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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.

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.

Donor Profile: Matthew and Mondy Stevenson and family

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Donor history:  I donated to Soulpepper at the end of 2016, and it was my first donation to the company. However, I have been donating to various charities since I was a child. Philanthropy, although it was never referred to as such, was encouraged and supported by my parents for as long as I can remember.

How did you first learn about Soulpepper/What is you first memory of Soulpepper?

I have a memory of an acting company formed by Canadian actors in Toronto; I had never seen a production by Soulpepper until we went with our nephew from France to see The Sunshine Boys in 2012.

My sister who lives in the Maritimes was actually a catalyst to sparking my interest in Soulpepper. She mentioned to me that there are so many opportunities in Toronto to see live theatre and other cultural events. She used to travel here once or twice a year to see a play.

What inspired you to support Soulpepper?

My wife and I became season subscribers last year and enjoyed the plays very much. I have a true sense of an acting company at Soulpepper with actors appearing in different productions. I am also impressed by the encouragement offered by Soulpepper to other companies such as the Storefront Theatre’s production of Chasse Galerie and Why Not Theatre’s A Brimful of Asha.  Above all else, we have seen some amazing productions: Jitters, Happy Place, The 39 Steps, Spoon River, and Of Human Bondage just to name a few.

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?

Please donate now, don’t wait. The arts in Canada are underfunded so every little bit helps. Artists need a space and a place to express their creativity. Soulpepper nourishes that creativity through their many youth programs, the Soulpepper Academy, and their artist residencies. Plus Soulpepper is a not-for-profit theatre company.

How do you imagine Soulpepper in 10 years?

Extended footprint but still in the Distillery District.

More Canada-wide touring initiatives.

Well received in-house developed productions.

Albert continuing to sing and tour Frankly, Sinatra (as  he does without the use of Old Blue Eyes’ teleprompter).

Design Exchange

The Soulpepper Academy Design students have been hard at work at the Young Centre but not only on Soulpepper shows. This fall, the George Brown Theatre School produced Mary Stuart by Friedrich Schiller and recruited Anahita Dehbonehie to design the costumes and Shannon Lea Doyle to design the set. We sat down with the designers to talk about their experience.

Set Design

For Shannon, working with the George Brown production team was different from shows she’d worked on in the past. “I’m used to working on indie projects where I was the designer/production manager/builder/everything. Projects where, if I didn’t know how to make it, it simply wouldn’t get made.” This made for an exciting design opportunity, wherein she was able to hand drafts off to a team of professional carpenters and builders. “It was really cool to have the support system of Soulpepper while working on a show outside of the company.” This support system included the designers’ mentor Lorenzo Savoini, who continued to be a resource and sounding board throughout the process. “It’s wonderful to have an experienced and trusted mentor who cares about you as a person,” says Shannon.

Costume Design

Anahita’s time working in the costume department proved equally fruitful. She commented that the range of resources were wonderful but it was the personnel that sticks out for her, especially the head of the costume department Ina Kerklan. “It was amazing to have a half hour conversation with someone about a colour and what it does and what it means.” Like all designers, their biggest challenge was the management and allocation of resources. “When you only have a finite amount of time and resources, you begin to think about specific elements of the show and make decisions,” says Anahita. “And you have to cut some things and keep others, and this quickly helps you realize the most important piece of the puzzle.” A prime example of this was the dress for Elizabeth, one of the lead roles in the play. Anahita’s original design was very ornate, but would have used up the lion’s share of time and money. “I worked with Ina to simplify the dress, deciding which parts were essential to get the same idea across, within budget and on time.” This is the type of hands-on experience that the Designers will take with them as they build a professional career post-graduation. Both of the designers said they would be pleased to work on another show with George Brown and with their director, Jeanette Lambermont Morey. “She was really open and receptive to our ideas and our input. It made the process very easy.”

You can see Anahita’s design work next in Marat/Sade (September), and Shannon’s in The Dybbuk (May).

Pomme in Edinburgh

As part of the Soulpepper’s International Residency program, Academy members are matched with professional development opportunities that will give them global experiences in their field. Kelly Read, current member of the Soulpepper Academy, shares about her experience Producing abroad.

Pomme Edinburgh

The Canadian hit pomme is french for apple, by Liza Paul and Bahia Watson, premiered in 2010 at the Young Centre as part of its Saturday Night series. After two more workshops it showed at the Toronto Fringe in 2012, where it was awarded Best of Fringe, and received a return engagement that December as part of Winter at the Young. In 2014, when they got word the show was returning, Executive Director Leslie Lester and 2014 Resident Artist Ravi Jain connected the Academy’s Producing student Kelly Read, with Liza and Bahia. With generous contributions from Soulpepper, the Ontario Arts Council, and The Canada Council for the Arts, they were able to take the show to the prestigious Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

“The Fringe was amazing” says Read. “It’s a full month of artistic performance. There are around 3,200 individual offerings at the Festival Fringe alone, let alone the International Festival, the Free-stival, and the Forest Fringe, which are going on at the same time. You’re performing alongside some of the world’s most accomplished artists.”

Kelly Read served as the Producer on the piece, bringing expertise that she learned from her time at Soulpepper. “We had a small three-person team, so the role of the producer included putting together the touring budget, contacting international producers, dealing with the venue, audience development, and managing the finances.” All skills which are difficult enough in a normal environment, but Edinburgh is the World Series of theatre. “The Fringe is relentless. It’s 26 days long, and we performed the show 25 times. Every hour not performing was spent marketing and networking. The atmosphere is incredibly competitive, with some projects having more than ten times our marketing budget.” To make up for this, the pomme team had to get creative. “The show deals with female sexuality and so we had a ‘panty protest’ in the streets of Edinburgh. When people came up to ask us what we were doing, we would tell them all about the show. You only get a few seconds, so we learned all about the importance of an elevator pitch.”

Read did her research and contacted experienced producers in Canada for advice on how best to promote and manage the show. She smiles, ready with an anecdote. “We’d heard Colin Mochrie was going to be in town, and I thought if we could get him to come to the show, that would be great promotion.” Through a friend of hers, Read got in touch with Mochrie. “He didn’t have time to see our show, but he still tweeted about it, and some people told us that they came on Colin’s suggestion.”

“It was an incredible experience. I learned, more than anything, the importance of standing behind my work.”

Soulpepper in Hungary

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Katherine Gauthier, actress in the Soulpepper Academy, recently returned from a two week exchange to Budapest, where she and her fellow Academy actors were embedded with Master Teacher László Marton at the Hungary University of Theatre.

“It was such a hospitable country,” says Katherine. “We spent a lot of time with the Hungarian students. We saw where they lived, we ate with them, and talked about art together. During the trip, we saw nine plays, all in Hungarian. We got immersed in a different aesthetic, language, and approach to performing.” An example of that different approach was the daily classes with Master Tamás, the university’s acrobatics instructor. “His students take his classes five times a week for three years. Going into the class I didn’t think I could even do a cartwheel, but by the end of our time with him we were doing flips and lifts, and all surpassing our own expectations. He really pushed us beyond what we thought our bodies could do, and that naturally impacts what we are capable of on the stage.”

This trip was the second part of a Hungarian-Canadian exchange facilitated by the Soulpepper Academy. In July of 2013, Soulpepper brought László Marton and his Hungarian students to Canada for two weeks of masterclasses with the renowned director. The students worked with each other in their native language, performing Shakespeare scenes half in English, half in Hungarian. “We had no time to worry or stress. We had to jump into this new way of working,” Gauthier reflects. “We got to work with people who were experts in this method and aesthetic, and see it come to life.”

Now Katherine and her fellow Academy actors have carried these techniques onto the stage for Soulpepper’s recently opened production of Moliere’s Tartuffe, directed by Marton. “Being able to work with László again is such a dream. Over the past year we’ve grown as artists, and had the time to process all the information he taught us all those months ago, and now we get to put it into practice with this rich material.” Katherine is playing the main love interest in the piece, Mariane, which she says is a great challenge. “He gives us an immense amount of freedom. He allows us to do the work, and explore what we feel the need to explore,” says Gauthier. “László is so excited about the project that it makes all of us excited. He’s ultimately so encouraging, deeply humble and passionate in his direction.”

You can see Katherine and many current Academy members in Tartuffe, currently running at the Young Centre until September 20th.

A Mentorship in Music

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Richard Lam wears many hats within the 2013-2015 Soulpepper Academy. Richard shares about being an actor, musician, composer, music captain, and sound designer, and how a fateful pairing changed everything for the young artist.

“When I came into the Academy as an actor, I was assigned Mike Ross as my mentor,” tells Richard, “at one of our first meetings together I offered to help him out if he ever needed an assistant for anything and he took me up on my offer for Idiot’s Delight.” As the musical demands of Idiot’s Delight grew, so did Richard’s responsibilities, “We had to source period music, co-ordinate a live band, and create choral pieces for the 24-person cast…Mike would be wherever he was needed most and I would help fill in the gaps for him.” “Watching Richard progress in the early months it became pretty obvious that he has a real knack for music and sounds and an ambition and willingness to explore that side of himself further,” recalls Mike Ross, the Slaight Family Director of Music at Soulpepper.

Mike and Artistic Director Albert Schultz were so impressed with Richard’s work that they developed a new blended stream of study at the Academy, special to Richard, in recognition of his gifts and the growing role of music at Soulpepper. This program facilitated new opportunities for the mentor pair to collaborate, including on the world premiere production of Vern Thiessen’s Of Human Bondage, which won seven Dora Mavor Moore Awards, including best Sound Design and Best Ensemble Performance.

These experiences have not only developed Richard’s technical ability but also his understanding of Mike’s unique way of working. “My job is to anticipate him and where creativity is taking us next. It is a constant balancing act that always keeps us on our toes.” Mike says, “Richard was given pretty major responsibility right from the beginning. He has the collaborative spirit and work ethic which is key for achieving a high level of work.” This August Richard’s training will be put into practice as he takes on the role of Lead Sound Designer for Soulpepper’s new production of A Tender Thing.

Richard and Mike both speak passionately about the Academy’s mentorship program and what it has unlocked for both of them. “I’m lucky to have the opportunity to work with an artist as amazing as Mike in a world-class company like Soulpepper. The opportunity to work with Mike has changed the trajectory of my career in exciting ways,” says Richard.

You can hear Richard’s work next in A Tender Thing, opening August 19th, and see Mike Ross perform in Glenn, opening September 2nd.