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Artist Experience: Bahia Watson on the Role of Women in The Virgin Trial

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.

Artist Experience: Michelle Bouey on her Soulpepper Debut

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.

michelle_bouey


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!

Artist Experience: Words For My Nine-Year-Old Self

Rose is nine, almost ten, and she has these questions that don’t quite make sense to her. Her thoughts are constantly going around and around in her head, as she tries to find a sense of certainty about who she is, where she belongs, what the world is, and what she wants from it, so she goes on an amazing journey to find her answers. We asked some of the company of Rose what questions they had when they we’re Rose’s age, and what they would tell themselves back then. Here is what they had to share about their little selves.

Troy Adams, Ensemble

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What questions did I have about the world at 9 years old?

Interesting enough, the majority of those questions I still have today. There may be slight variations – but ultimately the same. I came to the understanding that we are continually growing and changing. The quest for those answers, is, life.

What would I tell my 9 year old self based on where I am today?

You are worthy and you have so much to share. Know that. And love yourself.

Sabryn Rock, Teacher/Ensemble

sabryn-9

What questions did I have about the world at 9 years old?

I remember having a lot of questions about life and death. I was an alter server at church and would serve at funeral ceremonies so was exposed to death at a young age and in some ways was desensitized to it. I remember not being scared of death but being fascinated specifically by seeing a body in a casket. That definitely led to some existential questions similar to Rose like ‘Why are we?’ And ‘How are we?’ or ‘why do we exist?’

I also asked questions about religion and beliefs and our purpose on earth. I had a hard time reconciling getting older even from a baby to a very young 9 years old. I distinctly remember the realization that I was no longer a baby who would be taken care of and had to learn independence and autonomy and that was a very painful truth for me around that age.

What would I tell my 9 year old self based on where I am today?

I would tell my 9 year old self that it’s okay to be alone. It’s okay to be weird and not go along with things you don’t believe in or agree with; to march proudly to the beat of your own drum and not be afraid to ask hard questions much like Rose. So much of my childhood was spent mimicking my brothers or following friends around doing whatever they were doing even if I didn’t find it fun for fear of not being included or left alone. But I actually had a great time playing on my own, writing, singing or lost in my own imagination and could entertain myself for hours. Now as an adult being a socialized introvert I crave those quiet solo times and I would give my 9 year old self a gentle reminder that I’m pretty great and to enjoy those times of solitude; I remember that so often those times were when I was the most creative as a kid; I could also take a cue from that little girl back then and try and be more creative in my private time which is something I don’t do as much as an adult.

sabryn 9

Chapter three, a page from Sabryn’s autobiography.

Michelle Bouey, Ensemble

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What questions did I have about the world at 9 years old?

I was a very curious child and asked a lot of questions. I grew up in a household where I heard two languages: English and Korean. So, up until a certain age I sometimes didn’t know which language some words belonged to. An example that makes me laugh is: Ja mot (the word for pyjamas in Korean) – I remember going up to my parents and saying “How do I say Ja Mot in Korean? I wanna teach my friends at the sleepover tonight!” I also had a major fascination with big words. There would be certain words I’d hear on TV, read in books, or overhear adults saying and I would persistently ask my teachers what they meant. Then I would go home and teach my sister, even though she is older than me and likely already knew them!  One question I asked my parents, and that stuck with me for much of my childhood, was wondering if there was a way to make time stop. Part of me genuinely believed it could be possible and so I thought that maybe my grandparents might be with me forever.  My grandparents are gone now, but somehow the memory of that question will stick with me for life.

What would I tell my 9 year old self based on where I am today?

To always be herself. To realize that who she is, is enough. She doesn’t need to try to change her appearance or personality just because it’s not what other kids look or act like. Remind her that she’s special. And, one day she’ll meet other friends and people who will see that in her, as she will see it in them. I would tell her to be more brave, to trust her instincts more, to believe in her talent. I might tell her to step out of her comfort zone more often, to take a chance on being wrong. And, even though I already have stick-to-it-ness, I would encourage her to persevere even when things seemed daunting.

Erika Morey, Assistant Stage Manager

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What questions did I have about the world at 9 years old?

When I was about Rose’s age, I fell in love with books.  I was learning a lot about the world as a result of my interest of reading, but of course this newfound curiosity opened up a whole lot of new questions, as well! I started to wonder how my life might be different if I didn’t live in Moncton, New Brunswick, or if I’d been born to a different family, or under a different set of circumstances. Would I still be me? Was my identity tied to my history and my environment more than anything that was especially uniquely me?  Was it possible to leave my history and environment behind to pursue a life that was entirely mine? I’m not sure if I would’ve had the language to articulate my questions exactly this way, but I did question if I would forever be defined by my parents choices.

What would I tell my 9 year old self based on where I am today?

I’d reassure nine-year old Erika that her circumstances and surroundings would shift many, many times as she got older, and that her perspective and sense of self would keep growing and changing as well. I’d try to explain to her that it’s perfectly valid to choose to abandon, re-write or embrace the narrative of your early life if it serves you as an adult.  I’d also tell her to put down her book and play outside for a while.

Artist Perspective: Reanne Spitzer on Peter Pan

When I was asked to write about Peter Pan, I was strapped with what perspective to take, as I wear many (bad) hats in this show. Should I talk about the adaptation, the choreography, the roles I play, or the growth of the show over the years? After asking these questions it became clear that that versatility was precisely the thing to discuss: the many hats that everyone in this show demonstrates as artists, and the unique rehearsal process that comes with that versatility. Just like any creative team on a new musical, we have a director, writers, a choreographer, a music director, a fight director, a composer and performers- but this ensemble in many ways are each a little bit of all of these roles.

It’s not exactly “rehearsal etiquette” for an actor to give a note about the direction, or the music director to offer up a piece of choreography, or the fight director to request a line change, or a producer to write a song for the finale. But in our rehearsal hall, ideas are being offered up in all fields of work, regardless of one’s role in the production. In many other instances, this would call for chaos, hurt feelings, toes being stepped on and egos being bruised, but this has never been the case with Peter Pan. There is a shared vision for this show amongst the creative team; a vision that is strong and clear and has grown with this ensemble for years. With that vision comes an absolute trust— trust that any idea that is offered up is to support our mutual goal to create a magical show, and if an idea is voiced, it’s worth listening to because we all trust that the note is being given in light of that vision and always comes from a place of support. One of Severn Thompson’s strengths as a director is creating a comfortable and playful work environment for her team, and fully trusting that her actors will make strong choices that serve the story we all wish our audiences to hear.

Now all this is not to say that the people in their creative roles are not individually responsible for their wonderful work. Each leader of every creative element directs with specificity, and each have a clear vision for their aspect of story telling (be it music directing a crunchy harmony or choreographing a seamless fight sequence) but there’s a wonderful acknowledgement in the room of the cast’s creative ability and there is an open heartedness to explore that creativity. I think that’s where the magic element comes in.

I often take for granted the uniqueness of this show and it’s ensemble. Really, I feel I owe it all to friendship. It’s been a highlight of my life creating a show with my friends. Some old friends from theatre school and some new friends I’ve grown close to in Neverland. This show and it’s process is demonstrative of love, friendship, support and trust. It’s the ultimate room to play in, to fail in, to voice opinions in, to let guards down in, to cry unabashedly in, to laugh uncontrollably in, to feel—in those moments of unity with each other and the audience— that we’re flying, and that this show and it’s journey will never ever finish, will never ever cease to be magical, and will never ever land.

Artist Perspective: Gregory Prest, Words For My Nine Year Old Self

“We sing stories with a guitar with a pinecone or a shoe. Heck, everything’s an instrument when the music’s in you.”

– Frank the Logger in Rose

If I told my 9-year-old self what happened today, I think he would be slightly confused. And jealous. It’s the second day of rehearsals for Rose and the magical Mike Ross is teaching the cast the lyrics to the Act II big opening number “Here Goes Rose”, penned by the hilarious Sarah Wilson. Here’s a taste:

We’re shakin’ in our boots and our beards are twitchin’
And our knees are knockin’ and our tongues are itchin’
What’s gonna happen? What’s gonna happen?
Oh, our hips are bumpin’ and our feet are tappin’

Our palms are sweatin’ and our breath is stinkin’
And our hair is frizzin’ and our brains are thinkin’
What’s gonna happen? What’s gonna happen?
Oh, our nerves are shreddin’ and our gums are flappin’

Now imagine this at the speed a dog chases a squirrel. The hilarity and utter joy of watching Mike teach this – the insane actions the actors are creating to memorize the sequence, picking up inspiring “tips” from their neighbours – the desperate dizzying look of success in their eyes when they get it right – the energy in the room from repeating this over and over up to speed – the peals of laughter – it is a room full of 9-year-olds. Pure joy. Kind, tender joy.

Sarah and Mike have created something very special. It is a wonderful thing (I’m learning as a director) when you can actually see the cast, some encountering the script and music for the first time, realize in the moment how beautiful and funny the material is. It’s a special thing to see someone light up.

I can’t wait to share this show with you.

– Gregory Prest, Director

The four women of Escaped Alone reflect on their careers

Caryl Churchill’s Escaped Alone is written with four female characters over the age of 70,  which is something we don’t often see on stage. We asked Brenda, Kyra, Clare, and Maria to reflect on their first roles and compare it to their experiences now, working on Escaped Alone as established artists in their craft.

Maria Vacratsis

My very first role was in a production of a Polish play that was done at the Red Light Theatre Company in Toronto in 1977/78. That was the first Feminist theatre company in Toronto and they had been running all through the seventies but then that shut it down, that was the last production they ever did – I like to take credit for that! I was 22 years old.

Compared to now, I was thinking about my career, and now I’m not thinking about career. Now all I think about is the work because I know how ephemeral it all is. You can do something fantastic and a week later it is forgotten, or you can do something terrible and beat yourself up for it and then a week later nobody remembers.

It really is about the here and now and the work. My career is what my career is now at this age. So it’s very freeing.

Kyra Harper

I played Mary Warren in The Crucible when I was 14 or 15. That was magic to me. It was really magic to be able to submerge myself in that world – I had done a couple of shows before that point but that real role in a real play was just… I had a glimpse of what it was like really to be an actor and that was what I wanted to do with my life and it set me on a path that I’ve been lucky enough to follow through all my life.

Now doing something like this with four women of a certain age. I look at it from a totally different perspective. The work is so important, I still feel as an older actor that I am learning all the time and I’m eager to learn but there’s more ease in the work. There is more accumulated knowledge, and comfort, the comfort of being in the room with four other women who are similarly minded and of a similar age it’s just such a comfort and it helps to make you feel fulfilled in the work and the environment.

Brenda Robins

My first role that I remember was in Grade Five, we were doing Mother Goose Stories, and I really wanted the part of Mother Goose, but we had to do an audition piece and my dad had taught me a poem which was:

Starkle starkle little twink
Who the heck you are you think
I’m not under the alcafluence of incohol
Though some thinkle peep I am
I fool so feelish don’t know who is me
But the drunker I sit here the longer I get

I got the part of Mother Hubbard, which is an OK part, it wasn’t the lead though. And the girl who got Mother Goose did To Be or Not To Be. From Hamlet. In Grade Five.

That was still a good audition piece and I could probably still learn something from that, you know, the purity of that… The truth of it as an 11 year old.

I have to admit that this play now is kind of reminding me of my parents, so maybe it is a bit of a full circle – learning that wonderful audition piece from my dad for my first part and now pretty well playing a relative.

Clare Coulter

For my first role I was a child, a Canadian child, in London, England. I was a lost elf in the pantomime Where the Rainbow Ends at the Coliseum in London. It was very exciting to be what I thought was a professional.

The first school I went to was a ballet school in a church hall run by a very eccentric woman, and a few eccentric parents sent their children there to avoid the school system. The whole year was spent preparing for the summer charity concert that was held at the Fortune Theatre in Drury Lane. The days were spent preparing for these little concert presentations of musical songs and pas-de-deux and tap dances – all the things that were current in London for entertainment. I was under the illusion that I was a little professional.  Somehow, at the age of nine, I found myself ironing all the layers and layers of tutu and then jumping into a cab with my costumes and saying to the cab driver “Fortune Theatre, Drury Lane. Stage Door please.” And thinking he must think I’m a big star. It was those years you could just imagine you’re everything you wanted to be.

I was in London then because of my parents work, and when my parents work took them back to Canada, I was sea-lifted back to my own country and was absolutely desolate. There was no opportunity for children, or anybody actually, to have a career in theatre in the 1950s. Stratford had begun, but it wasn’t exactly something that people would say “I will make my career there”, it can be now, but it wasn’t at the time.

I went into this period of growing up having lost what I thought I could do and was very homesick for London and for my lost life. When I came to graduate I could’ve gone back to London to take up my life as an actress there. I had been so homesick that I thought I could never go through it again, and I didn’t want to be homesick for Canada so I thought I’d do something else. Thinking “obviously there is no theatre here”, I went go to the college of art.  Sitting in front of a block of paper or a canvas in silence all day long was just not the thing that suited me at all – I needed to be with people. It wasn’t long after that that Pierre Trudeau that came up with Local Initiative Program grants for anyone that wanted to initiate something in the arts. This is when Theatre Passe Muraille started, Tarragon started, Factory Lab started, all these came from these Local Initiative Program grants and so I suddenly had a beginning!  I started out with people my own age and we didn’t know very much and nobody knew anything about us. We were in church hall basements again, and if it weren’t for Urjo Kareda as the Toronto Star critic, I don’t know where our audiences would have come from. He began promoting like crazy these small groups saying “If you think you’ve seen good theatre at Stratford, come back here and you’ll really see something now.” We all kind of watched in wonder as he, through the press, built more and more credibility for what we were doing and it became something of wonderful happiness.

I really found my thing at Tarragon – Bill Glasgow was exploring scripts and writers. I found I could get a lot of satisfaction out of written scripts, and that lasted for a very long time.In some ways I feel I’ve done my best work for international writers, maybe because my earliest training as a child was not in Canadian writing but in English and American. For those English writers like Caryl Churchill, I feel like I’ve done very, very fine work for her. And yet my heart has always been with Michel Tremblay, Judith Thompson, and George Walker, and the people who have made this country come to light in the theatre.


Escaped Alone by Caryl Churchill continues through November 25, 2018.

 

 

 

“Sisters are for sharing laughter and wiping tears”

In honour of the powerful bonds of sisterhood and the World Premiere of Sisters later this month (Aug. 23), we asked those in the cast who have sisters to share something about their own. Here is what Karen Robinson and Raquel Duffy shared with us.

Karen Robinson

My great-grandmother had three daughters.  Her youngest, my grandmother Esther, had three daughters.  Esther’s youngest, my mother Joy, had three daughters.  I am Joy’s youngest.  I have no children.  So many sisters in my maternal lineage, and my particular strand ended with me. Makes me want to hold my sisters that much closer.

Raquel Duffy 

I have two amazing sisters. My sister Tara reminded me of this memory.

When our family moved off Prince Edward Island to Nova Scotia, my little sister started school for the first time. She was incredibly nervous and needed me to walk her to and from school, and also stay with her through recess…for the ENTIRE YEAR. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy with this arrangement. I wanted to make friends in our new school, but instead was surrounded by snotty nosed, little children.

One day, as punishment for attempting to talk to a fellow classmate during History, I was forced to stay behind and clean the blackboards. I knew my sister would be waiting so I asked to be released from eraser duty. The teacher refused my request. Ten minutes later, I hear very loud screams coming from outside. Teachers and staff came out of the woodwork and started running outside to help. Yes, the screams were coming from my distraught sister. She was in such a state, I was granted a dismissal from detention. I ran out of the school, feeling horrible that my sister felt that I’d abandoned her. When I saw her, I hugged her tightly and told her I was so sorry and not to worry, I would never leave without her. She said, “Oh, I know that. I just screamed to get you out of detention!”


Join us at Sisters, perhaps even with your sister, to reveal the hidden heroism in the everyday life of Ann and Evelina Bunner. Performances run August 23 to September 16.