- BC Games
Connect with Us
Local soldiers on in acclaimed performance
As Arts Club Theatre is about to arrive in Vernon with the high-flying and light-hearted play, Boeing Boeing, the company has just opened the world premiere of serious drama, Armstrong’s War, in Vancouver.
Written by Colleen Murphy, the play opened to a full house at Arts Club’s Revue Stage Wednesday, and is generating rave reviews from the Vancouver media.
Accolades are coming in for the young male who plays a soldier haunted by his past.
That actor happens to be from Vernon.
At age 23, Mik Byskov is making his Vancouver stage debut as Michael, a soldier not too much younger than himself, who has been injured in Afghanistan.
In the play, Michael relays the horrors of what he has experienced when a 12-year-old Pathfinder (in the other acclaimed performance by Matreya Scarrwener) volunteers to read stories to him.
“In terms of handling the emotions Michael is dealing with, the script was amazingly supportive,” Byskov told The Morning Star via e-mail Friday before he was to go on stage again that night. “I cried the first five times I read it because it was just so touching to me.”
To prepare for the role, Byskov, who attended École Beairsto Elementary and graduated from the French immersion program at W.L. Seaton Secondary in 2008, researched the war in Afghanistan and watched movies such as Restrepo, which he says helped him with its intense moments of emotion.
Byskov says he received guidance from Armstrong’s War director Mindy Parfit to lock into the hard-boiled military side of Michael, and also visited the British Columbia Regiment (The Duke of Connaught’s Own) in downtown Vancouver, where he spoke with a soldier who had been in Afghanistan.
“Even though, in his own words, he had never really felt in danger in his specific posting, he had some incredible stories to tell and they really helped to make it more real for me,” said Byskov.
The stage may never have been an option for the young actor if not for the insistence of Byskov’s former Seaton drama teacher, Dave Brotsky.
“He suggested I audition for a part in the play The Snow Child the first week I started Grade 8,” recalled Byskov. “They needed Grade 12s to play the parents and younger students to play the children. I’d always sort of thought about acting but I was way too nervous about auditioning.”
The day after the auditions, Byskov says Brotsky approached him and asked why he didn’t try out.
“He said I did good work in class and should come to the callbacks that afternoon. Nervous and afraid, I tried to make up an excuse and said that I’d have to call my mom to arrange to pick me up later, and it would be a big hassle. Brotsky just looked me dead in the eye and said, ‘I have a phone in my office.’”
Needless to say, Byskov’s mom, Diana, was ecstatic and insisted her son audition even after Byskov had left Brotsky’s office to call her back and plead otherwise.
“I ended up going to the audition and getting the part. I had the best time of my life and absolutely fell in love with the theatre. I can honestly say that morning shaped the rest of my high school experience and life to date,” he said.
Besides acting in school theatre and at the Good Will Shakespeare Festival in Summerland, Byskov performed in the one-act play, The Whole Shebang, by Rich Orloff, directed by Jim Elderton, at Powerhouse Theatre. His theatrical experience extended to the summer of 2010, when he conducted mural tours for the Downtown Vernon Association.
“I’m so thankful to have grown up in a place that let me discover this passion of mine and that set me up to pursue it,” he said.
After graduating high school, Byskov went on to study theatre at the University of Victoria, and also worked in the Legislative Assembly’s Parliamentary Players Program before moving to Vancouver. After a lot of auditioning, he was offered the role of Michael one year exactly to the day after his convocation ceremony at UVic.
“One of my acting teachers at UVic, Fran Gebhard, used to always say that it is much more interesting to watch someone fighting back tears than it is to see someone bawl on cue and I really tried to keep that in mind while I built this character,” he said. “It was a tough thing to get into, but when everything comes together, I try to focus on the moment to moment and just tell my story to Halley (Scarrwener) and that’s usually what ends up feeling the most real for me.”
He also had to get a little Hugh Jackman for the role, bulking up at the gym as originally Michael’s first scene in the play is shirtless.
“Naturally, I think I am the furthest thing from a tough soldier. Things like my voice, the way I carry my body... I’ve lost almost 20 pounds and gained a lot of muscle, which also changes the way you hold yourself. All in all, it helped me build the rougher exterior struggling to contain and deal with the emotional undercurrent,” he said.
All that preparation has been worth the effort as Colin Thomas from The Georgia Strait had this to say in his review of Armstrong’s War: “Plainspoken and emotionally tortured, Michael inhabits a more readily recognizable reality, which Byskov gets seamlessly right... Word by word and moment by moment, I believed everything that Byskov’s Michael said and did.”
For those visiting Vancouver, Armstrong’s War continues at the Arts Club Revue Stage until Nov. 9.