Griffin Cork

Griffin Cork

Actor, podcaster and arts communicator embraces the chaos of living a creative life

The first time actor, podcaster and arts communications ace Griffin Cork saw A Christmas Carol, Theatre Calgary’s iconic holiday production, Cork didn’t have an epiphany about the true meaning of Christmas.

He had one about acting.

“I had a few friends in the young ensemble,” Cork said. “I was watching them have a blast up there, and it looked like a ton of fun — so I told my parents I wanted to give it a crack!”

For Cork, who played Ralph McLean in Theatre Calgary’s world premiere presentation of Forgiveness in 2023, among many other arts-driven things he does, it wasn’t such a stretch to imagine working as an actor because his mom and dad both did — and that made an impression. “The first time I saw my parents perform did something to my kid’s brain too,” he says. “The earliest I can remember my mom on stage was TC’s (Theatre Calgary) Miracle Worker or Stage West For Kids’ Frog Prince, and then I saw my dad a few times in the fully improvised soap opera Dirty Laundry. And you know, when you’re a child and the two main people in your life who you see as smart, strong superheroes, come off stage and tell you that what they just did was the best thing in the world, how can you not want to get in on that action?”

Getting In On the Action

Cork got started as a 12-year-old performing A Paintbrush for Piccolo with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra in front of 1,700 people. Since then, he’s grown up theatrically through the network of Alberta performing arts youth groups, including Quest Theatre, Calgary Young People’s Theatre, Artstrek and others. He studied acting at the University of Alberta and graduated in 2019. 

Despite a pandemic disrupting everything, Cork has already done an astonishing amount of theatre, television, film, podcasting and communications work in his young, emerging career. He’s appeared on TV shows like Heartland, in films with actors Matthew Perry (The Ron Clark Story), Colm Feore (Everfall) and Maggie Grace (When Calls the Heart). He’s worked with Calgary’s Shakespeare Company, Sage Theatre, Lunchbox Theatre, Birnton Musicals and many others — and if you work for a Calgary media outlet, chances are Griffin Cork, in his side gig as a communications guy, is announcing some new project on behalf of some Calgary arts company.

Cork hustles.

But to him, that’s just part of the charm of living a creative life, which can be another way of saying, you make your own action. “I think one of the best ingredients in living a creative life is the spice of variety,” he says. “I’m always trying to seek out new experiences, and sometimes that means jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. The times that I’ve agreed to something that I have zero experience in are usually the times where my career and personal growth has taken a big step up. The caveat here is that I still want to be reliable, so I won’t say that I’ll handle something if there’s no chance I execute on it. 

“But if I’m getting that nervous gut feeling,” he adds, “that’s usually a good indicator to dive in.”

In Forgiveness, Theatre Calgary’s powerful adaptation of Mark Sakamoto’s award-winning memoir, Cork gave a stunning performance as Ralph MacLean, who ages from age 17 to his 50s over the course of the show. Somehow, Cork, who is 27, managed to pull off Ralph and delivered an authoritative performance, embodying a character decades older than the actor is himself.

“I had a lot of awesome help with the character of Ralph MacLean,” Cork says. “First off, the biggest boon is that Ralph MacLean was a real person that spent most of his life here in Calgary; so there’s a lot of people here that know him and had stories about him. 

“Even some of my friends went to church with his grandkids or played hockey with the ‘Hackamotos’ — so the first-hand accounts, the interviews that Ralph did about his time in the war, and his obituary online that was full to the brim of comments from loved ones, were fantastic resources,” he says. “…Then, there was the team in the Arts Club/Theatre Calgary Forgiveness rehearsal room — I think I took a little something from everybody in that process, but the specific folks to shout-out would be our directing team of Stafford Arima and Howard Dai, our dramaturg Stephen Drover, and Alana Hawley Purvis, the powerhouse performer who played the Phyllis to my Ralph. 

Keeping Busy

The dark side of living a creative life is that it’s unstable, and no creative life is perhaps more unstable than an actor’s. Cork admits that he was forewarned — and forearmed. “The first thing that my parents said to me when I told them I wanted to do this for my life and my career is that it was hard,” he said. “They weren’t cynical about it, but there wasn’t any sugar-coating either: it’s just hard, and it might be hard for the rest of my life. 

“The second thing they told me is that the more that you can do, the more that you’ll work — which is why I also found other things I like to do in production, direction, podcasting, film distribution and, oh my god, Dungeons and Dragons. It’s important to find other things in your life that you enjoy doing, which lets you not tie so much self-worth and happiness to just performing (though I’m still working on that).”

Ahead in 2023 and 2024, Cork is working with Numera Films on a proof-of-concept film project called Crow. He’s working with North Country Cinema and Ghost River Theatre on a project called So Dark the Sky. And Cork also works as Director of Acquisitions at Factory Film Studio, so he’s on the lookout for great independent — ideally Albertan — films to get them in front of audiences. It’s yet another example of how Cork’s creative life flexes a variety of creative muscles. “Film distribution is a whole other beast, I tell ya,” he says. And intersecting those projects may be a number of plays, which involve short-term contracts of a month or five weeks for the most part, where actors rehearse full-time and then perform the show.

All of it probably doesn’t add up to what you could earn working a day job, but that’s the thing about creative lives: they’re the best evidence yet that living your fullest life doesn’t always mean maxing out your TFSA contribution. “I think the idea of a ‘creative life’ will always introduce some element of chaos or unpredictability,” Cork says. “…Something will hit you or an idea will form when you least expect it, and I think giving those spur-of-the-moment ideas room to breathe is the real meat and potatoes of what makes our time on this earth so rad,” he says. “There is a lot in our life that we can’t control — both the predictable and the unpredictable stuff — and there will for sure be times where you need to stay on schedule and stick to your regimen. 

“But,” he adds, “I think letting those little idea tornados run rampant in your brain for a few minutes is a beautiful thing because it’s not something you plan. It’s a little gift from a chaotic universe. And hey, if it gets a little too crazy, won’t that make you appreciate the schedule and regimen even more?”

About the Storytelling Project

The Storytelling Project raises awareness about Calgarians who, by living creative lives, are making Calgary a better city, effecting positive change and enriching others’ lives.

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