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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.

Donations At Work: City Youth Academy

The City Youth Academy builds on a long tradition of mentorship and youth engagement at Soulpepper. The City Youth Academy offers six weeks of intensive performance training with Soulpepper Artists to a group of young people (ages 16-19) from across Toronto. As integrated members of the company, each City Youth Academy Artist is paired with an Artist Mentor from the Soulpepper artistic ensemble. The participants are offered high-level, rigorous performance skills training and artistic development.

The City Youth Academy breaks ground by giving these young artists payment equivalent to a summer job over the six week period, ensuring that any young person has the opportunity to participate regardless of their financial circumstance.

“I wish I knew about Soulpepper programs sooner. Young humans need to know that the arts are just as important as the academics. Soulpepper has been in my life for a long time. I am very thankful.” – An anonymous 2017 City Youth Academy Participant

 This program is designed to inspire personal creativity, artistic discipline, and support young artists in the development of their own artistic practice.

City Youth Academy artists participate in various forms of performance training including theatre creation, music, stage combat, dance, scene study, writing, and design. Together they developed a final presentation to share with family and friends.

By offering this program, Soulpepper gives youth the opportunity to explore their creativity and build confidence. After they complete the program, they carry these unique learnings and experiences forward, sharing them with their family, friends, and neighbours.

“Not only was it a great experience, but for me, was life-changing. As someone who had very limited resources and connections to programs like this, the City Youth Academy served as an unbelievable opportunity to do and learn more about what I love (theatre).”  – Yujin, age 19, a 2017 City Youth Academy Participant

The City Youth Academy is generously supported by Scotiabank and the R. Howard Webster Foundation. For more information about the year-round, free, youth programming offered at Soulpepper, please visit soulpepper.ca/youth.

Staff Profile: Winnie Nwakobi, Coordinator of Community Programming

How long have you have worked at Soulpepper, and how would you describe your role?

I have worked at Soulpepper as the Coordinator of Community Programming for 3 months now.  However, I have been a part of the Soulpepper community since 2010. I was a participant in the 2010 Youth Mentorship  Program and continued as an Alumni Programs Participant, a Program Assistant, and a Youth Link Artist.

As the Community Programming Coordinator, I work with the team to run all of the youth outreach and access programs at Soulpepper, as well as programs in schools and the local community. I also facilitate student group bookings for Soulpepper performances. Working in the administration here in my various capacities has been exciting and dynamic. I am now part of a team that provides opportunities for youth to explore their interests in theatre and the arts. These are opportunities that were provided to me, and to be on the other side of it is a privilege and I am very excited for the year ahead.

What kinds of projects are you involved in outside of work?

This past summer, I co-directed and produced a play called SCAT, which was performed at the Toronto Fringe Festival. I came to Soulpepper not long after that, and went through other exciting changes in my life. I basically got a new job, a new apartment, and got engaged all in the same week. The last couple of months have really been adapting to new environments and adjusting to new beginnings.

When you’re not at work, what are you doing? 

It depends on the day. I like watching Netflix on my couch, preferably accompanied by a glass of wine. I try to do a wine and cheese night at least once or twice a month! I also enjoy knitting around this time of year. That’s something I would really like to master eventually. Right now, simple headbands and scarfs are my thing…I am getting better with hats but I need a whole lot more practice. I LOVE to cook and bake and enjoy trying new recipes. So if you have any cool recipes – feel free to send them my way!

What is something we would be surprised to know about you? 

I love to dance!! I used to be in a dance group during my time at York University and I miss it very much. One of my goals for 2018 is to join a dance group/class and I am thoroughly looking forward to it! I’m getting excited just thinking about it.

What do you love about working at Soulpepper?

I love that this company feels like a community. We are all interconnected and everyone here has been incredibly welcoming to me. Being a part of this department is all the more rewarding because we get the opportunity to work with youth and provide free programming. One of my favourite moments so far was during a youth workshop – when I saw some participants come into the building for the first time. They were in awe of the building and the opportunity and were keen to learn and experience a performance at this theatre. It reminded of my first time here. I am looking forward to the coming year – to work directly with my fellow coworkers, youth, and community organizations.

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:

1

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.

3

As the City Youth Academy participants share their pieces, everyone listens attentively – it’s a very personal, and ultimately moving, exercise.

4

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.

5

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.

6

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: Matthew and Mondy Stevenson and family

donor
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).

Summer in the City

Soulpepper’s City Youth Academy is a six-week intensive summer training program for promising young artists in Toronto ages 16-19. Ten youth this summer will be given six weeks of skills training and artistic development as integrated members of the Soulpepper company. Participants Tatyana Mitchell and Nick Eddie share their thoughts on the experience so far.

Brightened_DiscoveryDay

What are your personal artistic areas of interest?
Tatyana: My areas of interest include acting and set designing.

Nick: I have been very interested in theatre arts for a long time. It was only after many years of my grandparents dragging me to plays before I realized I actually enjoyed it. I personally, enjoy acting the most, but am more than content to participate in the THEEAHTER in any way, shape, or form.

What expectations did you have coming into the City Youth Academy, and how has the program differed or met them?
Tatyana: I didn’t think there were going to be so many activities jam packed into 6 weeks. Before my audition I was still unsure of what exactly we’d be doing. However, when we started, I was kind of overwhelmed. In a good way. I was surprised by how much we were doing.

TaiChi 2 (Fiona)

What is your group currently working on?
Nick: I am always surprised by how much work a theatrical production is. So far we have mostly done work with strengthening the ensemble; learning new things, working as a team, etc. And then occasionally we will have time dedicated to creating pieces, which is mixed in outcome, as it always is with collective work. Hopefully by the time we are done we will have enough material to pick and choose all the best stuff, but honestly it is just so nice being involved in creation work again.

What activity/workshop/moment has really excited and inspired you so far?
Tatyana: A workshop that has excited me so far is music. I don’t sing in public unless it’s required, and now singing solos and being surrounded by people who enjoy singing has helped me cope with my nerves. Other workshops that have inspired me are Text and Design; Text has helped me look at scripts and characters more in depth. I was able to create a background, how my character would interact with the people she surrounds herself with, and I have learned not to judge my character no matter how troubled they are. And although Design was one session, I still learned how creative you can get with a setting that is not just three walls, a table, and a chair.

CYA_Music

Nick: Working with Greg Oh has been one of the most gruelling processes I have had the pleasure to experience. We’ve been working on a song with four harmonies, and every note is a battle. Learning with him takes so much dedication and focus. And Greg makes it easy. I wouldn’t want to have a bad teacher when it comes to something like this.


How do you see the City Youth Academy affecting your future artistic journey?

Tatyana: I’m going to Humber College in September for Theatre Performance and I’m treating the program as if it’s pre-training, before I head there for the next three years. Movement and Text are helping me be the most prepared for what’s to come. So I’m grateful.

CYA_mentorLunch

Nick: Well, I hope to stay connected with Soulpepper in any way I can. I constantly have to remind myself that I need to use every moment of this great opportunity, not just those in workshops and activities. So this time, I have been making a concerted effort to meet people, and to prove my worth. But damn it, it’s hard. Anyway, that’s my goal, to become an active member in the Soulpepper community.

Anything else you want to share?
Tatyana: Best advice I’ve received so far is “Don’t be an Adam Sandler.”

Visit soulpepper.ca for more information.
The Soulpepper City Youth Academy is generously supported by Scotiabank with additional support from R. Howard Webster Foundation.

2015 City Youth Academy participants and staff, photos supplied by Jennifer Villaverde and Fiona Suliman.