Soulpepper Theatre Celebrates 25 Years
2022/23 Season Puts Canadian Women Front and Center on Toronto’s Premier Stage.
WORDS BY MILES FORRESTER | TORONTO | THEATRE
MAR 16, 2023 | ISSUE 10
"Alice in Wonderland" at Manitoba Theatre For Young People by Leif Norman
Weyni Mengesha by Mikka Gia.jpeg
Virgilia Griffith in "Queen Goneril" - Photo by Dahlia Katz
For its 25th season, Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre is returning to full theatres with a mandate to champion Canadian actors and playwrights. All six works featured in this season are spearheaded by female creators. Of the six pieces featured, only one isn’t Canadian—that being Shakespeare's King Lear, which is in repertory with the freshly commissioned Queen Goneril, written by Canadian Erin Shields. Shields wrote this feminist reimagination, centring one of Lear's daughters within the context of Soulpepper’s Six Women Writing program. This stewardship of Canadian female voices is part of Artistic Director Weyni Mengesha’s mission to center the stories told by women, and about women, in this season’s roster of experiences. Mengesha also directed Queen Goneril while Mengesha has been Artistic Director since 2018 and is a prolific director, composer, and community leader. She’s earned recognition from the Drama Critics Circle, Drama League, NAACP, and a Dora award for her compositions in Trey Anthony’s ‘da Kink in My Hair—which she is also directing a 20th-anniversary remount of in December. Also featured this season is The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale by Haley McGee, Bad Parent by Ins Choi, and the latest Soulpepper concert from the Slaight Family, The Golden Record. Mengesha joined smART Magazine from Toronto, at the tail end of Queen Goneril’s rehearsal process.
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR WEYNI MENGESHA
sM | Goneril came out of the Six Women Writing program in 2020. How does it feel to be in the thick of something that started just two years ago?
WM ─ It’s a beautiful thing to be coming out of the pandemic with. It’s ambitious; we wanted to come back strong with an outlet for artists to be able to write and tell stories from different perspectives. We’re known for our ensemble, our actors are some of the tops in the country. But it’s important – given the size that we are, our resources, and our connections to incredible artists – that we help continue to build new voices and to make sure that we are not just putting on shows from around the world but also really contributing to theatre around the world as Canadians. Last night was the first dress rehearsal, so it’s been really exciting to be part of something from concept to execution.
sM | Every single play this season is led by a woman. What more can audiences expect in this season which deliberately platforms stories told by women and that puts women first?
WM ─ A big part of our mission is to help fill gaps and do that responsibly. We’ve commissioned six brilliant women, and they’ve created beautiful pieces. Now that one of our six women has had her play on the Main Stage, we want to fill her seat. So, we’re going to commission a new play and keep it going.
We’ve had a lot of incredible feedback after doing the Her Words Festival, and we are going to do it again next year. The way that we’re creating our pipeline, we should have a new play every year.
sM | What is your mission in developing the potential of companies, such as Outside the March, Bad Hats Theatre, and the red light district?
WM ─ Part of our responsibility as a larger cultural organization is sharing resources and supporting other companies. Bad Hats has been an associate company for two years. It’s been really great, both ways, having their fresh energy and ideas. Obviously, with a smaller company, you’re able to be more responsive, flexible, and meet the moments. Outside the March is doing excellent work, exciting work. It’s important that we feed each other—especially now, coming out of the pandemic. We want to stay at the forefront of our artistic conversations and make sure that we are supporting artists that we think are really making an impact.
sM | Trey Anthony’s ‘da Kink in My Hair turns 20 this year. What does it mean to you to celebrate this Canadian work, which centers black women?
WM ─ A lot has happened. And I think it’s important to look at that play again in this context and see how far we’ve come and what’s changed and to celebrate the new generation of young women. For us, it’s an event; it’s a celebration. When we did ‘da Kink in My Hair originally at the Princess of Wales Theatre, there hadn’t even been another Canadian play in that theatre space. It was made for Miss Saigon, and it was always commercial. The fact that we can create these commercial successes and support them — that we celebrate our writers — feels like it’s a homecoming.
SOULPEPPER’S 2022/23 SEASON
Tom-McCamus in "King Lear" - Photo by Dahlia Katz.jpg
The world premiere of Queen Goneril launched the season in tandem with Shakespeare’s <