How long have you worked at Soulpepper and tell us a little bit about what your job consisted of lately.
I started my work here at Soulpepper in mid-May as the Assistant Technical Director. I was going to include a job description, but Andrew Leeke has already summed it up quite nicely in his profile, which you should check out! I have had the fortune of working on shows and workshops of all shapes and sizes, including the Soulpepper Academy’s clown presentation, the Animal Farm workshop, and with Judith Thompson on Borne. Most recently, I have been working on A Tender Thing and Glenn, and was truly humbled by my experience.
What (if any) kinds of shows/productions/events have you been involved in outside of work?
This summer has been quite busy here at Soulpepper and I was not as involved with productions that I have worked on in the past. Before I started working at Soulpepper, I was a freelance technician technical director and production manager. Most of my time was spent at the National Ballet School as a sound technician. Most recently, as a TD, I was working on Journey’s End by The Empty Room Theatre Company.
When you’re not at work, what are you doing?
For starters, my girlfriend Lois and I have recently moved in together, and have been putting the finishing touches on our apartment. It’s really starting to come together! When not at work or at home, we have been taking advantage of the summer weather and the great outdoors. Between cottages, camps, weddings, and day trips we’ve been keeping busy! Weekends have been packed with sunshine, good friends, and the odd cold beverage. It really has been quite the summer.
What’s a staff profile without an embarrassing/entertaining fact about yourself? When I was in elementary school, I took Irish dance lessons. I wasn’t great at it, but it was fun for a few years. If you’re lucky, and “Home for a Rest” is playing, you might catch a glimpse what I remember for those lessons!
What do you love about working at Soulpepper?
Any successful team is made up of good players who understand their role and who do what it takes to get the job done. Our production team works in the same way. As the new player, I am coached, encouraged, and kept in line by LJ our Director, I am inspired by the experience and example set by our captains Mike and Greg, and my line mates Andrew Leeke and Andrew Hillman have kept me from making huge mistakes and have always been willing to talk things out when I have been stumped. These guys are the best in the business.
I think Soulpepper as a whole works in the same way. The leadership, the artists and the staff all work together and support each other. We are a great team, that is why we succeed, and that’s why I love working here.
Last night, sitting in the greenroom, drinking this special tea we’re convinced brings our voices back to health, we posed the question out loud to anyone who would listen: What should we write about in our blog post?
Oliver Dennis suggested we write about what it’s like to be an actor in a remount.
Mikaela: In my experience, the most prominent thing about being a new actor in this remount of The Crucible was that at the start of rehearsals the rest of the cast was already miles ahead of me. The returning actors have had the story in their bodies longer, they have an in-depth understanding of their journey in the play, the kind you can only get from running the show again and again. And this is a wonderful thing. To come into those first days of rehearsal and be able to develop my early stages of Mary Warren against Stuart Hughes’ living and breathing John Proctor, to fumble through my first pass of the court scene with Joe Ziegler’s striking Danforth staring me down, it has been an experience to remember. I feel I’ve been playing catch up from day one – but that is a seriously good game to play when you have the likes of this cast on the stage. There are 11 new cast members in this production. In two and a half weeks we have entered the world Albert and the previous cast have created. We’ve been invited to shake it up, fill it in and push and pull our way into our new version of the story.
Hailey: Being a new actor in this remount of The Crucible has been like taking a giant “trust fall”. It is that inevitable activity you do in your first year of theatre school, or at the beginning of a long day of team building at work. The “trust fall” is an exercise in which you cross your arms over your chest, close your eyes, and fall back into the arms of a partner. They have to both determine how far you will fall and have the strength to catch you in the first place. I have a complicated relationship with this seemingly simple “task”. Needless to say, I have always been caught and, much like my experience with this play, I usually walk away wondering why I was so tentative in the first place. The original cast, crew and director of Soulpepper’s The Crucible had their eyes opened to this play over two years ago.Their breadth of knowledge about the characters and their circumstances are vast. Rather than the safety of a timid tip-toe, the only way into this complex world was to cross my arms, close my eyes, and fall. Then, through the exhilarating ups and the excruciating downs of Arthur Miller’s Abigail, this team caught me. And I think we all walked away stronger than ever.
Nancy Palk mentioned a blog by actor John Lithgow, who is playing King Lear in New York, that tracked the everyday stuff actors go through. She said “I think audiences would be interested to know how you actually feel transitioning from rehearsal hall to stage…”
Hailey: The everyday “stuff” for me are the small steal-away moments during rehearsal time: It is when I’m cleaning my bathroom at four in the morning, because I can’t sleep, listening to an audio book about Salem and the voice speaks a line from Paradise Lost and, for some reason this one line changes how I see the whole town. Or when I steal away from some scene work to buy myself a chocolate bar at SOMA and as soon as I bite into it I know that I’m ready to take on the rest of the day. It was the moment when our cast stepped onto the raked stage of Lorenzo Savoini’s beautiful set for the first time. In that moment I felt like wherever I was I was being propelled into the audience, which made me very aware of being seen. It’s half thrilling and half terrifying up there; much like the journey of my character in the play. After a few hours of making this transition I was able to sit in the back of the theatre and watch my fellow cast mates perform act two of the play. Seeing them and observing how they existed in the space made me conscious of how important this play is. It was a small steal-away moment that caused me to feel immensely grateful.
Mikaela: It’s our first day on stage and I feel like a crazy person. I’m convinced all my good acting was left in the rehearsal hall. We have some incredible rehearsal halls at Soulpepper: brick walls, high ceilings and wooden slats that cover two skylights. I could curl up on the floor backstage and pretend I was really in Salem, looking up at the moon shining through the cracks in the roof. (Note to Equity: It was not actually the moon but the sun, there have been no overnight rehearsals.) Now that we’ve transitioned from the hall to the theatre I don’t know where to wait for my cue before I enter on stage. There are no skylights backstage with wooden slats – just carpeted floors, dark ceilings and actors gathered round a water dispenser. I’m sure I’m driving stage management insane with my constant repositioning. Lying in the middle of the floor, curled up in a ball behind the curtains, pacing back and forth, none of it seems to fit. I know that I’ll find a new ritual and a new place (perhaps a simple chair would suffice?) but it is striking to me how much the energy of a space can affect us.
*Three days later I can now say I wouldn’t go back to the rehearsal hall if you paid me. All I want to do is perform on Lorenzo’s beautiful set under the dark and sculpted lighting design of Steven Hawkins. The wooden planks, the raked stage that catapults you into the audience, the flicker of candles in the dark, all of it creates a vivid world to walk into. Also, I have found my perfect place to wait before I enter on stage, between the walls of the Tartuffe set.
Albert Schultz said we have to write about everything we learned…
Hailey: Albert Schultz is a master builder. The way he can zoom in and zoom out of a theatrical image to build specificity into a complex world is truly amazing. What I have come to learn throughout these rehearsals is that: at the centre of this talent is his commitment to the character and actor’s journey. Together Albert and I have tried to find an Abigail that it a lover, fighter, and ultimately a survivor. Albert has safely and expertly guided me to places where I can understand in myself what it means to experience determination from a place of loss. “God is in the details” Albert often says, now I fully understand and believe in that truth.
Mikaela: Ah yes, the master builder. Albert has the ability to use every single body in the space to tell a story and at the same time to zero-in on the smallest detail to frame a moment. A breath, a look, a hidden smile, these are all subtle things you will notice in our production because he put them there and meant for you to catch them. The biggest thing I’ve learned in this process is to trust the director. There is this fantastic line in the play said by Ann Putnam, played by Raquel Duffy, “there are wheels within wheels in this village and fires within fires.” There are wheels within wheels in our production and fires within fires. There are inner workings telling bigger stories that I can’t see. This has been a hard lesson for me to learn because I want to know and see everything ALL THE TIME. There are moments in our play that, isolated, I may not understand but my specific movement is part of a bigger picture that the audience will receive. The other day, while directing a scene, Albert said to us, “I wish you could see what I see, but you can’t, so you’ll just have to trust me. It’s really good.” Now it is the afternoon of our opening night, Albert called us all for one last rehearsal run. He ended his final notes session with the words, “this run is for you guys now.” The trust has come full circle: he’s put the show in our hands.
Katherine Gauthier, actress in the Soulpepper Academy, recently returned from a two week exchange to Budapest, where she and her fellow Academy actors were embedded with Master Teacher László Marton at the Hungary University of Theatre.
“It was such a hospitable country,” says Katherine. “We spent a lot of time with the Hungarian students. We saw where they lived, we ate with them, and talked about art together. During the trip, we saw nine plays, all in Hungarian. We got immersed in a different aesthetic, language, and approach to performing.” An example of that different approach was the daily classes with Master Tamás, the university’s acrobatics instructor. “His students take his classes five times a week for three years. Going into the class I didn’t think I could even do a cartwheel, but by the end of our time with him we were doing flips and lifts, and all surpassing our own expectations. He really pushed us beyond what we thought our bodies could do, and that naturally impacts what we are capable of on the stage.”
This trip was the second part of a Hungarian-Canadian exchange facilitated by the Soulpepper Academy. In July of 2013, Soulpepper brought László Marton and his Hungarian students to Canada for two weeks of masterclasses with the renowned director. The students worked with each other in their native language, performing Shakespeare scenes half in English, half in Hungarian. “We had no time to worry or stress. We had to jump into this new way of working,” Gauthier reflects. “We got to work with people who were experts in this method and aesthetic, and see it come to life.”
Now Katherine and her fellow Academy actors have carried these techniques onto the stage for Soulpepper’s recently opened production of Moliere’s Tartuffe, directed by Marton. “Being able to work with László again is such a dream. Over the past year we’ve grown as artists, and had the time to process all the information he taught us all those months ago, and now we get to put it into practice with this rich material.” Katherine is playing the main love interest in the piece, Mariane, which she says is a great challenge. “He gives us an immense amount of freedom. He allows us to do the work, and explore what we feel the need to explore,” says Gauthier. “László is so excited about the project that it makes all of us excited. He’s ultimately so encouraging, deeply humble and passionate in his direction.”
You can see Katherine and many current Academy members in Tartuffe, currently running at the Young Centre until September 20th.
Richard Lam wears many hats within the 2013-2015 Soulpepper Academy. Richard shares about being an actor, musician, composer, music captain, and sound designer, and how a fateful pairing changed everything for the young artist.
“When I came into the Academy as an actor, I was assigned Mike Ross as my mentor,” tells Richard, “at one of our first meetings together I offered to help him out if he ever needed an assistant for anything and he took me up on my offer for Idiot’s Delight.” As the musical demands of Idiot’s Delight grew, so did Richard’s responsibilities, “We had to source period music, co-ordinate a live band, and create choral pieces for the 24-person cast…Mike would be wherever he was needed most and I would help fill in the gaps for him.” “Watching Richard progress in the early months it became pretty obvious that he has a real knack for music and sounds and an ambition and willingness to explore that side of himself further,” recalls Mike Ross, the Slaight Family Director of Music at Soulpepper.
Mike and Artistic Director Albert Schultz were so impressed with Richard’s work that they developed a new blended stream of study at the Academy, special to Richard, in recognition of his gifts and the growing role of music at Soulpepper. This program facilitated new opportunities for the mentor pair to collaborate, including on the world premiere production of Vern Thiessen’s Of Human Bondage, which won seven Dora Mavor Moore Awards, including best Sound Design and Best Ensemble Performance.
These experiences have not only developed Richard’s technical ability but also his understanding of Mike’s unique way of working. “My job is to anticipate him and where creativity is taking us next. It is a constant balancing act that always keeps us on our toes.” Mike says, “Richard was given pretty major responsibility right from the beginning. He has the collaborative spirit and work ethic which is key for achieving a high level of work.” This August Richard’s training will be put into practice as he takes on the role of Lead Sound Designer for Soulpepper’s new production of A Tender Thing.
Richard and Mike both speak passionately about the Academy’s mentorship program and what it has unlocked for both of them. “I’m lucky to have the opportunity to work with an artist as amazing as Mike in a world-class company like Soulpepper. The opportunity to work with Mike has changed the trajectory of my career in exciting ways,” says Richard.
You can hear Richard’s work next in A Tender Thing, opening August 19th, and see Mike Ross perform in Glenn, opening September 2nd.
This month the SummerWorks Performance Festival and Artscape Youngplace present an exhibition exploring local graphic design and poster art for the stage. A series of designers have been asked to display their work, including Soulpepper Graphic Designer Jacob Whibley, who has curated a history of Soulpepper’s eye-catching and distinctive designs. The exhibit at Artscape Youngplace is free, and runs from August 7 – 25, 2014, 8:00 AM – 8:00 PM daily.
Having established itself after six seasons of critically-acclaimed performances, Soulpepper undertook its first major visual branding redesign in 2004, led by Jenny Armour and Carmen Dunjko (working under the name The Beggarstaff Sisters). The project reinforced Soulpepper’s creative mandate across its entire communication platform by blending a sense of classical and contemporary values. The most distinctive design element was taking an illustrative approach to the company’s production posters; the theatrical poster being a primary touch point for the brand, outside of the plays themselves. It also provided an opportunity for the company to collaborate with forward-thinking visual artists, who could produce original and striking work that reflected the passion and values of Soulpepper.
In 2013 Soulpepper’s design platform underwent an update to refocus the visual language for its expanded range of programming, and to promote the company’s variety of immersive multi-disciplinary cultural experiences. Through framing, layering, and blending of the image/text relationships across its communication, the refresh reflects Soulpepper’s evolving engagement with its audience. The new speech bubble icon is employed to represent a conversation between Soulpepper and its audiences, a relationship extending beyond the theatre. The production posters were given a full-bleed treatment and commissioned illustrative artists are encouraged to take visual cues from the timeless imagery and social resonance that are inherent in Soulpepper’s programming. The designs are imbued with a playful sense of wit, and the promise of an intelligent and energizing Soulpepper theatrical experience.
Visit Soulpepper.ca for more information about the 2014 season.
Today we run Act 2. Our quest; to make Moliere’s Tartuffe, “one of the very greats of all the literature,” as master director László Marton calls it, feel alive and contemporary. “The challenge of working on classic verse,” he says, “is it is difficult to be behind every line. But we will. It is the most beautiful thing in our mission to give this to the audience. To mean every word.”Rehearsals with László are a search for freedom and specificity. To find the scene while László, like a grey-haired, mischievous, Hungarian imp sits on your shoulder and yells encouragement and shouts instructions. A hearty “Yes!” is your reward for getting it right. It is a provocation and encouragement to go farther. He’s a task master and an accomplice; “don’t you want to use that line to put the needle into him?” “This hurt is the biggest pain in the whole world. Yours is so little now.” Or notes on seduction; “Go slowly, if you move too fast she goes away.” But always and most important, “get behind the lines, it is your pain, your passion, your desire, your anger. The soul doesn’t allow for more time here.” “It’s about getting to the heart of the situation and being brave enough to show what is most flawed or messy/brave/stupid, or most beautiful and human in the moment.”
Nothing is obvious. This is one of the most important things to remember in directing. But when it is right, you can feel it. “Now we have the right vibration in the brain for the scene – but structurally it is better here if you are sitting.” László says to Gregory Prest who plays Cléante.
After lunch rehearsal continues into Act 4. In one of the most famous scenes in the play, Diego Matamoros improvises a bit and pours water from a wine bottle onto his head then hands the bottle to Raquel Duffy who takes the cue and does the same. It’s a brilliant moment, and László giggles with glee. Later, he turns to Oyin Oladejo who plays Dorine, “I would love it at the very end if you would –” and he makes the sign of a tear down his face. She nods, and the next time through her eyes are moist with tears in a beautifully simple moment of emotion. It’s a testament to László’s belief in the actors and their dedication to him. He asks for more – farther, deeper, more extreme, searching for the heart of the story and his belief gives you the courage to do it. “Words are not enough – the language of the performance expresses what is happening on stage.” It is more special, more mysterious, more strange and brutal than what the text expresses. “The stage has to express everything that you as a director have in your mind. Our job is to remind the audience what can happen – that it is better to stay human.”
While Tartuffe is one of the most famous comedies of all time, it is also a simple story of a family and a man who falls for deception and lies and, as a result, loses everything. This complexity is what makes it so great. “People usually don’t remember the part of the play where the family loses their home. They remember the comedy and the wigs and the costumes. But this could happen to any of us. You could lose everything.” The wonderful thing is that play is not about Tartuffe the hypocrite, but about us, the people who fall for him and believe his lies. This betrayal is at the heart of the play and is what makes it so dangerous. Later, while the scene goes on, László the grey-haired imp turns to me, his eyes sparkling and squeezes my hand. “Yes, that is the problem with us. We need Tartuffes.”
Tartuffe runs from August 7 to September 20.
The Judgment of Paris is a cabaret based on the lives of the French turn-of-the-20th century composers Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. It features music by Debussy and Ravel along with original songs written and performed by the cast: Patricia O’Callaghan, Bryce Kulak, Kevin Fox, Lori Gemmell and your guest blogger and Soulpepper Resident Artist, Tom Allen.
There are true stories and there are stories that contain truths. The former is something that really happened, the latter something that, by telling and retelling, teaches us something true about ourselves.
The lives of the great composers tend to fall somewhere in the middle. Like Hercules or Daedalus or Samson, they seem to have had supernatural powers – using nothing but ideas to build art that has survived where entire empires have failed. But, like the most enduring mythological heroes, they were also flawed. They were drunks or Lotharios or control freaks or syphilitics, driven from genius to avarice to madness and on, to penniless miserable death.
You’d be hard pressed to find two composers who fit more closely to mythical roles than Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. That they lived in the same city, at the same time is miraculous enough. They were also polar opposites and represented, on one hand, the apex of the fading Romantic era, and on the other, the emerging core of a new and radically different time. It’s a tale that would make the ancient Greeks proud.
Debussy was the ultimate romantic. His father was a former sailor who married his mistress. They had no money and moved from one squalid flat to another. Mrs. Debussy neglected her five children absolutely. Papa Debussy finally found work as a soldier for the Paris Commune in 1870, but his men deserted him and he was jailed for 18 months. Claude was 9 at the time, and completely on his own, but he was taken in by one Mme Mauté (Paul Verlaine’s harried mother-in-law and, luckily, a student of Chopin) and by the time his father got out of jail Claude had been accepted into the Paris Conservatory.
Soon he was teaching the children of an industrial heiress who lived in a former De Medici palace that spanned the Cher River and had more rooms than all his family’s serial flophouses put together.
Debussy tore through relationships: society ladies, bohemian models… He cleaved to friends while they paid his bills, but abandoned them soon after. He had three fiancés and kept a mistress who outlasted them all, and despite creating an opera (Pelleas and Melissande) that gave France the national voice it had craved for a half-century, he lived most of his life in poverty, debt, or both.
Maurice Ravel was a 20th century composer born just a little too early. He was practical, reserved, driven by craft rather than emotion, and by hearing industry and mechanics as music, captured the impulse of his time with what would later be called minimalism.
Ravel’s family was loving and protective. His father was a playful engineer who, for a time, travelled with Barnum and Bailey’s circus. Ravel’s little brother never stopped calling him by his childhood nickname, Rara, and his mother was a barely literate Gaul who kept such a savage grip on him that he lived with her until he was 42, when she died. Ravel may have been gay, or straight, or asexual. There is no way to know. Even now, 77 years after his death, no trace of any intimate relationship has ever been unearthed.
Ravel managed his money and his music scrupulously and in the 6 decades that followed his life his music earned more than any French musician in history.
The Greek myth of the Judgment of Paris tells of a shepherd who becomes judge in a beauty contest between Love (Aphrodite) and Wealth (Athena). Our version of the story simply changes Paris the shepherd into Paris the city at the dawn of the century, and the rest of the casting – Love and Wealth – takes care of itself.
We include music by both great composers (having a wonderful harpist in the band makes Debussy’s ravishing Dances Sacrée et Profane an obvious choice), plus original songs by Kevin Fox, Bryce Kulak, Patricia O’Callaghan and me.
The Judgment of Paris is at turns funny, tragic, horrifying and, like any good story or myth, it’s true, in every sense. For more information and tickets, click here.