Artist Experience: Stuart Hughes on revisiting Fool For Love

Stuart Hughes reflects on the experience of revisiting a play years later, but this time in Sam Shepard’s Fool For Love he’s saddling up for a new role.

When Frank Cox-O’Connell asked me to consider being in his production of Sam Shepard’s Fool For Love, I was intrigued. He knew I’d been involved in a production about 15 years earlier, playing the role of Eddie, the broken down, impulsive rodeo rider. Frank felt their might be some value in me now stepping into the role of ‘The Old Man’. That there might be some kind of familial thread which would be worth mining.

I have had the great fortune to be able to return to a number of great plays over the years. For a second, sometimes a third go round, but always in the same part and usually within a much shorter span of years. The Crucible, A Streetcar Named Desire, Twelve Angry Men, Zoo Story were a few that I was lucky enough to revisit. It’s always a real luxury. You get to mature and grow in a role, and in great pieces of writing. This, given the years between productions and the new role, would be a different kind of reunion.


Eion Bailey and Stuart Hughes. Photo: Daniel Malavasi

I reread the play to see what would grab me now that I was 15 years older, and also from the perspective of this different character. When I was younger, and given the nature of the young cowboys’ role, what I felt I was asked to explore was primarily the consuming nature of dysfunctional love.

Now, with this reading, what was intriguing me was the lineage of dysfunction. The repetition and cycle of pain that is handed like a baton from a deeply flawed man to the generation that follows him.

We see characters within the play struggling to either calcify in their destructive behavior or break free from it, and find some ease and resolve. Some Light. What speaks to me profoundly now in this play is the hope that that potential choice provides.

I’ve never been territorial about roles. I’ve always felt you get the opportunity to do a particular character to hopefully learn something. You go through that journey and then you leave it behind for some other person to do, in their own fashion, for their own reasons and needs. You push on to the next.

I remember being very proud of that earlier production of Fool For Love, and of everyone’s work on it, but I certainly didn’t feel any kind of ownership over the play or the role of Eddie. Having been on the inside of this piece, however, I knew its’ specific demands, and I knew it would be important to get the right spirits collected. It’s an extremely physical show. There are a lot of fights. You have to be able to throw a lariat. It’s a passionate, emotional cyclone, but you also have to be able to ride the poetry of Shepard’s language. And it’s chock full of great humor. There are a lot of demands. So I knew the right spirits would need to be gathered. When I heard who was being assembled, I started to get more and more excited about returning to this play, in this specific outing.


Frank Cox-O’Connell, Simon Fon (Fight Director), Eion Bailey and Cara Gee. Photo: Daniel Malavasi.

Sitting in rehearsals I couldn’t be happier. I can’t imagine a better cast, director or gang of designers gathered to tell this story in a fresh and fiercely relevant way. It’s a real ball to watch Cara Gee, Eion Bailey, and Alex McCooeye ferociously jump into this world. Infusing these characters and this piece with such physical and mental athleticism and pure joy of playing. It’s dangerous, full of humour and intelligence. It’s passionate and painful. I am so proud to be along for the ride and I know audiences are going to be in for a very special experience.

– Stuart Hughes, Soulpepper Founding Member

Catch Stuart Hughes role of The Old Man in Sam Shepard’s Fool For Love beginning July 13.

Soulpepper recieves 27 Dora Nominations

Here is the full list of Dora Nominations for Soulpepper this year. We’d like to extend a huge congratulations to all the incredible artists and works recognized. We cannot wait to celebrate everyone’s successes and our vibrant community together on June 25!

General Theatre Division

Outstanding Production:
The Royale

 Outstanding New Play:
The Virgin Trial by Kate Hennig

Outstanding Direction:
Guillermo Verdecchia, The Royale
Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu, Oraltorio: a Theatrical Mixtape

Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role:
Lovell Adams-Gray, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Sarah Afful, Orlando

Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role:
Alex McCooeye, Orlando
Christef Desir, The Royale
Sabryn Rock, The Royale

Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design:
Ken MacKenzie, The Royale (Scenic Design)

Outstanding Costume Design:
Gillian Gallow, Orlando
Michelle Tracey, Wedding at Aulis

Outstanding Lighting Design:
Lorenzo Savoini, Orlando
Michelle Ramsay, The Royale

Outstanding Sound Design/Composition:
Thomas Ryder Payne, The Royale
Thomas Ryder Payne/DJ L’Oqenz, Oraltorio: a Theatrical Mixtape

Musical Theatre Division

Outstanding Production:

Outstanding New Musical:
Writer: Sarah Wilson, Mike Ross Composer: Mike Ross, Rose

Outstanding Direction:
Gregory Prest, Rose

Outstanding Musical Direction:
Mike Ross, Rose

Outstanding Choreography:
Monica Dottor, Rose

Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role:
Hailey Gillis, Rose

Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role:
Peter Fernandes, Rose
Sabryn Rock, Rose

Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design:
Lorenzo Savoini, Rose (Scenic Design)

Outstanding Costume Design:
Alexandra Lord, Rose

Outstanding Lighting Design:
Lorenzo Savoini, Rose

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.

Artist Experience: Samantha Brown on the Significance of the Character Johnna in August: Osage County

Samantha Brown is making her Soulpepper Debut playing the role of Johnna Monevata in Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County. While many often think of the plays epic layers of family drama and biting humour, Samantha shares another perspective on some of the layers Letts’ writing touches on. Read on to see what Samantha has to share. 


When I was first approached with August: Osage County I had many questions, the most pressing was Why? Why August: Osage County? Letts uses an interesting approach to this play because the form is very traditional American Theatre. This play could be set in any time alluding to this idea of “America the Great” and “The American Dream” and all of these nuclear family ideals that, frankly, are unrealistic social constructs that no longer represent our generation.  As a result of trying to maintain these ideals a sickness festers and grows.

Diving in deeper to the metaphor, Letts has also introduced the presence of a Cheyenne Matriarch (Johnna), whose presence is always there, but avoided by the other characters unless needed. This alludes to Indigenous land rights and a commentary about building a dream on stolen land. This play exists on the surface, but is so fueled with rich commentary on the state of America and its treatment of Indigenous people. Letts carefully demonstrates cycles of trauma passed down through generations, and damage done by unhealthy coping mechanisms. Opposite to this is Johnna who is on her own healing journey, a woman who is decolonizing and reclaiming. It begs the question: what would North America be without first contact? Doubling down and avoiding the truth causes a dark poison that will erupt. The more we avoid the truth, or excuse genocide, claiming lack of involvement, the more it leads to an inherited generation benefiting from bloodshed.

In our production we have also cast a biracial couple with a multiracial daughter, which only thickens Letts’ commentary on the treatment of people of colour in America.

So why August: Osage County in Canada? I offer the question knowing that our Canadian underbelly is just as, if not more, filled with a history that is ignored. A history that is ever-present and continues, due to a lack of acknowledgment and understanding. For that reason, I felt I had a responsibility to tell this story.  For me Johnna is an act of resilience; her body in its space is a political statement over a country that sought to exterminate her and her ancestors. Johnna is a strong message that we are still here.

Artist Experience: Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu’s Vision for The Brothers Size

The Brothers Size by Tarell Alvin McCraney is in the rehearsal hall beginning to bring the Yoruba mythology to life on stage next month. We asked director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu a bit about what she’s planning for this beautiful piece that weaves African gods with a contemporary perspectives on masculine norms and expectations.

What is it about The Brothers Size that makes you want to direct it?

There are many things that strike me about this play. One of the first things that drew me to The Brothers Size was its portrayal of black masculinity. The play is unique in showing the tender side, the more vulnerable, more intimate nature of black men’s relationships with one another and with themselves. This is a perspective that we rarely see on stage, on screen, anywhere really.

I had also watched and been blown away by ‘Moonlight’, the Oscar Award winning movie based on Tarell’s play ‘In Moonlight Black Boys Are Blue’, and was excited to discover more about him as a writer.

I was also drawn to the fact that Tarell draws his inspiration in creating the play and its characters from the world of Yoruba mythology.  He could have simply written a play about three black men growing up and living in the projects, but instead he crafted and named his characters after African gods. This fascinated me. It was something that I felt was very inspiring, and uplifting  and elevating of the lives of black men that are often sidelined, marginalized and criminalized in our society.

What excites you about the text?

I love the poetry of the language. The language is very lean and there is a lot of breadth and room to imagine and interpret as creators. The play really invites you in with its poetry and its theatricality. There is also a lot of beautiful ambiguity in the world that Tarell has created. The overall narrative is super clear, but you are always being asked to dance in between the spaces of what is said and left unsaid and having to piece the pieces together.  I love that about the piece.

I love that the play is also operating on so many layers and that there are always multiple truths at play. Unpacking all of these layers is the exciting challenge ahead of us as we head into the rehearsal hall.

Can you share anything about your approach or your vision of the piece?

Over my conversations with the designers we have been asking questions about how world of Yoruba mythology co-exists or is in relationship with the contemporary feel of the play and making choices that I am excited to explore with actors and the rest of the creative team in the coming weeks.

I am also excited about working with the incredible Waleed AbdulHamid, as a live percussionist/musician for this piece. I have been a huge admirer of his work as a musician, musical director and composer. Waleed will be in the room with us the entire rehearsal process and will be performing percussion live as well as creating music with the actors. Overall there is a just a lot to discover going into the rehearsal room, and I believe for our audiences. The writing is masterful, and I do think there are lots of ways into this play.

In the Moment of Contradictory Weddings by Mahdi Ganjavi

Sina Gilani’s version of Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis narrates a moment of stillness, in the horrifying progression of events toward ultimate (absurd) tragedy. This stillness, however, remains unstable. It is a militarized delay which creates so many value contradictions that the peace and innocence can’t hold any longer. As the virgin Iphigenia, daughter of Agamemnon, says before actively participating in her own horrifying throat cutting: “It isn’t right for us to persist in what’s impossible”.

Inspired by the Iranian tradition of carpet weaving, the piece starts with ‘fate’ depicted as three separate women following the weaving rhythm: Lift, Over, Under, Press, Tamp, Knot and Cut. The three fates embody the three tenses of time: Past, Present, and Future. Past (history) is more passive and silent through the play. She says: “We are not the story… no… we but hold its rhythm”. Present (contemporary) sounds playful, and wordy. She even manifests herself as contingent, but she too is only the ‘teller’ of life, unable to determine the content of it. Future, however, starts as the most rebellious of the three. She intends to replace the red thread in the plot with the green. Yet strikingly she evolves to become the most submissive of all three, the most content with what is being determined in this geography of militarization. The play starts when the Future loses a thread, and the three start to unknot the weave just to press, tamp and knot the weave of events back again. The narration, therefore, unknots from the moment of Cutting, just to arrive back at the moment of Iphigenia’s throat cutting more pressingly. The future of the text, therefore, is its ‘lost’ starting point. The eventual ritual of Iphigenia’s ‘sacrifice’ is the first thread of blood in a carpet that will later be coloured overwhelmingly red by the Trojan War.


Stuart Hughes and Alice Snaden. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.

As the play unveils, the three weaving fates can only slow or hasten the events. The story itself, however, is determined by the militarized condition of Aulis and the value contradictions that such context ignites. Iphigenia’s blood ‘has’ to and ‘will’ be shed because the militarized stillness isn’t sustainable. To appease Goddess Artemis – to have wind so that Greek army sail the sea toward Troy – Iphigenia has to be sacrificed. Either she accepts her fate, or the war-thirsty Greek warriors will slaughter her. Nothing can stop the warriors anymore, not even their commander Agamemnon or the Greek hero Achilles. It is only Iphigenia’s blood that can help wind blow (events progress), even toward a more bloody future. Future can only be weaved by the thread of red, and this is not the result of pre-destined divine ‘fate’. Instead, this tragic end is the consequence of the fact that a militarized stillness eventually pushes social values to contradict each other; to destruct the whole value system in the name of security and nation.

This is where Gilani’s take deviates from its Greek roots, shapes its contemporary connotations and justifies its contradictory modes and diverse levels of English.  While most readings of Euripides’s masterpiece contemplate on the sacrifice as the ritual, Gilani’s take contemplate on the diverse meanings and modes of marriage in this text.

Wedding at Aulis, Soulpepper

Alice Snaden and Raquel Duffy. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.

The entire course of events (which eventually will lead to the Trojan War) has started from a marriage broken; as Helen (West) has fled for Paris (East) disrespecting her owe to her husband, Menelaus. Marriage, therefore, is the most valuable in this plot.  While Agamemnon and Clytemnestra contradict each other in most values, they share one sentiment: To Marry is to sacrifice. [Clytemnestra: “Marriage is a sacrifice”. Agamemnon: “To wed is to sacrifice self, to unite, to become”.] With the rise of militarization the sacred concept of marriage, however, is easily used in the most cunning manner by the Nation’s commander to send for Iphigenia, on the pretext that she is being called to Aulis to wed the Greek warrior Achilles. Now the vows start to contradict each other: in the choice between the vow to his family or his Nation, Agamemnon chooses the latter, while Clytemnestra pushes toward the first. The question arises: Which do we sacrifice when our different social marriages are pushed to contradict each other?

In Aulis, this geography of militarized stillness, the values start to fade in the name of Nation’s Security and Common Good. The people, as a result, start to ‘purchase’ what they hate the most with what they most ‘love’. War heroes curse what they bless; as many start to thoughtlessly advance the rhythm imposed on them by warmongers, just by remaining silent.

The language of Gilani’s take, informed by Roger Beck’s ‘pedestrian’ translation of this play, also floats between poetical, urban, literary, and ESL modes of contemporary English. This choice mirrors the diverse, transitory, and contradictory forms of marriages (familiar or unsettling) which shape the plot. The language with its shifting modes and deviated grammar also manages to apply sarcasm to tragedy and marry poetry with absurdity. Gilani further keeps traces of his journey from East to West by active employment of ESL mode of expression.

In sum, Gilani’s metaphorical adaption echoes sentiments of fear, widely shared by its contemporary readers of the play who are observing the dreadful rhythm of events in the present militarized world.  The reader cannot stop but to think of his/her resemblance to Iphigenia, who has no choice but to ‘believe’ she is the protagonist in a narration that has given her no choice in any sense. By the end of this disturbing tragedy we ponder how long does it take for a militarized peace to push voiceless people actively participate in their own slaughter, self-deceiving that they will be revered in a future war history.

The views and opinions expressed in the articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the organization.

Artist Experience: Waleed Abdulhamid on the Music and Meaning of The Brothers Size

Waleed Abdulhamid is working with the three guys in The Brothers Size  to incorporate beautiful vocal and musical work into the show. We asked him what he is planning and where this inspiration comes from. He shared a bit about his vision, and how meaningful the experience of working on this show is to him.


Can you share any thing about the music you are creating for The Brothers Size?

This piece is not going to only be percussion; it’s going to have flute, marimba, likembe (African thumb piano) and chanting vocals. Today I discovered I have three really strong singers which is great. Even, I checked some harmonies and I’m thinking to myself “whoohoo! I’m so excited”. I gave them different harmonies, I checked their range – I can be very comfortable and safe to experiment musically.

We’re going to use everything on that stage; there are going to be drums are going be created with skin on both sides, and they’re going to be huge, they’ll be a part of the set as well as an instrument. I will also have this huge marimba almost the size of the tables in the atrium, and likembe, an actual flute, and a vocal processor to create more vocals.

We’ve started to create it already, we’ve translated some of the words to Yoruba, and I did a little bit of a song with a choir and we’re going to be doing it in the play as well.

Where does the inspiration for the compositions come from?

I have over thirty years of music in theatre, and a lot of the music is inspired from the text. This text is inspired by a lot of African stories and spiritual figures and traditions. I was born in Sudan so that will also give me the experience of  both worlds – I will get inspired by the script, but the script is inspired by the traditions of Africa. It’s almost like melting both worlds together. You’ll hear a lot of influences from the Blues, and Yoruba, Nigeria, through different origins, through the Nile, all the way to Harlem, to different places in Alabama, Mississippi, and in church. A lot of that is combined between the past and present of today.

What excites you about working on The Brothers Size?

I’m a father, I have a teenage girl who is 16 and a dreadlocks boy who has always been asked why he looks different. Going back to look at the playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney’s story, it’s almost the same. He’s picked on as a different – even when he was the smartest in the class, there are always questions. As a father, a black guy, and an African person, somebody who lived in both worlds because the story has the three spiritual figures, to be the directors of those three guys in the hardship of America, I feel like I belong to that in a lot of different ways. A story like this is speaks to what I think, today and in the past. When I say the past, I mean as a young African man who came to America. Even though I’m not young, I’m 50 years old, I still try to understand what this world is all about. That is why I am really excited to do something like this, especially in a city like Toronto.

For me the winning card when I do work like this at the Young Centre, different people from different corners of the world can come into the Michael Young theatre to watch the story about three young men having really hard time but bridging that story with the past and the three different spiritual figures is what really excites me and is really important to me.

One of the reasons we are refusing each other is because we don’t know each other. You smile at me that’s an invitation to get to know you. If you say hello, that is the first step. If you hug me that’s another big humanity step. I think that’s most important thing. Art always reflects the true colours of humanity. To share that is going to bridge the gap, and then people will know what is happening. When we create art we have the privilege of being on stage and reflecting what humanity is.