I am writing this on the train from Stratford to Toronto, whizzing past farmland. Three months ago I came to Stratford with my mentor and Soulpepper Associate Artistic Director Alan Dilworth to work on The Virgin Trial, premiering in few weeks. It is a sequel to Kate Hennig’s The Last Wife, which premiered at Stratford two years ago and at Soulpepper this winter.
I’ve spent most of my time as a director in new play territory. Working to give life to worlds that have yet to come to the stage. While these processes have similarities, there is a constant presence of the unknown. How do you embrace it? Dance with it? Make it a part of the piece? Working as an assistant director on a new show is fascinating as I am privy to a team in ‘reveal’ mode. Every choice in terms of action, design, or new text, reveals more of the inherent nature of the play.
Something inherent in developing new work is that you must be open to the element of surprise. Even after workshops, and readings, the life of a new play isn’t revealed until weeks into rehearsal. Just as everyone starts to think they know what it is, it wants to be something else. New plays are delicate. The creative team shares their genesis in a very intricate way. There is no original to look back on; there is no precedent to compare to.
Years ago, a colleague said, “You can only polish dead things”. As with many quotes in theatre, the author is lost but it is wisdom I hold dear. What is most thrilling for me about new work is its infancy; it’s innate life that is trying to find its way into the light. Not to be polished, but be offered for the first time.
Katrina Darychuk – Directing Student in the Soulpepper Academy
Katrina Darychuk, photo: Bronwen Sharp. Maev Beaty & Joseph Ziegler, photo: Cylla von Tiedemann. Cast & Creative team of Stratford’s The Virgin Trial, photo supplied. Katrina Darychuk & Academy members, photo: Daniel Malavasi.
Donor history: I have been donating to Soulpepper since 2014 as a member of Top Women, and this year, also as a 42nd Street Patron to support Soulpepper’s initiatives in New York.
How did you first learn about Soulpepper/What is you first memory of Soulpepper? I became aware of Soulpepper shortly after its inception. I thought that the concept of actors creating their own company to perform both classical and contemporary works was brave and exhilarating. I saw the production of The Misanthrope early in Soulpepper’s history. It’s one of my favorite plays and that performance did not let me down.
What inspired you to support us? My impression is that Soulpepper honours and respects the work itself and that all of the artists involved in creating each production work together to fulfil the work. No showboating. This approach does not hamper creativity or stop the artists from looking at an older piece in a new way. Far from it – I am often delighted by a new take on a classic. I think this attitude is responsible for the high quality of Soulpepper productions and I want to encourage it and see more of it.
What would you tell someone who is thinking about giving to Soulpepper? And, why do you think the arts should be a priority for philanthropy? I would tell prospective donors that even if their financial position doesn’t allow them to support Soulpepper in a major way, if they value Soulpepper it is important to offer whatever financial support they can manage. Donating is a message to the artists that their work is respected and a message to the funding community, like governments and foundations, that what Soulpepper does is important to a broad base of community members. And surely no one can question any more that the arts enrich the lives of the community. The arts feed people in a unique way. We see ourselves on stage, both as we are and as we should be. We see new ideas that encourage us to look further and look deeper. The box office take of even the most successful shows by itself cannot fund the productions. We have to be there to fill the gap.
How do you feel about joining Soulpepper in New York this summer as a Tour Patron? And what does supporting Top Women mean to you? I am so excited for Soulpepper to take its work to New York. I expect the theatre world there to be blown away by the integrity, the creativity, the pure pleasure that the productions will give them. And I suspect that success in New York will encourage more support for Soulpepper’s work at home – that’s often the way it goes in Canada, isn’t it? As for Top Women, its members not only support Soulpepper productions, they support each other. It is a wonderful opportunity to network with women who value the arts and each other.
How do you imagine Soulpepper in 10 years? I imagine Soulpepper introducing us to new artists, especially new playwrights, and new productions while continuing to mount productions of the plays we already know and love. I anticipate that the artists will continue to follow the guiding principles on which they have relied to date. The thought is to have Soulpepper endure for generations to come.
April 15th marked one year since the final audition stage for the 2016-2018 Soulpepper Academy. There were 30 of us, from across the country, selected from 1400 applications and 400 auditions! Most of us barely knew each other at the time. We were genuinely interested in getting to know each other, oh so polite, and annoyingly courteous. After 9 challenging, exhaustive months (working together) those sentiments have pretty much all gone. We know far too much about each other, and are constantly challenging and teasing one another. Recently, a Soulpepper company member referred to us as a “family” because of how boisterous our energy is when we’re around each other!
As I mentioned, the past 9 months have been CRAZY BUSY! Here’s a rundown of some highlights:
- We explored speaking Shakespearean text, specifically Romeo and Juliet, with Albert Schultz
- We sung O Canada, from a boat, while people watched and instagrammed us on Toronto Island
- We explored Greek Tragedy, specifically The Bacchae by Euripides, with Alan Dilworth
- We participated in one of Soulpepper’s most successful fundraising events ever
- We explored Vocal Masque with Dean Gilmour, one of the founders of Theatre Smith-Gilmour
- We contributed skits, songs, and story time to the 2016 Winter Waves festival, the highest attended WWF ever
- We explored Chekhov, particularly Three Sisters and The Seagull, with Daniel Brooks and Diego Matamoros
- We collectively devised a number of pieces, using Chekhov as the launch pad
- We currently are exploring Commedia dell’arte with Marcello Magni, one of the founders of Complicite
With our first year quickly coming to an end I wanted to share some photos, to give insight into how we manage as a group.
To learn more about the Soulpepper Academy visit soulpepper.ca.
Michelle Tracy, Hunter Cardinal, Danel Mousseau , Ellie Moon & Rosamund Small, photo: Marcel Stewart. Christef Desir, Marcel Stewart, Daniel Mousseau & Hunter Cardinal, photo: Marcel Steward. 2016/2018 Soulpepper Academy, photo: Ryan Emberley. Ghazal Azarbad, Marcel Stewart & Hunter Cardinal, photo supplied. Daniel Mousseau, Ghazel Azarbad, Nicole Power, Christef Desir & Hunter Cardinal, photo: Marcel Stewart. Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu, Daniel Mousseau, Hunter Cardinal & Rose Tuong, photo: Marcel Stewart. James Smith, Marcel Stewart & Michelle Tracy, photo: Daniel Malavasi.
Karen Hines’ sold-out solo show Crawlspace is part memoir, part horror story. In a dark, curly wig and sexy high heels, Karen struts confidently around the stage, looking each of the front row audience in the eye, sizing up what kind of real estate stories we have under our belts. “Bad renovation. Noisy tenants. Pests.” Finding me in front row centre –twenty six, old clothes, big glasses – she searches my face before saying firmly: “Bad landlord”. I am tempted to answer: How did you know?!
“Everyone has a real estate story”, Karen says to me over coffee in the Distillery the next day. And her own story is true, right down to the description of the little yellow house she bought in Toronto in 2006.
The antagonist of Crawlspace is a real estate agent who led Karen to believe that “evythng hs bn dn”, as the website abbreviation said; The house was supposed to be clean, safe, renovated, and financially safe as houses. Today, Karen’s performing 90 minutes of material about her poorly-built home going wrong in every way imaginable. She confesses that every night she scans her audience to see if her real estate agent will be in attendance.
The show began its life in 2015 at the now-closed Videofag in Toronto’s Kensington Market. The small, indie pop-up space was known for queer work, edgy live art and storytelling nights. Hines’ character in Crawlspace – a heightened, dramatic representation of herself – fit right in with the drag aesthetic there.
At Soulpepper, the audiences are a bit quieter, and may have a different perspective on her subject matter; Crawlspace is framed as a warning for young people too eager to get into the housing market, and it seems likely that Soulpepper audiences are more likely to already own property than the Videofag crowd. But at the end of the day, we all need a home, and we can all imagine the nightmare of having our shelter fall apart around us.
Crawlspace runs until April 15.
Rosamund Small is a Soulpepper Academy playwright.
Karen Hines, photo: Gary Mulcahey. Rosamund Small, photo: Bronwen Sharp.
How long have you been at the Young Centre and what has your job consisted of lately?
11 months now! Hard to believe… As Operations Services Coordinator for the Young Centre, the bulk of my job revolves around the space usage. If you’re looking to host an event in our spaces, I’m your gal! Though no two days are the same at the Young Centre, and sometimes I help out on weird jobs like folding a 4-foot paper crane.
What kinds of projects have you been involved with outside of work?
I just completed Second City’s year-long conservatory which was a blast! And now I am in the process of writing proposals for a performance piece I’d like to remount that focuses on food and culture and how they act to preserve one another. The Universal Dumping looks to explore what each culture’s version of a dumpling says about their culture, through a dinner with members of Toronto’s diverse food community.
When you’re not at work, what are you doing?
I love to cook and I’m an avid cyclist, but for the most part, I spend a lot of time watching theatre, especially comedy. Most nights you can find me plunked in a seat laughing like crazy at the amazing comedic talent Toronto has to offer.
What is a surprised hidden talent?
I can breathe fire. And then I taught my siblings. Now we’re like the Partridge Family of fire breathers. My parents are very proud!
What do you love about working at The Young Centre?
For sure it has to be the people. Everybody I get to work with is a joy and a laugh and incredibly supportive! I would work any job if these people were there! That, and OBVIOUSLY the Cruban Sandwich on Tuesdays at the Café.
How long have you worked at Soulpepper, and what has your job consisted of lately? I’ve been at Soulpepper since the summer of 2015. I am General Counsel and Director of Human Resources. “General Counsel” is another term for “Director of Legal Affairs”. My job consists of all things legal and HR-related for Soulpepper. On a micro level that means drafting and revising agreements, giving legal opinions on things like intellectual property rights, and providing recommendations with respect to regulatory requirements. I am also involved in staff recruitment and evaluation, and in developing and implementing workplace policies and procedures. I’m always happy to chat with Staff about questions, concerns, challenges and accomplishments!
What kinds of projects have you been involved in outside of work?
I’m very honoured to have been chosen to participate in the Federal Cultural Human Resources Council’s new ‘Talent to Lead’ mentorship/leadership program. I just finished a tenure as President of the Toronto Fringe Festival’s Board of Directors. Prior to joining Soulpepper I had my own entertainment law practice specializing in theatre, film and tv. In the slightly more distant past I was a cast member at Second City, a founding member, Producer and performer with the Toronto Festival of Clowns, and a Producer and performer with a multitude of other stage and tv shows.
When you’re not at work, what are you doing?
I have 2 very active toddlers at home, so I spend a lot of time running around after them! Oh…and I’m taking a painting class, which I was nervous about, but I’m really loving it!
What is something we might be surprised to learn about you?
I studied clown and bouffon for several years with John Turner and Mike Kennard (Mump and Smoot), and Karen Hines (Pochsy, Crawlspace, etc.). I’ve been told that my bouffon work is “side-splitting” (I can only assume in a good way). I really love making people laugh, it’s such a joy.
What do you love about working at Soulpepper?
Everyone laughs at my jokes! Seriously though, I love our team. I get to work with some of Canada’s most accomplished, passionate and delightful theatre professionals.
Photo: Daniel Malavasi
Here are a few highlights of where you’ll find Soulpepper Academy members and alumni making news.
Alexandra Lord (2018) is assisting Astrid Jansen with her design for Soulpepper’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange, directed by Djanet Sears.
Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster (2012) is working with the Paprika Festival as a training day facilitator and as an Associate Producer on Paprika’s Intersection Conference. She is involved in ongoing projects with The Howland Company, and in May will be in Public Recordings’ Other Jesus, a new play by Evan Webber directed by Frank Cox-O’Connell.
Frank Cox-O’Connell (2015) is performing in the Millennial Malcontent at the Tarragon Theatre, running March – April, and will be directing Other Jesus for Public Recordings.
Hailey Gillis (2015) and Peter Fernandes (2015) will be in The Musical Stage Company’s Onegin this May.
Ins Choi (2011) is head writer and co-show runner for CBC’s Kim’s Convenience TV show. Season two premieres September 2017.
Jennifer Villaverde (2008) is in YPT’s James and the Giant Peach, and will be at Soulpepper as Lead Instructor for the Soulpepper City Youth Academy, July 24 – Aug. 25.
Ken MacKenzie‘s (2011) set design can be seen on stage currently in Kim’s Convenience, and recently George Brown’s As You Like It and Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Katherine Gauthier (2015) has been working on the web series Running With Violet.
Marcel Stewart (2018) will be performing this March in Brock University’s re-enactment of the August Wilson vs Robert Burstein debate as August Wilson.
Michelle Tracey (2018) is set designing for Crawlspace a Soulpepper Solo Series production, and assisting Academy graduace Lorenzo Savoini (2008) with the upcoming Cage. She is also designing the set and costumes for University of Toronto’s opera Imeneo, by Handel in the Macmillan Theatre, directed by Tim Albery.
Mikaela Davies (2015) is one of Canadian Stage’s 2017 RBC Emerging Artist in their Director Development Residency, developing her solo show Facebook Anonymous. She is also creating and directing Mars Interviews with Polly Phokeev, and will be at the Stratford Festival in The Changeling, The Madwoman of Chaillot, Timon of Athens.
Nicolas Billon‘s (2008) X-Company is in its third season on CBC. His adaptation of Treasure Island will be premiering at Stratford this season and the award-winning Butcher, directed by Weyni Mengesha (2008), returns to Toronto as part of the Mirvish season.
Qasim Khan (2012) has been workshopping new work with Theatre Passe Muraille, Studio 180, Common Boots and Soulpepper. Upcoming, Qasim will be at Stratford Festival in Timon of Athens, The Changeling, The Madwoman of Chaillot.
Producer and performer Sascha Cole‘s (2018) HROSES: Outrage à la raison is in Toronto at the Waterworks running February 22 – March 4.
Shannon Lea Doyle (2015) has designs up with The Company Theatre (John), upcoming design with Crow’s Theatre for Breath in Between, and both I’m Doing This for You and Vimy at Soulpepper.
Thomas McKechnie‘s (2015) 4 1/2 (ig)noble truths will be touring to Victoria this May for UNO Fest.
Weyni Mengesha‘s (2008) direction can be seen on stage now in remounts including Kim’s Convenience at Soulpepper, and Butcher at Mirvish. This spring she will be directing Martín Zimmerman’s Seven Spots from the Sun at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in New York.