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Artist Profile: Get to know our Youth Link Artists!

This year we welcome six Youth Link Artists who are working with us to become artist educators through the Ada Slaight Youth Link program. All of these young adults have been part of the Soulpepper community through our various Youth Programs. Through the arts education they were exposed to growing up, they’ve been inspired to take the next steps in becoming professionals in arts education themselves.  Get to know our six newest Artist-Educators-in-Training and a bit about their history with Soulpepper.


Jacob

YL-JacobHow did theatre/art education affect you as a young person?
Art education had an immense effect on the way I interact with the people and things in my life. Growing up in the St. Lawrence neighbourhood, I had the chance to learn from artist-educators from Soulpepper and Young People’s Theatre who allowed me and my peers a space to take risks through theatrical creation and play. It was a new way to see the world, a much needed variance from math or science based logical thinking. I was inspired by this freedom and independence that these artists bestowed us, and directly pushed me to attend an arts-based high school, and subsequently, to study theatre in post-secondary. Art education has become a method for self-growth and reflection, giving me a better understanding towards what direction I want to pursue as I move past my academic career and look forward to the areas and interests I want to pursue.

What Soulpepper youth programs did you participate in in the past?
I participated in school outreach programs throughout my elementary schooling at Market Lane Public School, specifically the Soulpepper In-The-Schools program in 2006. As well, I was the Program Assistant for the 2018 Soulpepper City Youth Academy.

Rafael

YL-RaphaelHow did theatre/art education affect you as a young person?
For me, the most valuable education I received when I was younger came from theatre. Not just being exposed to co-operation but actually having the opportunity to practice communication skills, hone my strengths all while being engaged in artistic creation was invaluable. I carry all these lessons forward with me in all fields that I work in today.

What Soulpepper youth programs did you participate in in the past?
I was able to participate in the Curtain Up program in 2013, as well as the Alumni Program in 2017. I was the March Break Program Assistant in 2019.

Kathleen

YL-KathleenHow did theatre/art education affect you as a young person?
As a young person, theatre has always given me the opportunity to exercise my creativity, and imagination in a safe space. It has taught me the importance of hard work, and how to maintain confidence in your own ideas while collaborating with others, and letting go of control. I truly owe my confidence and communication skills to the theatrical spaces in which I have existed since I was a child.

What Soulpepper youth programs did you participate in in the past?
In the summer of 2016 I was fortunate enough to be part of the City Youth Academy.

Alexandra

YL-AlexandraHow did theatre/art education affect you as a young person?
As a teenager I was troubled, and struggled to feel comfortable at home or in school. Theatre was a safe place for me to be myself and a much healthier avenue of escape than what I had explored previously. I found myself totally engaged in the work and met great artists that are now my colleagues and friends. Arts education was, quite literally, a lifesaver for me. It’s so rewarding to now be learning how to create those sort of spaces in our communities, spaces where participants can create and thrive.

What Soulpepper youth programs did you participate in in the past?
I was in Curtain Up, Leading Ladies, and the Youth Mentorship Program.

Breanne

YL-breanneHow did theatre/art education affect you as a a young person?
My experience in art education as a child, a very shy child, helped me open up and gave me the opportunity to explore myself. I discovered that I could express myself, that I had things to say, and that these “big kids” (the artist educators) would listen. Through my youth, my path was continually shaped by theatre and art education, so deeply that I realized this was what I wanted to pursue. I hope to be an artist educator who gives young people the space and freedom to discover immense possibilities within themselves.

What Soulpepper youth programs did you participate in in the past?
I was a participant of the City Youth Academy the summer of 2016. I had just moved to Toronto and didn’t know anything or anyone, but the Soulpepper family welcomed me in. It was my introduction to the Toronto theatre community and I was blown away by these experienced professional artists who were eager to work with me and hear my voice.

I’ve also often been a part of the wonderful MyPlay program, getting free tickets to Soulpepper shows and attending some really great pre-show chats with Resident Artists!

Calum

YL-CalumHow did theatre/art education affect you as a a young person?
Theatre and arts education has shaped my life in almost every way. It gave me access to a state of being that is deeply powerful. In expressing myself I change my surroundings, I create things out of my experiences, my environments, and my relationships, things that have never been seen before. I connect to everything and everyone more completely by understanding artistic expression. It frees me.

What Soulpepper youth programs did you participate in in the past?
I participated in the 2014 City Youth Academy, and the 2017 Summer Acting Masterclass.


The Ada Slaight Youth Link Program is a training program for new Artist Educators,who are all alumni from Soulpepper’s other Youth Programs. These Artist Educators in Training are paired with a Lead Artist Instructor, from Soulpepper’s tremendous company of artists. Together they lead a series of workshops for the youth at across community organizations. While being mentored by Soulpepper Artists, the Youth Link Artists serve as young facilitators and inspire other youth in the city to be passionate about the arts.

Artist Experience: Samantha Brown on the Significance of the Character Johnna in August: Osage County

Samantha Brown is making her Soulpepper Debut playing the role of Johnna Monevata in Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County. While many often think of the plays epic layers of family drama and biting humour, Samantha shares another perspective on some of the layers Letts’ writing touches on. Read on to see what Samantha has to share. 

samantha-brown


When I was first approached with August: Osage County I had many questions, the most pressing was Why? Why August: Osage County? Letts uses an interesting approach to this play because the form is very traditional American Theatre. This play could be set in any time alluding to this idea of “America the Great” and “The American Dream” and all of these nuclear family ideals that, frankly, are unrealistic social constructs that no longer represent our generation.  As a result of trying to maintain these ideals a sickness festers and grows.

Diving in deeper to the metaphor, Letts has also introduced the presence of a Cheyenne Matriarch (Johnna), whose presence is always there, but avoided by the other characters unless needed. This alludes to Indigenous land rights and a commentary about building a dream on stolen land. This play exists on the surface, but is so fueled with rich commentary on the state of America and its treatment of Indigenous people. Letts carefully demonstrates cycles of trauma passed down through generations, and damage done by unhealthy coping mechanisms. Opposite to this is Johnna who is on her own healing journey, a woman who is decolonizing and reclaiming. It begs the question: what would North America be without first contact? Doubling down and avoiding the truth causes a dark poison that will erupt. The more we avoid the truth, or excuse genocide, claiming lack of involvement, the more it leads to an inherited generation benefiting from bloodshed.

In our production we have also cast a biracial couple with a multiracial daughter, which only thickens Letts’ commentary on the treatment of people of colour in America.

So why August: Osage County in Canada? I offer the question knowing that our Canadian underbelly is just as, if not more, filled with a history that is ignored. A history that is ever-present and continues, due to a lack of acknowledgment and understanding. For that reason, I felt I had a responsibility to tell this story.  For me Johnna is an act of resilience; her body in its space is a political statement over a country that sought to exterminate her and her ancestors. Johnna is a strong message that we are still here.

Artist Experience: Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu’s Vision for The Brothers Size

The Brothers Size by Tarell Alvin McCraney is in the rehearsal hall beginning to bring the Yoruba mythology to life on stage next month. We asked director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu a bit about what she’s planning for this beautiful piece that weaves African gods with a contemporary perspectives on masculine norms and expectations.


What is it about The Brothers Size that makes you want to direct it?

There are many things that strike me about this play. One of the first things that drew me to The Brothers Size was its portrayal of black masculinity. The play is unique in showing the tender side, the more vulnerable, more intimate nature of black men’s relationships with one another and with themselves. This is a perspective that we rarely see on stage, on screen, anywhere really.

I had also watched and been blown away by ‘Moonlight’, the Oscar Award winning movie based on Tarell’s play ‘In Moonlight Black Boys Are Blue’, and was excited to discover more about him as a writer.

I was also drawn to the fact that Tarell draws his inspiration in creating the play and its characters from the world of Yoruba mythology.  He could have simply written a play about three black men growing up and living in the projects, but instead he crafted and named his characters after African gods. This fascinated me. It was something that I felt was very inspiring, and uplifting  and elevating of the lives of black men that are often sidelined, marginalized and criminalized in our society.

What excites you about the text?

I love the poetry of the language. The language is very lean and there is a lot of breadth and room to imagine and interpret as creators. The play really invites you in with its poetry and its theatricality. There is also a lot of beautiful ambiguity in the world that Tarell has created. The overall narrative is super clear, but you are always being asked to dance in between the spaces of what is said and left unsaid and having to piece the pieces together.  I love that about the piece.

I love that the play is also operating on so many layers and that there are always multiple truths at play. Unpacking all of these layers is the exciting challenge ahead of us as we head into the rehearsal hall.

Can you share anything about your approach or your vision of the piece?

Over my conversations with the designers we have been asking questions about how world of Yoruba mythology co-exists or is in relationship with the contemporary feel of the play and making choices that I am excited to explore with actors and the rest of the creative team in the coming weeks.

I am also excited about working with the incredible Waleed AbdulHamid, as a live percussionist/musician for this piece. I have been a huge admirer of his work as a musician, musical director and composer. Waleed will be in the room with us the entire rehearsal process and will be performing percussion live as well as creating music with the actors. Overall there is a just a lot to discover going into the rehearsal room, and I believe for our audiences. The writing is masterful, and I do think there are lots of ways into this play.

Artist Experience: Waleed Abdulhamid on the Music and Meaning of The Brothers Size

Waleed Abdulhamid is working with the three guys in The Brothers Size  to incorporate beautiful vocal and musical work into the show. We asked him what he is planning and where this inspiration comes from. He shared a bit about his vision, and how meaningful the experience of working on this show is to him.

waleed-headshot


Can you share any thing about the music you are creating for The Brothers Size?

This piece is not going to only be percussion; it’s going to have flute, marimba, likembe (African thumb piano) and chanting vocals. Today I discovered I have three really strong singers which is great. Even, I checked some harmonies and I’m thinking to myself “whoohoo! I’m so excited”. I gave them different harmonies, I checked their range – I can be very comfortable and safe to experiment musically.

We’re going to use everything on that stage; there are going to be drums are going be created with skin on both sides, and they’re going to be huge, they’ll be a part of the set as well as an instrument. I will also have this huge marimba almost the size of the tables in the atrium, and likembe, an actual flute, and a vocal processor to create more vocals.

We’ve started to create it already, we’ve translated some of the words to Yoruba, and I did a little bit of a song with a choir and we’re going to be doing it in the play as well.

Where does the inspiration for the compositions come from?

I have over thirty years of music in theatre, and a lot of the music is inspired from the text. This text is inspired by a lot of African stories and spiritual figures and traditions. I was born in Sudan so that will also give me the experience of  both worlds – I will get inspired by the script, but the script is inspired by the traditions of Africa. It’s almost like melting both worlds together. You’ll hear a lot of influences from the Blues, and Yoruba, Nigeria, through different origins, through the Nile, all the way to Harlem, to different places in Alabama, Mississippi, and in church. A lot of that is combined between the past and present of today.

What excites you about working on The Brothers Size?

I’m a father, I have a teenage girl who is 16 and a dreadlocks boy who has always been asked why he looks different. Going back to look at the playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney’s story, it’s almost the same. He’s picked on as a different – even when he was the smartest in the class, there are always questions. As a father, a black guy, and an African person, somebody who lived in both worlds because the story has the three spiritual figures, to be the directors of those three guys in the hardship of America, I feel like I belong to that in a lot of different ways. A story like this is speaks to what I think, today and in the past. When I say the past, I mean as a young African man who came to America. Even though I’m not young, I’m 50 years old, I still try to understand what this world is all about. That is why I am really excited to do something like this, especially in a city like Toronto.

For me the winning card when I do work like this at the Young Centre, different people from different corners of the world can come into the Michael Young theatre to watch the story about three young men having really hard time but bridging that story with the past and the three different spiritual figures is what really excites me and is really important to me.

One of the reasons we are refusing each other is because we don’t know each other. You smile at me that’s an invitation to get to know you. If you say hello, that is the first step. If you hug me that’s another big humanity step. I think that’s most important thing. Art always reflects the true colours of humanity. To share that is going to bridge the gap, and then people will know what is happening. When we create art we have the privilege of being on stage and reflecting what humanity is.

Artist Experience: Kyra Harper on stepping into Margrethe Bohr’s shoes

Kyra Harper, who is playing the role of Margrethe Bohr in the upcoming production of Copenhagen by Michael Frayn, delves into who Margrethe truly was, and what it takes for her to step into her shoes. Read what Kyra has to say about who this intelligent and observant woman was. 


kyra-headshot

Who was Margrethe Bohr…

As I do my homework on Copenhagen, I attempt to demystify the physics and metaphors in Mr. Frayns often daunting script, but it’s clear to me this is one I’ll never fully comprehend and I have the uneasy realization that I have to be okay with that. This does not sit well in my actor brain, my instinct is to uncover the meaning behind every word on the page, how else can I possibly do justice to my role? But the paradox is that I can actually use the unknown to draw on in playing Margrethe Bohr, wife to Neils Bohr the famous Danish physicist. It becomes clear to me that Margrethe is a woman with great intelligence and a searching mind, and though she is not a physicist or mathematician she has an understanding of the principles and theories explained to her in ‘plain language’ that neither her husband or Werner Heisenberg possess. Margrethe’s gift is going beyond and beneath the language of the equations to the application of the theoretical in the tangled and bittersweet relationship between Neil’s and Werner, to hold a mirror to them in an effort to have them actually see their behaviours. And in so doing I think she acts as a conscience in the play, at least as a voice to be heard and considered. Her path is direct and rooted in the truth and consequences of humanistic behaviours.

Margrethe is a mother, wife, friend and shrewd observer of the world around her,and now as she  probes the depths of the unanswered question put to Heisenberg she fulfills her role as mother bear and protector of Neils, her great love and partner in all things.

Artist Experience: Judith Thompson on Her Newest Collaborative Piece Welcome To My Underworld

Soulpepper is excited to be partnering with RARE Theatre Company for a fifth time. Performances of this brand new play, Welcome To My Underworld begin May 8.  Judith Thompson directs and dramaturges this new play, working with texts from nine diverse playwrights. We asked two time Governor General award-winner Judith Thompson to share a bit about the upcoming production.

judith-thompson-headshot


Can you describe the process of working with 9 playwrights and bringing their individual pieces together into one play.

It has been one of the greatest joys of my 35 year career in the theatre to collaborate with nine brilliant and unique emerging playwrights. Most of the playwrights bring a wealth of experience to the project as theatre-makers, but for Welcome to my Underworld I have asked them to focus only on their writing.  Writing means ideas, it means reinventing what a play is, it means bringing shifting meanings of identity and language to the stage. Writing is a form of archeology,  a creative documentation of a particular time in our history. Each of these short plays is a calling card from its playwright, and I look forward to seeing all nine of them flower into full length masterpieces.

What excites you about the text(s) and the show?

As a director and dramaturge I am excited by the challenge of weaving nine very different plays into one plausible and exciting journey. Working together we have found striking commonalities between the plays, and these become the golden threads which tie the pieces together as if it were always meant to be.  I am thrilled to have Olivia Shortt compose and perform original music for the piece, and the great Monica Dottor responding to both the text and the music and creating another choreographic masterwork.

Can you share anything about your approach or your vision of the piece?

I plan to create a riveting, joyous, and authentic piece of theatre with the extraordinary texts of each of the writers and the centre. A country is defined in no small part by its artists and its writers. When the play is over, the text remains, and tells us who we are underneath the surface. Canada is not maple syrup and Mounties and intolerable cold. Canada is a complex, multi-faceted country with a population far too diverse to be pigeon-holed. Welcome to My Underworld is a warm introduction to nine of our best new writers.


ODSP Accessible Tickets are available for $25 for all performances. Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) ID required at ticket pick-up.

 Live ASL interpretation is provided on the Saturday, May 25 (8:00 PM) performance. Live Audio Description for the visually impaired is provided on the Saturday, May 18 (2:00 PM) performance.

First look at Michelle Tracey’s Designs for Wedding At Aulis

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.

Wedding all together

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.