Soulpepper Theatre Company is one of the most successful theatre companies in Canada, and growing every day. What began as a group of twelve actors who wanted to tell classical theatre stories has grown into one of the largest theatre companies in Toronto and one of the most well respected in the country. They've enjoyed many sold-out productions in the last few years, and have been responsible for the growth and development of new Canadian works, including the smash hit Kim's Convenience, which has arguably been the most talked-about Canadian play of the last twelve months.
Working out of the Young Centre in Toronto’s gorgeous Distillery District, the company’s offices are housed in the same building as their theatres. They also boast an impressive residency program for up and coming artists in the country – The Soulpepper Academy. Some of the country’s best and brightest talents have graced their stages, and as they embark on their fifteenth season they seem poised to only continue their upward momentum.
Founding Artistic Director Albert Schultz first delved into theatre while training at York University, and then was part of the Stratford Festival Young Company under Robin Phillips. After a few years on television (including the hit Canadian drama Street Legal) and some film work, Albert established Soulpepper with a group eleven other artists and continues to head the company today. He also serves as the General Director of the Young Centre and leads the Soulpepper Academy. BWW sat down to speak with Albert about his feelings on Toronto’s theatre scene, the development of new Canadian work and Soulpepper’s recipe for success:
First off, congratulations on Soulpepper’s 2012 Season! Your programming is pretty heavy on plays, is there a reason for the lack of musicals?
We do a musical maybe every two years. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, our stages are very intimate compared to some of the other festivals so the economy of doing a musical is harder here. Also we have several people in the company who can sing and play instruments - but the company is better prepared for plays as opposed to musicals. That’s been our bread and butter. I do hope that next year there will be a musical in the mix, but we also need to make sure we find the right one for the right people.
In addition we’re a very specific company and we grow and are very porous, but what we don’t do is bring in a group of people just for the sake of doing a musical. We will find one that works for us though, and I hope it’ll be in time for next season. I love musicals!
Richard Ouzounian once told me that he felt ‘Soulpepper was the most consistently successful Toronto theatre.’ Do you think that’s a fair assessment?
Well if Richard says it I won’t disagree! Certainly I think that we’ve had a pretty good run and are blessed to be in our fifteenth season and have grown exponentially. We’ve built the largest company outside of Stratford and Shaw in the country and are the biggest employer of theatre artists in this city. That’s a good sign and a very important one. So I think I would stand by that. I’m certainly proud that he thinks that about us and I hope it’s true!
What’s the number one thing that you’re doing that keeps bringing audiences back?
We have an advantage over anyone else in the city and that’s the same advantage that Shaw and Stratford have in that we only do great plays. Classical companies are companies that do revivals and are working with material that’s already proven. The odds just become better because the work is already known and hopefully loved. The foundation is great because it has withstood the test of time. The fact that we program great plays is key to our success.
The other thing is that we have a company who have developed a wonderful shorthand so our work just gets richer and richer as we grow and understand each other better. We have a very strong ensemble of artists and at the end of the day the quality comes from the fact that we’re starting with good work and working with great people. I love to use the stew analogy: “If you want to make a really rich stew you have to start with good ingredients and you have to cook it for a very long time.” That’s what we do. We spend more time rehearsing that anyone else in the country. That must have an effect on things at the end of the day.