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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:

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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: 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.