Leah Cherniak on The Dybbuk in rehearsal

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It has been a while since I’ve been on stage in a cast of this size. In The Dybbuk rehearsal hall we have Soulpepper Founding Members, actors from present and past Soulpepper Academies, regular company members and a few new faces. There are many different generations at work and it’s an exciting mix. I am also proud to be among the Jews in the cast. Although we rarely agree on anything, we provide pronunciations, lessons in history and customs, and Jewish jokes. And Albert Schultz, as our fearless director, brings unity and vision to the room.

For a show so dark and emotional, there is much laughter in the rehearsal hall. Albert allows for us to amuse each other and he also tells great stories. We are also ever-ready to explore with him his new staging ideas. For instance, at the end of last week we began experimenting with an original, exciting way to end the play. I’ll only say that light and dark are big themes in the play and every day we are finding more of this thematic resonance in the production.

As Associate Director of the Soulpepper Academy, it’s beautiful to watch some of this year’s Academy members, including Hailey Gillis and Colin Palangio, playing major parts and learning so much in rehearsal. Albert supports and directs them towards becoming the best actors they can be. It’s astonishing to watch them move from being young student actors to taking responsibility for big, powerful roles. I’m very moved by that – we all want to see them do their best. Somehow this seems to mirror themes in the play. Their characters are youthful, vulnerable and fresh; they’re the light in a story steeped in a dark and confusing world.

This play is strong in atmosphere and tone and so well-crafted by playwright Anton Piatigorsky. On the page it can seem strange, full of compelling mysticism and superstition. It doesn’t take long to become mesmerized by this world and the story of how a fearful and insular community struggles with destiny and justice. At its centre, The Dybbuk is a love story between two young people that haven’t spoken more than a few words to each other. But they feel a connection that we recognize as love at first sight, true love, and we also understand it as destiny.
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I love the arguments in the piece, the discussion that is being provoked between intellect and faith; the chafing of a younger generation in the face of a growing incomprehensible older one; the young are questioning the values of an increasingly old and weary community. This play also questions the validity of destiny and free will – like in a Greek play, or as in Shakespeare. So I find myself contemplating the concept of destiny. Really? A preordained future? A realizable purpose in life? Several times I’m reminded of forces beyond my control, and how frustrating that can seem. And yet at times it’s also comforting to surrender control to destiny!

With The Dybbuk we are performing some elegant, deceptively simple storytelling, and the play is deep and compelling. As we head into previews, I look forward to the experience of the audience, the inevitable transfer of a specific energy and pulse from the stage to the seats and back again.

Interview compiled by Katie Saunoris. The Dybbuk, or Between Two Worlds is on stage from May 14 to June 18. Leah Cherniak, photo: Sandy Nicholson. In rehearsal, Colin Palangio and ensemble, photo: Nathan Kelly.

Soulpepper’s Lorenzo Savoini to Represent Canada in Prague this Summer

Lorenzo Headshot

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

“It is such a huge honour to have been chosen to represent my country and Soulpepper in such a prestigious exhibit,” says Savoini. “I have always dreamed of going to the Prague Quadrennial simply as a visitor, but to also be given the privilege to share my work alongside such talented fellow Canadian and international designers makes it that much more exciting.”

Launched in 1967, the Prague Quadrennial welcomes representatives from over 70 countries and attracts up to 50,000 visitors. More than 1,000 artists and students from around the world are expected to participate.
Soulpepper, Of Human Design
Says Savoini about Of Human Bondage: “this production is so beautifully theatrical. Every element, from the direction, to the acting, to the many design elements, was woven together so meaningfully. I think it holds an interesting and important place within Canadian theatre right now, in that it is a great example of a contemporary staging of a seminal, classic story. It is a production that proves what long rehearsal and design development periods can bring to life. It’s rare to find that level of commitment to process outside of Soulpepper.”

The Associated Designers of Canada is the governing body that selects which artists represent Canada at the Prague Quadrennial. An esteemed jury of Astrid Janson, Teresa Przybylski and Allan Stichbury surveyed work from across the country to make their selections. Along with Soulpepper and Savoini, the work of other Canadian companies and artists being represented in Prague includes: Michael Gianfrancesco (Cabaret, Shaw Festival); Eo Sharp (The Seagull, Segal Centre, Montreal); Snezana Pesic (ONE, Ghost River Theatre, Calgary); Patrick Du Wors, Erin Macklem, and Brian Linds (Turn of the Screw, Belfry Theatre, Victoria); and Bretta Gerecke and Wade Staples (Nevermore, Catalyst Theatre, Edmonton).  

PQ2015, held from June 18 to 28, will be the world’s largest exhibition in theatre.Of Human Bondage, a world premiere directed by Albert Schultz, winner of seven Dora Awards in 2014 including Outstanding Production returns to Soulpepper from May 2 to June 20, 2015.
 

Staff Profile – Lucie Ryan Donnelly, Floor Captain and Patron Services Representative

Lucie Ryan Donnelly
How long have you worked at the Young Centre and tell us a little bit about what your job consists of lately.

I have worked at the Young Centre for 2 years almost to the day. I submitted my resume the second I stumbled upon the theatre on my first touristy stroll through the Distillery District. I instantly fell in love with the building and the vibe. I started as a Floor Captain, which basically means you manage the usher and volunteer teams during show times, and act as the front-of-house liaison with each show’s stage manager. About a year later, I also took on the job of Patron Services Representative in the Box Office, so now I split my time between both jobs. I also had a brief foray into backstage work on last season’s The Norman Conquests, which was great fun. I’m basically all over the place! Lately my job as Floor Captain has consisted of manning the madding Spoon River crowds, and in the box office we are gearing up for Panamania – the Arts and Culture section of the Pan Am/Parapan Am Games – which takes over the theatre this July and August.

What kinds of shows/productions/events have you been involved in outside of work?

I am a stage-manager in my “real” life, but I can’t join the Union here as I am not Canadian, so I have been on hiatus for a while! However, I am moving back to Ireland this summer and already have a job lined up, which is fantastic. I’m stage-managing a play called Lovers by Brian Friel, one of my favourite Irish playwrights, at the Everyman Palace Theatre in Cork City. You’re all very welcome to come. Tickets are €35, plus your return flights to Ireland.

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

Because I am moving home soon, in my spare time I am trying to do and see things in the city that I haven’t gotten around to yet, especially outdoors stuff as we seem to have finally escaped winter. Shamefully, I have never been to Centre Island so I have a day of fun with friends planned there soon. I’m also panic-eating a lot of poutine (while crying) as I can’t stand the thought that I will soon live in a country where that doesn’t exist.

What do you love about working at Young Centre/Soulpepper?

Most importantly I love the people. Some of the best friendships I have made in Toronto began at the Young Centre. There is great mixing and interaction between departments, both backstage and front-of-house, which is something that you don’t always get, and I feel that a lot of effort is put into creating that sort of atmosphere here, which I love. After that, of course, I love the amazing shows. I think Of Human Bondage is my favourite Soulpepper show to date so I am so excited for the remount, and for the great things I am hearing from the rehearsal hall about The Dybbuk. Oh, and I also love photo-bombing couples posing at the ‘LOVE’ sign in the Distillery District. It is truly one of life’s great pleasures!

From Bedroom Farce to Eurydice: Life in Rep – Alex McCooeye

Alex McCooeye
I’ve never worked in rep. Not really.

I am used to diving whole-hog into one play and figuring out how to navigate the rules inside one playwright’s container. To do two full productions at the exact same time is something relatively new to me. That is, to rehearse in tandem and then mount within days of each other.

The two plays I am working on could not be more diametrically opposed. Or so it seems.

Bedroom Farce is a British comedy written in 1975 by a playwright who enjoys musing on the short-comings of married life.

Eurydice is a modern interpretation of the myth of Eurydice and Orpheus, written by a poet- turned-playwright musing on the death of her father, and in a greater sense the impermanence of life.

Bedroom Farce has four sexless married couples, three bedrooms, and a poorly built chest of drawers.

Eurydice has: several bits of fruit falling from the ceiling although “maybe only in our imagination”; three talking stones who are the gatekeepers of the underworld who speak in a stone language, which is actually English but is really the language of dead people; and a nasty interesting man, who might also be a child, who might also be the lord of the underworld.

So how does one navigate this paradox?

My plan going in was to compartmentalize. Through the first few weeks it was simple enough to wake up and think “today I’ll be a farcical Brit” or “today I am Stonehenge” and never the twain shall meet. But something has come to the surface in performance style that functions for both pieces. In both plays, the characters have a potent life underneath the surface that is not immediately apparent on the page or even on stage. I suppose that is true of all great plays but I’m really appreciating it this time around.

These two playwrights (and maybe most great playwrights) are sparse in their dialogue. Their characters, like most people, don’t show all of their cards in words. These playwrights allow room for a director and actors to build an underbelly for a character that is full of memory and emotion and dynamism that may only peek its head into a scene. In Bedroom Farce it might manifest itself by a character taking an extra beat before continuing a sentence, resulting in the audience chuckling at what might have been on their mind. In Eurydice it’s more like a silence between two characters where the air is rich with their history.

These playwrights are challenging to perform because an actor is asked at once to know everything and show nothing. If you show your entire back story, the scene makes no sense and yet if you haven’t figured out why your character is behaving a certain way, the scene could fall flat.

The dialogue doesn’t just sing in an obvious way. It’s potent, and it works, but it doesn’t immediately dance off of the page. The work in both cases is to figure out all of the complexities so that the play can be performed as simply as it was when you first read it. Maybe that’s always been the job, it’s just more obvious sometimes than others.

Alex McCooeye makes his Soulpepper debut this May in both Bedroom Farce (by Alan Ayckbourn) and Eurydice (by Sarah Ruhl).

Staff Profile – Kevin O’Connor, Building Manager

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How long have you worked at the Young Centre and tell us a little bit about what your job consisted of lately.

Since joining The Young Centre for the Performing Arts one year ago this month, I’ve learned so many new things: colleagues taught me about the industry and shared their knowledge with me. I will always be thankful for the people who believed in me and gave me the opportunity to grow, not only within the organization but also as a person. This last year has flown by and I’ve learned so much. I laughed, I cried, I faced challenges, and I also experienced very beautiful moments that will stay forever in my memory. Here’s to continuing my career at this exceptional organization.

The 2015 calendar year promises to be an exciting one for all Operations Team Members. We have recently completed our objectives and development planning for the upcoming year with the primary focus falling into three categories:

  • Continue in the development and implementation of a proactive preventative maintenance program to include a painting/decorating plan
  • Maintain a healthy, safe, and secure environment for all who work and visit The Young Centre for the Performing Arts
  • On-going initiative for the retention/recruitment and development of all Operations Team Members. Several information sessions and workshops scheduled for 2015 will feature the following topics: Prevention-Protection-Safety

What kinds of shows/productions/events have you been involved in outside of work?

I’ve recently been asked to attend a series of 2015 Pan Am/ParaPan Am Games Business/Community Information sessions to learn more about how the downtown core (more importantly The Young Centre for the Performing Arts) may be affected by the Games, including details of transportation, security and a Games overview.

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

I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and I’m passionate about the game of GOLF. I’m the third son-of a third son- of an Irish immigrant who has been known to hold court in the odd pub every once in a while. On a personal note I would like to share a memory and a story I was told at a very young age that “Irish women are always carrying water on their heads, and always carrying their husbands home from the pub. Such things are the greatest posture-builders in the world” maybe not funny to everyone, but hilarious to me.

What do you love about working at Young Centre?

What makes The Young Centre for the Performing Arts stand out is that every single employee has a stake in the organizations success. We are very team-driven and we operate in a way that puts collective goals ahead of individual glory. Throughout the years we have grown very quickly, and we continue to succeed because we are a nimble organization that can rise to any challenge we may face. Everyone at the Young Centre is smart, energetic, and fun to work with. We love what we do, and it shows in the strong relationships we have built with our patrons.

The Serious Side of Comedy – Daniel Williston on Accidental Death of an Anarchist

Daniel Williston

I have to stop laughing on stage. I have one of the smaller parts in this show with a cast of only seven, so the others do the bulk of the talking. All I have to do is stand or sit, pay attention, and not laugh at some of the best comedic actors this city has to offer. It is my responsibility as an actor to support the show of which I am a part… and that means keeping a straight face.

Daniel in Rehearsal

The play deals a lot with responsibility. Dario Fo wrote this scathing play about power being abused, and the fervor with which those in power will attempt to cover it up. He wrote it about Italy in the 1960’s, but in finding modern and local parallels to the political climate Fo was raging against, this show may has well have been written yesterday. The arguments remain the same: What rights and responsibilities do police have to cross the line in pursuit of criminal justice? What rights and responsibilities do ordinary citizens have when under suspicion? What rights and responsibilities do the government officials tasked with setting and maintaining standards and practices of officers have? What happens when those standards are not met? Or when there is a glaring lack of regulations to prevent corrupt behavior? These are complicated questions that are asked when a situation involving police ends in violence.

But even larger questions are raised on the backs of these questions: What is the responsibility of journalism in these cases? The court? The ordinary citizen? The theatre actor? The theatre audience? I know there is something I should be doing, and though working on this show has not provided me with any easy answers, it has succeeded in forcing me to ask serious questions about myself and my responsibility to my city. Other than happening to be cast in this wonderfully complex show, what else can I be doing to rage against scandalous injustices while reading The Star, The Globe and Mail and parsing through Facebook and Twitter feeds? Is what I am already doing even helping? What can I do with the anger and frustration I feel hearing that Sammy Yatim, suffering from a mental illness was shot nine times and tazered for brandishing a pen knife on a streetcar? What were Yatim’s rights in that situation? What were the responsibilities of the officers who killed him? What are MY responsibilities after hearing about it?

I do not yet know the answers to these questions, but this play has forced me to wrestle seriously with them. These serious questions that are presented alongside juggling, singing, fake mustaches, eye patches, slapstick, and all kinds of absurdity. Yet the most absurd thing about this show is the fact that these situations, like the one that angered Fo enough to write this play over 50 years ago, continue to happen, even here in Canada. I’m not sure exactly what my civic responsibilities are after being a part of this show, but if this show can get the audience asking that question of themselves, that’ll be a start. And hopefully I can fulfill my responsibility of keeping a straight face on stage when the audience begins to laugh.

Staff Profile – Mike Ledermueller, Technical Director

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How long have you worked at the Soulpepper and tell us a little bit about what your job consisted of lately.

I’ve worked for Soulpepper since 2003, and I have been Technical Director since 2007. Lately, my job has consisted of planning the 2015 season, and building the schedule and framework that will dictate how and when each production will be produced. I lead my team of Associate Technical Directors who take on individual productions; currently we are in tech rehearsals and previews for our first two shows of the year, but we are also in pre-production for the next eight(!) shows. This means reviewing designs and deciding if and how we can realize what the designers are hoping for. On top of that, we are managing our concert series, and several Soulpepper Academy workshops and projects.

What kinds of shows/productions/events have you been involved in outside of work?

I really hate to say it, but I’m not as involved in the greater theatre community as I once was. Life has been slowly taking over. What I still manage to do is be a resource for my colleagues in the city who, in turn, are a valuable resource to me when I need some help. Creative problem solving is my favourite part of my job, so whenever I get a call from another TD or a theatre schools student looking for advice, and also through social media groups, I am more than happy to help find a solution. There’s always something different and new popping up in theatre, that’s what keeps it fresh and interesting, even after 12+ years.

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

Recently, most of my spare time has been taken up with changing diapers and making goofy faces for my 6 month old son, Luke. But, when he’s finally asleep, I like to spend my time being nerdy.

One hobby of mine is Astronomy, I really like pointing a telescope at the sky and seeing what’s out there. If I can, I try to capture some of what I see.

My photos of the recent lunar eclipse:

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My biggest obsession has been WW2 cryptography, especially the Enigma machine. I recently built a digital replica of one, and I’ve read countless books on the topic. It has taken me to the archives of the Canadian War Museum and in the fall, I’ll be going to Bletchley Park in England.  Thankfully, there is now a movie out about it, so people finally know what I’ve been going on about for the last year.

My Enigma-E in action:

 

What do you love about working at Young Centre/Soulpepper?

I love that this company is always changing and evolving, trying more ambitious ideas, and pushing the limits of what this building can contain. It has never stayed the same for long; I was there for some of the Harbourfront years, I was part of the ground breaking ceremony for the Young Centre, and I’ve helped put on bold new programming like our Festivals and the Slaight Family Music Program.  I am very proud that I have been involved in much of Soulpepper’s growth – it has kept my job fresh, exciting and, most of all, fun.

 

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