Sketches from Rehearsal in The Dining Room – Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster

Courtney Ch'ng Lancaster

Today I played a middle-aged sister, a six-year-old daughter, an Irish maid, a frustrated Masters’ student, and an elderly grandmother. And that’s just Act 1. We did a run-through today, and now I’m questioning my ‘transition’ strategy; how to jump from playing one character to the next in just a few moments. Physical cues are a big part of it – the way I hold my spine, the weight of my feet, my walk…and breath! Even as I write this, I’m wondering if I’ve fully considered breath. Surely an elderly woman breathes differently from a small child? And costume, of course—thank goodness for our diligent designer. Casual clothes make me stand and behave very differently than, say, a starched maid’s uniform. After the run-through today, I’m realizing I need to work on a strategy for shaking off characters too, how to clear one scene out of my head to prepare for the next. Otherwise, I’m going to be late for my entrance in scene 16 again…

We (the cast, director and assistant director and stage-management team) talk a lot about our own families in the rehearsal hall. More than is usual, I think. Each scene brings up anecdotes and observation from our own life, our relationships with partners, parents, siblings, the way we were disciplined as children, the way we argue with relatives, the way we grieve or prepare for loss. I am grateful for this: everyone’s contributions are helping me understand scenes and characters from stages of life I have yet to reach, or eras of the past I can’t remember.

The Dining Room

Some of us have been reading Tad Friend’s autobiography, “Cheerful Money: Me, My Family, and the Last Days of Wasp Splendor,” because while I believe everyone can recognize themselves and their family’s features and flaws in The Dining Room, many of the characters (and the playwright) come from a distinctly privileged, New England background. Some of the stories and vocabulary (how often do most people use “propitiate” in a sentence?) in the play are echoed in Mr. Friend’s book: stories of diminishing wealth passed down through generations; of servants that were part of the family but not quite; patriarchs with strongly valued traditions and etiquette, who struggle with sensitivity and emotion. Big drinkers. Pride. Deeply felt but unspoken love, sometimes expressed in passing along heirlooms, like a dining room table and chairs.

My parents didn’t have a dining room. To quote the play, “We ate in the kitchen.” Nor do I have one now, in my small Toronto apartment (again the show echoes: “Does Debbie want a dining room? In a condo? In Denver?”) But my grandmother’s dining room was the seat of family tradition when I was a kid. There was an oriental rug on the floor, a huge china cabinet against the wall, an oak sideboard filled with cutlery and crystal glasses. There was a rubbing of St. George on the wall, and two big sliding doors overlooking her garden. The table was dark, glossy, and big. With the extra leaves in, it could seat ten. In The Dining Room, there’s a scene where a character crawls beneath her table and is shocked to discover “it’s all just wood …just a couple of big wide boards.” I remember crawling under my grandmother’s table when I was small, during a holiday dinner. I remember seeing everyone’s knees, mum and dad, my aunts and uncles, brothers and sister, my grandma at the head of the table. I felt absolutely safe. Grandma and that room have been gone for 16 years, but I can perfectly remember how the room smelled – candles, and varnish, and wax, and wood.

***

The Dining Room goes on stage Feb 5. Directed by Joseph Ziegler and featuring Derek Boyes, Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, Jeff Lillico, Diego Matamoros, Brenda Robins and Sarah Wilson.

Staff Profile – Brad Lepp, Director of Communications

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

Today is my one-year work anniversary. There is so much going on around here the time has flown by. This past year has been focused on refining our Mission Strategies, and resourcing special projects such as a new website, new equipment, and the new Soulpepper Family Festival, which was a big hit this December. As I shift into the Director of Communications role, we’ll be launching the exciting new 2015 Season, and reviewing how we tell the Soulpepper Story to a wider audience.

What (if any) kinds of shows/productions/events have you been involved in outside of work?

I sit on the board of the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts (TAPA), and the Advocacy Committee for the Toronto Arts Foundation. I’m also the Vice Chair of the Actors Repertory Company which recently presented the Canadian premiere of Moment, by Irish playwright Deidre Kinahan, and have an upcoming project for World Theatre Day. I also try to find time to do some writing – a couple of plays have been work shopped.

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

I have a toddler at home who has just learned the word “No”, and we’re expecting our second in March, so that takes up the remains of the day… and night.

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

How inspiring it is. I knew working in the theatre with a great team is emotionally satisfying, but I also find Soulpepper intellectually satisfying as well. There are big, bold ideas being batted around. There is an entrepreneurial thread that runs throughout the building, and the prevailing attitude is “Yes, we can do that! Let’s figure out how.” That makes it an exciting place to work.

Design Exchange

The Soulpepper Academy Design students have been hard at work at the Young Centre but not only on Soulpepper shows. This fall, the George Brown Theatre School produced Mary Stuart by Friedrich Schiller and recruited Anahita Dehbonehie to design the costumes and Shannon Lea Doyle to design the set. We sat down with the designers to talk about their experience.

Set Design

For Shannon, working with the George Brown production team was different from shows she’d worked on in the past. “I’m used to working on indie projects where I was the designer/production manager/builder/everything. Projects where, if I didn’t know how to make it, it simply wouldn’t get made.” This made for an exciting design opportunity, wherein she was able to hand drafts off to a team of professional carpenters and builders. “It was really cool to have the support system of Soulpepper while working on a show outside of the company.” This support system included the designers’ mentor Lorenzo Savoini, who continued to be a resource and sounding board throughout the process. “It’s wonderful to have an experienced and trusted mentor who cares about you as a person,” says Shannon.

Costume Design

Anahita’s time working in the costume department proved equally fruitful. She commented that the range of resources were wonderful but it was the personnel that sticks out for her, especially the head of the costume department Ina Kerklan. “It was amazing to have a half hour conversation with someone about a colour and what it does and what it means.” Like all designers, their biggest challenge was the management and allocation of resources. “When you only have a finite amount of time and resources, you begin to think about specific elements of the show and make decisions,” says Anahita. “And you have to cut some things and keep others, and this quickly helps you realize the most important piece of the puzzle.” A prime example of this was the dress for Elizabeth, one of the lead roles in the play. Anahita’s original design was very ornate, but would have used up the lion’s share of time and money. “I worked with Ina to simplify the dress, deciding which parts were essential to get the same idea across, within budget and on time.” This is the type of hands-on experience that the Designers will take with them as they build a professional career post-graduation. Both of the designers said they would be pleased to work on another show with George Brown and with their director, Jeanette Lambermont Morey. “She was really open and receptive to our ideas and our input. It made the process very easy.”

You can see Anahita’s design work next in Marat/Sade (September), and Shannon’s in The Dybbuk (May).

Pomme in Edinburgh

As part of the Soulpepper’s International Residency program, Academy members are matched with professional development opportunities that will give them global experiences in their field. Kelly Read, current member of the Soulpepper Academy, shares about her experience Producing abroad.

Pomme Edinburgh

The Canadian hit pomme is french for apple, by Liza Paul and Bahia Watson, premiered in 2010 at the Young Centre as part of its Saturday Night series. After two more workshops it showed at the Toronto Fringe in 2012, where it was awarded Best of Fringe, and received a return engagement that December as part of Winter at the Young. In 2014, when they got word the show was returning, Executive Director Leslie Lester and 2014 Resident Artist Ravi Jain connected the Academy’s Producing student Kelly Read, with Liza and Bahia. With generous contributions from Soulpepper, the Ontario Arts Council, and The Canada Council for the Arts, they were able to take the show to the prestigious Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

“The Fringe was amazing” says Read. “It’s a full month of artistic performance. There are around 3,200 individual offerings at the Festival Fringe alone, let alone the International Festival, the Free-stival, and the Forest Fringe, which are going on at the same time. You’re performing alongside some of the world’s most accomplished artists.”

Kelly Read served as the Producer on the piece, bringing expertise that she learned from her time at Soulpepper. “We had a small three-person team, so the role of the producer included putting together the touring budget, contacting international producers, dealing with the venue, audience development, and managing the finances.” All skills which are difficult enough in a normal environment, but Edinburgh is the World Series of theatre. “The Fringe is relentless. It’s 26 days long, and we performed the show 25 times. Every hour not performing was spent marketing and networking. The atmosphere is incredibly competitive, with some projects having more than ten times our marketing budget.” To make up for this, the pomme team had to get creative. “The show deals with female sexuality and so we had a ‘panty protest’ in the streets of Edinburgh. When people came up to ask us what we were doing, we would tell them all about the show. You only get a few seconds, so we learned all about the importance of an elevator pitch.”

Read did her research and contacted experienced producers in Canada for advice on how best to promote and manage the show. She smiles, ready with an anecdote. “We’d heard Colin Mochrie was going to be in town, and I thought if we could get him to come to the show, that would be great promotion.” Through a friend of hers, Read got in touch with Mochrie. “He didn’t have time to see our show, but he still tweeted about it, and some people told us that they came on Colin’s suggestion.”

“It was an incredible experience. I learned, more than anything, the importance of standing behind my work.”

Staff Profile – Laura Bonang, Patron Services Coordinator

Laura Bonang
How long have you worked at the Young Centre and tell us a little bit about w
hat your job consists of lately.

I’ve been at the Young Centre since April 2011. I started out as a part-time Patron Services Representative in the Box Office, and then about two years ago I got my current position as Patron Services Coordinator.

Lately, my job has consisted of children. Hundreds and hundreds of children. Between our current Family Festival programming of A Christmas Carol and Kim’s Convenience, and the George Brown production of Mad About Munsch, Front of House has been a whirlwind of lost mittens and spilled hot chocolate. It’s a very different experience from how Front of House normally operates, but it’s so great to welcome families and young kids into the Young Centre, especially at this time of year!

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

I don’t do a lot of professional coordinating of patron services outside of the Young Centre, but I have done a fair bit of performing. My sketch troupe LadyBusiness performed in the Ottawa and Edinburgh Fringe Festivals, as well as Toronto and Montreal Sketch Fests. My best friend/writing partner and I created and performed a two-woman show called Fatastrophe for the Toronto Fringe Festival, and continue to perform sketch and musical comedy together. I also do Improv a few times a month.

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

I’ve been writing the same 20 pages of a screenplay for about 5 years.

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

Has anyone said “the people” yet in one of these? I’d like to be the first to go on record as saying that the people who work here really are pretty great. (Except one. You know who you are…)

Kidding aside, it really is the people that set this place apart. There are so many creative, talented and interesting people going above and beyond to put out some of the most consistently innovative and engaging work in the city, year in and year out. It’s amazing to see, and very special to be a part of.

Staff Profile – Teri Worthington Coombs, Director of Development

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

I’ve worked at Soulpepper since March of 2011, it will be 4 years in the spring and the time has flown by! As Director of Development I work on all of our Private Sector fundraising projects including working with our amazing corporate sponsors, foundation partners and individual donors as well as bringing new supporters to the company. I also work on our annual fundraising event Soulpepper at Play – I’m so proud that the 2014 event was the most successful fundraiser in our history, raising over $600,000 for our work onstage and in the community!

What (if any) kinds of shows/productions/events have you been involved in outside of work?

Outside of my work life, I mostly support the arts as an audience member and a donor. Before Soulpepper, I worked at the National Ballet and am a huge fan of the company’s artists and their work. It is also great to see the new generation of artists come into their own as producers including the Howland Company (howlandcompanytheatre.com) and Jacqueries (jqrs.org)

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

I’m a bit obsessed with running, and just completed my 2nd full marathon. There are a few runners at Soulpepper and of course we are all inspired by our master athlete Oliver Dennis – once I learn to swim I might try a triathlon!

I’ve also figured out how to mix running with my love of travel so I can indulge in great food and wine and get a race or two in at the same time!

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

I’m consistently in awe of the level of dedication everyone at Soulpepper has to the company and all of our streams of activity! I have the great privilege to work with some of the most talented, hard-working, inspiring and fun people I’ve ever met. Under Albert and Leslie’s leadership, amazing things happen here and it is wonderful to be a part of those accomplishments!

Webster’s Opera Corner at the 2014 Global Cabaret Festival

Soulpepper Resident Artist Derek Boyes will uncover fellow Resident Artist and Soulpepper Founding Member Bill Webster’s encyclopedic knowledge and deep love of opera at this year’s Global Cabaret Festival. A mix of storytelling, interview and live musical performance will be delivered by Derek, Bill, and a cast of gifted opera singers with music direction by Nicole Bellamy. Featuring Nicole Bellamy, Derek Boyes, Diego Catala, Ryan Harper, Teiya Kasahara, Miriam Khalil, Sonia Shklarov & Bill Webster.

William Webster

This original one-hour Cabaret is based on conversations Bill and Derek had for years at Soulpeppers cabaret evenings. For the festival, this format has been expanded to a more intimate an illustrative look at Bill’s love for opera.

“It’s programmed for everyone to enjoy, not only for opera aficionados,” says Bill. “Our hope is that entire families will enjoy this cabaret. It’s a show with lots of fun and drama, and high notes and low notes.”

Five singers from Toronto’s opera scene will be on hand to illuminate some of Bill’s favourite pieces and artists, from Bizet to Rodgers and Hammerstein to Mozart.

Each of Bill’s personal anecdotes as a lover, listener and performer of music for nearly eight decades will explore the intentions behind certain pieces, and compare and contrast musical styles. He will also share his incredible personal history with great moments in music and his fantastic memory.

“I used to listen to 78s with my parents every Sunday beside the fireplace,” says Bill. “I heard this music – opera – and I loved it. When you’re four or five it’s a huge adventure – these people sing to communicate. The wonder of the human voice. This exploration is part of the cabaret – what can only be expressed by the singing voice.”

“My parents took me to see the original South Pacific in New York in 1949 and (Ezio) Pinza was the first man to sing “Some Enchanted Evening.” Here’s the opera connection – he was a great star at the MET in New York, and for him to sing in a Broadway show at the time was considered outrageous – ground-breaking. At the time however, my dad asked how I liked it and I said it was ok. Spoiled brat I was.”

“I saw the most recent revival at Lincoln Center – fantastic – and as soon as the overture started I started to cry. It’s a great song, but it’s also about the inexpressible, a lot about what we’re exploring here in the cabaret. You can’t say it – you have to sing it, dance it, draw it.”

“In opera today there’s so much talk about what it used to be like, ‘the good old days’ – like in baseball – there’s a sense of that in opera but it’s simply not true. I feel that the golden age of opera is now and I want to share that with an audience. I will share my reminiscences, but we will hear it live from these artists: the sheer joy of performing live in the present.”

Webster’s Opera Corner is on stage at the Young Centre for the Global Cabaret Festival on Oct. 25 at 5:30 and Oct. 26 at 2:15. For more information and tickets visit globalcabaret.ca.

 

Ezio Pinza singing “Some Enchanted Evening” from South Pacific (1949):

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