“I didn’t want to be less than perfect”: Interview with Actress and Former Ballet Dancer Sarah Murphy-Dyson

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Originally from Victoria, B.C., Sarah Murphy-Dyson is a Toronto-based actress whose credits include Suits (NBC), Workin’ Moms (CBC), and 12 Monkeys (SyFy). Photo credit: Tara Noelle.

In 2006, Sarah Murphy-Dyson retired from ballet to pursue acting. Four years later, the former First Soloist with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet premiered her one-woman show The Naked Ballerina at the Toronto Fringe Festival. The Naked Ballerina told a story Murphy-Dyson had kept secret for years.

“Ballet was such a perfect metaphor for my life,” Murphy-Dyson said. “Everything is about looking perfect and getting it as close to perfect as you can on stage. And that carried over to my life. I didn’t want to be less than perfect for anybody. I was struggling with stage fright and body issues. For me, they were such big secrets and there was shame around that. I would have rather died than people find out about it.”

In writing The Naked Ballerina, Murphy-Dyson touched on subjects she had “ignored or suppressed.”

“It felt really good to get those out,” she said.

Since the play’s original run, Murphy-Dyson has spoken more openly about her struggles. She says reaching this point took a long time. “And I think that’s why it’s so important.”

“It was kinda layer by layer that I was able to do it,” Murphy-Dyson said. “I did the show, and it was terrifying but very cathartic. When I redid the show a few years later, I did a Q & A ⁠where some young girls told me how much it had helped them.”

Hearing the impact of her story, Murphy-Dyson realized her potential to be a role model. “I realized more and more that everybody is working through their own stuff. The more we hide it from each other, the more we perpetuate the idea that these things are bad or shameful.”

“I realized in hindsight how heavily all that weighed on me,” she said. “I was always so anxious. Always, always, always. I’m not anymore. Every time I think about it or talk about it, it’s such a relief.”

Growing older has also helped Murphy-Dyson in her journey.

“The older I get, the less I care about what other people think,” Murphy-Dyson said. “Which doesn’t sound very nice but we are conditioned In the dance world — maybe more so with women — to make everything okay.  We are told to be nice and quiet, and to make sure people like you.”

“You can take me as I am or not. If you don’t, that’s okay. It may hurt my feelings but I get it. I accept it at least. It’s been very freeing that way.”

Today, the 45-year old actress sees her younger self in a different light.

“It really does feel like that was a past life for me,” Murphy-Dyson said. “It’s interesting because I used to look at it with shame. I didn’t like talking or thinking about it. And now, it’s like I have empathy for my younger self. I can really feel sad for that part of me. For me in that time of my life where I was so lost and didn’t even realize it. Before I would have been upset with myself, but now I can empathize with that person like I would for anyone else. We are our own harshest critics.”

Murphy-Dyson says her departure from ballet came as no surprise for anyone who worked with her. 

“[My coworkers] were definitely supportive,” she said. “I think they got it. I had been going to school while dancing at that point. I had done some independent films. They knew I was getting into the acting. I always loved character roles the best in the dance world.”

Appearing in 2005’s Capote with the late Philip Seymour Hoffman motivated the actress to finally pursue acting full-time.

“What had happened was two of our ballets were made into films,” Murphy-Dyson said. “We got to know the crew really well. We would be laid off — it was contractual — for one to three months a year. Some of us started doing stand-in work and feature background work. It was in doing that, that I ended up doing Capote with Phillip Seymour-Hoffman.”

“I got chosen to do a scene with him. It was literally that moment when I was like, this is what I want to do.”

The next day, Murphy-Dyson told her director it would be her last season with the company.

For the actress, a “huge” part of the transition from ballet to acting was learning to tap into her real self and be honest with not just herself, but other people. Rae Ellen Bodie and David Rotenberg, instructors at Toronto’s Professional Actors Lab, Murphy-Dyson were pivotal to the process.

“When I was dancing and I would get really nervous, especially at first, I wouldn’t tell anyone,” Murphy-Dyson said. “I just thought, it’s my problem. I would push it down and try to ignore it. It would come out sideways at some point. Most people wouldn’t know watching me on stage. Whereas an actor, I can’t. Before, I would deny any negative feelings — nerves, sadness, or anger. [My training] forced me to touch them and acknowledge them. That’s where I have to act from.”

“Sometimes I feel sad that I wasn’t able to get to that place while I was still in the ballet because I think that would have been an amazing place to dance from, the freedom of that.”

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Sarah Murphy-Dyson in End of the Rope, a short film by Sibel Guvenc.

Although she retired from ballet 14 years ago, Murphy-Dyson has not totally stopped dancing, especially not for the camera. The CBC web series Off-Kilter, released last year, saw Murphy-Dyson play the role of Anna, a veteran ballerina nearing the end of her career. The actress recently starred in End of the Rope, a sci-fi short film by Turkish-Canadian director Sibel Guvenc. In it, Murphy-Dyson plays a famous dancer whose career is ended by a car accident.

When she is not busy appearing on stage or in film and television, Murphy-Dyson writes screenplays. The actress says she has many ideas, and plenty of screenplays “sitting idle,” but high on her priority list is an adaptation of The Naked Ballerina.

“I want to direct and produce my own stuff with a core group,” Murphy-Dyson said. “ I have had great feedback on an adaptation of The Naked Ballerina, it’s just a matter of money. It’s definitely high on the list, but I would do something smaller first to help get a directing or producing calling card.”

Murphy-Dyson has a new teacher in her life.

“I have an eight-year old daughter,” she said. “Being honest with yourself and really stepping into who you are and not worrying about what people think. She’s more like my teacher in that. She’s definitely well on her with that.”


Follow Sarah Murphy-Dyson on Twitter and Instagram.

Youth Document Their Lives in CBC’s Red Button

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Taryn Byers filmed her daily life for four weeks. (Red Button/CBC Gem).

The youth-driven documentary series Red Button is back for a second season. All six episodes are streaming now on CBC Gem.

In its first season, Red Button gave homeless youth in Toronto the opportunity to share their experiences on camera. The series rejected the traditional documentary format in favour of a more intimate and personal approach to storytelling  — the documentary subjects became the filmmakers. The youth used smartphones and other film equipment to document their lives and authentically capture their unique perspectives. When filming wrapped, the filmmakers sent their footage to producers and editors.

Executive Producer Rob Cohen says “the culture of self-documentation on social media” inspired Red Button’s innovative concept.

“It’s fascinating to see the shift in the last 10 years of people telling their own stories freely online,” Cohen said. “I think our films are really wonderful because they take us inside worlds that we think we have heard about, but I don’t think we have seen with the same kind of clarity or honesty before.”

The focus of season two is youth living with health conditions.

Born with Treachers Collins Syndrome, Taryn Byers lives with hearing impairment and a facial difference. The 17-year-old competitive dancer jumped at the opportunity to participate in Red Button because it was a chance to “get [her] voice out there.”

“Yeah, I have a facial difference, but no, I don’t struggle in school,” Byers said. “It’s just the way I look. It doesn’t affect me mentally.”

Since each subject decided the story they wanted to tell, the first-time filmmakers decided the duration of their shooting schedule. Byers documented her life for four weeks. Years of public speaking and developing her presentation skills helped Byers feel comfortable in front of the camera.

As part of her story, Byers filmed herself walking the runway at Light Up the Night, a charity fashion event in support of AboutFace. The fashion show featured models with facial differences. 

Byers says Red Button strengthened her commitment to advocacy.

“We don’t have the same facial differences, but we go through the same struggles,” Byers said. “I’m trying to speak on their behalf too and not just mine.”

In the fall, Byers will be studying Environmental Science/Studies at Trent University.

“I find what they have done is extraordinary,” Cohen said. “It takes courage and perseverance to be part of the filmmaking process. Every filmmaker knows that. If you are a new filmmaker, it’s even more challenging. They came through. I’m happy for them.”

Would Cohen have participated in Red Button as a teenager?

“I don’t think I would have done this project actually, because 17-year-old Rob was in the closet,” Cohen said. “If someone had asked what is your story, and why are you different? That would have obviously been it. Thinking of the cultural landscape at the time, it didn’t seem as possible to tell that story in that climate. I look at Tosconni’s episode and how honest and brave he is to share his experience about being a trans youth and the challenges that he’s facing. It’s amazing to me. No, I don’t think I would have had the bravery to do it at that time.”

Cohen hopes Red Button will challenge misconceptions and prejudices “that we sometimes have against people who are different.”


Founded in 1985, AboutFace promotes and enhances mental and emotional well-being of individuals with facial differences and their families through peer and social support, information, educational and experiential programs, and public awareness.

AboutFace is the only charity in Canada offering support to individuals of every age, with any type facial difference.

Filmmaker Kaitlyn Adair on Rebel Femme Productions and The Power of Mentorship

Kaitlyn Adair is the creative founder of Rebel Femme Productions. The feminist production company made its debut at the 2018 Silver Wave Film Festival with the short film March 2.4, written and co-directed by Adair. The Bathurst native, currently based in  Fredericton, won Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Drama and the Lex Gigeroff Excellence in Screenwriting Award.

Rebel Femme shot its second film in February. The untitled project, filmed in one day, involved six crew members, one actor, and a cat.

[The film] is an exploration of how we use animals in dating but told from this feminist horror perspective,” Adair said. “In heteronormative cultures, women are told to look for men with dogs, especially online, because they’re nice guys if they have dogs. We explored those stereotypes from a cat owner’s perspective and a cat’s perspective. She kills everyone who is a dog person and who is mean to her as a cat.”

With this film, Adair wants to disrupt tropes of the horror genre.

“I’m tired of watching women die in horror films.”

“I am passionate about intersectional feminism and social justice and keeping these things on the forefront of media and storytelling,” Adair said. “I like doing it in creative ways where people don’t really know necessarily that that’s what they’re engaging with.”

Adair is confident about festivals picking up the film. She believes there are niche markets for a film about a cat serial killer.

For Adair’s first short film March 2.4, it’s been a different story. The filmmaker says the film is “not getting into festivals,” resulting in an internal debate about the film’s visibility.

“To me, I think it’s more important for people to see the movie, so it might be more valuable to put it online and make it public content,” Adair said. “But then for me as a human being, putting it online adds a whole different level of trauma and violence.”

March 2.4 is a feminist experiential film bringing to light the realities of post-traumatic stress disorder after a sexual assault. The film gives a voice to survivors by bringing the viewer into the symptoms of PTSD while focusing on themes of systemic violence towards women, victim shaming, and sexism.

(Rebel Femme Productions / Kaitlyn Adair)

Creating March 2.4 was a “powerful experience” for Adair who worked hard to ensure the film’s production met Rebel Femme’s goals of authenticity, leadership, and collaboration. To begin, the cast and crew of March 2.4 was 85 percent female.

“Women aren’t given the same opportunities as men.” Adair said. “For me to walk the walk, I really needed to be accountable by not only putting women in positions of authority, which they don’t usually get on film sets, but I also wanted the collaborative process to be from this female process because it is a gendered type of film.”

Adair also looked at the film’s production from an accessibility standpoint. “I think something that is missed is how do we create space for populations who are different from myself?”

“I made sure all the places we shot were all fully accessible,” Adair said. “I created a space people could come and feel good about. We started everyday with a Reiki healing session to make sure people were okay with what was happening.”

Adair, feeling like she couldn’t do the film justice on her own, reached out to co-director Bronwen Mosher for guidance.

“Mentoring under Bronwen was the biggest piece of the puzzle for me,” Adair said. “I would sit down with her for hours and build the shot list together, but she left me have ownership of the story, which I think was very strong and powerful for me. I learned a lot from Bronwen and the crew. I I learned a lot making the film. I think sometimes you have to show up and try.”

Adair believes March 2.4 was “received fairly well” at the Silver Wave Film Festival.

“It’s hard to tell with something that’s uncomfortable,” Adair said. “A lot of people just didn’t know what to say, I think. It was 2nd for Audience Choice, so obviously some people identified with it.”

“Every time I watch it, I’m so proud of the quality of it. We went to the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity and did all the post-production there. So, there’s a lot of awesome experiences that when I watch it, it’s really positive for me. It took me out of the head space of kind of being in that acute phase of my own trauma.”

Looking ahead, Adair says Rebel Femme has another film in the works. The film is called Together We Move, for which Adair received the 2018 CBC/NB Joy Award. Together We Move is about “two roommates who make a pact to only communicate through dance for one week.”

The film will feature some choreography, but the movement will be mostly “contact improv type of dance.”

On the visibility of women in Fredericton’s film community, Adair says she is happy with what is happening in the local film scene.

It is really powerful to be in a community like Fredericton where we have a lot strong women that are leading the way,” Adair said. “We are very lucky because we have a lot of women taking on mentorship roles. [These women] are saying: I’m going to bring new people who have never done anything to mentor so they can move forward.”

Adair encourages anyone interested in filmmaking to go for it.

“I encourage people to try it. It’s powerful to tell stories from this authentic place, whatever that means to you.”


Kaitlyn Adair is a sexual assault nurse examiner with a background in street nursing and harm reduction. She is a passionate feminist, actor, activist and healer who incorporates her rebellious heart into all endeavours. ​ 

To learn more about Rebel Femme Productions, visit: https://www.rebelfemmeproductions.com/