Our two Academy designers, Alexandra Lord and Michelle Tracey, are working on the next two Summer shows Bed and Breakfast and Sisters. Both sets they’ve respectively designed are homes to two, but each home tells a very different story.
Bed and Breakfast Set Design by Alexandra Lord
The set design for Bed and Breakfast is the essentialized architectural structure of a turn of the century home. This familiar frame is filled out by one unconventional couple who learn to love each nook and cranny of this house, the small town it is in, the townspeople around them and, at the center of it all, each other. The set itself contains all they need to tell the story of the year it takes to make a house a home. There are doors that swing both ways, hidden storage closets and front and back stairs. Brett, played by Gregory Prest, and Drew, played by Paolo Santalucia, move us from multiple locations in the city to a small town and evoke everyone they meet along the way as they prepare to open their Bed and Breakfast with open arms and open hearts.
– Alexandra Lord
Sisters Set Design by Michelle Tracey
The set design for Sisters is at once a representation of the physical home of Anne and Evelina Bunner, their shop, and a transitory space that allows us to jump quickly through time, to flow seamlessly from location to location, and from reality to fantasy. The scenic design is also a physicalization of Anne’s internal world. At the heart of the play is Anne’s mission of self-sacrifice for the benefit of her sister; the audience has a chance to follow her emotional journey in addition to the story through the transformation of the space.
– Michelle Tracey
Bed and Breakfast, by Mark Crawford and directed by Ann Marie Kerr, begins August 11 and runs through September 1.
Sisters, written by another academy member Rosamund Small and directed by Peter Pasyk, runs August 23 to September 16.
It’s the end of November and most of my fellow Academy members are gearing up to be part of Soulpepper’s Family Festival. This is the second Family Festival show I will be a part of; last year I was in It’s a Wonderful Life, a staged adaptation of the famous movie by Frank Capra. It was directed by Albert Schultz and it was my first time working with many of Soulpepper’s resident artists, where we performed in the Bluma Appel Theatre.
For this year’s Family Festival I will be doing The Story by Martha Ross, co-produced by Common Boots and Soulpepper. I am happy to be doing this project with four other Academy artists: acting with Dan Mousseau and Marcel Stewart; wearing the wonderful wardrobe of Alexandra Lord; and being co-directed by Katrina Darychuk. This year our stage is a bit different, this year will be my first outside theatre show, where Christie Pits Park is our stage!
We have just finished our first week of rehearsal and it has been quite an exciting process. The Story is a fun, comedic parody of the nativity story. Doing an outside show during the winter is brand new for me; we have to be ready to adapt to changes in temperature and changes in terrain. We are also preparing to perform for up to 400 people on some of the busiest nights and making sure everyone can hear the show is a big vocal challenge. I love when you know you are growing as storyteller from doing a certain show and The Story is one of those shows.
I felt prepared to act in this style of show because the Academy recently completed two six-week comedic workshops: Clown with Leah Cherniak; and Commedia Dell’arte with Marcello Magni. Both are master teachers and both styles of comedy are based in physical comedy. In these workshops we were constantly challenged to create our own routines, bits and gags. So now during rehearsals my fellow Academy actors can offer great prompts and ideas for the directors to work with. I just hope laughter is a good medicine for cold weather!
At the beginning of October, myself and my fellow Soulpepper Academy artists had the chance to complete a week-long masterclass in design dramaturgy with Michael Levine. Michael is a renowned Canadian scenographer based in London, England, but his work in theatre, dance and opera can be seen all over the world. I was familiar with Michael’s work having seen his designs for the COC’s remount of Götterdämmerung (the 3rd in Wagner’s Ring Cycle) and the National Ballet’s production of Le Petit Prince, for which Michael was credited as ‘Set and Costume Designer’ and ‘Creative Concept’, alongside choreographer Guillaume Côté.
I was fascinated to meet Michael, having heard that his design practise was uniquely holistic, possibly due to his experience with London-based company Complicité who is known for their rigorous devised creations. I was excited for what insights Michael could share with our group about the potential of design to shape storytelling. From what I had seen of Michael’s designs, his work is less concerned with literal representation than with invoking the imaginations of the audience. This masterclass also marked a coming together for our Academy. It had been several months since all of our artistic disciplines had worked together in the same room.
Over the course of the week, we dove into analyzing the libretto for the opera Wozzeck by Alban Berg. Michael knew the libretto inside and out having designed it himself several times. Wozzeck is regarded as one of the first 20th– century ‘avant-garde’ operas because it utilized dissonance and atonality to express the tragic and often deranged inner worlds of the characters. Its libretto and score were an ideal jumping off point to discuss different kinds of space that exist in the theatre.
Beyond literal space, we discussed emotional space, psychological space, dream, fantasy, metaphor, etc. After establishing this shared language to discuss space, we experimented at length with how design elements could evoke different kinds of space.
We discussed power dynamics within scenes, and asked ourselves how could these power dynamic manifest themselves physically. It became much easier to understand how the placement of one set piece might amplify a power dynamic between two people in space.
We spent most of the week on our feet, working with choral movement and exploring how the physical relationships between bodies can create dramatic tension. I think it was surprising to most how movement-oriented Michael’s work was with us! I believe this work is at the heart of what scenographers can provide; dynamic space that provides strong opportunities for performers.
We also took time to look at simple objects in the room, and discover how they could be transformed in a theatrical context. This kind of transformation has always seemed like magic to me. It was breathtaking to witness how the power of our imaginations can transform an object as unassuming as a table into a boat, a gurney, a canvas, a prison cell (and on and on), or how a few sheets of paper can transform into a soaring flock of birds.
Michael also facilitated skype calls with several of his London-based colleagues throughout the week. It was fantastic to get a sampling of so many artists’ unique perspectives on theatre making from different disciplines. Finally, we were able to look at the different properties of theatre lighting and what emotional qualities they bring. It was an incredible week, and I feel that we grew as an ensemble as a result of it. The lessons that Michael taught us left me feeling empowered and inspired to continue creating with this bright group of artists.