top of page

Soulpepper Theatre Celebrates 25 Years

2022/23 Season Puts Canadian Women Front and Center on Toronto’s Premier Stage.



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


"Alice in Wonderland" at Manitoba Theatre For Young People by Leif Norman

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.


Weyni Mengesha by Mikka Gia.jpeg

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.

Virgilia Griffith in "Queen Goneril" - Photo by Dahlia Katz

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.


Tom-McCamus in "King Lear" - Photo by Dahlia Katz.jpg

The world premiere of Queen Goneril launched the season in tandem with Shakespeare’s King Lear from August 25–October 2 and August 27–October 1, respectively. Queen Goneril retells Shakespeare’s tragedy of dynastic breakdown with Lear’s eldest daughter as the protagonist. Both productions featured the same cast, with Virgilia Griffith as Goneril, Tom McCamus as King Lear, Helen Belay and Vanessa Sears as Cordelia and Regan, respectively. However, with the shift in perspective from the text, each play featured a different directorial vision, with Kim Collier directing King Lear. Speaking ahead of the premiere, Mengesha says the dual production brings the audience in to dive critically into material they think they know. “They get to watch Lear one night, and on the other night, they go seven years in an imagined past to a world where women are actually at the center. We know in Lear they have 16% of the text, and here they have 90%. The audience can see what that does to the narrative.”

From September 15–October 9 Ins Choi’s Bad Parent was staged, co-produced by the Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre and Prairie Theatre Exchange, and directed by Meg Roe. This was one of many of this year’s homecomings, with Choi returning to Soulpepper following the massive success of Kim’s Convenience. Bad Parent is a raw and humorous exploration of parenting in front of an audience, starring Josette Jorge and Raugi Yu.

Virgilia Griffith, Vanessa Sears, and Helen Belay in "Queen Goneril" - Photo by Dahlia Katz

The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale by writer and star Haley McGee explores the role of neoliberalism in objectifying human relationships. From October 18–November 6, McGee will mathematicize love’s worth to determine which gifts from past boyfriends can be sold to repay her Visa bill. Directed by Mitchell Cushman, The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale will be staged at Soulpepper in association with Outside the March and the red light district.

Conceived by the Slaight Family Director of Music, Mike Ross (Spoon River), The Golden Record is a night of music and storytelling inspired by the Voyager Golden Records, a document of human life and Earth in general that NASA sent into space in 1977 in hopes of reaching intelligent life. Directed by Frank Cox-O’Connell, you can catch the ensemble of Slaight Music Associates performing this from November 9 – November 20.

Ending the season is ‘da Kink in my Hair, presented by TO Live and Soulpepper for its 20th anniversary at the Bluma Appel Theatre at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts from December 6–23. Winning four NAACP awards, including Best New Playwright for Trey Anthony, the story of a West Indian hair salon in Toronto began as an international Fringe darling and eventually became the first Canadian play performed at the Princess of Wales Theatre. The show subsequently was adapted for television and is now an accepted member of the Canadian canon.


Bad Hats Core Team (L-R): Matt Pilipiak, Fiona Sauder, Victor Pokinko - Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic

Bad Hats is an emerging company of theatre artists who specialize in pieces for all-age audiences. During the pandemic, Soulpepper helped facilitate a filmed production of Bad Hats’s Alice in Wonderland as well as provide them an office. To provide further insight into the mentorship that Soulpepper provides to other companies, Artistic Director of Bad Hats, Fiona Sauder, joined us to reflect on the troupe’s experience as an Associated Company for the past two years.

sM | What were some lessons you learned in realizing Alice in Wonderland that will be carried throughout Bad Hats’s future?

FS I look back on it as an accelerated course in creative intention. The pandemic’s barriers demanded we be highly specific with our storytelling, caring for our artists, and innovative in carving out space for theatre when almost none felt possible. It presented a miraculous opportunity for us to try. We build all our work on the same model: long development periods breed long-living productions. We don’t create shows to be mounted once. We re-examine and re-draft between productions, always refining our execution and thesis.

We developed this when Soulpepper programmed our Peter Pan adaptation three years running, and when Alice meets its first live Toronto audience this winter, it will have transformed many times. As a developing company, we’re keenly aware that we invent the work in tandem with how we create it. We grow alongside it. Soulpepper saying “yes” to this mandate supported the art’s longevity and the artists behind it. The best thing one company can do is to champion another.

"Peter Pan" at Soulpepper - Photo by Nicholas Porteous

sM | We love that you’re paying it forward with the New Bad Ideas incubator. How does this mentorship invigorate your team’s artistic mission?

FS ─ This annual program selects new musical works for all-age audiences from emerging writers and supports them in building their next draft. It’s now closing out its 5th year and continues to hold a mirror up to everything our company is striving for. It calls on all our best care and precision. Our being a multidisciplinary company means program participants collaborate with a producer who is also a composer, a director who is also a writer, a dramaturg who is also an actor, and so on. If we have it to give, it’s given. We have participants interact with the Bad Hats hive because this is how we make our own work. We let all the skills and backgrounds in the room imprint on the piece at hand.

In New Bad Ideas, we do the same thing but put the participants in the driver’s seat. For us, it acts as a training ground for our ongoing practice of caring for fledgling ideas. We set out to create the program we wished we had when we were starting.

sM | What’s coming down the line for Bad Hats next year?

FS ─ Our mainstage adaptations, Peter Pan and Alice In Wonderland, are two pieces of a triptych, each of which explores a different age. Peter Pan encounters characters on the brink of leaving childhood behind, Alice In Wonderland wrestles with the moment we stare down the barrel of adolescence, and the third will be Narnia, which unpacks the seasonal nature of our adult years and end of life. People often ask us why we make work for children, and the truth is: we don’t. We make work inspired by children for the generations who have left childhood behind, reminding them of the outlook they held when they were younger.

As Peter Pan continues to be licensed across Canada and Alice heads into its third iteration, we look forward to the first workshops of Narnia and the ongoing life of each of these productions. In addition, our New Bad Ideas program is heading into its 6th year, with a very exciting expansion on the horizon. We’ll also be premiering an immersive piece that travels the grounds of the Harbourfront Centre as part of Toronto’s International Children’s Festival, JUNIOR, in 2023.


Our newsletters bring you the best in the visual and performing arts.
Exclusive interviews. Global Coverage. Local Perspectives.

bottom of page