Sesaya specializes in music and arts education.
Confession: my children have never seen a Soulpepper production. And my children’s music teacher, the performer Kyla Cook, has compounded my guilt. Originally from PEI, she just moved to Toronto from Montreal . . . and she’s already seen A Christmas Carol. Saturday morning, eyes wide with disbelief, she asked my children, “What do you mean you haven’t been to Soulpepper yet? You have to go.”
My children responded by giving me a look — which I interpreted as accusatory — like I’m holding out on a quintessentially Torontonian experience and committing an unforgiveable form of performing-arts neglect.
So my husband and I resolved to rectify this. Quickly! So … we started with the offerings at this year’s Soulpepper Family Festival, an annual event since 2014. We asked our children to choose a show each. Which yielded another problem . . . there’s so much choice that they couldn’t decide.
Needing some expert advice, I asked for input from longtime Soupepper resident artists–and mothers–Raquel Duffy, who is this year directing Alligator Pie, and Deborah Drakeford, who is performing in Parfumerie and A Christmas Carol (a classic she’s been a part of since its first Soulpepper production in 2001–which is in part why Kyla is so astonished).
Which to see? I asked.
“ALL OF IT!!” advises Raquel Duffy. “What a wonderful experience to share with your children! How amazing to have so many options.” That said, as a mother, she sympathizes with my plight: “The trouble is deciding which ones to fit into the busy season and busy lives. But many shows go into January, so this helps.”
Her Soulpepper colleague Deborah Drakeford agrees: “If your kids have not seen any of them, see them all!! There is such joy to be had in every piece being offered. The children can start with Alligator Pie and Magic, and work up to A Christmas Carol and Kim’s Convenience and then Parfumerie.”
Duffy shares Drakeford’s enthusiasm for the entire festival, and is beginning a family tradition of her own with 4 year-old son Finnegan. She has somehow shortlisted the many options and is bringing him to 3 of the shows. Likely, Finnegan is seeing Alligator Pie both because it’s age-appropriate and his mother is one of its creators. “I feel honoured to have been given the opportunity to create this piece. So much of why this piece works for all ages is because of the wonderful Dennis Lee. His poems are such a gift to play with. I love this show!”
“Family traditions can begin here!!” Drakeford insists. And she ought to know. Beyond bringing her now-grown children to see the shows, she has even shared the stage with them and her husband, the actor Oliver Dennis. “I LOVE working with my husband!! I think we have probably done 20 shows together. And our dear kids are so supportive of us. I think they get a kick out of seeing us together onstage. They see us in almost everything we do.”
And clearly, Drakeford’s family feeling extends to her longtime Soulpepper colleagues. Being able to work together over and again has enabled the company to develop a deeper, more profound relationship with each other, which reflects in the works. Drakeford has “been with Christmas Carol since its beginning here at Soulpepper.” She finds it “an absolute joy to revisit this beautiful story with my dear friends. It has become a vital part of my holiday tradition! And now with Oliver sharing the role of Scrooge with Joe (Ziegler) and having Jordan Pettle play my Bob Cratchit, well…my heart sings!” Like Drakeford, Duffy appreciates the ” ‘short-hand’ or comfort and trust already present in your relationship that you don’t need to negotiate.” She also enthuses that, “Some of what distinguishes Soulpepper from other companies I’ve worked with is the length of time you get to rehearse, which is longer than any theatre I’ve worked with. This enriches the process and allows more exploration for the performer to search, question and make more choices with a character and script.”
In addition to familiarity, this year brings new experiences for both Duffy and Drakeford. Drakeford joins the Parfumerie group for the first time — in a small, albeit memorable, role. “I love that show!!”she beams. For the versatile Duffy, transitioning from being one actor in Alligator Pie to being the sole director seems to have been seamless. When I asked her about directing other actors performing in a show she created, her process sounded at once objective and nurturing. Having herself worked with many renowned directors, she has come to understand that the key to eliciting a compelling performance is to give the actor only what they need on that day, in that moment…to allow them to explore and find it themselves — rather than just telling them what to do.
That said, “Alligator Pie is a fairly technical show to do, so a lot of it is telling [the actors] what to do; what note to sing, where to move, dance steps….So I’m contradicting myself a bit here,” she avers. “But once all the technical stuff is passed on, the rest is about loosening the reins so that the new cast will have the chance to make it their own, rather than doing a carbon copy of what we did. The nature of the show encourages a certain amount of ‘looseness’ for things to go awry. I think we all welcome the chance to explore what happens if we fail, and hopefully through that failure, you find some gems. And we have such an amazing group! They are so different from us, so they can bring a whole new energy to the piece.”
The Soulpepper Family Festival is just 2 years old and this year has expanded its offerings in 2 venues to include plays, a concert, a magic show and Winter Waves, which features free events for the whole family. “The Festival is such a wonderful idea!” says Drakeford. “Nothing will disappoint.”
So… armed with this information, my children are closer to making their selections. (A Christmas Carol seems like a lock…) With inevitable holiday busy-ness, we can’t see every show. Not this year, anyway.
No matter, consoles Drakeford. “If you can’t see them all this year, wait for next year to see the rest!!”
News You Can Use, according to Raquel Duffy and Deborah Drakeford
When: Until January 3, 2016
Where: Young Centre for the Performing Arts in the Distillery District and The Bluma Appel Theatre in the St Lawrence Centre for the Arts, Toronto, ON
For Information and Tickets: Soulpepper.ca/Family and 416.866.8666
Family Festival Highlights: Watch it here.
© 2015 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya