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Orillia actress creates, stars in new series tackling tough issues

Eileen's Garden is 'a comedy about two existentially conscious friends in their twenties, struggling with the absurdity of our world,' says Orillia's Sadie Stranks

What’s the buzz around Orillia these days? It’s all about Eileen’s Garden!

Eileen’s Garden is the creation of local 20-something actor Sadie Stranks, daughter of well-known Orillians Peter and Susan Stranks. Originally scheduled to be started in March 2019, Eileen’s Garden filming plans were derailed by COVID-19, and Stranks came home to live with her parents during the pandemic.

Undaunted, Stranks decided to forge ahead with the series anyways, and, with the willing help of her parents, who both work in the film industry; her co-star, and some friends, the first two episodes of Eileen’s Garden were filmed and produced in the Stranks’ backyard. I was lucky enough to interview Stranks recently, so let’s hear this articulate and intelligent young woman tell us more.

OM: Give us some of your background, etc.

SS: I was born in Toronto in June 1999. My family and I moved to Orillia when I was two. I always knew I wanted to be an actor, even as a kid. My parents both work in the film industry, which means they’ve seen a lot of child actors fall apart. They didn’t want that to happen to me; so, I wasn’t allowed to do film until I was a lot older.

Instead, I started with musical theatre and absolutely fell in love with it. By the time I was 16, I had performed in over 20 theatre productions (mostly musicals).

When I was 17, I was accepted into Central Tech’s art program in Toronto. I moved back to Toronto to complete my final year of high school. Right from high school, I attended Seneca College where I studied, “Acting for Camera and Voice.”

What was so great about this program was we learned every aspect of acting and film making. We learned camera acting, theatre acting, voice-over acting, production design; we even had a class called, “Managing Your Career” where we learned how to pay taxes.

While at Seneca, I also took classes on script writing and satire. If it weren’t for those two courses, I doubt I’d be writing “Eileen’s Garden” today. College was where I discovered I had a talent for writing and began to develop scripts.

I actually booked my first acting job a week before my college graduation, playing a demon on Haunted Hospitals. I did a few more films during that summer. In the fall I began to perform improv at Second City. That was pretty surreal for me. I remember taking field trips to Second City in high school. I never dreamed I’d get to go back as an adult and perform there. It was a really wonderful experience.

By January of 2020, production on Eileen’s Garden had begun. We were actually scheduled to film the pilot episode in Toronto in March. Then COVID happened and the rest is history.

OM: How did you come up with the idea for Eileen's Garden?

SS: I came up with the idea back in 2019. That was when my acting career was really starting. It didn’t take long for me to realize how limiting roles are for actresses. A lot of my auditions were for love interests or poorly written bimbos that were clearly just there to look hot. These characters had no real urgency and certainly didn’t sound like real women to me. I knew that if I wanted a good role, it would be up to me to write one.

When I wasn’t on set, I was in my best friend’s basement. We’d stay up all night listening to indie music and debating different existential theories. I wanted to create a show that validated those ideas and focused on the absurdity of our existence from a comedic perspective.

I also noticed most series feature high school students or 30-something adults. There wasn’t really any shows for 20-year-olds trying to find their place in the world. So, I started to write a comedy about two existentially conscious friends in their twenties, struggling with the absurdity of our world.

As I began to develop the series, I made sure to fill it with everything that mattered to me. Episodes on women’s safety, mental health and animal rights; to name a few.

What was most important to me was for the focus to always be on women supporting each other. I view my friends as the loves of my life. So, it’s always bothered me that film primarily associates love with partners and dating.

I wanted Eileen’s Garden to send the message that the love you feel for your friends is just as valid as the love you feel for a partner. So, I guess the show really came from my own experiences, as well as my relationships with comedy and philosophy.

OM: What are you hoping to accomplish with it?

SS: A lot of my goals for Eileen’s Garden are related to mental health awareness. I really want this series to help normalize mental wellness, while portraying it in a more realistic way. Many shows that depict mental health end with a character taking their own life. (Examples: 13 Reasons Why, A Star Is Born, Girl Interrupted, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest).

What these projects ignore is the repercussions this has on its audience. It communicates to viewers that there is no cure for things like depression and that their only option is to give up. Of course, that isn’t their intention, but when this is the way mental health is mostly portrayed in the media, it can be dangerous.

Eileen’s Garden takes a fresh approach when tackling mental health. We will never show suicide or self-harming. It’s far more empowering to watch characters like Eve grow from her fears and learn to coexist with her anxiety. We even have an episode where Eileen teaches Eve (and the audience) a real coping strategy that therapists actually use with their patients.

The overall goal of this series is to provide comfort to viewers struggling with their own lives. We can't solve your problems, but we can certainly distract you from them. I hope our audience will feel validated and supported while watching. That’s what this is really all about.

OM: What are the next steps for Eileen's Garden?

SS: Right now, we’re trying to raise money to produce a full first season. Donations can be made through our IndieGoGo campaign or by contacting me directly. We’ve been speaking to companies regarding sponsorship and looking into funding organizations. Once season one is produced, we plan to release full episodes on YouTube because it’s more accessible to viewers. Future seasons will be released on streaming platforms. I’m excited to see where Eileen’s Garden will take me.

To learn more about Eileen’s Garden, check out the YouTube channel here.

To support the filming, and to see more, contribute to the Indigogo campaign here. You can also contact Stranks directly at sadiestranks@gmail.com.

Briefly in other arts news, Orillia Museum of Art and History is doing a Plein Air Watercolour Workshop with Julianna Hawke on Aug. 19. For more information and to register, click here.

Coldwater Steampunk Festival is ongoing online and in the village of Coldwater, from now until Aug. 22. For all the details on everything happening in this year’s festival, check out the website here. This year’s theme is Go Galactic.

Have a wonderful weekend and perhaps we will See You on the Patio!

If you have arts news, send it to annaproctor111@gmail.com to be included.