In 2020, as gathering restrictions swept the globe, Jayme Armstrong watched the fabric of her soul unravel. The celebrated actress and owner of Enchanted Entertainment shared that soon after theatre arts was forced to draw the curtain, her capacity to embrace a slower pace was quickly replaced with forward thinking.
She finished a Master's Degree in Arts and Cultural Management and continued to pursue her dream of directing.
"[As a young actress], I catered to a male perception. That's largely because I wasn't exposed to female directors. None of the directors, or artistic directors, were women then.
"I was fortunate to come into contact with Drayton Entertainment. And the thing that I have loved about being involved with Drayton specifically is that there has been no limit to what I could do. As a musical theatre leading lady, I was still allowed to do plays. As long as I could act them.
"I was encouraged to explore assistant directing, which eventually led me to direct."
And these limitless experiences inspired Armstrong to play the role of mentor.
"It has made me confident in who I am and that I can support other women who are perhaps newer to the experience and empower them to stand up for themselves," she said.
"And what I love about being at this point in my life is truly understanding who I am and being able to look at other women in leadership roles and empathize with what I know has been their journey and what they've experienced."
When asked if she could recall the moment that she knew acting would be her future, Armstrong shared her first memory of asking her mother if (after watching a Disney movie) she could be part of the cast.
Her mom began taking her to local theatre productions, and, of course, she fell in love. She was six years old when she landed her first role as a Munchkin in her school's rendition of The Wizard of Oz.
Since then, she has performed across North America, Austria and London, and among many other accolades, she was runner-up in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "How do you solve a problem like Maria?"
Eventually, finding her home stage here in Waterloo Region, her name has become synonymous with Drayton Entertainment. But Armstrong admits it's never been about the limelight; "that part is make-believe."
"[For me], it's the energy . . . positivity . . . kindness and support."
Dreams do come true
The concept of Enchanted Entertainment was born at a time when she would daydream about the magic of a real-life Disney princess arriving at her own birthday parties.
"I would say to my mom, 'Wouldn't it be amazing if a princess could come right to your house on your birthday?'
After losing her mother to cancer, Armstrong found the determination to officially launch her own business. The princess party experience became a tribute to her mother's legacy.
"My mom was the most charitable person I will ever know. She gave to organizations and people so selflessly," she said.
"[The company] satisfies my need to create something that my mom and I always dreamed about over our mutual love of Disney and making costumes. It also satisfies my personal need to mentor young performers who deserve to be paid for their time."
And Armstrong donates time to children who are too ill to have birthday parties.
"We've worked with hospitals all over North America, especially during the pandemic. We were very quick to see that there was going to be a need to create something virtual, and that's when we started working with SickKids and Make-a-Wish [Foundation]," she added.
"[There was this one] little girl [with Leukemia]; I painted her nails, did her makeup; we coloured together, and I read her a story. And I remember telling her that she could call me anytime if she needed to talk to me - that her mommy could just call the castle," Armstrong said.
"That was just one of those moments where you realize that this is why we do it; the other stuff is all secondary."
What began as a child's daydream has expanded to and employed actors across North America.
"I started with one character. It was just me testing it out on my days off from Drayton. And from there, it turned into four or five characters [which evolved into] 10 characters. And now it just keeps expanding, and we keep growing.
"We are expanding rapidly, and we expanding locations. [Enchanted] is looking for other wonderful people to join us who believe in sharing magic and joy. It's amazing."
In the aftermath of COVID, Armstrong shared that, for the arts industry, celebrating both the struggle and the comeback has "enormous value."
"There [were] days when you [thought] you are doing okay and days when you absolutely know you are not. Riding the wave [was] exhausting, and I know I speak for others when I say how much I missed my life."
Currently shooting Season one of Glamorous for Netflix, the 2021 Rogers Woman of the Year says shooting the series "feels like a different world even though it's highly connected."
No place like home
As the stage lights return to Drayton entertainment, Armstrong will reprise her role as Maria in The Sound of Music. The performance runs from November 24 to December 24 at the Hamilton Family Theatre Cambridge.
"Drayton [Entertainment] did such a wonderful job throughout the pandemic of navigating how to include artists and build its school, [to] mentor children and keep engagement. And I really wanted to come back and do something for the community," she said.