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“I sort of slipped into the role,” she admitted in an interview this week, “I hadn't really had any acting training and I was working with some big stars.”
She said she “had made a couple of movies with Kevin Sullivan and he just cast me.”
It was a strange time in her life. She had decided to move to San Francisco, having sold her lot, stock and barrel, as it were, here. She had even sold her winter boots.
“I did the audition for Avonlea and thought, ‘Oh, well, it's just another audition.' So, I got on the plane and flew to San Francisco.”
Once there, she bought a set of sheets (as she was staying with friends) and an answering machine.
“The first message on my answer machine was from the wardrobe mistress for Avonlea, asking me to come in for a fitting for my wardrobe as Olivia,” she said. And that was how she found out she had the role.
So, she flew back to Canada to begin the series but, as luck would have it, the carpenters had not finished the “village,” the famous street where so much of the shows were to be shot. So, she had a week to wait and went back to California for the time.
There, at a Hallowe'en party, she met Daniel Hunter, a carpenter.
When she returned to Canada, he called and said, “I'd love to see you again.”
The feeling must have been mutual, for when she had three days off, there had been an earthquake in California and it was easy to get a flight. She booked into a hotel, called Daniel to say she was there and when he called her back, they met.
Three weeks later, they were married. Friends naturally expressed doubt but, today, they are still together, living in Mulmur.
However, as is the case for so many artists, the first several years of their time together was spent apart for Ms. Ruffman was working on Avonlea, which ran for seven seasons.
A remarkable series being based, as it was, on a cast of mostly women and mainly older, the continued call for Avonlea was a bit of a surprise.
In the first year, Ms. Ruffman commuted between Canada and San Francisco, when Mr. Hunter had begun working as a contractor. They were apart for much of the whole seven years.
“We couldn't be together. When you're apart like that, it's different – you have to not fight on the telephone,” she remarked of such a marriage.
We talked about acting. When Ms. Ruffman played the role of Milli's mother in Queen Milli of Galt at Theatre Orangeville's last season, she said that it was the first time she had been on stage in 20 years.
“It was a lovely relief to be in a play,” she said this week, “to remember what comes naturally.”
When the play went on to Collingwood, she hired a lady with a wool shop to teach all the cast to knit.
She laughed as she recalled, “They really caught on quickly – actors learn so fast –they pick things up just by watching. They still send me pictures of what they've done.”
The day of our conversation she had been invited to audition for a film. The part is a lady very self-involved, with other failings and darkness that is not at all like Ms. Ruffman herself or not a person she wants to be.
There was a warning in her comments to other actors: Acting is never fake. “I've seen actors play dark roles – you have to find that person inside you...especially with film – the camera sees everything – if you're not totally immersed in the character, if there's the slightest flicker of an eye where you don't believe, it shows.
“It's important when you're an actor to know what your emotional boundaries are. You're so sensitive when you're an actor.”
An actor takes the emotions of a film, a play, to heart and later, it's hard to shake it off later because the psyche thinks it has really happened.
When Avonlea was finished, Ms. Ruffman took a practical look at the industry and saw there were very roles for actresses over or about the age of 40. So, she found other things to do.
She joined her husband in the building business and they were contractors. Over the ensuing years, she began the ToolGirl trademark, writing a nationally syndicated how-to newspaper column and hosted Canadian television's “A Repair to Remember” and “Anything I Can Do.”
If you want a laugh and the chance to learn a great many interesting and “quirky” craft ideas, check into the Mag Ruffman column of websites.
Her ToolGirl site goes on at great length with a stream of ideas for all kinds of hands-on activities from welding to fetting with felted wool (tea cosy from a cardigan). It is lots of time just browsing and finding suggestions that are fun and a little zany for keeping kids occupied, especially during those long months of indoor weather.
“I love teaching,” she said. “And I love working with kids.”
It is the passion for teaching that has led her and Daniel Hunter to their next project of teaching “idea generation” in a business framework. This is online learning the “soft skill” of leading a workshop, of teaching people to think, of how to read a room and be oneself in a group. Many such notions are taught by the example of how not to conduct oneself. In other words, the students learn by watching others “screw up.”
Usually, these skills are taught in business training seminars and workshops. Now the new project teaches them online, making them more accessible to more people.
“It was the underlying interest of the thing that got me hooked,” she explained. “We're going to help people online come up with new ideas.”
Ms. Ruffman and Mr. Hunter are firstly creative, innovative and humorous. So, the programs they are creating for the business industry are “quirky,” using animation within the frame work of instruction.
“It's call ‘brain cooking' – you basically have to make their minds go back to a five-year-old. It's very playful,” she told us, saying, “Creativity comes from a fairly messy place.”
The animation element in the lessons is fun, as she explained, because it is a puzzle – how do you make it funny?”
She explained the virtue of sharing mistakes: “Even when you're teaching a skill, what went wrong? There's so many ways to screw up – I love showing mistakes.”
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