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Soulpepper X The 519

Soulpepper is a home for artists on our stages, but also a place of learning and teaching off stage. Through the Ada Slaight YouthLink program Soulpepper has been working with a local community organization, The 519 to host a summer theatre workshop for LGBTQ2S youth, with guidance from Soulpepper’s artist educators.  We asked Makram, the workshop lead, to give us a look into the Queer and Trans Youth Theatre summer program. 


Can you tell us a bit about The 519?

The 519 is a city of Toronto Agency and registered charity that is committed to the health, happiness, and full participation of LGBTQ2S communities in Toronto. As a community centre located at Church & Wellesley, we  focus on responding to  the needs of our local community and of broader LGBTQ2S communities.  For over 40 years, The 519 has been providing and creating resources, services, programs, and offering space. We are one of Canada’s largest LGBTQ2S organizations, with over 500 thousand annual visits.

What is the group you are leading through this workshop?

I am leading an eight week Queer and Trans Youth Theatre summer project.  The initiative works with queer and trans identified artists who are between 16-29 years old that are interested in expanding their practice as theatre artists through explorations of performance and theatre writing.  The group welcomes varying levels of experience in the pursuit of bridging queer and trans theatre artists together in a space that allows them to explore themselves, their theatre creation, and the history of queer theatre.  We went through a series of performance, monologue writing, and scene writing workshops which will culminate in  a “Personal Mythology” showcase.  Alongside this, we’ve learned and discussed the works of several queer and trans theatre artists working in Canada today.  This year, the group decided to name their ensemble, QT Collective.

How long have you been at Soulpepper and what have you been working on in that time?

The program has been in collaboration with Soulpepper and I have been working with the theatre company since May. Soulpepper was able to support the 519 with incredible artist-educators that helped with the facilitation of the program.  It was a vital part of the program’s success that the youth were in a real theatre space such as Soulpepper.

Why do you think theatre education important?

I think theatre education is learning how to be human.  Theatre offers us the necessity of rehearsals, where we can trial our voices, strengthen our arguments, and refine our own understanding of ourselves and the world we move through.  For queer and trans communities, as with any other marginalized communities, this is all the more vital.  Theatre education, and especially the process of playwriting and monologue writing from a personal position, allows participants to manifest, in 3D space, their fears, hopes, desires, and dreams.  Theatre teaches meaningful collaboration; it might ask us to sit with our contradictions and our tensions and then faithfully go on in the pursuit of the collective creation.  This seems essential in an increasingly divided cultural climate.  But for me, the thing theatre education does best is the invitation of vulnerability.  This is what makes theatre distinct as an art form.  We must sit in our theatre art, we must be with it as it happens, and it is only ever honest when it is vulnerable.   Whether it lands with an audience or not, the process of practicing this kind of vulnerability strengthens the participants – it has the potential to enrich our lives and make us celebrate the subjective experience of being a complex and dynamic human being.

What do you find most valuable about leading these workshops?

The ensemble’s willingness and bravery throughout the workshops was the most valuable and rewarding part of the experience.  As an educator, I can imagine and plan and prepare in so many ways, but it is truly in the hands of the ensemble and each individual that the experience of the workshop is so rewarding.  Their commitment to the craft, their honesty and vulnerability in their sharing, and their commitment to one another as an ensemble was heartening.  My experience with queer and trans communities has taught me that resilience and an intelligent hopefulness is an integral part of our story.  I don’t mean to ever minimize the difficulty many of us face, but the magic which happens when queer and trans people come together is galvanizing – and it’s especially inspiring to work with an ensemble of young artists and to know that these are the ones who will be cultivating and contributing to the conversations of queer and trans theatre creation in the future.

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.

Jacob Kay: Six Weeks with the City Youth Academy

I was first introduced to Soulpepper through one of their school visits when I was eight. Having just moved downtown, these school visits led by various Soulpepper artists including: Paula Wing, Martha Burns, Bill Webster, Sarah Wilson, and Jennifer Villaverde gave me my first taste of theatre. I find community programming like the City Youth Academy and school visits a crucial method in producing an inclusive means of artistic expression for youth. After more than a decade later, programming like the City Youth Academy is one of the reasons I felt so strongly to apply to work with Soulpepper this summer, this time as a program assistant.

The City Youth Academy has been such a rewarding opportunity to be a part of. I had the chance to work with ten vibrant, eclectic, and diverse young  performers, each bringing such a great enthusiasm and sharpness which reminded how joyous theatre making is. As the Program Assistant, I worked with Program Leader, Jennifer Villaverde, to assist in facilitating the guest artists’ workshops, creation and exploration in various forms of devised theatre, and stage managed the final performance. Additionally, the environment within the Young Centre was such an incredible way to spend my summer. For the first time, I was able to go ‘behind-the-scenes’ and witness the immense dedication and drive each Soulpepper staff and administrator brings to their work.

Photo by Winnie Doyle-Marshall (3)

City Youth Academy participants in Graffiti Alley on Discovery Day

As far as the CYA participants, they have each grown in various ways over the six weeks. This program’s emphasis on collaborative creation has ensured a sense of constructive idea building within the creation itself. Functioning as one unit, a “Blob” as referenced in their final piece I Was Here, is essential to utilizing every single group member’s assets and skills, without creating a hierarchy of voices. As well, through creation and scene study work with Guest Artist Jordan Pettle, it was evident how much empathy they had for each other through their keen listening skills onstage. As they got more comfortable with each other, they learned the individuality of each of their peer’s processes, a crucial skill in producing an environment conducive to meaningful creation.

Photo by Daniel Malavasi (36)

Learning a Fight Brawl with Guest Fight Director Casey Hudecki

Looking at the past six weeks there are so many highlights! Here’s just a few:

  • Blowing bubbles through the Distillery to bring back a sense of ‘joy’
  • Spending a day exploring Graffiti Alley and Kensington Market
  • African Dance with Guest Artist Pulga Muchochoma
  • Getting the opportunity to sit in on a Bed & Breakfast rehearsal
  • Watching the performers ecstatically learn a “Fight Brawl” from Guest Fight Director Casey Hudecki
  • Getting to know and work with amazing administrators, especially Fiona Suliman and Winnie Doyle-Marshall
Photo by Daniel Malavasi (94)

City Youth Academy Learning African dance with Pulga Muchochoma

Do you know any youth interested in training in theatre and developing their own artistic practice? Applications for next years City Youth Academy will be open next spring.

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.

2

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

RichardNewland

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

Bahia-Watson_800.jpg
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.

lastwife-banner
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

GBMB

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.