Soulpepper in Hungary

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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.

A Mentorship in Music

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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.

Soulpepper’s Graphic Design on Display for SummerWorks

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.

Design Installation 1

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.

Design Installation 2

Design Installation 3
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.

Design Installation 4

Visit Soulpepper.ca for more information about the 2014 season.

Notes from the Field – Tartuffe in Rehearsal – by Erin Brandenburg

Erin Brandenburg
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.”

Laszlo and Erin

László Marton & Erin Brandenburg in rehearsal.

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.

 

Casting Judgment – Tom Allen

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.

Photo: Max Telzerow

Photo: Max Telzerow

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.

Second Photo: Max Telzerow

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.

First Photo: Max Telzerow

First Photo: Max Telzerow

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.

Photo: Max Telzerow

Photo: Max Telzerow

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.

Photo: Max Telzerow

Photo: Max Telzerow

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.

Staff Profile – Diane Cook, Development Manager

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

I’ve been a member of Soulpepper’s administrative family since February 2012. Golly, where did the last 2.5 years go?!

As a part of the Development Team, I am responsible for establishing and strengthening meaningful relationships amongst our philanthropic community. I endeavor to ensure individual donors, private foundations, and corporate partners feel connected to our work and understand the impact of their generosity. We’re a thriving place because of their support!

Summer is a short, busy season for us fundraisers here at Soulpepper. In addition to the exciting slate of shows on-stage and the various events they entice, we’ve got a number of campaigns on the go and our annual fundraiser, Soulpepper at Play, brewing in the Fall.

I am currently engrossed in Soulpepper’s Top Women, an all-female, theatrically-minded charitable club. We’re rolling out an expanded program this season, featuring unique and enriching experiences for our members. Know any women that might be interested in this initiative? The more the merrier!

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

If you catch me in the morning before work, I am likely channeling my inner narwhal, plunging into the pool at the YMCA on Grosevnor. I’ve always been a bit of a fish, but only recently learned the Flip Turn!

In the evenings, I split my time between a post-work boogie at the Extension Room, pacing in my kitchen whilst concocting an extensive packed lunch (the daily Tupperware Jenga tower by my desk is a testament to my mania), and strolling around Cabbagetown, playing hide-and-seek with the local cat community (I am the default “it”).

My weekends are an eclectic hodgepodge, but typically include the following: Friday night hors d’oeuvres and work-week debrief with my main fella, a morning hunt for French pastries (kouign-amann or pain aux raisins are my current northern stars), an Ottolenghi or Keller-inspired feast with friends (with aforementioned fella at the helm), sisterly mischief, and daily meditation (so I don’t miss a moment).

What do you love about working at Soulpepper?

Well, my ‘office’ includes an exposed brick-wall and timber beams. And my leaders are kind, personable, and inspire a spirited work force. Every Soulpepper performance is memorable and the artists here, the ones I pass by numerous times a day, are the most talented in the country. What’s more, creativity and big-thinking are given the conditions to blossom. Sounds tops, yeah?!

Perhaps most importantly, we’re a harmonious lot of weirdos – and I say that with the deepest affection! The anthropologist in me is ceaselessly curious, and my colleagues offer ample intrigue to satisfy my wonder. And when you’re in the midst of a long winter and your tasks seem endless, heavy days are made light by spontaneous song, impromptu accents, scene re-enactments, and even kittens hidden in your inbox.

What’s not to love?!

Photo: Nathan Kelly

Designing Twelve Angry Men – Yannik Larivee

On stage at Soulpepper until July 19 is Reginald Rose’s tension-filled jury room drama Twelve Angry Men. Directed by Alan Dilworth, the play is set in 1957 and centres on the fate of a young man accused of murdering his father; a jury of 12 strangers must decide the young man’s fate. The cast includes a wealth of Canadian talent, including Stuart Hughes, Tim Campbell and Joseph Ziegler. To bring the era to life in a unique alley configuration on the Michael Young stage, set and costume designer Yannik Larivee talks about how character informs design, how he created a pressure-cooker atmosphere, and how Rose’s modern classic remains relevant today.

Yannik Larivee

For this show I had references to show the actors – 1957 style, how men dressed in that time – but mostly I talked with each actor about their characters before designing the costumes. As designers we don’t often get to do that – usually designs are decided well in advance of a show, especially in opera or ballet. You can tweak details perhaps but really that’s it. Here, at Soulpepper and with this play, I had a great opportunity to delve deeper into how the characters can inform the designs. The actors at Soulpepper know their characters so well – where they’re from, what they think. Those subtle details can be mirrored in the designs; maybe you have a tie pin on this juror, or maybe you don’t. The play takes place on an oppressively hot summer’s day in New York. I had to think about that setting, about how a character may be hot and take their jacket off. Those details made their way into the costume designs.

Twelve Angry Men

As one example, William Webster plays Juror 10, a man with deep right-wing convictions. He has money, but he’s a bully and very narrow-minded. His outfit was more era-informed than some – a high waist, pale colours, suspenders. It is a design to reflect the character’s views and background, that conservative personality. On the opposite design end is Stuart Hughes, who plays Juror 8 – the Henry Fonda role from the 1957 movie, and he is the opposite of William’s character. A man of more avant-garde thinking, his outfit includes details that break away from the conservative look of the others, such as a knit tie. His look is a little looser, a little more forward thinking.

Twelve Angry Men

In terms of set design, we’re staging this show, which is typically done on a proscenium stage, in a traverse configuration with the audience on both sides of the stage. It’s done this way, as opposed to in-the-round, to allow for the separation of space between the two rooms in the script. It’s also to increase the tension for the audience, to create that voyeuristic sense of looking down into the jury room where these men are thrown into turmoil.

Maquette

In my mind it was important to bring two things to the set design: the feeling that the characters are trapped, and to introduce elements of nature into the space. I was interested in playing with the elements of the room, the environment. The design elements tend to mirror the character’s reality. The design enhances the tension.

The set is an extension of the characters, it’s about the psychology, the world they’re in, and this is not just a straightforward jury room. Traverse is much more psychological. We wanted to draw the audience into the space, so the lighting was expanded over the audience to break down the barriers. Set design is not only about space, it’s about time as well. The characters evolve more in time than space, especially in this play. So my approach was about allowing time to move through and transform the space.

There is also in the play a constant shift between chaos and order. Everyone has a seat by jury number at first, there is order. From there it progresses and alternates between chaos and order. At one point in the play there is a thunderstorm, which reflects the escalating pressure in the room, and a sense of unravelling in the proceedings. There is rain built into the design, and of course the lighting, designed by Kimberly Purtell, will shift to match the weather changes over the time in the jury room.

Twelve Angry Men

There are only a few companies that allow such a creative process, and this kind of approach to design. When we first spoke about this play, Alan said to me: “I want to make a piece of art with you.” That’s how we created a world in which the characters would evolve. Alan gave me a lot of inspiration – the world, the time, the era, what are these characters going through – Alan’s ideas went beyond the anecdote of the jury. And while the world on stage embodies the era – 1957 with its racial clashes, and cold war and atomic era uncertainty – it will still touch the audience of now. It’s still relevant. There are still widely different opinions on social issues. This play will inspire the audience to examine their own prejudices and our country’s own democratic practices.

Production photos by Cylla von Tiedemann. Headshot supplied.

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