The World Premiere of Wedding at Aulis begins in just a few weeks! Academy graduate and playwright Sina Gilani is working with some of Soulpepper’s most established artists as well as some of the freshest artists to come through the company – like set and costume designer, Michelle Tracey, who is a fellow Academy graduate. We asked Michelle to give us a sneak peek at the designs for this intimate (and nearly sold out) show.
The audience will enter into an intimate enclosed playing space with seating on all sides. Draped fabric serves as an entrance to the soldiers tents, as well as framing the three Fates who act as storytellers of this myth. The centre of the playing space may evoke a barren landscape on first glance. As the performers move through the space, their steps will begin to uncover the vibrant red colour beneath a layer of fine black mulch. I envision this floor as a trampled poppy field, covered by dirt and ash, or a blood stained battle field.
The costumes blend ancient greek lines, with eastern folk dress and moderns materials to create a unique universe that we hope will resonate with audiences on multiple levels.
Copenhagen by Michael Frayn hits the stage next month so we asked director Katrina Darychuk a bit about what she’s planning for this historical, ethical impasse that is remarkably timely in our world today.
What is it about Copenhagen that makes you want to direct it?
I’ve known about Copenhagen since I saw a production of it at the Vancouver Playhouse when I was 12. No doubt I did not grasp its complexity—scientific or philosophical—but I was rapt by its many layers. And that memory also includes a lot of humour, so the darkness of the wit made an impression.
There is a lot of poetry in this play, and that was the language that first spoke to me. It’s a difficult piece with a poetic pulse. There is a search for a common language within the piece that strikes me as very universal element. I love work that finds a way to artfully and meticulously examine our biases, and it does just that.
What excites you about the text?
Michael Frayn has created a purgatory-like world, so it seems static but we’re also in a memory play, a historical play, and a philosophical mind-game. I am excited by the potential of creating a space that can be malleable and responsive to the thoughts and desires of Bohr, Margrethe, and Heisenberg. Even though the characters are dead, their argument is very alive and urgent.
Working with content that is unknown—quantum physics, the creation of the A-bomb–offers such an immediate challenge to the creative team. It’s a bit dangerous and requires a steady balance of research and humility. The politics and the physics are entirely intertwined with the personal in this story and that entanglement is what excited me the most.
Can you share anything about your approach or your vision of the piece?
I’m very aware that as we start rehearsals, there are nine countries holding significant arsenals of nuclear weapons around the world. Four were in the news today—North Korea’s talks with the US about denuclearisation, and India and Pakistan’s increasing conflicts, which would be the first conflict between two nuclear states, ever. The events of the story of Copenhagen have led to this reality. Our approach will no doubt acknowledge this fact, and examine the characters’ pursuit to understand their own complicity.
Right now Little Menace: Pinter Plays is in rehearsal getting ready to hit the stage later this month. Assistant Stage Manager Seren Lannon is part of the magic that happens in the hall to bring a show from the page to the stage. Get to know more about her and the works she does through her staff profile.
What is your job title, how long have you been with Soulpepper, and what has your job consisted of lately?
I am the Assistant Stage Manager for Little Menace: Pinter Plays. My first show with Soulpepper was A Christmas Carol in December of 2017. We are in the thick of rehearsals right now so my job consists of a variety of tasks including tracking props and costumes, running lines with the cast, and assisting our Stage Manager with anything else that may come up.
What has your experience been going from Apprentice Stage Manager to Assistant Stage Manager?
My experience going from Apprentice Stage Manager to Assistant Stage Manager has been fantastic. It’s always a bit of a challenge when you take on a new role, but I have loved the opportunity to gain more responsibility and become even more involved with the running of a show. I am also working with some really great people right now, and that has made the transition much easier.
What is the best part about the job?
For me the best part of my job has always been rehearsals. Getting the chance to be in the room and watch artists create something that didn’t previously exist, or interpret a pre-existing work in a completely different way, never gets old. I’ve also always been fascinated by the creative process and how it differs depending on the material and who is involved. No matter how many shows I do, no experience is quite the same, and that keeps it very exciting.
When you are not at work, what are you doing?
Many of my friends are also in the industry so when I’m not working, I try and see as many other shows as possible. I also read voraciously, and run a Bookstagram account on Instagram called @booksonatrain_.
What is something we would be surprised to know about you?
Before I decided to pursue a career in Theatre, I wanted to be a journalist! I spent a lot of time writing while I was growing up, and I still have stacks of journals that I wrote in daily. Although I don’t write as often as I used to, a love of literature and the written word is still a big part of who I am. I also played the Alto Saxophone for six years.
What are you most looking forward to at Soulpepper in the next few months?
I am really looking forward to the announcement of the summer season and what the future holds for Soulpepper under new leadership! I am also very excited to see August: Osage County in the spring. The entire team on that show is stellar, and it’s a play that I’ve always wanted to see.
It can be tricky to design the perfect playing space for one show, let alone 10 completely different plays. Set and Costume Designer for Little Menace: Pinter Plays Shannon Lea Doyle has the unique challenge of making designs that can transform, and transform, and transform through all 10 of Pinter’s works. Here is what they shared about the process.
Designing for ten plays has been surprisingly similar to making a sculpture.It has been joyful to work on a bunch of plays by Pinter because I didn’t know his work before (having not gone to theatre school) but now I think that I am in fact very Pinter-esque. My boyfriend doesn’t agree, or maybe just doesn’t want to.
I found the plays to be very open, as though Pinter left a lot of room for me.
I have thought a lot about making art as a process of not knowing and I have thought of designing as creating impulses in other people, it’s been really nice to revisit both of these creative approaches in this process. Because I have thought of this design as a sculpture so often it’s made me extra grateful to be on a team with so many excellent craftspeople and technicians who are able to make the things I design on such a massive scale, like it’s no big deal.
The City Youth Academy builds on a long tradition of mentorship and youth engagement at Soulpepper. The City Youth Academy offers six weeks of intensive performance training with Soulpepper Artists to a group of young people (ages 16-19) from across Toronto. As integrated members of the company, each City Youth Academy Artist is paired with an Artist Mentor from the Soulpepper artistic ensemble. The participants are offered high-level, rigorous performance skills training and artistic development.
The City Youth Academy breaks ground by giving these young artists payment equivalent to a summer job over the six week period, ensuring that any young person has the opportunity to participate regardless of their financial circumstance.
“I wish I knew about Soulpepper programs sooner. Young humans need to know that the arts are just as important as the academics. Soulpepper has been in my life for a long time. I am very thankful.” – An anonymous 2017 City Youth Academy Participant
This program is designed to inspire personal creativity, artistic discipline, and support young artists in the development of their own artistic practice.
City Youth Academy artists participate in various forms of performance training including theatre creation, music, stage combat, dance, scene study, writing, and design. Together they developed a final presentation to share with family and friends.
By offering this program, Soulpepper gives youth the opportunity to explore their creativity and build confidence. After they complete the program, they carry these unique learnings and experiences forward, sharing them with their family, friends, and neighbours.
“Not only was it a great experience, but for me, was life-changing. As someone who had very limited resources and connections to programs like this, the City Youth Academy served as an unbelievable opportunity to do and learn more about what I love (theatre).” – Yujin, age 19, a 2017 City Youth Academy Participant
The City Youth Academy is generously supported by Scotiabank and the R. Howard Webster Foundation. For more information about the year-round, free, youth programming offered at Soulpepper, please visit soulpepper.ca/youth.
In The Virgin Trial I play Elizabeth Tudor, the person who went on to be known as Queen Elizabeth I, Gloriana, the White Queen, and the Virgin Queen. But this play takes place before that, and we meet Elizabeth, or Bess as she’s called, in her teenage years. Henry the Eighth, her father, is dead, Katherine Parr, her step mother is dead, her younger half brother Edward is a child king, and Bess has been called into the infamous tower for questioning, the tower where her mother, the infamous Anne Boylen was held before her execution.
As I was working on this, I kept thinking about Serena Williams and specifically her recent scenario at the US Open last year. There are people who adore her, who see her greatness, who see her as a queen, and there are people who, from my perspective, seem to be bothered by her ambition, by her power, by her refusal to play the game the old way, by their conservative rules, they are unsettled by someone like her, someone expressive and relentless, and, indeed, special.
A woman’s place. How much has a the notion of “a woman’s place” changed in the last five hundred years? If I say I want to be king, and I mean it, how is that received? How does that make you, the reader feel? I want to be king. I want the power. And, I deserve it.
One of the things I enjoy exploring most through Bess is the feeling of entitlement, which is not something that comes to me naturally. And it has been remarkable and useful in my life, both within and outside of the play, to sit in that energy, to practice the feeling of wielding it, to practice the feeling of taking – taking what I want, taking all that I feel I deserve. But what does ambition cost a woman? What does she sacrifice in order to build the strength to shatter those ceilings? An entitled woman, a woman entitled to power, a young woman entitled to power, a girl – child of a king and a sex-shamed mother who he had murdered, who was sent to live in exile, who went from celebrated princess to extraneous dependant, a motherless child, an outsider with an unshakable certainty of what is hers. How is a girl like that received in the world, 500 years ago, to today? What does it take, what are the characteristics required to assert agency and capability amongst people who see you, a girl, as incapable and, for the most part, unworthy, royal blood or not; in a world that wishes to deny you what you feel – what you know – is rightfully yours; that tells you you can have some, but not all, don’t you dare ask for it all.
And then, what if she does? What if she does dare? Dare to dream of having it all…? What if she doesn’t just dream, what if she acts on those dreams, what are the consequences? How does she do it? The character of Bess stands out as much today as she seems to have 500 years ago: highly intelligent, ambitious and, in many way, unapologetically so. Unapologetic ambition on a girl is almost criminal to some people.
Kate Hennig’s writing is direct and concise, there is no where to hide, it moves forward with urgency and a sharp sense of humour. Alan Dilworth’s direction and staging has shaped a tight, taut and thrilling play that will make you have to think fast, react, and decide for yourself, what is true? And – who is guilty?
Bringing The Last Wife from Stratford to Soulpepper has it’s obvious shifts, in space, but less predicted, were the shifts in time. The Last Wife happened in Stratford at a time where it felt very optimistic for strong women, people left the show feeling revved up. When we did it again, it landed at a different time. Hillary Clinton lost, Donald Trump was being inaugurated and the world had changed a lot. And, as you all know, theatre is alive, it is a living conversation, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum and so as the world changes, as you, the audience, and us, the company, change and evolve and develop new insights and opinions, the same information is received differently. The same play sits in a new world every night, and soon, in a new city. In the remount, I am looking forward to discovering the difference between the two, which I can’t anticipate right now. but I do know the world, to me, feels like it is rapidly changing. Conversations on womanhood; on sexuality, on consent and accountability, on gender equality, equity, MeToo, and timesup – these themes are constantly active in our world, in our city, in our mouths, our minds, and on our screens, and so, it should be on our stage too. And it will be.
Michelle Bouey is making her Soulpepper debut this month with the World Premiere musical Rose! “That is very exciting!” We wanted to get to know her and learn more about her experience working on this brand new show, and here is what she had to say about it.
Being a part of Rose has meant so much to me, in so many different ways. Having the opportunity to do a brand new show has meant a lot of “firsts” for me. I’ve had the chance to be a part of new works before, but only as far as the workshop stage, never at the point where we get to tell the story to a live audience. The same goes for playing my cello. I’ve never really done it on this scale – I’ve had the chance in concerts and workshops, but playing the cello and acting in the same show is a whole new world for me. Another first is playing more than one character. Normally I undertake a specific role, but in Rose I am playing three! At first it did feel a little out of my comfort zone, but now I’m having a lot of fun with it; the experience has helped me to grow in so many ways as a performer.
I’m also very thankful to be working for a company that has inspired me ever since attending theatre school. It’s not every day you get to be involved in a brand new musical, let alone one that is premiering in your own city.
From day one everyone has been so encouraging, supportive and kind. It’s been awhile since I’ve felt this sort of uplifting spirit in a rehearsal room. We are fiercely led by a creative team that welcomes our ideas and also gives us time to play around, and to find out how everything fits right for us; all while emboldening laughter, focus and hard work. The rehearsal space and process feel safe and warm.
Though Rose challenges me on many levels it’s been easy to enjoy the process of this wonderful project. We’re surrounded by the best people and the most amazing material. The book and score sparkle in such a big way – I think it is going to leave people of all ages feeling curious, joyful, enchanted and truly touched. And, the fact that I get to learn from, and perform with, these seasoned actors and musicians to help make this beautiful story come to life is a dream come true. I can feel the excitement buzzing and building from everyone, and I can’t wait for all walks of life to follow the journey of Rose!