Guelph student Alexandra Beaton is an actress on The Next Step television show.
Alexandra Beaton, right, plays the character Emily on The Next Step.

During the school year, Alexandra Beaton is much like any other third-year political science student at U of G: worrying about grades and assignments, and hanging out with her friends. But when exams wrap up, Beaton moves on to what she calls “the best summer job ever” – performing as “Emily” in the popular television show The Next Step.

The show follows the relationships and struggles of a group of competitive dancers who train at The Next Step Dance Studio. It’s the top-rated show for viewers ages seven to 14 on specialty channels across Canada, and it’s also popular with audiences in 27 countries around the world. Beaton’s thrilled with that success, even though it has meant a few embarrassing moments when people recognize her.

“I think the show succeeds because the characters are so relatable,” she says. “You see them going through things that you have gone through, too, and you want to watch to see how they handle it.”

One unusual aspect of The Next Step is the show is largely unscripted. Beaton says the performers are given a scenario – for example, two characters have an argument – with some main points the director wants them to hit, and then the actors improvise based on those guidelines.

“You have to know your character really well to do this effectively,” Beaton says. “You have to know what she would say in that situation, and not respond as yourself.”

Beaton says her character is much more confrontational than she would ever be, and a bit of a ‘mean girl,’ but “it’s fun to play someone who is different from you.”

Beaton came onto the show as the only cast member with extensive acting experience. The acting bug hit early: she played Baby June in Gypsy at the Shaw Festival, appeared in the movie 300 with actor Gerard Butler and has acted in many commercials. She’s also been taking dance lessons since she was two.

“My parents have been very supportive of me, especially my mom because she had a career in a similar industry,” Beaton says (her mother is TV news anchor and radio host Kate Wheeler). “But they never put any pressure on me – they just support my passion for acting and performing.”

The show’s international popularity has led to travel opportunities for Beaton as well – she was recently in Madrid, Spain, doing a “meet-and-greet” with fans in that country.

She acknowledges that it’s sometimes a challenge to balance her academic work with her TV responsibilities, but says: “It’s just time management. For me, getting an education is important, and so is acting. I make it work.”

The Next Step begins its third season March 16 at 7:30 p.m. on the Family Channel.