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Summer Set Designs from Academy Designers Alexandra Lord & Michelle Tracey

Our two Academy designers, Alexandra Lord and Michelle Tracey, are working on the next two Summer shows Bed and Breakfast and Sisters. Both sets they’ve respectively designed are homes to two, but each home tells a very different story.

Bed and Breakfast Set Design by Alexandra Lord

The set design for Bed and Breakfast is the essentialized architectural structure of a turn of the century home. This familiar frame is filled out by one unconventional couple who learn to love each nook and cranny of this house, the small town it is in, the townspeople around them and, at the center of it all, each other. The set itself contains all they need to tell the story of the year it takes to make a house a home. There are doors that swing both ways, hidden storage closets and front and back stairs. Brett, played by Gregory Prest, and Drew, played by Paolo Santalucia,  move us from multiple locations in the city to a small town and evoke everyone they meet along the way as they prepare to open their Bed and Breakfast with open arms and open hearts.

– Alexandra Lord

Sisters Set Design by Michelle Tracey

The set design for Sisters is at once a representation of the physical home of Anne and Evelina Bunner, their shop, and a transitory space that allows us to jump quickly through time, to flow seamlessly from location to location, and from reality to fantasy. The scenic design is also a physicalization of Anne’s internal world. At the heart of the play is Anne’s mission of self-sacrifice for the benefit of her sister; the audience has a chance to follow her emotional journey in addition to the story through the transformation of the space.

– Michelle Tracey


Bed and Breakfast, by Mark Crawford and directed by Ann Marie Kerr, begins August 11 and runs through September 1.

Sisters, written by another academy member Rosamund Small and directed by Peter Pasyk, runs August 23 to September 16.

 

“I just hope laughter is a good medicine for cold weather!” – Academy Blog by Christef Desir

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!

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In rehearsal at Christie Pits Park, photo by Daniel Malavasi

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! ​

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Laughing away the cold weather, photo by Daniel Malavasi

“It was breathtaking to witness the power of our imaginations…”– Academy Blog by Michelle Tracey

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.

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Michael Levine Masterclass, photo by Lorenzo Savoini

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.

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Michael Levine Masterclass, photo by Lorenzo Savoini

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.

 

“I’m practicing to truly take in every moment…” Academy Blog by Nicole Power

As September comes to a close, it is really hard to believe that we are half way done our Academy journey. We all often reflect back to our callback in April of 2016 and how the excitement we felt that weekend really hasn’t gone away. We’ve gone through a lot and grown so close as an ensemble.

This summer I got the opportunity to visit NYC and witness “Soulpepper on 42nd Street” at The Pershing Square Signature Center. I got to catch up with all of the artists and see Spoon River, Of Human Bondage, and Kim’s Convenience. It was so exciting to sit in an audience of New Yorkers and listen to them chat about how moved and inspired they were by the work Soulpepper was doing. I met one woman who was seeing Of Human Bondage for the third time!

When the Soulpepper family returned from NYC, we jumped right back into work. We spent six weeks working under the direction of Alan Dilworth, Soulpepper’s Associate Artistic Director. We worked on both Anne Carson’s Antigone and fellow Academy Member Sina Gilani’s adaptation of Iphegenia by Euripides. We took a group trip to Stratford to see Bakkhai and had a talkback with some of the cast.

In Soulpepper on screen news, I’m just finishing up a Cross Canada promotional tour for Kim’s Convenience season 2! We went to Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, Montreal, and capped it off in my hometown, St. John’s, Newfoundland. We spoke with theatre students at my alma mater, Gonzaga High School. I got to chat with them about my journey to Kim’s through meeting Albert and joining the Academy and share what we have been working on for the last year.

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Chatting with the theatre arts class at Gonzaga High School, St. John’s, Newfoundland.

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Moving forward, I’m practicing to truly take in every moment… we are so fortunate to be among Canada’s great theatre artists and I’m trying to sponge everything I can. As I walk into the building each day, I pause to acknowledge the opportunity Soulpepper has given us to learn and grow.

Photo Diary: A Day with the City Youth Academy

Soulpepper’s yearly City Youth Academy is a paid, intensive program, providing 10 young people (ages 16-19) with performance training, led by Soulpepper Artists. The young artists have five weeks of artistic skills training and development, and are paired with an Artist Mentor from Soulpepper’s artistic company. Over the course of the program, their instruction includes scene study, devised creation, and training in movement, music, ensemble, writing, rehearsal and performance. The program is designed to inspire personal creativity, artistic discipline, and to support young artists in the development of their own artistic practice.

This is one day in the life of the 2017 City Youth Academy:

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Today the City Youth Academy brought in images or written pieces that inspired them as part of the theatre devising work they are doing with program lead artist Jennifer Villaverde: many brought in poems; others shared articles or art work; one performed his piece while playing the guitar.

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EEzra (above) performs a song entitled Young America. While listening to his song, the others look around to view the inspirational objects of their peers. As they look around, they take observational notes. After Ezra performs his piece, some of the participants are inspired to read their pieces and share their inspirations. Marcus shares the poem Lord, Why did you make me Black? by Yeefon Mawusi. Minjae shares Milinda Mae and the Monstrous Whale which he had read, and loved, when he was younger.

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As the City Youth Academy participants share their pieces, everyone listens attentively – it’s a very personal, and ultimately moving, exercise.

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After all the pieces are shared, they form a journey of growth on paper from being a teenager, to becoming an adult, and beyond. The participants arrange the pieces on the timeline, and write their thoughts beside the pieces.

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After a short break, it’s time for Dance with Pulga Muchochoma, working with the song ‘Wash’ by Teknomiles. All the participants are very quick in following the choreography being thought to them: they dance with much energy, moving and jumping across the room.

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The 2017 City Youth Academy poses with Dance Artists Instructor Pulga Muchochoma, Lead Artists Instructor Jennifer Villaverde, Program Assistant Celia Green and Soulpepper’s Community Programming team Fiona Suliman and Molly Gardner.

Photo Diary by Soulpepper Marketing Intern Mia Tionko, recorded onsite at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in August, 2017. Visit Soulpepper.ca/youth for more information.

In The Presence of the Unknown – Katrina Darychuk

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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. Banner1 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.

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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.

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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.

How Far We’ve Come… by Marcel Stewart

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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.

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This is week one of the Academy, and the boat that we took to the Island (and eventually sung “Oh Canada” on).

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The first fundraising event we attended. About 2 months in. We thought we were so cool.

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This was the BIG event that we participated in. 4 months in.

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Winter Waves Festival. The Blanket Fort of Wonder. 5 months in.

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Rehearsing one of the collectively devised pieces. It was titled Anonymous. 7 months in.

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Another picture from Anonymous rehearsal. 7 months in.

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The most recent donor event, where we met our philanthropic mentors. 8 months in.

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.