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.
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.
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).
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.
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.”
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.
Soulpepper’s Young Leaders Council Presents
The Restless Cabaret and art exhibit
This week at the Young Centre, Soulpepper’s Young Leaders Council (YLC)* presents a free Cabaret and art exhibit to showcase the amazing talent of young artists in Toronto. Entry to both the exhibit and this Friday’s Cabaret are free, see more details below. We caught up with YLC member and Narrative, Structure curator (and – spoiler alert – new Soulpepper Academy member) Shannon Lea Doyle to talk about the exhibit.
Tell us about Narrative, Structure:
Curating Narrative, Structure has been a process of personal reflection. The exhibit falls on the week before I begin working in the design stream of Soulpepper’s Academy. I have seen it as an opportunity to consider how my training as a sculptor will influence the theatre I create. The bridge I see between these disciplines is the importance placed on movement and its traces in shaping structure, and a focus on communicating the sense of that movement to the viewer. For the past few months I have been aware of, perhaps searching for, work within the sculptural realm that transcends its object-hood to provoke or recall a narrative. Narrative, Structure is a sampling from Joshua Crawford, Palmer Jarvis, Amy Liden and Joel Staples’ recent series’. Each piece holds the intensity and textual layers of meaning that I will strive toward in my design for theatre. Individually, the artist’s practices carry particular and strong ideas. Their grouping aims to extend their engagement with the subjects of action and desire, convention and the unexpected, artifact and memory into a conversation including narrative and the agency of the viewer.
What can visitors expect to experience?
The site of this exhibition will draw an audience that may be expecting theatre rather than contemporary sculpture. Part of my work in the Academy will be sharing my knowledge of sculpture and offering possible ways to engage with it. I think it’s appropriate to share my initial thoughts on that subject here. Finding a connection to a piece of theatre or a sculpture is much the same, however sculpture can often seem indirect and cold. The text is not written or spoken, but suggested through signs. Imagine a sculpture as a phrase pulled from a hat, you must improvise the rest of the story, a story you do not know but that already exists inside of you; much like an improvised scene, a sculpture can be the catalyst for the recall/invention of your own story. And like a good scene partner, it will throw you bones along the way.
I am hoping that when you approach the sculptures in Narrative, Structure you do so on your own turf, from your place of knowledge as theatre artist, enthusiast, or supporter.
Photo: She Used to Wear This by Amy Liden
Narrative, Structure includes work by Joshua Crawford, Palmer Jarvis, Amy Liden, and Joel Staples. The exhibit is open from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday June 12 and Thursday June 13; 12 p.m. to midnight on Friday June 14. TD Studio, Young Centre for the Performing Arts. Free admission.
The Restless Cabaret
Running on the closing night of Narrative, Structure and curated by the Soulpepper Young Leaders Council, The Restless Cabaret will showcase a series of emerging artists from a variety of artistic disciplines including music, dance, theatre, aerial, and spoken word.
The Cabaret is a celebration of emerging artists; a platform to showcase the exciting and inspiring work of young creators in Toronto. This free Cabaret runs from 8:00-10:00 p.m. on Friday, June 14, followed by a reception in the Young Centre lobby.
Reserve your free Cabaret tickets by contacting email@example.com.
*The Youth Leadership Council (YLC) is a residency program for alumni of Soulpepper’s youth outreach programs who are interested in emerging as creative leaders and advocates for youth and the arts in our community. The Council plays an important role within the Soulpepper Education Department and the company as a whole, where members contribute to youth programming and planning, as well as take a lead in their own development as artists, artist educators, and producers, depending on their area of interest. They are offered ongoing mentorship from company artists and opportunities to develop facilitation and teaching skills through hands-on experience. Each member of the Council is given opportunities with and encouraged to contribute to both Soulpepper and the greater Toronto community.
Ankita is a Soulpepper alumna of the Youth Mentorship (2009) and the Youth Leadership (2010) programs. Ankita made significant contributions to these programs with her energy, passion for the arts and dedication to Soulpepper. Being a strong creative leader and collaborator made Ankita a perfect fit for her role in Soulpepper’s Youth Mentorship Program this summer. It has been a pleasure to see Ankita grow from a youth participant to a young professional. Ankita remains an ambassador for our youth programs and an integral member of the Soulpepper community.
- Farwah Gheewala, Education Manager
Often in life, we find that there are some places that we keep going back to. We may not know why – we only know that we’re drawn to them. Maybe it’s a vacation spot, or a particular city. Maybe it’s even simpler than that – perhaps a park, a coffee shop, a restaurant. Soulpepper is and has been one of the places that I can’t seem to get enough of.
I have spent three summers in a row at Soulpepper. First, as part of the 2009 Youth Mentorship Program, then the 2010 Youth Leadership Program. And then, this summer, I came back to act as Paula Wing’s Assistant for the 2011 YMP.
For me, the youth programs at Soulpepper gave me a place to play, explore, reach out and find myself as an artist. Growing up in Brampton, though I went to an arts high school – my understanding of theatre barely reached the borders of my high school drama department. By grade 11, I started to realize how little I knew about the theatre world in Toronto – a city so close to me, yet one that I had barely started to discover.
In 2009, I came into the YMP not knowing what to expect. I felt exhilarated, but also nervous – I knew the name “Soulpepper” came with a sort of prestige that I thought was a bit intimidating. However, this feeling went away very quickly. The feeling of love and care by all members of the Soulpepper team was something that I did not expect – we, as youth, were treated with a kind of respect and equality that we often had to fight for.
In the first week of the YMP, Paula reminded me that I didn’t need to “audition.” I was there for a reason, she said. I didn’t need to “prove” anything to anyone here but myself. These words helped me truly experience the YP for what it was meant to be – not about the ego or just the self, but about the collective – the experience of working with a group in such an intimate setting – and perhaps, most importantly, about opening up, finding new things about oneself with others.
Thus, coming back to work as a Program Assistant this summer was like a dream come true. I always felt like my voice was important – Farwah, Molly and Paula were always interested in hearing my opinion on the programming for the summer. And oftentimes, they would take my suggestions. The chance to come back and help the new set of fourteen find themselves as young artists was equally exhilarating. I knew what they were in for and I was excited to be a part of their experience. I was also able to see just how much heart it takes to run the Soulpepper youth programs. This summer, the YMP theme was “from the heart.” I don’t think we could have picked a more appropriate theme.
Click here >> for more information about our Youth Outreach programs.
Daniel Kim was a participant in Soulpepper’s Youth Mentorship Program in 2001. Ten years later, he applied for an internship in Soulpepper’s Education Department. His passion for arts education and youth, and a strong desire to continue his association with Soulpepper made him an ideal fit for this position. This summer, Daniel has been an integral part our activities and we are thrilled to have him with us.
– Farwah Gheewala, Education Manager
Coming back to Soulpepper Theatre Company after all these years has been a surreal experience. Like returning to an old hometown you grew up in long ago, the sights and sounds may have changed but its essence and soul is all so familiar; and like tender memories, it is warm and inviting. I reflect upon how much I have changed and grown in the years since, and it makes me happy to see how much Soulpepper and its outreach programming have evolved and expanded along the way. For me, it has been the ultimate joyride continuing this relationship 10 years later.
It is now August, and I cannot believe we are halfway through the summer months already. As an Education Intern, I have served as an administrative support for our Youth Outreach department. While my specific job description and responsibilities have grown throughout my season here with the company, I still have a silly time detailing the specifics of my day-to-day activities.
I have organized spreadsheets of information, made updates to our program postings and documents, written and responded to a fair assortment of e-mails and made numerous phone calls. It has been an incredible learning experience, helping with the planning and organization of Soulpepper’s multitude of youth oriented programs.
To this day, I still can’t believe that all of this relies on the stewardship and dedication of two phenomenally passionate ladies, Farwah Gheewala and Molly Gardner (and the overseeing care of Claire Sakaki). They will credit the total team effort of our entire company of course, but I still shake my head in wonder.
Being a part of the Youth Mentorship Program changed me. It challenged me, dared me to open my eyes wider; to be more inquisitive, generous, creative and bolder than I was before.
Fast-forward 10 years. I am now a growing arts educator, passionate about working with youth of all different ages. Joining Soulpepper’s education initiatives and reigniting that long-lost relationship this summer has been my greatest joy and privilege. Not only have I gained invaluable experiences in administrative organization and behind the scenes planning, I have been blessed to watch a whole new generation of young talent learning and growing together in both the Youth Mentorship Program as well as the Youth Leadership Program.
Soulpepper positively influenced and shaped my young life as an artist, and even after 10 years I could still see its lasting effects in my life. I want to thank the Soulpepper family for making this place feel like another home, even for just another summer.
Click here >> for more information about our Youth Outreach programs.