Watching a Pinter work is a mental workout… try stage managing two Pinter productions at Soulpepper, with two very different approaches.
Darragh Parsons is a legendary Toronto Stage Manager, well known for her exceptional baked goods. She’s been working with the company for nearly 10 years on some of our celebrated works including Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, for colored girls…, Of Human Bondage, and on major works in the community like The Phantom of the Opera (Pantages Theatre) and two national tours of Cats. Read more to get Darragh’s take on a Pinter play like Betrayal, on stage now!
A stage manager pulls the technical elements together from all designs and direction over the rehearsal period, in what we lovingly call Tech week, and puts it all in book called the prompt script. That book is gold in the end but it all goes through the wringer before it gets to the shiny final copy.
Pinter exposes character flaws through humor, rhythm, absurd situations and simplicity. But be aware, his words are a mechanism, so don’t look for truth or meaning in them. There is rarely a connection between the characters and how they all pretend they are communicating. Anxiety is at the root of it all—no one feels comfortable, and their memories are flawed. All of the characters work for control because it is easier to control than connect. The actors have to read between the lines, between the words and for God’s sake never pause unless indicated! There are 130 pauses in Betrayal. Silence is not an actor forgetting a line, it is scripted. In fact, there are 16 scripted silences in Betrayal.
Working in reverse time is a challenge. We are telling the story but the audience always knows more than the character. Navigating what the character knows makes discussions become entangled. Robert knows this. Robert thinks Jerry knows this. Jerry doesn’t know what Robert knows. Emma doesn’t know that Robert knows and Emma doesn’t tell Jerry that Robert knows or what she knows. Jerry lives in fear of Judith knowing and of Robert knowing. Jerry knows very little of anything really. Robert says this but is that a lie or the truth?. No one really knows what and who—those are the questions in Pinter.
For a 75 minute play that appears to be a bunch of superficial conversations in a story of people having affairs it will make you think, laugh, and applaud. Betrayal by Harold Pinter runs until September 22, 2019.
Want to learn more about Soulpepper’s initiatives to increase accessibility at the Young Centre and welcome new patrons into our space and at our productions?
Katherine Beaulieu Soulpepper and the Young Centre’s Patron Services Assistant Manager recently attended the Tessitura Learning and Community Conference in Chicago as a featured presenter to discuss Accessible and Inclusive Programming with representatives from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, and Roundabout Theatre Company in New York. She sat down to share with us a bit about the work she is doing to make Soulpepper a theatre for everyone.
At the TLCC Katherine presented on what Soulpepper and the Young Centre for the Performing Arts have been doing in just this last year improve our programming for audiences with various access needs, and how to welcome these new audiences into our space. Soulpepper’s main initiatives have been ASL interpreted performances, Relaxed Performances, and most recently Audio Described performances, as well as forming an interdepartmental Access Team to establish and evaluate Soulpepper’s continued efforts.
Many theatre goers know typically how ASL interpreted performances work – where one or two interpreters stand at the front of the stage and sign the dialogue of the show – but Katherine was surprised to learn that a ‘Relaxed Performance’ isn’t as common of a term as she thought. Some people know this type of performance as ‘sensory friendly’, but over half the room wasn’t familiar with the concept at all.
Katherine shared the considerations Soulpepper and the Young Centre make to welcome patrons to a Relaxed Performance, this includes before the show has even begun, involving patrons trip to the theatre and getting into the building as well as changes made for the performance. Some examples of changes made to a Relaxed Performance include:
- Change the light flicker and chimes in the Atrium to indicate performances are starting soon.
- Allow for movement, noise, and silent use of devices in the theatre while the performance is happening.
- Offer in and out access to the theatre throughout the performance.
- Set house lights to 30% and keep sound below 90 decibels.
- Offer a Quiet Room room, a sensory friendly space with a live feed to the performance on a TV.
- Provide fact sheets to explain and prepare for the production.
A fact sheet offers guests of the performance detailed notes about what to expect during the specific show they are attending. These notes describe everything from jarring lighting changes, to loud noises, and even establishing trust with characters before the production begins. Soulpepper’s communications team sits down with the Director to go over each and every element of the production to make sure patrons are well informed ahead of their show. Katherine was busy sharing Soulpepper’s fact sheets and visual guide which were extremely well received during the TLCC presentation!
Now that you know more about Relaxed Performances, consider joining us at the next ones. There will be relaxed performances for Betrayal on September 15 at 2:00PM and for Peter Pan on December 19 at 11:00AM and December 22 at 1:00PM.
Stay tuned for exciting news about relaxed performances in Soulpepper’s upcoming season announcement!
Written by: Milusha Copas
Newly minted Dora Award-winner Gillian Gallow sent us a first look at the maquette of her crisp set design for ‘Art’ by Yasmina Reza. You can see her work on stage August 9 to September 1.
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 Experience: Huse Madhavji on working with Oliver Dennis and Diego Matamoros in his Soulpepper debut
Huse Madhavji is making his Soulpepper debut in the Tony Award-winning sharp comedy ‘Art’ by Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton. Not only is he making his debut here, he is stepping into a role alongside some of Soulpepper’s most established and beloved actors, Founding Member Diego Matamoros and Resident Artist Oliver Dennis. Here is what Huse had to say about this exciting opportunity!
Have you ever been a part of a conversation with really inspiring and amazing people and then tried to contribute, only to quickly learn that it’s probably best to keep quiet and just be grateful you’re included? This is what it’s like working with my castmates Diego Matamoros, Oliver Dennis and our director Philip Akin (also making his Soulpepper debut). These three, insanely brilliant craftsman bring so much talent and experience to the table, that our rehearsals also dub as a master class in theatre for me!
Each day starts off with fun and insightful anecdotes from all of the previous productions they’ve all worked on, everything from the early days of Soulpepper to Stratford. Quotes from Shakespeare are all too common, as well as the casual name-dropping of legends that have graced stages in this country. It’s not like I wasn’t prepared for the level of talent I was going to work with. Philip directed me last fall for a production at The Factory Theatre, so I knew all about his genius. But Diego and Oliver, I can thank Instagram! A month before my first day of rehearsal for ‘Art’, I posted a screenshot from the Soulpepper website on my IG page, a shameless plug that featured my name along with my two soon to be castmates Diego and Oliver. I was expecting the messages to be pouring in about how cool it is that I’ll be taking a break from TV to do some theatre. Instead I got messages about how cool it is that I’ll be sharing the stage with these actors. One close friend of mine sent me a private message saying, “You do realize, you’ll be performing with theatre royalty!” And wow, was she right. You can just tell by the way they move and sound, they are masters at what they do, it’s in how they ask questions, how they think and really, how they see the world.
We rehearse 6 days a week working hard, doing our absolute best to tell this story and bring it to life. If you were a fly on wall watching us work, I’m confident what you’ll find is a room full of curiosity, openness, imagination and a real sense of play! Well… that, and me pinching myself thinking, holy crap, I’m surrounded by theatre royalty, maybe I’ll just keep quiet and listen.
Catch Huse making his Soulpepper debut in ‘Art’ August 9 to September 1.
Meet Kate and Kate; Kate Duncan and Kate Sandeson, that is. Down in the rehearsal hall for Fool For Love, if you call out for Kate, both the Stage Manager and the Assistant Stage Manager will come running. Get to know them!
What is your job title, have you been with Soulpepper before, and what does your job consist of?
KATE DUNCAN (KD): I am the Assistant Stage Manager for Fool For Love. My job consists of managing the backstage elements of the show, including props and costumes and any needs the actors may have backstage. Together with Kate Sandeson, our Stage Manager, I help facilitate the process from rehearsal preparation through to the closing performance. I have worked at Soulpepper previously as an Apprentice Stage Manager on The Crucible and The Royal Comedians in 2012, as well as one of my favourite shows to date, Alligator Pie in both 2012 and 2013.
KATE SANDESON (KS): I am the Stage Manager for Fool For Love. I have worked at Soulpepper before as an Assistant Stage Manager on Billy Bishop Goes to War, for colored girls…, Happy Place, and Glenn.
My job as Stage Manager is to help facilitate the rehearsals, both in the hall and technical rehearsals, as well as maintain the show standard once we are open.
This means keeping clear communication open between departments and tracking all the moving pieces that encompass the rehearsal process from actors with props to when lighting and sound might need to happen. In a technical rehearsal the stage manager is the hub for all the information from designers to help create the final technical product that the audience sees on stage each night.
What are you most excited about with Fool For Love?
KD: We have an incredibly talented cast of actors, so it’s very exciting to watch them rehearse and piece the show together. Also, one of the most exciting parts of the production process for me is beginning on stage rehearsals where we merge the work we have been doing in the rehearsal hall with the work of our creative team including set, costume, lighting and sound designers.
KS: My favourite part of any rehearsal process is getting to meet and work with the artists who are involved. Fool For Love has a stunning cast as well as an amazing creative team. Not to mention, working with all of the talented people that keep Soulpepper running behind the scenes!
What is the craziest thing you’ve done for love?
KD: My boyfriend and I took a trip to Iceland last year; he is a very skilled hiker and wanted to climb a glacier while we were there. This was a bit out of my comfort zone but outfitted with ice picks and boots with spikes, we went for it. He ended up asking me to marry him while we were hiking on the glacier, so it was totally worth it!
KS: I’m a pretty low-key person and don’t tend to lean towards crazy when it comes to my romantic life. I just make decisions and then tell the people around me I’ve made them. I did corner my now husband backstage right before we had to do an onstage change during a performance and ask him to be my boyfriend. He had no choice in the matter in the moment – but here we are married for 1 year this summer and together for almost 8!
When you are not at work, what are you doing?
KD: I have a rescue dog named Riley and I love taking long walks with her in my spare time. I also love to travel when I’m not working on a show. My next travel destination is Cape Cod in August!
KS: You can usually find me hanging out with my husband and cat at home on the sofa. If I’m not there I am at Soulcycle – spinning brings me a lot of joy and keeps my energy and positivity up!
Be sure to catch the hard work Kate and Kate put into running Fool For Love by Sam Shepard beginning July 13.
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.
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.
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.