Sarah Walker is in her fourth year of a Bachelor of Music Education at Acadia. She’s also one of two 2022 recipients of the Joan Orenstein & David Renton Award for Outstanding Performance in Acting at the Atlantic International Film Festival. Sarah was awarded for her performance as Star in Ashley McKenzie’s 2022 feature Queens of the Qing Dynasty, which received the The Gordon Parsons Award for Best Atlantic Feature at the same festival.
Queens of the Qing Dynasty premiered at Berlinale last February, and since then has been making its way through a series of film festivals. Although the film premiered only recently, it has taken several years to get it to this stage, and all while Sarah has been studying at Acadia.
I met with Sarah at Just Us in downtown Wolfville to hear about her experience with the film. Sarah was freshly returned from New York City after attending the premiere of the film at NYFF. Traveling to New York was a change of pace for Sarah, from the speed of Wolfville and from the small town in Cape Breton where she grew up. But at the same time, she said: “[the experience] was incredible. I loved New York, I’m not used to cities but the festival itself was great.”
Queens of the Qing Dynasty orbits around two characters: Sarah’s Star, a neurodiverse teen who is aging out of foster care; and An, a student from Shanghai assigned to watch Star during a stay in a hospital. Taking on the role of Star was a change from what Sarah was used to. Prior to working on the project, Sarah had primarily done theater and was more experienced with comedic roles. Sarah was able to bring her background into her embodiment of Star in a unique way, as she explained to me: “I think Star does have some comedic undertones so I could play with that a little bit.”
When explaining to me what taking on the role meant to her, Sarah said: “The film itself has forced me to grow as a person, it touches on a lot of interesting subjects I never really thought about before in as much depth as I had to to prepare during the shoot. The character of Star is based on a real person … we’re now good friends, I think that aspect of it changed my life the most.”
Back in Wolfville, Sarah is continuing her work as a vocal student, studying at Acadia’s School of Music. The two parts of her life fit together in interesting ways. As she told me: “performing arts kind of resonates with what I’m doing in a way.”
For Sarah, the performance is all about storytelling. As she said: “as a singer you’re a storyteller and as an actor you’re a storyteller … They’re both very much about telling stories which is why I love them.”
That love for storytelling has only grown. “Having the film out in the world now is giving me a bit of a bug to want to do more and tell more stories,” she confessed. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on Sarah, because there will certainly be more stories for her to tell in the future.