I have re-written this post three times already. Each time I think I’ve finished writing it, some new event or conversation makes the post seems inadequate or outdated. I’ve tried to write about how working on Animal Farm has afforded an opportunity to think about the change unfolding at Soulpepper. To be clear, Animal Farm has nothing to say about sexual harassment. It is, however, a play about leadership and revolution. It’s about living inside structures larger than an individual. It’s about how those structures shape our choices and possibilities. It’s about how those structures benefit some and harm others. It’s about the difficulty of making change.
Change it seems (seems, madam?) is suddenly upon us, or, it seems that some significant cultural change might occur if only we seize the moment properly. In the larger scheme of things, the upheaval at Soulpepper is small but still significant because it’s an indicator of greater change outside this theatre, and because, well, it’s where many of us have worked for years, and because this theatre has been the locus, rightly or wrongly, of attention, approbation, criticism, envy, and much material support. I am hopeful that the change confronting us might be lasting and meaningful. I think I’m still hopeful.
What does it take to make change? How do we know what the right change is? One thing I’m sure of: the change can’t be a palace coup. We can’t simply replace one man with another and leave an entire structure intact.
Some things have already changed in the past month. Foremost among those changes:
The adoption of an anonymous and confidential reporting line.
Clarification of roles in administration to prevent any perceived and actual conflicts of interest.
There are other changes. Most significant, as far as I can tell is a new spirit of communication — at least informally. We’re talking in rehearsal halls about creating safe spaces, about supporting one another. We’re asking questions of one another. We’re talking casually and in organized groups and meetings. We’re talking with experts who can help us make Soulpepper a genuinely diverse company.
To begin to live up to previous lofty claims of being “a place of belonging” will mean respecting the voices of women, staff, artists, people of colour, Indigenous, and queer people; in short, those voices that have been marginalized here in the past.
Soulpepper will be twenty years old soon. It’s time to take stock. While I’ve been here, whenever problems came up they were consigned to the past, not to be dwelt on, because the focus was always on moving forward. Maybe it’s time to stop thinking about growing and doing more. Maybe we should take the time to ask where we’ve been, what we’ve done, and where we want to go based on an accurate assessment of where we stand. We need to talk about the work: the work we’ve made, how we made it, and the work we want to make.
I’m glad to be back at work, to be rehearsing this play written by a former Academy playwright. But it’s also worrying because the more we get on with it, the greater the possibility that we will perpetuate old habits and patterns. I started this post weeks ago, on something of an adrenaline rush. Today, I’m thinking about Kaupscinski’s description of the end of a revolt:
“But there comes a moment when the mood burns out and everything ends … We look uncomfortably into each other’s eyes, we shy away from conversation, we stop being any use to one another. […] This fall in temperature, this change of climate, belongs among the most unsettling and depressing of experiences. A day begins in which something should happen. And nothing happens […]. We begin to feel a great fatigue, apathy gradually engulfs us … .”
I’m thinking too about Boxer’s mantra: I will work harder. We know how that worked out for Boxer and most of the animals on the farm. Blind, heroic, individual effort won’t do it. We need to know what our work is for. We need to think about where our work is leading us. We’ll need to pull together and work smarter. Can we? Do we want to?
7 February 2018
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the organization.
Today, a bunch of theatre makers sat in a room together and rehearsed a play—but we didn’t recite our lines, or work on the staging.
We’re in our second week of rehearsal on Idomeneus, a script by Roland Schimmelpfennig, and directed by Alan Dilworth. Alan never expected, when he started planning to direct this show, that he would also be carrying the weighty responsibility of Acting Artistic Director during such a challenging time at Soulpepper. Despite the many pressures on him right now, what I see him doing, with such commitment, is holding space for the admin and staff and artists in this building to express their anxieties and hopes in this time of change.
So back to how we rehearsed today. We started the day with conversation, first about a scene in our show with sexual content and how we felt about presenting that content. Soon, we were talking more generally, about working in theatre, about safety and art. We talked about the recently cancelled run of Amadeus, and scenes from that play and others that felt dated and misogynistic. A wise colleague offered that the option to not do the scene, to not do the play, needs to be on the table, along with the possibilities of editing or re-contextualizing the scene. I added something I recently heard from a thoughtful facilitator in our community – when looking at all the options of moving forward as an organization, the option of finding a healthy ending to parts, or all of the organization needs to be on the table. Otherwise we’re not looking at all the options.
We talked on about the history of Soulpepper. Things that had worked. Things that went wrong. Harm that had been done.
Our rehearsal continued, and we spoke about our anxieties that we might make others feel unsafe, through our words or actions, and how to create an atmosphere in our rehearsal hall and in our theatre, where people feel able to speak up about something that is harming them. We spoke about race, we shared experiences of being othered, at Soulpepper and elsewhere. We asked questions of each other. We talked about ‘calling in’, the practice of identifying someone’s problematic behavior in a way that invites them to change that behavior, and doing so with patience and compassion. We’re going to practice ‘calling in’. We talked about the myth of family, how we are first and foremost professional artists contracted by a theatre, with all the rights and limitations that implies, and that family cannot exist without trust, trust that is earned, and consistently re-affirmed.
We talked for hours. We never opened our scripts.
Idomeneus is a unique play. It is an act of collective story telling and re-telling, as the ten actors in the play pass around the words of this Greek myth about a King’s failure, tacking on ‘what-if’s and ‘maybe’s; rewinding our story and trying again – this time will it be different? Better? Hard to say. But with our shared words, we start, we try, we try again. And that’s how we rehearsed today.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the organization.
What is your job title?
I’m Soulpepper’s Production Stage Manager.
What does your role entail?
The definition as per the Canadian Theatre Agreement is fairly broad:
A “Production Stage Manager” shall be the senior Stage Manager and responsible for the stage management of all productions both in rehearsal and performance.
The bulk of my job is keeping an eye on how productions overlap, particularly with scheduling rehearsal and how casting decisions may influence the schedule. Currently, A Delicate Balance is in performances and three of the six cast members are also in rehearsals. One is in rehearsal for Animal Farm, while the other two are rehearsing for Idomeneus. They are subject to specific rules about when they are able to rehearse while also in performance. I passed these parameters on to the Stage Managers for Idomeneus and Animal Farm during their prep week and they work out with their Directors how best to proceed with the day to day needs of their rehearsals.
Describe a bit about the teams you work with?
Producing is my main point of contact. Among many other duties, the producers maintain the Master Schedule and we work together on refining that schedule to the day-to-day rehearsals. That schedule gets further detailed by the layering in of the technical rehearsal schedules by the Technical Director. When time allows, I provide an office presence for the Stage Managers while they’re busy in rehearsals and/or performance.
What is the best part of your job?
I also Stage Manage productions in the season, so wearing a headset and calling a show is and always will be the best part of my job. Staying connected to the front lines of production keeps me in touch with the art and helps informs what I can accomplish in the office with a richer perspective.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
I certainly have had my limits tested, and my job requires a lot of forethought and patience. It’s always an effort to turn it all off when I’m not here. There is always something that has just wrapped up, in process and imminently on the horizon. The time commitment can be very demanding. Striking a balance between having a family against a schedule that can entail a six day work week requires a lot close examination of priorities on both the work and home side of things. Some days I get it right. Other times, not so much. Thankfully, I’m surrounded and propped up by strong, amazing people on both sides.
What are you most looking forward to at Soulpepper in the next few months?
Everything happening right now is so varied. Calling Prohibition, the Concert is shaping up to be a lot of fun. I am very much looking forward to the ASL interpreted performances of Idomeneus and finding out the details on how the cast of Animal Farm will be costumed. Fine-tuning the schedule for March to July is underway; defining and refining the details to make that as smooth as possible is always very gratifying, so I’m looking forward to solving that next puzzle.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the organization
How long have you have worked at Soulpepper, and how would you describe your role?
I have worked at Soulpepper as the Coordinator of Community Programming for 3 months now. However, I have been a part of the Soulpepper community since 2010. I was a participant in the 2010 Youth Mentorship Program and continued as an Alumni Programs Participant, a Program Assistant, and a Youth Link Artist.
As the Community Programming Coordinator, I work with the team to run all of the youth outreach and access programs at Soulpepper, as well as programs in schools and the local community. I also facilitate student group bookings for Soulpepper performances. Working in the administration here in my various capacities has been exciting and dynamic. I am now part of a team that provides opportunities for youth to explore their interests in theatre and the arts. These are opportunities that were provided to me, and to be on the other side of it is a privilege and I am very excited for the year ahead.
What kinds of projects are you involved in outside of work?
This past summer, I co-directed and produced a play called SCAT, which was performed at the Toronto Fringe Festival. I came to Soulpepper not long after that, and went through other exciting changes in my life. I basically got a new job, a new apartment, and got engaged all in the same week. The last couple of months have really been adapting to new environments and adjusting to new beginnings.
When you’re not at work, what are you doing?
It depends on the day. I like watching Netflix on my couch, preferably accompanied by a glass of wine. I try to do a wine and cheese night at least once or twice a month! I also enjoy knitting around this time of year. That’s something I would really like to master eventually. Right now, simple headbands and scarfs are my thing…I am getting better with hats but I need a whole lot more practice. I LOVE to cook and bake and enjoy trying new recipes. So if you have any cool recipes – feel free to send them my way!
What is something we would be surprised to know about you?
I love to dance!! I used to be in a dance group during my time at York University and I miss it very much. One of my goals for 2018 is to join a dance group/class and I am thoroughly looking forward to it! I’m getting excited just thinking about it.
What do you love about working at Soulpepper?
I love that this company feels like a community. We are all interconnected and everyone here has been incredibly welcoming to me. Being a part of this department is all the more rewarding because we get the opportunity to work with youth and provide free programming. One of my favourite moments so far was during a youth workshop – when I saw some participants come into the building for the first time. They were in awe of the building and the opportunity and were keen to learn and experience a performance at this theatre. It reminded of my first time here. I am looking forward to the coming year – to work directly with my fellow coworkers, youth, and community organizations.
It’s the end of November and most of my fellow Academy members are gearing up to be part of Soulpepper’s Family Festival. This is the second Family Festival show I will be a part of; last year I was in It’s a Wonderful Life, a staged adaptation of the famous movie by Frank Capra. It was directed by Albert Schultz and it was my first time working with many of Soulpepper’s resident artists, where we performed in the Bluma Appel Theatre.
For this year’s Family Festival I will be doing The Story by Martha Ross, co-produced by Common Boots and Soulpepper. I am happy to be doing this project with four other Academy artists: acting with Dan Mousseau and Marcel Stewart; wearing the wonderful wardrobe of Alexandra Lord; and being co-directed by Katrina Darychuk. This year our stage is a bit different, this year will be my first outside theatre show, where Christie Pits Park is our stage!
We have just finished our first week of rehearsal and it has been quite an exciting process. The Story is a fun, comedic parody of the nativity story. Doing an outside show during the winter is brand new for me; we have to be ready to adapt to changes in temperature and changes in terrain. We are also preparing to perform for up to 400 people on some of the busiest nights and making sure everyone can hear the show is a big vocal challenge. I love when you know you are growing as storyteller from doing a certain show and The Story is one of those shows.
I felt prepared to act in this style of show because the Academy recently completed two six-week comedic workshops: Clown with Leah Cherniak; and Commedia Dell’arte with Marcello Magni. Both are master teachers and both styles of comedy are based in physical comedy. In these workshops we were constantly challenged to create our own routines, bits and gags. So now during rehearsals my fellow Academy actors can offer great prompts and ideas for the directors to work with. I just hope laughter is a good medicine for cold weather!
Soulpepper at Play 2017 was a tremendous success!
On October 24, 2017, Soulpepper welcomed a crowd of 300 guests at its annual gala, this year chaired by Raj Kothari and J-F Courville. Soulpepper at Play celebrated the company, and included wonderful performances and a lively auction led by Albert Schultz, Artistic Director.
We raised over $600,000 in support of Soulpepper’s work, both on and off the stage. $185,000 was raised during the auction alone! Proceeds collected from Soulpepper at Play directly benefit Soulpepper Theatre Company and the continuation of our important programs and initiatives, including:
- Developing new and original works
- Being the city’s leading provider of creative engagement for theatre artists
- Training future artistic leaders through the Soulpepper Academy
- Working with youth in the community
- Welcoming new Canadians to be part of the creative community
Thank you to our committed event sponsors, table hosts, donors, guests, staff and artists who made it all possible!
For information about Soulpepper at Play 2018, contact us at 416.203.6264 x 138 or firstname.lastname@example.org
At the beginning of October, myself and my fellow Soulpepper Academy artists had the chance to complete a week-long masterclass in design dramaturgy with Michael Levine. Michael is a renowned Canadian scenographer based in London, England, but his work in theatre, dance and opera can be seen all over the world. I was familiar with Michael’s work having seen his designs for the COC’s remount of Götterdämmerung (the 3rd in Wagner’s Ring Cycle) and the National Ballet’s production of Le Petit Prince, for which Michael was credited as ‘Set and Costume Designer’ and ‘Creative Concept’, alongside choreographer Guillaume Côté.
I was fascinated to meet Michael, having heard that his design practise was uniquely holistic, possibly due to his experience with London-based company Complicité who is known for their rigorous devised creations. I was excited for what insights Michael could share with our group about the potential of design to shape storytelling. From what I had seen of Michael’s designs, his work is less concerned with literal representation than with invoking the imaginations of the audience. This masterclass also marked a coming together for our Academy. It had been several months since all of our artistic disciplines had worked together in the same room.
Over the course of the week, we dove into analyzing the libretto for the opera Wozzeck by Alban Berg. Michael knew the libretto inside and out having designed it himself several times. Wozzeck is regarded as one of the first 20th– century ‘avant-garde’ operas because it utilized dissonance and atonality to express the tragic and often deranged inner worlds of the characters. Its libretto and score were an ideal jumping off point to discuss different kinds of space that exist in the theatre.
Beyond literal space, we discussed emotional space, psychological space, dream, fantasy, metaphor, etc. After establishing this shared language to discuss space, we experimented at length with how design elements could evoke different kinds of space.
We discussed power dynamics within scenes, and asked ourselves how could these power dynamic manifest themselves physically. It became much easier to understand how the placement of one set piece might amplify a power dynamic between two people in space.
We spent most of the week on our feet, working with choral movement and exploring how the physical relationships between bodies can create dramatic tension. I think it was surprising to most how movement-oriented Michael’s work was with us! I believe this work is at the heart of what scenographers can provide; dynamic space that provides strong opportunities for performers.
We also took time to look at simple objects in the room, and discover how they could be transformed in a theatrical context. This kind of transformation has always seemed like magic to me. It was breathtaking to witness how the power of our imaginations can transform an object as unassuming as a table into a boat, a gurney, a canvas, a prison cell (and on and on), or how a few sheets of paper can transform into a soaring flock of birds.
Michael also facilitated skype calls with several of his London-based colleagues throughout the week. It was fantastic to get a sampling of so many artists’ unique perspectives on theatre making from different disciplines. Finally, we were able to look at the different properties of theatre lighting and what emotional qualities they bring. It was an incredible week, and I feel that we grew as an ensemble as a result of it. The lessons that Michael taught us left me feeling empowered and inspired to continue creating with this bright group of artists.