Igniting the creative spark with Kick Start Arts

A Regent Park program helping youth kick-start their career in the entertainment industry

Person standing outside

Tony Le

Tony Le is all about life experiences. It was a sunny day in May when we met up with this current TCHC tenant — now a working actor and screenwriter — outside the Pam McConnell Aquatic Centre for a chat about growing up in Regent Park and how it led to his current career.

“Living in Regent Park made it possible to access different programs like UforChange, theatre programs offered by Soulpepper, and Kick Start Arts, the program I’m currently involved with. These programs really helped me with my goal of breaking into the entertainment industry and exploring my options.”

Currently, Tony’s getting the chance to apply his acting skills while playing the character of JoJo in The Regent Park Project web series, a hands-on film-making initiative that equips emerging young artists with free training in acting, writing, and film and television production. The initiative is sponsored by Kick Start Arts, a not-for-profit organization based in Regent Park. This program’s central mission is to use the arts to empower students, youth and adults to express themselves through the creative process in film, digital television, theatre, and photography.

“Kick Start Arts gives you the tools you need to actually have a chance”

— Tony Le

“What makes Kick Start Arts stand out from any other free program is that it gives you the tools you need to actually have a chance to step into the world of entertainment,” Tony said. “They also have working professionals work with you, allowing you to make direct connections.”

Tony met most of his mentors through these programs; however, he also credits family and friends with lending much-needed support. “One of my sisters helps me a lot with auditions that require another reader, so I’m pretty thankful for that,” he said. Tony is extremely adaptable, and his style of acting tends to change along with his life circumstances. He also grew up liking comedy (especially cartoons) so he always tries to inject a bit of comedy into his performances, no matter the role.

Get career tips and insights on how to launch a career in the entertainment industry

One of the connections Tony made is Mandeq Hassan, a former Regent Park tenant and Kick Start Arts alum who has spent years working in the film industry and is currently a story editor for the CBC show Diggstown. She’s also the lead writer and creative producer for the Kick Start Arts Creative Team. Mandeq credits the people of Regent Park for shaping her into the successful person that she is today.

“Growing up in Regent Park, there was an incredibly strong sense of community,” she said. One example of this happened during the 2003 Toronto blackout, where Regent Park tenants gathered in the park for a barbeque, sharing their food with one another. This sense of community is what drives organizations like Kick Start Arts and others in the Regent Park area. Mandeq also spent many years volunteering at the Regent Park Film Festival and even worked there after she graduated high school. She stresses it was  incredibly important to her to have a film festival in her neighbourhood focused on people from the community.

Mandeq was involved in several projects that helped guide her career, and like Tony, was a writer and actor on the Regent Park Project. “It was fun and taught me the basics of what it takes to make something artistically in this world, and it’s something I’m really proud of,” she said.

When she left for university, Mandeq realized people outside the neighbourhood had a very different perspective on social housing which fueled her desire for storytelling. “I decided I wanted to tell a different story than ones usually told about TCHC communities,” she said.

People are filming

Photo credit: Kick Start Arts

Kick Start Arts, The Regent Park Project: Season 2, Episode 5 - JoJo and Mama Nguyen

Today, both Mandeq and Tony are working on a feature film and theatre adaptation of the Regent Park Project with Kick Start Arts, and are looking forward to various other projects coming their way. Mandeq also has some good advice for people looking to get into the industry: “Ask for help when you need it and you’d be surprised at how many people would be willing to help you out.”

Tony highly recommends Kick Start Arts to any tenant youth looking to ignite that creative spark. “It allows youth to take control and create using their own set of skills and opinions with likeminded people,” he said. “The only thing you need to spend is your time. And that’s a good deal.”

Do you have an interest in acting, writing, or the arts in general and live in or around Regent Park? Contact Kick Start Arts by emailing their Artistic Director, Sheena Robertson at Sheena@KickStartArts.com or by calling 416-898-4737.