Artist Highlight – Nathan Cottell

Nathan Cottell is a 28-year-old Vancouver actor with a refreshingly present energy. As his gorgeous blue eyes fixate on you, you can feel him absorbing every piece of communication you offer, verbal or otherwise. Blessed with an easy smile and a rambunctious laugh so full of life it is startling, Nathan is one of those cherished humans that tries to make everyone feel at ease with themselves. As he sits across from me in a St. Augustine’s Pub on Vancouver’s trendy Commercial Drive, his hands dance around his face as he speaks about the artistic community, his craft, and life post-graduation.

Cottell and Kazz Leskard in Awkward Stage Production of TITUS: The Light and Delightful Musical Comedy of Titus Andronicus

Nathan first became interested in theatre in high school, finding a sense of purpose onstage. “It makes me feel like I’m realizing myself” he explains, “it makes me feel alive”. One area he struggled with in his newfound passion however, was “holding”, or pre-deciding of how one will act a scene. A common trap many rookie actors fall into – the desire for control gets in the way of genuine connection. The key to preventing holding is combing preparedness with inspiration , a skill which Nathan improved in his three-year theatre program at UBC. “I had a lot of fixed ideas about acting – showing things and not doing things” says Nathan. “Doing all the work to prepare to not be prepared”

Another lesson Nathan learned at UBC was the importance of discovering your own method. “I used to cover my script in notes” says Nathan, “it ended up not being helpful”. For those of us who struggle with being “too analytical”, writing down analysis and instructions can be counter-productive – we’re too focused on our notes instead of just being in the moment.

One idea that really spoke to Nathan was that characters are not people we “play”, they’re a series of actions. “I don’t play a type of person, I just do what the script tells me I do and I figure out what for”. This method of action over concept has reshaped Nathan’s approach to acting and carries him through all his projects.

Nathan in UBC’s production of Twelfth Night

These days, Nathan’s focus is on self-care. The pressures of working a day job and then pursuing acting in your spare time are extreme, and like all artists, Nathan struggles to find the right balance. Burn-out is something many actors struggle with, and with the lack of paying jobs available, he admits it has been a struggle. It’s easy to tie your self-worth to your job. Andy Toth, the Artistic Director of Awkward Stage Productions, gave Nathan the advice the once an actor is no longer looking to audience for validation, they will be a better performer, and will be able to be generous onstage. “It contributes to survivability” says Nathan, “if you’re not good once, it doesn’t matter, because life goes on”.