Things seem to fall into place for George Krissa.
When he was facing a difficult decision, fate — or a poster — gave him a nudge.
At the time Krissa was working at Earls, a restaurant/bar chain in Edmonton. He was a recent graduate of Grant MacEwan College, holding a diploma in vocal performance, and wondering which would accelerate his career further: more education, or a one-way trip to Toronto. “There was a poster on the wall at the bar that said, ‘Do you want to move to Toronto,’” says Krissa. The chain was expanding to the Big Smoke, and wanted to hire from within.
On the one hand, it sounds so easy: Krissa gets his travel expenses paid, and is set up with a job and an apartment. On the other hand, “I knew no one, had no training, no contacts, no agent,” he says. “Looking back, I had a lot of guts.”
So “seem” would be the operative word. Like most overnight sensations, there was a lot of hard work, risk-taking, and courage prior to the “overnight” that suddenly turned the world’s head in Krissa’s direction.
One thing that made heads swivel might have been a leopard-skin Speedo. Krissa has just finished a turn as Rocky in the Stratford Festival’s smash success production of the Rocky Horror Show. His performance was a tourde-force, and netted him attention from far and wide — and from Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Rob Burke is the co-founder of Something Something Productions, which is known in part for its staging of the Rocky Horror Show at Corks Playhouse on Queen Street. Burke and his partner Dina Mavridis had come up with the idea of having an intimate, one-person concert featuring a musical theatre actor. “We were thinking of who we wanted to bring in for the first of this kind of concert,” he says. “We were following the stories at Stratford this year, hearing about the success of the Rocky Horror Show, and asking about the cast. Everyone kept saying how good this actor playing Rocky was. He did the character work, wasn’t just being a muscle man.”
Burke did some research, and learned Krissa had quite a bit of experience singing in repertory theatre, playing Elvis in Million Dollar Quartet, Tony in West Side Story, and performing The Songs of Sinatra. Burke had his man. When he reached out to Krissa’s agent to make inquiries, he was very intrigued, but couldn’t reveal why until some ink had dried on a contract.
In that hard-work-plus-effortlessness way of Krissa’s life, it turns out he was in the process of confirming two lead roles at the Shaw Festival this upcoming season. A solo concert at Corks in February would be a lovely way to introduce himself to NOTL.
“I had always dreamed of being at Stratford and the Shaw,” says Krissa. But he never imagined starting out with feature roles in Rocky Horror and The Music Man in year one at Stratford, and leads in Brigadoon and A Horse and His Boy in his first year at the Shaw.
Krissa says he went to a general audition at the Shaw in 2017. “I didn’t hear anything back,” he says. “Then earlier in 2018 I got an offer from them. That’s the first time that’s ever happened to me,” he says with some awe. Interestingly, he auditioned with a song from Brigadoon. “It’s one of my favourite shows ever, and no one ever does it — anywhere,” he says. “Stunning music — it’s a role I’ve always wanted to play.”
In the meantime he also auditioned at Stratford. “It was a Donna Feore dance call, famously impossible,” he recalls. “I got a dance callback for the first time ever. Then I sang, and got a callback. Then I got a call saying I had been accepted — it was one of the most exciting moments of my life,” says the 30-year-old.
“I was struggling to even be brave enough to enter the room to audition. To have somewhere I’ve always wanted to work for ask me…. I only cried for a couple of minutes,” he says with a chuckle.
“My life goals were to work at the Shaw and Stratford, both notoriously hard to get into,” Krissa says. Looks like it’s time to set some new life goals
When Krissa was growing up in Lashburn, Saskatchewan, population 750 (“I laugh when people say they’re from a small town of 100,000 people”), he and his friends had a favourite pastime. “We were super-duper unpopular,” he says. “A group of us would get five movies for five days for $5 and watch them all — the worst horror movies.” In another
full-circle achievement, “Another crowning moment of my life was when I got to be in one of those really campy scary movies,” he says.
Another high point was being given the Guthrie Award at the Stratford Festival last year. “They give out awards at Stratford,” he explains. Some are financial, like small grants.
“Everything I had was stained orange on the inside,” he laughs. “I had to be spray-tanned every day. I had to replace all of my clothing, and spent a lot of money on supplements and protein powders,” to develop the perfectly-sculpted body of a mad scientist’s embodiment of the perfect man. “I asked for money to replace it all, and they awarded me the Guthrie,” he says with his typical combination of humour and humility.
That humility is further evidenced by Krissa’s unwillingness to share his own songs on stage. “I love playing guitar and writing songs,” he says, “but just for myself, mostly because I don’t think they’re very good.” He goes on to make an insightful point: “You’re always putting yourself in vulnerable positions with acting — in classes, in auditions, on stage — and it’s nice to have something to keep to myself.”
So while there won’t be any of his originals in the Feb. 9 concert at Corks, there will be “a little bit of everything, something for everyone,” he says. “Classical, traditional musical theatre, country, funk, soul, jazz. A collection of music that I enjoy and think other people will enjoy.”
The triple-threat performer is looking forward to his first ever solo concert. “This will be nice because I’m not trying to teach you anything, I just want to entertain you,” he says. Although he does hint there will be special guests in the show, so he won’t be entirely on his own.
Krissa becomes an honorary local in February, taking up residence just down the street from the Festival Theatre. Rehearsals start on Valentine’s Day, so the Toronto-transplant sees this concert as a great lead-in to the season.
Burke says tickets are selling well for the 65-seat performance, so it might be wise to act quickly if you want to meet your new, very talented, neighbour.
The concert is at Corks Playhouse Theatre on Feb. 9, 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tickets are $40, general seating, and can be purchased online or by phone at 289-668-0482 to save service fees, says Burke.