Summer in the City

Soulpepper’s City Youth Academy is a six-week intensive summer training program for promising young artists in Toronto ages 16-19. Ten youth this summer will be given six weeks of skills training and artistic development as integrated members of the Soulpepper company. Participants Tatyana Mitchell and Nick Eddie share their thoughts on the experience so far.

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What are your personal artistic areas of interest?
Tatyana: My areas of interest include acting and set designing.

Nick: I have been very interested in theatre arts for a long time. It was only after many years of my grandparents dragging me to plays before I realized I actually enjoyed it. I personally, enjoy acting the most, but am more than content to participate in the THEEAHTER in any way, shape, or form.

What expectations did you have coming into the City Youth Academy, and how has the program differed or met them?
Tatyana: I didn’t think there were going to be so many activities jam packed into 6 weeks. Before my audition I was still unsure of what exactly we’d be doing. However, when we started, I was kind of overwhelmed. In a good way. I was surprised by how much we were doing.

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What is your group currently working on?
Nick: I am always surprised by how much work a theatrical production is. So far we have mostly done work with strengthening the ensemble; learning new things, working as a team, etc. And then occasionally we will have time dedicated to creating pieces, which is mixed in outcome, as it always is with collective work. Hopefully by the time we are done we will have enough material to pick and choose all the best stuff, but honestly it is just so nice being involved in creation work again.

What activity/workshop/moment has really excited and inspired you so far?
Tatyana: A workshop that has excited me so far is music. I don’t sing in public unless it’s required, and now singing solos and being surrounded by people who enjoy singing has helped me cope with my nerves. Other workshops that have inspired me are Text and Design; Text has helped me look at scripts and characters more in depth. I was able to create a background, how my character would interact with the people she surrounds herself with, and I have learned not to judge my character no matter how troubled they are. And although Design was one session, I still learned how creative you can get with a setting that is not just three walls, a table, and a chair.

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Nick: Working with Greg Oh has been one of the most gruelling processes I have had the pleasure to experience. We’ve been working on a song with four harmonies, and every note is a battle. Learning with him takes so much dedication and focus. And Greg makes it easy. I wouldn’t want to have a bad teacher when it comes to something like this.


How do you see the City Youth Academy affecting your future artistic journey?

Tatyana: I’m going to Humber College in September for Theatre Performance and I’m treating the program as if it’s pre-training, before I head there for the next three years. Movement and Text are helping me be the most prepared for what’s to come. So I’m grateful.

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Nick: Well, I hope to stay connected with Soulpepper in any way I can. I constantly have to remind myself that I need to use every moment of this great opportunity, not just those in workshops and activities. So this time, I have been making a concerted effort to meet people, and to prove my worth. But damn it, it’s hard. Anyway, that’s my goal, to become an active member in the Soulpepper community.

Anything else you want to share?
Tatyana: Best advice I’ve received so far is “Don’t be an Adam Sandler.”

Visit soulpepper.ca for more information.
The Soulpepper City Youth Academy is generously supported by Scotiabank with additional support from R. Howard Webster Foundation.

2015 City Youth Academy participants and staff, photos supplied by Jennifer Villaverde and Fiona Suliman.

The Play’s still the Thing

This fall, Soulpepper is presenting the return of one of its most successful production’s, The Play’s the Thing. Based on Ferenc Molnar’s 1926 Hungarian script and with a faithful adaption by P.G. Wodehouse, this stylish romantic comedy set on the Italian Rivera pokes fun at the behind-the-scenes life in the theatre. Reprising his role as Almady in this highly anticipated remount is C. David Johnson.
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Johnson describes Molnar’s play as a love letter to the stage. “It’s full of love of theatre, love of actors and a love of language,” says Johnson, while noting how the playwright experimented with the absurdist style, “Molnar starts out the play with three men going, ‘gee isn’t it difficult to begin a play.’ All of a sudden that fourth wall has been broken down, a slightly absurdist situation to start the play. And then it proceeds to poke a lot of fun at playwriting and the theatre and the absurdity of actors and egos.”

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This will be Johnson’s third time being part of Soulpepper’s production for The Play’s the Thing but he first starred in the production at Theatre Calgary in 1985 in the role as the young lover, Albert Adam.
Along with Johnson, this production will feature the return of Diego Matamoros and William Webster. Joining them will be new cast members Gordon Hecht as the young composer, Albert, and Raquel Duffy as the Prima Madonna, Ilona. Johnson says the new cast members will help “bring new life into the show.”

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Why is the play such an enduring crowd pleaser for new and returning Soulpepper audiences? “There’s a lot of fun in it, there’s a lot of laughs in it, but there’s also a lot of heart in it,” reflects Johnson, “getting it up in front of an audience is just a blast. The audiences just eat it up, they love it.”

The Play’s the Thing is on stage September 2 to October 14th. For tickets visit soulpepper.ca

C. David Johnson, photo supplied by Artist. C. David Johnson and Allegra Fulton, photo Cylla von Tiedemann (2003 production). Jim Warren, C. David Johnson, and Allegra Fulton, photo: Cylla von Tiedemann (2003 production).

Staff Profile: Michelle Yagi – Development Coordinator

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How long have you worked at Soulpepper and tell us a little bit about what your job consisted of lately.
I’ve been at Soulpepper for a little over a year now! My job as Development Coordinator consists of lots of different things including work on our annual campaign, donation processing, donor e-communications and event coordination. I also act as the recording secretary for our Board of Directors – sitting in on those conversations has really been an incredible learning opportunity. Lately, I’ve been working on revamping SoulsNotes, our donor e- newsletter, adding new curated content from Soulpepper artists. It’s been a relatively quiet summer for the department due to the programming hiatus around the PanAm/ParapanAm Games, but once September comes we’ll have our hands full again with four new Soulpepper shows opening and plenty of donor cultivation events.

What projects do you have on the go outside of work?
In addition to my role at Soulpepper, I also work as the General Manager of the Paprika Festival – a performing arts festival dedicated to the mentorship and artistic development of young theatre artists. We pair participants from all of our programs with professional artistic mentors and arts facilitators, give them the resources to develop their creative ideas over the course of six months, and provide a number of training workshops along the way. All of this culminates in an annual festival of new work in the spring, and – new this past year – a full-day conference for emerging artists. We’re currently heading into our 15th season, marking the beginning of a two-year partnership with Native Earth Performing Arts and expanded community arts engagement in Regent Park. I’m also producing a show with Re: Current Theatre, a new theatre collective currently in residence at Hub14. It keeps me busy!

When you’re not at work, what are you doing?
Well I try to see as much theatre as possible, for starters! I’m glad I got the chance to catch a bunch of the Panamania programming while it was here and I’m really looking forward to the upcoming season at Summerworks. I love being a part of the theatre community in Toronto… it’s such a small world but there’s so many talented people working in this city and a lot of interesting new work out there. When I’m not dragging my friends to shows, I try to make time for reading, writing and music whenever possible.

What do you love about working at Soulpepper?
Soulpepper is a pretty special place. The company’s success stories are easy to understand when you meet the incredible staff and artists who work here, and it’s such a supportive environment. There are also a lot of very exciting, very ambitious plans for the future floating around this building, and I’m looking forward to seeing them come to life!

Why Not Theatre on the world premiere of Gimme Shelter

On stage at the Young Centre as part of PANAMANIA from July 13 – 25
For tickets visit youngcentre.ca

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It’s hard to explain (in a succinct way) what Gimme Shelter is about. At the centre of the show is one question: What can one person do to influence change? We at Why Not Theatre arrived at this question via a staggering statistic: by 2020 some 7 million Bangladeshis will be displaced by rising sea levels caused by climate change.

An early draft of Gimme Shelter tried to tackle this story from the perspective of a new category of migrants, the “climate refugee.” We started by creating an adaptation of the fable of the Three Little Pigs, in which the analogy was the pigs were refugees being driven from their homes by a coming storm instead of a big bad wolf. The first workshops focused on the story of a refugee (the pig), whose home has gone under water, trying to take shelter at his brother’s home. We soon realized that the fable didn’t give us the depth of story we needed to explore a very complicated issue. Why Not’s Artistic Director Ravi Jain found in his writing exercises that the stronger narrative was the perspective of the privileged Westerner, whose actions and luxuries are what ultimately lead to the suffering of millions on the other side of the world. He wondered, what can we do as a society when faced with the challenge of seeing ourselves in those who are being displaced because our actions? How do we actually make a change, when we feel so powerless?

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In grappling with these big questions, we looked to the ancient texts, in particular a segment from the Bhagavad Gita. The Bhagavad Gita is a chapter from the ancient Indian epic The Mahabharata, and translates roughly to “Song of God.” It essentially contains a synopsis of the entire Vedic philosophy of life and the universe. Within its many layers of wisdom is a central concept of universal oneness, oneness in which everything in the universe and all its living creatures are interconnected. This is where we found our point of view for Gimme Shelter: the only way forward is for us is to really see the interconnectedness of all people, not just those we can see, but those we don’t see, whose lives we are impacting with our choices every day.

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To find a dramatic way to explore this we read the Mahabharata itself, and created a new adaptation that uses the epic ancient tale to examine where we are today. The character that Ravi plays has changed from that of the climate refugee to that of an old storyteller who guides us on this journey, playing himself and all of the story’s characters. The ending of the show is the most exciting part, as our goal with this new direction has been to find a way to engage the story directly with the audience, so that it can affect change beyond the walls of the theatre. To find this level of engagement we break some theatrical conventions with a radical shift best experienced first-hand.

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Post by Owais Lightwala, Artistic Producer, Why Not Theatre
Gimme Shelter rehearsal photos by David Leclerc

Designer Ken MacKenzie reports on Soulpepper at the Prague Quadrennial 2015

Soulpepper’s Dora Award-winning set and lighting design for Of Human Bondage created by Resident Designer Lorenzo Savoini was selected to represent Canada this summer at the Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space, often referred to as the “Olympics of Scenography.” A team from Soulpepper attended PQ2015 this past June.

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There’s a question that seems to be in the cultural make-up of Soulpepper that hovers over everything we do: Is this the best way to do things? And invariably, is there a better way?

This organization, I think, tries not to take anything for granted and tries to make ‘what’s next?’ one of its self-reflective cornerstones. As a bit of acknowledgement of that ethos, one of Soulpepper’s recent successes, Of Human Bondage, was featured as a part of the Canadian Exhibit at the Prague Quadrennial (PQ2015): an international exhibit of performance design that takes place in the Czech Republic every four years.

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Lorenzo Savoini’s designs were amongst six other designs chosen by an Associated Designers of Canada panel that were looking for works that were on the avant-garde of Canadian theatre. So this became an irresistible opportunity for a contingent of Soulpepper directors and designers to head over to the continent and take in what the rest of the world is up to from a design perspective.

The PQ2015 consisted of professional and student exhibits from 68 countries, with lectures and workshops led by various international icons and luminaries in the field of design.

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Our experience was to immerse ourselves in equal parts quadrennial and beautiful eastern European city.

The quadrennial was a great opportunity to look at other ways of making design and engaging an audience. Some countries exhibited their best models, costume sketches, and production stills. Some counties created room-sized installations for viewers to experience and others brought performances that showcased a design idea. The overall experience isn’t so much about who does it best, as it is about looking at varying forms of cultural expression. The wild, political irreverence of the Brazilian production shots couldn’t be more different from the folk installation of Mongolia but both speak volumes about the culture they represent.

The PQ was the kind of experience that requires a lot of consideration and unpacking and I think I’ve only just begun to really consider all the things I’ve seen, but the one thing that is clear is that what we do here, at Soulpepper, is express our culture. It’s easy to forget the while we do produce some of the best work in Canada, it is specifically Canadian, and that as we become more inclusive, and more representative of our city and its inhabitants, we should be as open as possible to all of the different, international cultural forms of expression that should feed into what we do at Soulpepper.

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Photo credits: Ken Mackenzie, Albert Schultz and Leslie Lester, photo: Lorenzo Savoini. Shots from PQ2015 by Ken MacKenzie.

Staff Profile: LJ Savage – Director of Production

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How long have you worked at Soulpepper and tell us a little bit about what your job has consisted of lately.
I have been at Soulpepper for three and a half terrific years. Lately I have been keeping an eye on our hosting of the Para/PanAmania stay in the Young Centre with its many contributors, as well as Soulpepper’s restarted season after the Para/PanAmania departure and the 2015 Soulpepper Family Festival.

What kinds of productions have you been involved in outside of work?
Soulpepper brought me back to my first love, the performing arts, after a fifteen-year hiatus in corporate environments, exhibits & events across North America. Prior to that I toured the world with dance companies and rock bands. It had been twenty or more years since I stage managed my last production and I really needed to get back to my roots.

When you’re not at work, what are you doing?
My family comes first; whether I like it or not! But when given a chance, I lean towards gardening as my main leisure activity. My father was a gardener before he took on municipal government and I was his assistant from an early age. I was accepted to Niagara Parks Horticultural School but chose to political science and drama instead. Go figure.

What do you love about working at Soulpepper?
I love the people. Really. It’s fun to ride to work each day. Soulpepper is a super group of happy people with diverse interests and talents who want to work together in the arts. At the end of (mostly) a good experience you see a terrific product that is well appreciated. Our colleagues make that happen.

Staff Profile: Mary Koutsoubos – Director of Development, Major Gifts and Special Campaigns

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How long have you worked at Soulpepper and tell us what your job consisted of lately.

Well, this is my second time at Soulpepper. I was the Director of Development for several years before taking a 3-year hiatus, to work at the TSO and have my 3rd son! I’ve been back now for a year and a half in a perfect new role as Director of Major Gifts and Special Campaigns. I have been working with the Soulpepper team on our new $10 million Creative Capital Campaign, and yesterday at our AGM we announced that we are already at 77% of goal thanks to the many special donors who have contributed transformative gifts.

When you’re not at work, what are you doing?

My husband and I have three very lively and mischievous sons at home to keep us busy and on our toes. I love it! When I’m on my own I relish the quiet time – these days, I try catch up on sleep, mostly ;-)

What do you love about working at Soulpepper?

I love the pace and energy at Soulpepper. The big ideas that constantly challenge us and propel the team forward. The spirit of getting things done and doing them well. And, the special donors who understand this by supporting the vision and giving back – I learn so much from them about being a better human.

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