Soulpepper Theatre Company has announced the five artists selected for the 2022 cohort of the Soulpepper Academy.
This year, Will Dao, Varun Guru, Annie Luján, Shaquille Pottinger, and Kiana Woo will take part in the esteemed 24-week training program under the guidance of Artistic Director Weyni Mengesha. Four members of this year’s cohort will focus on acting and performance, with Guru, Luján, Pottinger, and Woo preparing to take the stage in Soulpepper’s upcoming production of King Lear. Meanwhile, Dao will join Mengesha and director Kim Collier as an assistant director on both King Lear and Queen Goneril.
Building on the success of the 2021 program, this year’s Soulpepper Academy will continue to foster collaborative artistry while striving to provide support for the next generation of leaders in Canadian theatre. This year the academy will welcome several new and returning faculty members, including d’bi young anitafrika, Ins Choi, Kim Collier, Ravi Jain, Gregory Prest, Lorenzo Savoini, and Guillermo Verdecchia. Instructors will guide the cohort through rehearsals, classes, studio intensives, and workshops, helping them to develop their artistic voices both on Soulpepper’s mains stage and through performer-created works.
The Soulpepper Academy ensemble was chosen by the selection committee composed of Raquel Duffy, Rohan Kulkarni, Jani Lauzon, Diego Matamoros, Weyni Mengesha, Gregory Prest, Luke Reece, and Guillermo Verdecchia. Each of the five selected artists expressed a strong desire to find their voice, build a sense of community, invest time and space in exploring new areas of their craft, and authentically represent themselves and their communities on Canadian stages. The common goals speak directly to the re-established Soulpepper Academy’s goal of being a civic leader and providing a supportive environment for all artists.
“As an Academy Graduate myself it was so meaningful to work with the Academy that graduated in 2021. To watch them take risks and hone in on skills they had not had the chance to explore. It only reinforced my belief in the importance of a program like this, to ensure the next generation’s voices are supported and amplified” said Weyni Mengesha, Artistic Director of Soulpepper.
“These five new Academy members are exceptional artists whose curiosity and bold creativity will help us shape the future of the company. I’m excited to watch them learn and grow and share their work with our audiences.”
As always, the Soulpepper Academy will pay its ensemble members for the entirety of the program. The program’s weekly stipend is made possible thanks to the ongoing support of the RBC Emerging Artists Project, the Government of Canada through the Canadian Arts Training Fund, long-time donor Sylvia Soyka, and the Kingfisher Foundation.
Currently, classes are scheduled to take place in person at Soulpepper Theatre at Toronto’s Young Centre for the Performing Arts.
Meet the 2022 Soulpepper Academy Ensemble
Will Dao — Director
“I am excited to engage in dialogue with all the artists at Soulpepper: to learn, to unpack, and to question. I hope to interrogate who we make our theatre for and how we can recalibrate our work to reach the audiences that we want to reach. I’m interested in intergenerational exchange both in the rehearsal room and with the audience.”
Will Dao is a theatre artist, video artist and emerging filmmaker who primarily works as a director and a dramaturg. Dao was born and raised in Toronto, but has worked with many theatres across Canada in various productions and workshops for script development. Some companies include Outside the March, Factory Theatre, The Shakespeare Company, Buddies in Bad Times, Coal Mine Theatre and Urban Ink. In 2021, he co-created a series of short videos titled Bathroom Break for Soulpepper’s Queer Youth Cabaret, and had a film titled What Are You Supposed To Be? in the Toronto Fringe Festival. He has also written a short story titled “music to watch boys to,” which was presented by the Historic Joy Kogawa House and the ArQuives.
He is a graduate of the University of Toronto’s Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies. During his time in university, he directed several productions that garnered awards at the U of T Drama Festival, including the President’s Award for Best Production three times, and the Robert Gill Award for Best Direction twice.
Varun Guru — Actor
“I feel grateful and am most excited to start this journey at the Academy, and look forward to jumping into the rhythm of learning, creating and sharing with my fellow members and director. I hope to gain confidence in my artistic vision, and create and perform with conviction.”
Varun Guru is an actor-composer-voice-actor born in Chennai and raised in New Delhi, India and currently based in Toronto. He’s passionate about telling and being a part of compelling stories about experiences of immigrants and people of colour, culture and decolonization, climate change, and science fiction.
He has a strong voice acting experience of over 18 years and is also an experienced music composer. Guru has undertaken training in Indian and Western Classical Music, whose influences are found in his compositions. He’s proficient in music production and sound editing, video editing, and several musical instruments.
Annie Luján — Actor
“I am thrilled to be joining the 2022 Soulpepper Academy! I’m so looking forward to being in the studio, at rehearsals and having the opportunity to create my own work. It is such a dream to be taught by the outstanding faculty at the Academy and I can’t wait to get started.”
Annie Luján is a Costa Rican-Canadian actor, clown, and theatre creator with a passion for creating immersive work. After graduating from Concordia University’s Theatre Performance BFA, she studied Commedia Dell’Arte in Italy with Teatro Arscomica. Annie has received the Canada Council for the Arts: Research and Creation grant and the Why Not Theatre Recommender grant to study, devise, and create clown work with her troupe, The Raccoons, under the direction of Ken Hall.
Most recently, she served as Dramaturge for the immersive production of A Grimm Night by Transcendance Theatre and created a duo clown show called Shop L’Occult that was performed to passersby in a storefront window in Parkdale.
Shaquille Pottinger — Actor
“I’m excited to fail in front of my peers and be all the better for it, because I know I’ll have a support system invested in helping me actualize the best version of myself. I hope to learn the intricacies of constructing professional theatre, and birthing my ideas into reality.”
Shaquille is an actor who hails from many places across this vast continent, but distinctly caught the acting bug in Barrie, Ontario. His mother would like you to know he is a Theatre and Drama Studies graduate from the University of Toronto and Sheridan College.
Now a denizen of Toronto, Shaquille does his best to stay busy, appearing in various theatre productions, workshops, short films, and a familiar commercial or two. When he isn’t acting, Shaquille also enjoys writing, singing, and daydreaming about food.
Kiana Woo — Actor
“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to dedicate my time and focus to improving my craft, and to have the chance to work and create with an ensemble. I hope I will be able to take the skills I learn with the Academy and integrate them into all aspects of my artistic practice, and hopefully find new ways to tell the stories that I always longed to see growing up.”
Kiana Woo is a Chinese-Canadian actor, mover, and creator with a special love for clown, physical theatre, and classical works. She was born in Richardson, Texas and raised in Calgary, Alberta alongside her amazing younger brother by her two incredible parents. Growing up in a household where she was encouraged to explore her passions allowed Kiana to find her joy for the arts at a young age. She attained her BFA in Acting from the University of Alberta and has since had the privilege of working across Canada, spending time in Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto.
Most recently, she created her first long-form solo clown piece, which was an exciting and thrilling new challenge. In her free time, she enjoys running, knitting and crochet, and playing the ukulele. She sends love to her incredibly supportive friends and family, who have stuck by her through every step of her artistic journey. Selected credits include: The Fiancée (Citadel Theatre), Alice in Wonderland (Guild Festival Theatre), Cymbeline (Shakespeare Bash’d), E-Day (Serial Collective/Theatre Network), That’s Danger! (Alberta Workers Health Centre), The Two Gentlemen of Verona (Theatre Calgary/Shakespeare by the Bow), Doll House, The Lower Depths, and The School for Scandal (Studio Theatre).
The 2022 Soulpepper Academy begins in June and concludes in December.