Busy as a Beaver – Jordana Weiss talks Soulpepepr Academy and VideoCabaret
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became part of the 2013-2015 Soulpepper Academy:
My name is Jordana, and I’ve been a stage manager in the Soulpepper Academy for the last two years. Before I was in the Academy, I was a stage manager in Montreal, and worked with a company called Players’ Theatre for over two years. I’ve been a fan of Soulpepper since I was about 14. I saw King Lear here three times, and when I accidentally sat beside Bill Webster at a performance of A Whistle in the Dark a few months later I was thrilled to death. When the Academy notice was posted, I almost couldn’t believe how good an opportunity it was. I interviewed with Albert Schultz, Leah Cherniak and Leslie Lester in Montreal and I shook so hard that I almost dropped the phone when Albert called to tell me that I had been accepted.
Tell us about your role in the Soulpepper Academy, and what you have learned over the past two years:
Over the last two years, my role in the Academy has been a mix of working as an apprentice on Soulpepper shows, and working with my fellow Academy members. It has been a really great experience to be able to do professional shows as well as smaller workshops, classes, and devised work with the Academy. I’ve been able to learn from some fantastic stage managers that I’ve worked with, as well as my fellow Academy members. I’ve really loved being able to learn such a variety of skills over the last two years. Our first six weeks in the Academy were spent doing scene work with renowned director László Marton, and since then I’ve been able to spend time in workshops for each discipline – acting, directing, designing and playwriting. It’s given me a great understanding of what each of those people contributes to the creation process of a show.
You’re currently the Apprentice Stage Manager for the two VideoCabaret shows happening now at Soulpepper – Trudeau and the FLQ and Trudeau and Lévesque. Tell us about that experience, especially working within their very specific kind of creative environment:
Working with VideoCabaret has been a fantastic experience. My job has mostly been to assist the ASM, Joanne Rumstein-Ellis, who doesn’t really need much assisting because she is fabulous. Together, we set the props for each scene (each scene usually has at least one prop, and there are around 100 scenes in each play), the costumes, wigs and make sure that the touch-up makeup booth behind the set is fully stocked.
Videocabaret is like no other company in the world. Their stage is a small forced-perspective black box, and their backstage is a tiny area built around the stage. Each actor has a ‘house’, where all their wigs and costumes are set. The actors have between four and 14 costumes per show (except Mac Fyfe in Trudeau and Lévesque, because he only plays Trudeau in that show), and each costume gets hung on a specific hook before the show starts. Things have to be exact because the plays move QUICKLY. Scenes average about one minute in length. A quick change isn’t classified as a quick change unless it has to be done in less than 30 seconds. I help Richard Alan Campbell for a quick change that must be done in 10 seconds, or he’ll be late for his next entrance. Oh, and we also operate in blue work lights, to avoid any light spills onto the stage. And when it goes black onstage, it goes black offstage. So we’re doing all this in the dark 50 per cent of the time. It gets hot and humid backstage with people running around, and with actors sometimes in three layers of pants (because of different changes coming up), we try and keep people cool by repurposing the big cardboard prop folders as fans, and refreshing ice packs at every break. These are easily the busiest shows I’ve worked on so far. It has been such a fantastic challenge.
I think working at Soulpepper has been great training for working with most companies, including VideoCabaret. I’ve been given a great base of training here, and a lot of the skills I’ve learned from past stage managers I’ve been able to apply to my work with VideoCabaret. It was great to see Director Michael Hollingsworth and Associate Director Deanne Taylor working collaboratively with the actors and creative team. A lot of the actors working on these shows have been with VideoCabaret for many years, and have perfected the acting style that is required on their shows. I’ve been privileged to work with some of the most talented, diligent and hilarious actors in the last two years, both at Soulpepper and VideoCabaret.
Both Soulpepper and VideoCabaret view the rehearsal process as a true collaboration between the creative team and the acting company. I love this approach because you really get to see the show growing as a whole, not just in isolated parts. It’s really beautiful seeing how the actors influence the creative process, and vice versa.
The discipline required to be a VideoCabaret actor is truly spectacular. One of the comments that I’ve heard a lot from audience members leaving the theatre is “How do all those people fit back there?” They don’t realize that the 70+ characters brought to life every night are done by only 7 actors. That skill alone is worth coming to see.
The costumes, wigs and props are bigger than life, but a lot of Michael’s script is verbatim text, and those two things combined make for a style that emphasizes the ridiculousness of a lot of the dramatic situations, while still staying true to the nature of what happened in history. All of the historic events that you see onstage actually happened. Michael rewrote the script for this run, adding characters and plotlines — it was last performed 18 years ago, and new information has since come to light which affects the story. I think VideoCabaret plays should be part of the Canadian history curriculum.
And what’s up next for you?
After VideoCabaret closes, I move on to Soulpepper’s The Play’s the Thing, which is my first full Equity show as an assistant stage manager. After that closes in the fall, who knows! I’d love to stay with Soulpepper as long as I can. Whenever I come back to work after being away, it feels like coming home.