The 2005 production of The Wild Duck was our introduction to Soulpepper. It left an indelible impression so when we moved into Toronto we were excited to become season subscribers. With increased exposure to Soulpepper, it became clear that this theatre company and its vision deserved support. Few philanthropic gifts to the arts give such immediate and tangible results. One example is the Academy which attracts talent from across Canada. How lucky we are to be here on the sidelines seeing the future of theatre blossom.
As astonishing as Soulpepper’s growth has been over the last 18 years, the next 10 will be transformative. It is a pleasure to be able to support that growth. It has also been downright fun!
Academy graduate Hailey Gillis, Kathleen Troost and Bill Troost, photo: Paige Phillips.
Five Questions for Miquelon Rodriguez, making his Soulpepper debut as Chester in Cowboy Versus Samurai
How does it feel to join the Soulpepper Company?
Being a part of this show and this company has been unreal, so far. To say that “it’s a dream come true” wouldn’t even be accurate because I’ve never dreamed I’d get a chance to work with a company like Soulpepper. As an actor of colour, an opportunity of this magnitude is very rare for me and to be doing this show with this company definitely makes me feel the self-pressure to bring work that’s better than my best. But coming to work every day, knowing that this show IS my every day is amazing.
Tell us about your character in Cowboy Versus Samurai:
Chester is an oddball, to say the least, but he is passionate about his beliefs, even if they are controversial. And that translates into a very fun character to play. There are definitely some aspects to him to which I personally relate, and others that I couldn’t disagree with more, but all of it makes sense to this person trying to discover his identity. He’s described as militant and “Che Gueverran” and we’ve definitely explored that aspect of him, but we’ve also discovered a different, slightly unexpected edge to his demeanour and voice that has been hilarious and exciting to play. No spoilers though, you’ll have to see for yourself!
Tell us more about Cowboy Versus Samurai:
Ins Choi (Director of the show) and Jenna Rodgers (Artistic Director of Chromatic Theatre, Calgary) invited me to read this play almost three years ago and I fell in love with the script. I love the humour, the discussions about love and being the “other” and, of course, that it has a 75% Asian cast of characters! (Seriously, when’s the last time you saw Asian leads on stage in a rom-com?)
What is it like working with Soulpepper Resident Artist Ins Choi?
Once upon a time in 2011, I was in a Toronto Fringe show called Shotgun Wedding. It was so popular that people lined up hours in advance to try to get tickets at the door. But the hype of it was a distant second to this other Fringe show called Kim’s Convenience. And that was my introduction to Ins: the guy who made the show that was outperforming my show. (In fact, patrons called us “Kim’s Convenience, Jr.”) But later that year, I was lucky enough to briefly work as an actor under his direction for another show. He’s a mentor I want to work with and learn from as much as possible. And I want to be Ins when I grow up! (If I ever grow up, that is.)
But seriously, Ins is so insightful, kind, and helpful, and it’s easy to work with him. He makes the process feel so inclusive and I think the way he conducts rehearsals really draws out the best work from all of us. Bringing this show to life truly feels like a collaborative effort with Ins. He has helped pave the way for actors like Rosie, Jonathan, and myself, and to be able to work with him is the actual dream come true.
What else do audiences need to know about Cowboy Versus Samurai?
Cowboy Versus Samurai is quirky, subversive, humorous and a lot of fun. It taps into some very real conversations about love and attraction that I think everyone has had at some point (especially those of us who have ever thought that they would never have a chance with that out-of-their-league “crush”). It explores how race affects love (and how it doesn’t) but in ways that are real and not preach-y.
And if you’ve ever wanted to see a big, goofy Filipino dude try to do his best Bruce Lee impression, this is the place to see it.
Cowboy Versus Samurai is on stage from January 26 to February 20. For tickets, visit www.soulpepper.ca.
Miquelon Rodriguez, photo: supplied. Cowboy Versus Samurai illustration: Gracia Lam.
How long have you worked at Soulpepper and what has your job consisted of lately?
I’ve just recently celebrated my one year anniversary as Development Officer here at Soulpepper! Our wee team of 5 is responsible for executing all the fundraising activity within the organization. With such an incredibly exciting and ambitious mission, Soulpepper requires the greatest support from our donors and I am happy to create and maintain those relationships.
When you’re not at work, what are you doing?
I’m the proud member of both a book club and a wonderful women’s choir called, Florivox! As I didn’t grow up here, the rest of my time is dictated by blogTO’s Top Ten lists as I discover and explore Toronto: Best Indian Food, Best Music Venues, Best…you get the idea.
What is something we might be surprised to know about you?
You might be surprised to know that besides my qualifications in Arts Management, I am a certified Doula and hope to one day run my own practice! I love helping women uncover their potential and new Mamas navigate their way into parenthood.
What do you love about working at Soulpepper?
In 2012, Soulpepper’s founding member Stuart Hughes helped me convince TJ Tasker, Director of Communications at the time, that his department needed an intern (Thanks Stu!). During those 4 months I worked in a tiny office at the back of the building, learning about public relations and reading article after article praising the recently produced Kim’s Convenience. I grew to love the company even more, a feat I didn’t think this possible. It was 2 and a half years before I had the chance to come back…well worth the wait. I am so incredibly proud to work for a theatre company that believes so strongly in maintaining its artistic integrity and taking risks that no one else is brave enough to dream, let alone accomplish. I’m more than excited to see what’s next and say that in some small way I was a part of it.
Paige Phillips, photo: Daniel Malavasi.
Soulpepper Academy Grad & Alligator Pie Ensemble Member Qasim Khan gives us the inside scoop on Alligator Pie at the Family Festival:
This remount has an entirely new cast, and the cast and the directors are all Soulpepper Academy graduates. Tell us what rehearsals have been like, and what it’s like working with other Academy peers.
You know that feeling of going to a family dinner after not seeing the entire clan for a while? For me it’s a combination of excitement, nerves, and a bit of giddiness, and that’s what returning to Soulpepper to work on Alligator Pie feels like. This is my first show back with the company since graduating from the Academy in 2012, and I am having a blast.
This version of the show is the ultimate Academy experience because it was created and performed originally by five Academy graduates, and now those same five are teaching it to another group of Academy graduates. Working with four generations of Academy peers feels like I am working with the coolest, most talented members of a kind of family, even if most of us have never actually worked together. There’s a creative language, sense of humor, and an ability to play that ties all of us together, even though we are all so different. We all learned the same kind of storytelling skills at the Academy, so it’s way easier to trust each other in rehearsal right off the bat.
Tell us about your character, and the things you have to do, or have had to learn for this production.
Alligator Pie is centered on five people who arrive at the ultimate playroom – a theatre – and who happen to all love playing with each other, almost like kids with their best friends. I play the role of *drumroll please* Qasim Khan…. In past productions, that character was called Gregory Prest, and I would argue that this is the most challenging, complicated, and intelligent character in the piece – think Hamlet crossed with a Muppet.
Each character in the show was tailor-made by, and for, the original creators. Gregory is not only an amazing actor, but he’s a really gifted musician, which came in handy for pieces like “Penny In My Purse,” a number where he plays an accordion, or “The Cat and the Wizard,” where he accompanied the story on clarinet. I played the clarinet in high school, but never in my life have I touched an accordion. That is until two weeks ago! So far I’ve learned the accordion, and played more clarinet than I have since I was 14.
There are some similarities between each original creator and each new actor, but there’s a new energy that the five of us are bringing to this year’s show, and that has been fun to explore.
What is your favourite piece in the show and why?
Every time we rehearse the piece I get excited and fall in love with different parts. Today, my favorite piece in the show is called “I Remember” and I love it because it encompasses everything I felt about the show when I first saw it. It’s a beautiful song that recalls the simplicity of friendship, and it’s staged in the simplest way: using a few umbrellas. Children are mesmerized because of the staging and the action that they are seeing, and adults are moved because of the message of the song. The piece is powerful and resonates on some level with everyone in the audience, and it reflects the core of Alligator Pie.
Why should families come down to experience this show at the Young Centre?
Alligator Pie strikes a chord with everyone that watches it. Our younger audience members will sit in wonder at some of the magic that we create on stage, and adults will fall in love with the touching poems of Dennis Lee. It’s a celebration of friendship, play, and childhood, and that’s what makes it the perfect piece to bring your family to.
Images: Alligator Pie ensemble. Qasim Khan. Alligator Pie ensemble. Qasim Khan. Photos: Cylla von Tiedemann.
We sat down with Gregory Prest and Michelle Monteith, the leads in Soulpepper’s holiday classic Parfumerie, to tell us about their characters and why the show remains an audience-favourite year after year.
For the first time you’re playing Rosie & George – the shop clerks who anonymously fall in love via letters. Tell us about your characters, and their relationship in the show:
MM: I play Rosie Balaz who so much fun! She’s a firecracker! She speaks her mind and has a strong sense of self, which I love. She’s straight forward and in her skin. I love her. She’s also vulnerable in her own way. She’s smart and caring. Her relationship with George is complicated and rife with conflict because in many ways they are each other’s opposite. They constantly misunderstand each other.
GP: I play George who is described as a ‘fuddy-duddy.’ I like this description. I see him as a bit of an uptight, organized, romantic loser with a bit of a self-confidence issue. So of course Michelle’s character, Miss Rosanna Balaz, is his idea of a chaotic nightmare. She makes him see himself in a way that he doesn’t like. He wants to be a Don Juan, but Rosie knows him as anything but. They fight; they argue; they hate each other. But then…
What do you love about this show/story?
MM: I love the real characters that fill this play. No matter where you look onstage at any given time, there is so much going on. I was constantly admiring our director’s storytelling. How he juggled the focus of the story but also encouraged everyone to really exist in that world. Also, there is so much love in the play. I especially love the small moments of discovery that reveal the good in the world. I also love the moments of discovery that the audience experiences as the story unfolds. On our first preview (which was mine and Gregory’s first experience with an audience for the show), the love and support from the audience, the way they were experiencing the story unfold and the way that lifted us up was exhilarating!
GP: I love everything. The first time I saw it I laughed and cried. It’s very moving and very funny. The world of the play is so special. It’s a play about love and forgiveness. What’s better?
Why should families come down to experience this show and why do you think it has become a Soulpepper classic?
MM: I hope that audiences come down to experience the show because it is such a feel-good show. It’s about love and finding that one person who is made for us. I think it has become a Soulpepper classic because the story resonates with people. Whether it be George and Rosie’s story, to Mr. Hammerschmidt’s or Arpad’s or Mr Sipos’s story or to any of the characters. Surrounded by an extraordinary visual world with a wonderful script, there is something there for everyone. It has a beautiful blend of laughter and sadness and feel good-ness. It is such an honour to be in the show.
GP: Parfumerie is a beautiful show. I talked to a man who had come to see the show and said afterwards, “I could watch that play for hours and hours, over and over again.” It casts a spell.
Images: Parfumerie ensemble, photo: Cylla von Tiedemann. Michelle Monteith & Gregory Prest, photo: Cylla von Tiedemann. Gregory Prest & Michelle Monteith, photo: Nathan Kelly.
Although magicians are fond of saying that a magician is really an actor playing the part of a magician, I believe that magic – at least fine sleight-of-hand – has a greater kinship to music than it does to acting.
Sure, one is playing a character onstage even if that character is one’s self – or, in my case, a “likeable eccentric.” But for magic to really shine, that is, to resonate, I believe it should have a lyrical quality that manipulates emotion, just as a melody does for music. Timing, pacing, rhythm and dynamic range not only enhance the experience, but they also add layers of texture to the deception.
Tricks is a concert of magic in other ways.
As I have alluded to previously, the very pieces that I have elected to perform represent the magic equivalent of the “Great American Songbook.” But, instead of being works by Gershwin, Arlen and Cahn, I turned to magical “composers” such as Alexander Herrmann, Charles Bertram, Dai Vernon and Robert Harbin for my inspiration.
I’ve cherry picked the great compositions from hundreds of years of magic history, and arranged them – working on some of these “charts” for decades – for Tricks. So, if the work shines, it is because I’ve built upon work created by unheralded “composers.”
Another way Tricks is like a concert is that it features a lot of music composed and performed (largely) by John Lang. I enjoy the creative process that we go through together to bring a piece of magic to life. I choreograph the magic, and from there, John composes “on demand” – adding yet another dimension or layer to the look and feel of the show. So, when I wanted a piece that sounded like a Nelson Riddle arrangement of a tune performed by Count Basie for Sinatra at the Sands circa 1963 – he delivered. John Lang is a real magician!
So come and see (and hear) for yourself this December.
– David Ben
David Ben, photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.
On his long performance history with Michael Shamata’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol:
Twenty (ish) years ago, Deb (Drakeford) and I went out to New Brunswick to do A Christmas Carol which was the second production of Michael Shamataʼs version, the one we do here. I felt a little too young to play Bob Cratchit…then. We then played it in London, ON a little while later when Michael became Artistic Director there. Both of those versions had Douglas Campbell as Scrooge. I have very strong memories of him playing the part. And for the past seven remounts at Soulpepper Joe Ziegler has created strong memories of as well. I’ve had several Mrs. Cratchits, too. Bev Cooper was my first. Followed by Danielle Wilson, Susan Coyne, Nancy Palk and, finally, my real wife, Deb Drakeford. Cratchit children have come and gone the first of who are in their late twenties! And some of whom have come from our theatre family. Henry Ziegler (Joe and Nancy’s youngest) played Tiny Tim and Peter, and Debʼs and my daughter played Martha a couple of times. It is very much a family affair, and some of the company have been together since the very beginning.
On tackling the role of Scrooge for the first time:
So, earlier I said I have very strong memories of both Joe and Douglas playing the part, which is a pretty good place to start. But, honestly, it is very daunting because both of their performances are so brilliant and powerful. Fitting in to a fully realized production is also a bit tricky but Joe has been unbelievably generous with his direction, giving me the benefit of his many years of experience with the role. I must say, I didn’t (and perhaps don’t) fully understand the power of the role until I started rehearsing it. The journey the old man takes is well known to everybody but no less remarkable for all that. And watching Jordan Pettle take on the part of Bob so brilliantly, a part I’ve been playing for so long, made me realize that there are many ways to play the same role.
On why audiences return to A Christmas Carol year after year:
I was watching rehearsal the other day, and this sense of magic descended on the hall…you know when you’re part of a wonderful story when everyone is working together on the same goal. I think audiences can see the connection of this cast who have been together for so long. And our version is neat because it’s a ghost story and this year Joe as our remount director is amplifying that aspect – it heightens the wonderfully eerie quality that is a big part of this story. And playing the show in the round makes it so immediate, everyone is so close, I think they feel an integrated part of the theatrical experience.