Academy Notes – Hannah Miller & Daniel Williston
Last spring I was confronted with one of those questions one could only define as… well… easy.
“Hi, Hannah? It’s Albert… Schultz…. I gotta question for ya (torturous pause) Would you like to join the Soulpepper academy?”
I said YES, without hesitation. True, I was faced with leaving the country at the time – I mean that was a part of it, for sure. But I had also been hanging out in building #49 on and off for the past six years, slowly making my way westward from George Brown Theatre School through bartending at the café – it was the next obvious step (at least in my mind) to join the Soulpepper family.
And that’s what it is, really, it’s a family. The hallways are bustling with artists of all kinds, technicians, designers, administrators, educators and never without a smile. Multi-disciplinary collaborations are almost routine in this space and these “lab series” are often the most open and free artistic explorations one can imagine. The mantra here seems to be – “celebrate your voice, your art and what makes you unique.” It has made me a more confident and more generous performer.
There are few things as cool as the Soulpepper Academy. It’s a training program unlike any other: The schedule is fluid in the best possible way and the faculty slaloms between the stage and the studio. The lovely Leah Cherniak (Soulpepper Associate Artist) is our constant, our therapist, our big sister. We force her to hang out with us after hours while she forces us to try those things we can’t help resisting. We learn so much from her every day and in turn – she learns from us.
We’re asked questions like “what do you think?” and “what have you always wanted to do?” We’re encouraged to question the paradigms of the theatre form and rethink the obvious. We share almost everything (lunch is like a flying fork lazzi) and we have grown to love and respect each other in a truly special way.
Families are like fudge – mostly sweet with a few nuts (the Internet) well, now there are 8 more nuts in the Soulpepper fudge. I’m proud to be one of them.
The bar is very high. Coming to the Soulpepper Academy, I have learned a great deal. And everything I learn makes me understand just how much more there is to learn, which makes every day exciting! Our instructors tell us that they are still learning, and they are already well established in their field. To be (or not to be) just starting out and realize there is a long, fun, hard and fulfilling road ahead is as inspiring as it is scary.
Soulpepper has not only attempted to hone our talents and skills with regard to acting for classical theatre, they have opened our perceptions up to all kinds of perspectives about art. We have learned a great deal about text, but also about our physicality. We’ve written, we’ve danced, we’ve sang, we’ve learned about the history of the theatre, we’ve learned about Clown, we’ve learned about music… there are so many diverse people and talents in the organization, and we’ve gotten the chance to intensely study with a small group the things that excite and inspire those artists who excite and inspire us.
It’s been a trying experience, but one that has instilled in me a sense of wonder about this world in which we are working, a sense of duty, and a sense that what I want to put out there is important and worth contributing. With a community like Soulpepper to support the journey, as well as the seven Academites who I have grown to love and who have pushed me to be a better artist every single day, I find myself in an environment that strengthens me as a performer and helps me to understand the dedication required to fulfill the responsibility I have undertaken by becoming an actor.
I intend to carry out that responsibility in a way that will one day allow me to live up to the bar that has been set by the Soulpepper Artists. And the bar, as I’ve said, is very, very high.