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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.

Donor Profile: Richard Newland

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Donor history:
I’ve been a member of the Curtain Club for three years now, but a subscriber for much longer, as well as making regular donations to support the ongoing work of Soulpepper.

How did you first learn about Soulpepper/What is you first memory of Soulpepper?
Having friends in the theatre industry, I knew of Soulpepper for a long time, almost from its inception.   I heard stories about their work from these friends and was intrigued by Albert’s vision for the company.   My first memory of their work was a drama (the show’s name escapes my memory, must be my age!) and being impressed with the quality of the acting and the use of stage space. The small theatre space creates an intimacy that you cannot have in the large theatres.

What inspired you to support us?
It actually started from a negative experience with another company.  I was distressed at how the company was treating their Canadian staff (remember my friends?) and thought that I was missing out on good Canadian talent.   I “risked” a season with Soulpepper, and haven’t looked back.   I wanted to support the talent of fine Canadian actors, so I became a donor.  My participation was confirmed when I learned of Albert’s vision to treat actors fairly, and his willingness to step outside the traditional theatre mode, and improve the employment picture for his company members.  Now, Soulpepper launches into its work to become a National Civic Theatre, an idea I’m happy to support in the little ways that I can.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about giving to Soulpepper? And, why do you think the arts should be a priority for philanthropy?
I would say to people that theatre is much more than Broadway musicals and big name performers.   That we have living in our midst highly talented people that can compete with the best that Broadway can offer.  I’ve just seen Billy Bishop Goes to War, and said that was better than most offerings coming to us from south of the border.

The arts, in all its various forms, convey culture.  Without the arts our Canadian culture is diminished.  Supporting the artist communities, will enrich the lives of generations to come.

How do you imagine Soulpepper in 10 years?
In 10 years, I hope to be sitting in the theatre continuing to be impressed by the fine work Soulpepper does.   At the same time, I hope that others, across Canada (and indeed maybe even Broadway) will be seeing the same thing.   Keep up the good work!

To learn more about supporting Soulpepper, visit soulpepper.ca

On Returning to The Last Wife, by Bahia Watson

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It’s always new. With theatre, with great writing, it’s always new. Old choices have to be reconsidered, new choices have to be made. Every moment has to be navigated through; feelings found again. This is a good thing.

It’s been over a year since we premiered and closed The Last Wife at the Stratford Festival and a lot of evolution (or devolution) can happen in a trip around the sun. While we are blessed to be reunited with almost the entire star-filled company, the truth doesn’t stay put, that’s what I’m learning. Truth moves as context widens with time, for those who pay attention. The world is different today than it was when we first dove into the court of the Tudors and the life and often neglected contributions of Katherine Parr. For myself, I can say that my relationship to, and understanding of, power structures have broadened (for one, I’ve been introduced to Noam Chomsky). The fact that a man named Donald Trump has become president-elect of “the most powerful nation in the world”, winning against the most qualified presidential candidate in US history – who also happens to be a woman – changes the exploration of oligarchy and monarchy and patriarchy. I continue to be awakened to the diverse and persistent forces that seek to suppress the female half of our species, and alienate them from power.

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And then there’s Bess, the princess I have become very acquainted with and will continue to grow within this summer in the subsequent piece to this play: ‘The Virgin Trial’. Elizabeth I, future Queen of England, who ruled well and long and, ignoring precedent and resounding advice, chose not to marry because she knew that a man at her side would only serve to undermine her power and destiny. What a fascinating amount of self-confidence and self-assuredness she must’ve held to defy those expectations – especially considering this was five hundred years ago. At the same time, I can’t help but see how little has changed since then. She is still, in many minds, an exception to the rule of women, which is, according to patriarchy: being less capable and deserving than men at holding and wielding power.

It’s so funny though – in the perplexing (and vexing) and not haha way – because all I see around me are women who seriously rule. And then I find myself back where I was when I first read this play: in a refreshing imagining of history according to Kate Hennig, the playwright. Alongside her we continue onwards, lit with a determination to break through, to make change, to rule, and to resist any assumptions to the contrary.

The Last Wife is on stage January 20 – February 11. Learn more here.

Bahia Watson, photo supplied. The Last Wife illustration: Gracia Lam.

Donor Profile: Martha and George Butterfield

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Since the early work of Albert Schultz we have been drawn to his creative, entrepreneurial and energetic leadership. He is an inspiring and effective leader.

We have been donors since the beginning of Soulpepper, [which we kept hearing about] because of the excellence of their productions and the excitement of having year-round classical productions in Toronto.  As well, two of the Founding Members Diego Matamoros and Robyn Stevan were guides for our travel company Butterfield & Robinson, giving us another wonderful connection [with the company].

Soulpepper has not stood still. We support its important new initiatives and directions:  cultural diversity in productions and commissions, gender equality, mentorship, empowering at-risk youth, promoting a love of language everywhere.

A great vision for the future of theatre and community.

Donor Profile: Ed Ho & Daniella Dimitrov

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How long have you been Soulpepper donors?

We became Curtain Club members in 2014 and this past year we became Heart & Soul supporters. We have been attending shows since their inception almost 20 years ago.

What inspired you to support us? What has inspired you to continue your support? 

It’s distressing that there is not enough organic support from ticket sales to support the annual budget of most theatre companies in Canada.  That said, Soulpepper has brought together a phenomenal team led by Albert to inspire and create a culture like none other. Once you get to meet anyone from the Academy to the Executive, it is obvious how passionate and committed the team really is to every facet of their engagement with community, teaching and the productions. We want more and somebody has to bear the cost.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about giving to Soulpepper? And, why do you think the arts should be a priority for philanthropy?

Sit down and chat with anyone from Soulpepper and you will feel the infectious passion.  Come out and see a couple of productions and you will see a cutting edge vision for both modern and contemporary shows.  We now feel like we are a part of a collective of really great people with a common goal.  You feel it from the moment that you walk in the building. Our lives are much richer because of it.

How do you imagine Soulpepper in 10 years?

It’s hard to imagine how much more could be achieved.  Even if they were to stop today, Soulpepper has clearly been a tremendous success.  It would be great to create similar programs in communities across Canada, but we’re happy to be part of this Toronto gem.

Concert in Magic

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Although magicians are fond of saying that a magician is really an actor playing the part of a magician, I believe that magic – at least fine sleight-of-hand – has a greater kinship to music than it does to acting.

Sure, one is playing a character onstage even if that character is one’s self – or, in my case, a “likeable eccentric.” But for magic to really shine, that is, to resonate, I believe it should have a lyrical quality that manipulates emotion, just as a melody does for music. Timing, pacing, rhythm and dynamic range not only enhance the experience, but they also add layers of texture to the deception.

Tricks is a concert of magic in other ways.

As I have alluded to previously, the very pieces that I have elected to perform represent the magic equivalent of the “Great American Songbook.” But, instead of being works by Gershwin, Arlen and Cahn, I turned to magical “composers” such as Alexander Herrmann, Charles Bertram, Dai Vernon and Robert Harbin for my inspiration.

I’ve cherry picked the great compositions from hundreds of years of magic history, and arranged them – working on some of these “charts” for decades – for Tricks. So, if the work shines, it is because I’ve built upon work created by unheralded “composers.”

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Another way Tricks is like a concert is that it features a lot of music composed and performed (largely) by John Lang. I enjoy the creative process that we go through together to bring a piece of magic to life. I choreograph the magic, and from there, John composes “on demand” – adding yet another dimension or layer to the look and feel of the show. So, when I wanted a piece that sounded like a Nelson Riddle arrangement of a tune performed by Count Basie for Sinatra at the Sands circa 1963 – he delivered. John Lang is a real magician!

So come and see (and hear) for yourself this December.

– David Ben

Tricks is part of Soulpepper’s Family Festival and is onstage at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts from December 5 – January 3. Click Here to buy tickets.

David Ben, photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.

Like Money in the Pocket of an Old Jacket

TRICKS-w600Like money in the pocket of an old jacket. That’s what Tricks is all about.

For many, I am often the first magician that they have met in person. Even though magicians have been around for hundreds of years, and can be seen—thanks to YouTube and reality television—more frequently and by more people than at anytime in the history of the craft, few people have actually met or seen a magician up close and in person.
After discovering that performing magic is what I do, the usual follow up question is: “What kind of tricks do you perform?” And then, before I can respond with “the usual fare – sawing people in half and making them float”, they say, “Oh, should I have said illusions rather than tricks?” as if the word “tricks” was somehow pejorative.

I always assure them that the word “tricks” is just fine.

So why do we need tricks and why do I perform them?

The answer, at least to the first question, came to me in a piece Luc Sante wrote for the New York Times Sunday Magazine in 2001 in an issue devoted to “secrets”. (For me, “secrets” is part and parcel of “tricks”.) There, Sante wrote,

“People need secrets because they need the assurance that there is something left to discover, that they have not exhausted the limits of the environment, that a prize might lie in wait like money in the pocket of an old jacket, that the existence of things beyond their ken might propose a corollary that their own minds contain unsuspected corridors. People need uncertainty and security. It’s not that secrets make them feel small but that they make the world seem bigger—a major necessity these days, when sensations need to be extreme to register at all.”

As for the second question, it is as simple as the first; for the love of it.

– David Ben

Tricks is part of Soulpepper’s Family Festival and is onstage at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts from December 5 – January 3. Click Here to buy tickets.

David Ben, photo: David Linsell