Growing up, Nicole Buscema intended to be a doctor.
For the smart, talented teen it seemed a logical career choice. By the time she was named valedictorian at St. Christopher Secondary School she was already an accomplished singer, global activist, community volunteer and Kung Fu black belt.
But these days, at age 26, Buscema earns her living in Toronto by leading groups of curious spectators through rooms spattered in blood and gore.
“I did spent a fair amount of my life wanting to be a physician,” she recalled with a laugh. “But the thing I felt most passionate about was acting.”
Buscema is appearing in Vitals, a Toronto theatre production about a paramedic with a sold-out, one-month run and media buzz to burn.
Vitals is a site-specific play, meaning it’s performed in a real house on Roncesvalles Avenue. The actors guide headset-wearing audience members through the “theatre,” with each room designed to look like a scene encountered by EMS workers on a daily basis.
“Some of them are bloody and extremely gory, so it’s demanding emotionally,” said Buscema, noting the audience is free to open cupboards and search through drawers.
“A lot of the fundamentals are the same as traditional stage work, but the audience isn’t sitting down. They’re walking around and you’re interacting with them constantly.”
Buscema is one of those people who can apparently do just about anything. The daughter of Kelley and Peter Buscema of Sarnia earned her martial arts black belt in elementary school.
She performed at the Lambton County Music Festival, taking top marks singing mezzo-soprano solos. She launched a self-defence class for women in high school, worked in the hospital emergency room, and helped start a tsunami relief program.
After winning a Millennium National Excellence Award scholarship she attended Queen’s University, and lived two summers in Africa teaching high school students about HIV and AIDS.
She is a Bronze Cross swimmer, long distance runner, is a certified swordswoman and has degrees in biology, drama and international studies.
But Buscema chose acting, and this year completed the rigorous George Brown School of Performing Arts program. Two days later she began rehearsals for Vitals.
“It’s a very difficult business. There are tons of actors and very few of them actually work, and of those who do, few make a decent living,” she said.
“The odds are really stacked against any emerging actor trying to establish themselves but at the end of the day it’s what I really love doing.”
Buscema has hired an agent and will produce and act in a show at the Toronto Fringe Festival in July when the current Theatre Passe Muraille sponsored show ends.
“Acting has gone from a hobby to a passion and I knew I would regret it forever if I didn’t try,” she said.
“So I’ve decided to go for it.”
– George Mathewson