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Soulpepper’s 2024-25 season pairs Canadian classics with thrilling premieres and gorgeous music

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iPhoto caption: Weyni Mengesha, artistic director of Soulpepper Theatre
/By / May 27, 2024
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Beloved classics. Groundbreaking premieres. Feisty foliage. Soulpepper’s 2024-25 season has it all. 

Audiences can look forward to eight exciting productions in a range of genres, from concerts to large-scale musicals to incisive solo performances. If a common theme unites this diversity of offerings, it’s a desire to pierce through the noise — of politics, racism, corporate scheming, contemporary dating — in search of truth and connection. 

This season is “a celebration of resiliency,” said Weyni Mengesha, Soulpepper’s artistic director, in an interview. “[The characters in these plays] are carving their futures [with] resilient [and] creative spirits, innovation, and boldness.”

The season’s first production finds that boldness in the power of song — and a riff or three. Soulpepper will kick off 2024-25 with the return of Bille, Sarah, and Ella: Revolutionary Women in Jazz, a concert created and performed by Divine Brown and directed by Mengesha, which the theatre first produced in 2023. 

Brown’s concert celebrates the lives and legacies of jazz legends Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, and Ella Fitzgerald. Mengesha mentioned that Sarah Vaughan might be her favourite of the trio. “I think [Vaughan] doesn’t get as much credit as she deserves,” she noted.

Hot on the heels of Revolutionary Women in Jazz comes a Broadway hit: American playwright Heidi Schreck’s What the Constitution Means to Me, also directed by Mengesha in a co-production with Nightwood Theatre, in association with Necessary Angel and Talk is Free Theatre. As a teenager, Schreck put away money for college by winning debate competitions about the American Constitution. In the play, Schreck — played by Toronto film and theatre star Amy Rutherford — uses those debates as a catalyst to explore the U.S. Constitution’s worth, its limitations, and its effects on the lives of the women in her family past and present. 

“I find that it’s hard to talk about politics these days,” said Mengesha. “There’s so much polarization. [Schreck] creates this beautiful framework, and invites everyone in to be able to have their voice heard.”

Soulpepper’s production of What the Constitution Means to Me will overlap with the 2024 U.S. election. Given Canada’s close relationship with the United States, Schreck’s play is sure to be relevant north of the border. With that said, Soulpepper is also taking steps to tailor the production to a Canadian context.

“It occurred to us that the final debate [in the play], which is very American-based, may be harder with a Canadian audience,” Mengesha explained. “We’re doing a workshop with some Canadian debaters, and experts on our own Charter of Rights and Freedoms, looking at how we can have a conversation about how our Charter does and doesn’t connect [to the American Constitution], and [how we can] have our own Canadian discussion at the end of the play.”

While What the Constitution Means To Me takes on a nation’s founding documents, the season’s next production zeroes in on local municipal politics. Crow’s Theatre and Soulpepper will present Michael Healey’s play The Master Plan, which premiered last year at Crow’s. Staged by Crow’s artistic director Chris Abraham, Healey’s Shakespearean tale of the rise and fall of the Google Sidewalks Labs project in Toronto features crackling dialogue, nail-biting plot twists, and an opinionated Norway Maple tree as narrator. (Hence the foliage.) 

In the winter, Soulpepper will revive two beloved classics. Its 2024 holiday show is Alligator Pie, a musical inspired by the childrens’ poems of Dennis Lee; co-created by Ins Choi, Raquel Duffy, Ken MacKenzie, Gregory Prest, and Mike Ross; and starring the 2024 Soulpepper Academy ensemble. 

Although Soulpepper first served up Alligator Pie in 2015, this production puts a new twist on the old recipe. “There will be different poems, newly arranged [as songs] by the Academy,” said Mengesha. “We’re over the moon. It’s an incredibly thrilling group of artists.”

Next Soulpepper will bring back Kim’s Convenience, in association with American Conservatory Theater and Adam Blanshay Productions. (The show will tour to ACT in San Francisco in the fall of 2025.) Ins Choi’s award-winning play-turned-TV-show ended its tenure on CBC after five seasons in 2021. “Ins and I, we did that show together over a decade ago,” said Mengesha, who directed the play’s 2012 Soulpepper premiere and will also helm the revival. “We were talking about the fact that a lot of younger artists don’t know the play; they know the TV show.”

In the very first production of Kim’s Convenience, at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2011, Ins Choi played the role of Jung, the son of the titular character. This revival’s casting has come full circle: this winter Choi himself will step into the role of Mr. Kim, as he did in the Grand Theatre’s run of the play in 2023.

In February, audiences can swipe right on Table For Two, a heartwarming, hilarious new solo  play created by and starring Akosua Amo-Adem and directed by Djanet Sears, about a Ghanaian woman navigating the labyrinth of modern dating. Amo-Adem is a Soulpepper Academy graduate and powerhouse performer who has been a regular in plays like last season’s Three Sisters and 2022’s Pipeline

In early March — that time when winter feels like it might go on forever — Soulpepper will transport audiences to California in Ladies of the Canyon: Joni and the California Scene, a new concert created by former Academy member Hailey Gillis and Slaight Music Associate Raha Javanfar. The show pays tribute to the musicians who worked alongside and inspired each other in Laurel Canyon in the 60s and 70s, including Joni Mitchell and Mamma Cass Elliott. 

The final, crowning production of the season is the Canadian premiere of A Strange Loop, Michael R. Jackson’s hilarious and moving Pulitzer-Prize winning-musical. A Strange Loop, which Soulpepper will co-produce with Crow’s Theatre and Musical Stage Company, charts the spiralling internal life of a character called Usher: a fat, Black queer man excavating the nuances of identity and desire while writing a musical about a fat, Black queer man excavating the nuances of identity and desire while writing a musical — you get the idea. 

“When I saw this [show] on Broadway, I was floored,” shared Mengesha. “I was so moved by [Jackson’s] bravery and honesty.” She went on to say that A Strange Loop will be “a beautiful and enriching experience for audiences, and an inspiring provocation to artists.” Ray Hogg, the artistic director of Musical Stage Company, will direct the Toronto production.

In a season of such scope and variety, it’s striking how many of the artists involved are present or future members of the Soulpepper Academy, a program that has a special place in Mengesha’s heart. 

“I’m a graduate of the first Academy,” Mengesha explained. “It’s an incredibly unique program in the world, and one of the main things that brought me back [to Soulpepper]. It’s built to steer the company into the future. We’re not bringing artists in to teach them how to do what we do; it’s more of a lab, a space for artists to stretch and grow and shape their artistic voice.” 

Graduates of the Academy have gone on to lead further Soulpepper programs that offer artist’s sustained changes to grow their practice. Past Academy graduates Mike Ross and Frank Cox-O’Connell have both gone on to become Slaight Directors of Music at Soulpepper. In turn, they’ve fostered the work of Slaight Music Associates like Javanfar and Brown, whose concerts audiences can thrill to this season. 

This sense of community extends to audiences as well. “We are our community activation,” Mengesha avowed.” She said that Soulpepper has staff members dedicated to community engagement, Rohan Kulkarni and Jacqui Arntfield.

“In our surveys we find out that a lot of [people] come [to Soulpepper] because they want to meet their neighbours,” Mengesha continued. “We allow people to interact with the themes of the plays through book clubs, movie nights, through dance classes. We serve up to 5,000 young people a year with free education programming.

“The stories that we’re putting on stage are to [allow] people to feel reflected in their city,” she continued, “and to make them feel like they have agency. These are all just steps to continue to empower folks, and make them feel like there are places they can go to enrich their life in so many ways.”


You can purchase tickets to Soulpepper’s 2024-25 season here

Nathaniel Hanula-James
WRITTEN BY

Nathaniel Hanula-James

Nathaniel Hanula-James is a multidisciplinary theatre artist who has worked across Canada as a dramaturg, playwright, performer, and administrator.

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