He’s come a long way from ‘Oliver!’.
South Surrey dancer/actor Zac Vran was only 11 when he appeared in the Vancouver Playhouse production of the Lional Bart musical in 2007. As ‘Harry’ he was just one of a group of boys – even with his own solo moment in ‘Consider Yourself.’
But the self-assurance he possessed when interviewed for Arch News then – and all the hard work he has done since – are elements of his current success as a cast member of the Canadian-produced breakaway TV hit The Next Step, in which he works closely with established leads Victoria Baldesarra (Michelle) and Alexandra Beaton (Emily).
And it’s a good bet a lot of friends from Earl Marriott Secondary, former training mates from Spiral Dance and members of his hip hop crew, Freshh, will be tuning in when Vran, now 17, makes his debut on the show, which begins airing its second season Friday, March 7 at 7:30 p.m. on Family Channel.
In the continuing drama, following teen dance team the A-Troupe – based in the mythical The Next Step studio – team members have just won a regional championship and must face their own ‘next step’: the realization they must audition with hopefuls from other studios to make the national team.
“The buildup is toward the national competition and the trials and tribulations leading up to that competition,” Vran explained.
Enter Vran, as aspiring hip-hop dancer Hunter.
“Hunter comes from Michelle’s past, and they do reconnect in a sort of way,” he said. “You can expect fireworks when they first meet.”
As he describes him, Hunter has a certain volatility.
“He’s a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve,” he said. “If he feels you’re a threat to him, he’s going to confront you. He can’t ignore his thoughts, his feelings and his emotions, and that doesn’t lay too well with some of the other characters.”
For Vran, joining the series for season 2 (shot in Toronto from June to September of last year) was an intriguing challenge.
“What’s interesting about the show is that it’s labelled as ‘fake reality,'” he said. “The scenes are scripted, but it’s really a skeleton of a script. The way a scene moves and flows is something we determine through improvisation. And when we go back and fill out scenes we have to replicate whatever we did in the improvisation. It’s quite different from other kinds of acting.”
One thing that isn’t fake is the dancing talent of the ensemble cast, said Vran, who followed up an audition tape by flying out to Toronto for live auditions with 15 others vying for roles in the second season.
Fortunately, Vran already has a wealth of experience to draw on, including his work with Freshh – who placed second on Canada’s Got Talent in 2012 – and sharing stages with such performers as Shawn Desman, Hedley, Mariana’s Trench and Victoria Duffield.
“The first thing the producers and directors looked for is the ability to dance. There’s no faking – there’s no way they could fake it.”
Vran said he’s grateful for the help of other cast members, particularly Baldesarra and Beaton, with whom he is most frequently teamed in duo numbers in the show.
“They’re extremely professional,” he said. “I was coming on set as one of the new people and they were experienced as regulars from the first season, but they knew when to push and when to reserve energy and they were amazing in the way they helped me. They’re not only amazing dance partners, they’re great mentors.”
Just as the dancers in the show’s storyline bond, and learn to work their way around differences, Vran has become close with fellow members of the ensemble including Trevor Tordjman (James) and Lamar Johnson (West).
The only regret Vran has about the season launch is that he won’t be able to share the planned red-carpet reception in Toronto with his friends on The Next Step .
But that’s because he has a performing commitment in Seattle with Freshh – he continues to be a dedicated member of that team, too.
“I could never be what I am today without who I’ve worked with – my roots with Freshh, and also Spiral Dance. A huge portion of my training came from Spiral Dance. (Spiral director) Loretta Sramek is the most supportive person I’ve known outside of my family.
“I never expected such support from friends at Marriott – they got right behind the dance and the acting.
“I’m blessed. I’ve worked hard and put a lot of training into my craft, but to have this level of support is wonderful.”