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LeBlanc’s School of Acting the embodiment of what the craft is all about

How the school redefined itself and offers a new approach to acting lessons

Shakespeare wrote, “We know what we are, but know not what we may be.” 

That quote sums up a fundamental truth facing all actors, whose lives are at least in part defined by their next role. 

Ironically, it’s also descriptive of the evolution of Julian LeBlanc’s school of acting – an endeavor that was born in passion, nearly destroyed by a pandemic and then reborn to be stronger than they ever imagined. 

This is the story. 

LeBlanc and his partner, Athena Russell, both trained at Victoria’s Canadian College of Performing Arts and were teaching at an acting school in Vancouver when they first met and shared their frustration with the way young people were being taught the craft. 

“People were training children in the same way that they trained adults, and it just wasn’t working. We were seeing a lot of burnout, and a general lack of passion from the kids,” LeBlanc said. “They weren’t having fun, and they weren’t retaining anything.” 

“We were in our twenties, but we decided that we could revolutionize how children were trained to be actors. At the same time, people were telling us that we were crazy and that it would never work.” 

Undaunted, the pair developed what they call the “technique exploration method”. 

“It’s something that no one had ever seen before,” said LeBlanc. “We pinpoint a different technique in every class. It’s never the same and our students have to constantly be on their toes.” 

“With our system, we trained them to love not the job, but the craft. That’s how you have longevity (in this business),” said Russell.  “It’s an art form but you have to realize that it’s also an adult industry. You get paid like an adult, but you also have to work as hard as the adults. If they love what they do and they’re passionate, they can succeed. It’ll be a matter of, not if, but when (they’ll get cast in a role)”. 

Russell maintains that acting is a skill, like carpentry, and that prospective actors have to continuously ‘sharpen the blade’ of their skills.  

“We knew that if they did that, when the stars aligned and they got their chance, they’d be ready to take their opportunity.” 

But the duo almost saw the end of their dream when COVID-19 hit, and the school’s future was hanging by a thread. 

At that point, the pair had only about 100 students and, while their method was beginning to have a following and their registrations were slowly increasing, all the classes were still being held in person. COVID-19 meant that those classes would have to be cancelled indefinitely and it appeared that their business and their new way of training young actors would disappear. 

But true to Shakespeare’s words, while the duo knew what they were at the time, they had no idea what was coming or what they would become. 

“We sat down and said, what do we do now,” said Russell. “I’d heard about this thing called Zoom, and we decided that we’d use it to run a tester minicamp, just to see how it would go.” 

Julian LeBlanc and Athena Russell are the founders of the Leblanc School of Acting. Courtesy Julian LeBlanc

Well, it went spectacularly well and, with a little tweaking and a lot of imagination and work (which in itself is reminiscent of what’s required to be an actor) the LeBlanc School of Acting took off. 

“It was a learning curve, for sure, but we went from about 100 students to where, today, we have about 1,200. We started off with students in B.C., and then Canada, and then the United States,” said LeBlanc. “We expanded to the UK and to Australia and are now teaching students in 16 countries around the world.” 

And the system seems to be working as about 90 per cent of their students have booked roles – some of them in major productions. 

“There are schools out there that tend to market the same two or three students over and over again,” said Russell. “We don’t do that. We’ll get a call asking if we have someone who would fit a given role and we’ll put forward a variety of our students.” 

That variety includes all kinds of children, including those who might not immediately come to mind as child actors. 

“We don’t turn anyone away. We’ve all come from backgrounds where we’ve had to deal with our own adversities and we welcome anyone who has a passion for acting and who wants our help in becoming the best they can be,” said LeBlanc.  

To that end, the school’s students have included those with various disabilities and, recently, saw one of those students, Karl Seitz, cast for a role in the popular TV series, This is Us. That spunky nine-year-old actor was born with bilateral Peters anomaly, a rare genetic condition that severely clouded his vision. 

“All our students are being led by people who have had adversity in their own lives and still made it happen,” said LeBlanc. “It only takes one person to believe in you to make magic happen and empowering these young people to believe that anything is possible – that’s the most rewarding job in the entire world.” 

Of course, with the expanded student roster, the leaders of the classes are no longer only LeBlanc and Russell. They have now added six instructors to lead some of their classes, but Russell stressed that they’ve been careful to bring on staff who understand and share the philosophy of the school.  

“We’re very selective when building our team, and our training for new staff can take up to three months,” said Russell. 

Meanwhile, both Russell and LeBlanc are continuing to work in the industry as actors, producers and directors. They’ve formed their own production company and are looking forward to whatever the future has to hold. 

“We’re very much people who go after things and we're not afraid of a ‘no’. A lot of people will never even try new things because they’re afraid of the ‘no’," said Russell. “For us, it’s never a ‘no’, it’s just a redirect to a different approach.” 

More information on LeBlanc School of Acting, based in Vancouver, can be found at