.
Long after the surgery I went back to the doctor to have it checked – to make sure everything was okay – and he said ‘you could have been born with that cyst on your vocal chords’. That changed everything. I thought it was entirely my fault that I had wrecked my vocal chords. It was probably a combination. I stopped blaming myself.
It wasn’t a failure. It got me out of where I was, and onto the next thing: Writing and finding what I had to say. The country music genre just wasn’t a great fit for who I really am/was. I had fun, I met a lot of people, I made a lot of friends… but I was playing a role.
I thought I remembered you once telling me that you were told you couldn’t sing when you were younger.
My family were farmers. They were very conservative. Basically you were just supposed to get married, and maybe be a teacher, secretary, or nurse. That was about it.
The dreams were very practical in that small town. I didn’t have a role model, I didn’t know anyone who worked in the arts or was singing and performing for a living. It didn’t seem viable option.
I sang in the choir at school, but I was never singled out as far as having a voice that was particularly interesting to listen to. So, I sort of thought it was all in my head. No one outright said ‘you can’t sing’ but there was no visible support or encouragement either. I had to find that on my own. But fair enough!
We all need to find stuff on our own.
‘Be safe. Money is hard to come by’ was the message from my family. My parents were farmers and had come through the depression. I don’t know where I found the gumption to carve such a different path. I didn’t know what it would look like, but I was just trusting my gut, and trusting my heart that there was another way. We only get one life. Let’s live it, right?
How did you find the courage to carve a different path?
I moved far away to the other side of the country, and being anonymous, I was brave enough to do something I’d secretly always wanted to do…I signed up for an acting class –In that class I started singing in front of people, and the response was ‘Oh my god, you gotta sing.’
From that class I got hooked up with a musician who needed a singer for a duo he was in. The next thing I knew I was singing in neighbourhood bars. It went from nothing, to full-time work just like that. It was a learning curve.
My acting class would come out every night and sit in the audience, so in between the songs I would make jokes and talk to them. It was scary the first night that class couldn’t come. The venue was too far away. So, I just planted them in the audience and pretended they were there.
It was after a couple years of doing that, that I entered the local country music contest and won, and I thought ‘oh, I’m going to do this.’ But the person who was in the bars telling crude jokes, is not the same person that then went into the country music scene. I sort of put my good girl hat on, and tried to fit in.
3. Are you happy? What does happiness mean to you?
I think I’m happier now than I’ve ever been in my life. Could I be happier? Yes. Because I think a part of me is a perfectionist, and I’ll never reach perfection… ever.
Right now I have a few fires going at once, and I’m managing to tend to them, bring in the rewards, and have fun while I’m doing it.
That, to me, is what happiness is.
I’m also surrounded by people I love. I’ve nurtured those relationships, and I feel like I’m more in my authentic self than I’ve ever been in my life.
The big surprise is that people like my authentic self more than all those other selves I presented. Isn’t that a kicker!
‘Wow! If I really just say the truth, that’s what you want?’ It’s effortless then.
When you say something you’re afraid to say, so often it will open another conversation or a door. And that other person is like ‘oh! I was thinking the same thing,’ or ‘that happened to me.’ That’s the best thing.
I guess that’s wisdom, and it takes years… for me anyway. That’s another glorious thing about being in your fifties: you realize that time is running out. I can’t waste time with those voices that are scared. Who cares?? I have friends that love me, and I know what I think. I don’t spend two days in bed like I used to when I was disappointed. No way. There’s no time.
4. What do you think is your greatest strength?
I have compassion for people. I have an ability to create a space where you can be whoever you are and I won’t judge you. I’ll hear what you’re saying, and probably say “I know.”
I know what the journey was for me to start living my authentic self, so I make room for people to talk who need to be heard. I want to know the details. I want to get in there and find out what’s going on. What makes you tick?
So many people have said “I’ve never told anyone this before… I can’t believe I’m telling you this.” I love that. That kind of connection is what turns me on the most in life, and that’s what I’m interested in.
On the reverse, can you identify a personal challenge (something you currently struggle with)?
Well, I’m usually always late. I have so many things going on, and I can be very last minute. I know that everybody does, and that this is not a valid excuse, but it’s there.
I also struggle with the business end of the industry. Okay, I’m starting to embrace it. For years I just went ‘oh, I don’t even want to deal with that.’ Now I’m at least acknowledging that it has to be dealt with – more than that: it’s smart to deal with (and with integrity).
That’s what I’m learning about right now. It want to make sure that I’m happy with what I’ve saved when it comes to money. I want to make sure that I’m also asking for enough money… that’s a tough one. I pay people $100 an hour to do things, but it’s still a big deal for me to say that I charge $100 an hour. So, the juries out on that one, but I’m open. I want to learn.
5. When did you first realize that you wanted to be an artist? Can you talk about that moment or time in your life?
I always knew I wanted sing. Always. Some of my first memories involved singing and hearing that echo under a stairwell or something. I’d think ‘ooh, I like that.”
That part of me was a secret for years and years and years. No one else was doing it in my circle. It wasn’t a reality. Singers were just people on tv, and I didn’t think those people on tv were necessarily ‘real people.’ So I was just this girl in a remote small farming town, and it took me awhile to realize I could do it. Maybe I started realizing it when I went to college and started meeting people from elsewhere. I’d drink a few drinks, get up on stage, start singing, and think ‘oh my god, I love this.’
When I took my first acting class in Vancouver, I met people and I went ‘oh okay. You’re my people.’
Was that the first time that you’d met people like that – people that you resonated with on that level?
Yeah it was the first time. It was the first time being around people who were serious and on the road to becoming professionals.
What was it like to be in that environment for the first time?
It felt like coming home. It felt like… ‘this is my creative family.’ All we did was encourage and support each other. In that environment, I had so many breakthroughs. I took chances. I started letting go of my fears, and inhibitions, and things I’d been holding on to in order to protect myself in this crazy world.
I mean, I came to Vancouver from Lake Louise – a sports town and a ski village. I don’t do sports I don’t ski. I was there for two years… what was I doing there? Drinking and partying, because it stimulated some kind of fun, but really I wish I was in theatre school now. But I didn’t know. I didn’t fit in there, so I made myself fit in by being the happy fun party girl. But all that creativity in those years… I think they could have been put to better use.
But then they were.
Right. That’s when you have to go back to ‘it wasn’t a failure… it was the next step.’
6. Habits, routine, morning rituals — What are the positive things you do daily that have had the most significant impact on your life and work?
Can’t I tell you the list of things I wished I did daily!
Well, one thing I do for sure everyday is I read a daily inspiration. It pops up on my email – which is good because I check my email everyday. Whenever I read it, I always think that this is the one that I was supposed to get on that day. It’s usually so in alignment with what’s going on in my life.
Most of the time, these quotes are written by people who have done extraordinary things with their lives.
It’s reassuring to know that those risk takers; adventurers; brave souls have ventured off the path, and this is some wisdom that they have to pass on by doing that.
I try to walk every day. I live up a big hill, so I try to do that hill a couple of times a day. Which is great. Just walking.
As far as morning rituals… I’m much better now at waking up and not panicking. I used to wake up and go ‘[big inhale] what do I need to get done today??’ And now I wake up and remind myself: ‘It’s all going to be okay.’ I remind myself to be happy. It’s easy to go into worry, but I’m really letting go of that right now.
I also find time every day to be grateful. I also try to check in with someone over email or Facebook. Just a quick ‘how’s it going? I was thinking about you.” I think it makes a difference. When I don’t do that, I know I’m not in a good space. When I’m reaching out and connecting with people, all is well. When I’m not, it’s because I’m turning inward. And not turning inward to go on a creative journey, but turning inward on myself. Maybe the voices take over – those self-defeating voices thinking ‘oh god, it’s all going to crash down.’
But this is happening less. Much less. Especially when things are cooking like they are now.
You’re just riding the momentum.
Yes, and staying clear, kind, grateful, and responsible. I’m always checking in with myself: does this feel like a yes or a no? Because we do have to say no to things that don’t feel right – which is also a learned thing.
7. How do you deal with doubt? Where do you go for support?
Well, I’m better now at checking in and knowing the difference between ‘you shouldn’t be doing this; you don’t really want to do this’ and ‘you’re just scared because it’s uncharted territory.’ Those are two completely different things, and I used to not be able to tell them apart.
It depends on the day, but if I really get clear – and this is where meditation or prayer might come in – I can ask for guidance.
Or I can get myself near water. I read somewhere that running water will help bring inspiration or the intuitive answer you were looking for. If I’m song writing with a friend and we’re stuck, a trip to the bathroom and one of us will come back with a line. Hands down. Always.
But anyway, doubt… sometimes I say yes to things and it’s just haunting me because I know it should have been no. It might be right for someone else, but it’s wrong for me… but I say yes because of this belief that work is scarce – has been scarce. I’m trying to flip it around and believe that there’s abundance everywhere (because there is).
When I doubt myself, I turn to my friends. I have a couple of good friends that I can call and remind me of why I’m doing things. They can hear when I’m convincing myself to do something as opposed to just being scared. So yeah, I have a couple best friends that are phenomenal. My boyfriend Chris is great. And I have inspirational books that I also turn to. Sometimes I’ll just flip through and let my hand land on a page, and think this is what I need to hear right now… and it usually is.
Doubts are always going to be there. Before I go on stage, I’m always a little bit scared. What I do now is say ‘thank you’ to the fear for showing up. ‘You’ve been very useful in my life, but you can leave me alone right now. I’m fine.’ Talk to your doubts. Ensure them that although you know they’ve protected you before, you’re releasing them now. Tell them: “I have work to do.”
Make it then about the other person – the audience. It’s not about thinking ‘I hope you like me, am I good enough??’ – That boring old thing… I hope I’ve killed that.
8. What, in your opinion, are the qualities of someone who is a “great” artist (in whatever discipline)?
Originality, truth, bravery, confidence, humour, spontaneity, generosity, kindness.
When you have the ability to inspire others, and then see what they do. Chris has said about me ‘you like to get people together, and then see what happens.’ I love that he sees me that way, because I never would have articulated that. But I do love that! I love bringing everybody together. Strengths make the thing. I don’t need to control it, but I want you all to be your best person, and I’ll be my best person, and then let’s see what happens.
9. Any advice for artists on a similar path? (Perhaps advice you wish you’d been given when you were first starting out).
I think when you’re young… use your early years for training. Get trained.
I didn’t, and I’m making a career, but I had to do years and years of taking workshop after workshop. I had some incredible teachers and mentors, but I think a solid two or three years in a college, or a training facility that is dedicated to the arts would be worth it. You wouldn’t regret it and you’d learn a whole bunch while also being with likeminded people. You’d be pushed beyond your limits… daily. I think there’s something to that.
Say yes to every opportunity you can to learn. Learn all different disciplines. Learn backstage and front of house. Learn business – I would do better if I had more business sense, and more computer skills than I have.
And just be nice to people. Whoever you meet on the way up, you’re going to meet on the way down. You really are. This career – this kind of life – goes up and down all the time. You don’t just make it.
Write your own stuff. Create your own projects. Don’t just take jobs because you think you need this one your resume. Only do it because you love it – unless it pays a whole bunch of money which then allows you to do what you love.
10. Could you talk a little bit about your relationship to money, and how it has changed over the years?
When we were younger, my artist friends and I used to light these green candles and chant ‘the money’s coming and it will not stop.’ I heard it somewhere – this is before Oprah and Doctor Phil.
If you spend too much time doing another job it will eat up your energy – which is your creative energy.
I waitressed for 10 years. It was draining. I’ve learned over the years to trust that the money will come. I’ve never missed a rent or mortgage payment. Now I have a nice car, I own a condo, I live in one of the most expensive cities in the country (Vancouver), I have new clothes on, I go out for dinner once in awhile, and I’m taking some trips. Somehow it’s working! If I stopped and thought about it, I’d go into sheer panic because I don’t know where the next job is coming from. What I know is that if I just keep looking forward with intention – knowing that I’m a working actor, showing up prepared, and doing the best that I can – it keeps working out.
I have a financial advisor who really wants me to start saving a lot more. I think that’s probably something I could have done 20 years ago… I would advise that. But… yeah, money’s a scary one.
For my first couple jobs working in film and tv, I made a lot of money – I think the first cheque I got was for $6000. It was almost burning holes in my hand. I had to spend it. I had to get rid of it. I didn’t know how to be responsible for that much money, and it felt like a burden, oddly enough.
Well guess what? It was gone in no time. A lot of actors do this. We’re broke for so long and then as soon as we make money we spend it and then we’re broke again.
Well guess what? It was gone in no time. A lot of actors do this. We’re broke for so long and then as soon as we make money we spend it and then we’re broke again.
Don’t spend all your money. Respect money. Walk away from things that are shiny and pretty. And you don’t need to do every workshop… just the ones that really speak to you and haunt you in your sleep. Go do those ones.
11. Ever experience flow/being in the zone? What does it feel like for you, and can you tell us about a time when you experienced it?
That’s such a fantastic place to be! It’s when all the self-consciousness is gone and you’re really focused on expressing the text or the lyric. It’s about courage and letting go at the same time. You just feel like you’re flying.
That’s what keeps most of us in this business.
How do you get into that space?
I know that I need to have a clear head. I have to watch my diet and exercise. I have to make sure I don’t drink too much or have too much coffee. I have to stay clear. Then the opportunity is there.
I have to know my text inside out and backwards. The more I know it, the more room there is for that magic to happen. If I’m not engaging that part of my brain that’s remembering words, I’m able to play and surprise myself; I’m able to be present and react to what’s really going on.
When I was in that duo I talked about years ago, he had all the songs – the bass and the drums recorded – so my partner played guitar live and I sang live, but we sang to recorded tracks. So we had to do the same songs every night in the same order. We did four 45 minute sets.
I was bored of the material after two weeks. ‘Can’t we change the order of songs or add a new one?’ I asked. But it was a lot of work for him to add a new song.
So for a year I sang all the same songs in the same order night after night after night. So I started to develop this whole comedy routine that went on between the songs. I had so much freedom – my humour came alive – because I didn’t have to think about the text. And all because I was so bored.
It took me years to understand why I was so comfortable then. I was brave and confident, fearless, and it was because I knew the work inside out.
Now I translate that into film and theatre scripts. Just run those lines over and over again.
12. What are some of your favourite books?
I love biographies. Amy Poehler’s is sitting on my bedside table, and I have to crack it open.
I love Anne Lamott
She’s funny, and irreverent, spiritual and creative. She’s ‘real. ‘And her work is autobiographical. She self-sabotages, and picks herself up, and then learns from her experiences.
I also love David Sedaris
Fantastic sense of humour and perspective on life.
I could go back to those two over and over again. I pick up those books and am reminded of what I want to do. Be honest and authentic.
Loved this interview? Learn more about Beverley by visiting her website: http://beverleyelliott.com
Or on Social Media:
Latest posts by Creative Life Interview (see all)
- “It’s a pins and needles feeling… only it’s my heart” — a conversation with Diana Carson-Walker - January 21, 2016
- “It will get better in time. Don’t give up on your dreams, because you’ll go far if you believe in yourself” – a conversation with Jenny Story - November 10, 2015
- “There’s this connection that happens when you write something you want down, and make it tangible in the world” – a conversation with Daniel Scherl - November 3, 2015