Thursday, 1 June 2017

Stories from the Professional Theatre Training Program: Sarah Thorpe

Our Professional Theatre Training Program (PTTP) offers financial support for unique and flexible training with a chosen mentor in any theatrical discipline (except performance.)

Sarah Thorpe will train in directing with Alan Dilworth at Soup Can Theatre in Toronto

(April 24, 2017) This is the first grant I have ever received. If you’re an indie artist, you get used to writing a seemingly never-ending number of these throughout any given year, and in my case as is the case of many of my peersyou get used to the rejection letters. Despite that, you have to keep writing and applying. As you can imagine, getting the congratulatory phone call from Rachel Kennedy was a tremendously exciting moment. Endless thanks to Theatre Ontario and the Ontario Arts Council for providing me with the opportunity to explore this facet of theatre that I have predominantly been self-taught through trial and error, and now have a chance to refine my skills and understanding with a director whose body of work is one I wholeheartedly respect and admire.

In my work with Alan, I hope to gain a more well-rounded understanding of the craft of directing, particularly how it pertains to the work I am interested in directing and creating through my company, Soup Can Theatre, where we focus on reinterpreting older works for the 21st century and exploring how these pieces can still be relevant to our current social climate. Alan and I have a shared passion for re-imagining older and classical texts, which makes us a great pair for this mentorship. While my instincts as a director are strong and have served me well in my practice and career thus far, I feel that I am at a point where I need to ‘up’ my ante as an artist, and this mentorship will help me in that regard by learning from someone whose work is similar to what I do. We will be focusing on two future Soup Can projects which I will be directing: a production of Edward Bond’s Lear, and an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s most well-known poems and stories to be staged promenade-style in a historic space.

Within the plans Alan and I have outlined for the mentorship and as I prepare for our first week, I’m discovering other aspects of directing to explore within the context of analyzing the texts and working with classical and poetic texts:
  • Alan has a wonderful ability to capture intimate moments of humanity and vulnerability within large theatrical landscapes via design and space, such as in his recent work with Soulpepper (Eurydice, Incident at Vichy, The Last Wife.) Lear and the Poe piece have high stakes and big ideas in terms of theatricality and heightened environments, but I don’t want the rich, quieter moments of intimacy and vulnerability to get lost. I want to learn how to better combine intimacy and theatricality in ways that unify these pieces as wholes. 
  • I’m excited to workshop scenes with actors. Soup Can has just launched a large crowd-funding campaign for Lear, and thanks to the PTTP, I can dedicate some time to work with the five actors I have cast in the main roles in order to stretch my muscles as the director of this piece, and try some scenes and moments out before we start rehearsals. Lear is very dark and complex, with very intimately aggressive scenes and poetic text. With Alan’s guidance and extensive knowledge of Bond and his canon, I’ll learn how best to navigate these scenes and text with actors.
  • I have also begun looking into spaces for the Poe piece. In my search, I have been particularly drawn to St Luke’s Church at Carlton and Sherbourne, which has been the home of such other site-specific pieces as Litmus Theatre’s Birth of Frankenstein. I am looking very forward to going in there with Alan, showing him the rooms and areas of the church I’m most drawn to, anddue to his past experience of site-specific work with Passion Play (Outside the March/Sheep No Wool/Convergence Theatre)getting his expertise on how best to use physical space as a character and setting up an environment, the best way to marry the stories and text with a site-specific space, and other elements of putting a theatre production in a non-traditional theatre space.
Through this mentorship, I’ll be able to enhance my effectiveness as one of the lead artistic voices of Soup Can so we can keep the quality of our artistic output consistent and relevant as we continue to evolve as a company, while also strengthening my own skills and becoming a more efficient and creative director.

The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is October 2, 2017.

Theatre Ontario’s Professional Theatre Training Program is funded by the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.

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