The Soulpepper Story
Martha Burns, Susan Coyne, Ted Dykstra, Michael Hanrahan, Stuart Hughes, Diana Leblanc, Diego Matamoros, Nancy Palk, Albert Schultz, Robyn Stevens, William Webster and Joseph Ziegler.
Soulpepper Theatre Company began with twelve actors who wanted to explore the great stories of classical theatre and inspire the next generation of artists and audiences. Many of the founding members worked together at the Stratford Festival Young Company in the late 1980's under the mentorship of Robin Phillips. This program laid the foundation for much of Soulpepper's focus on artist mentorship and paved the way for Robin Phillips to direct the inaugural season at Harbourfront Centre in 1998.
Some of the Stratford Young Company members were later featured in Masterclass Theatre's production of Anton Chekhov's The Three Sisters in 1991. This production also marked their first introduction to master director László Marton, who had been invited from Hungary to direct this production. László has returned every year to direct for Soulpepper, where his productions of Chekhov and Ibsen are highly acclaimed.
A few years out of the Stratford Young Company, these actors were craving a return to the classics and saw that there was a void in the Toronto theatre scene. Why in one of the theatre capitals of the world was there not a world class classical theatre company? At a series of boisterous and passionate dinner parties over many months, the foundations were laid to form a theatre company which met that very need.
Around this time, Masterclass had decided to shut its doors for good, and Diego was able to secure its charity number along with its mandate to produce lesser known works from the classical canon.
Making the Dream a Reality
The next step was to find a performance space and raise funds. After early talks with the David Mirvish, it was Don Shipley who came forward and offered a space at Harbourfront for the summer. After a trip to Stratford to convince the group's mentor Robin Phillips to come onboard as director, the plays Don Carlos and The Misanthrope were chosen and slated to open in the summer of 1998.
By opening the season with the Schiller, the Soulpepper founders wanted to make clear that they were up for the challenge, ready to tackle even the toughest of texts and make them exciting and engaging for Toronto audiences.
The notion of a repertory theatre company was very important to everyone involved; leading players from one play performing smaller roles in another so that everyone is supporting each other in two plays. Guest artists joined the company as part of the first season, including: Brent Carver, Oliver Dennis, Hazel Desbarats, Peter Donat and Michael Simpson - many of whom still regularly appear on the Soulpepper stage.
Outreach programmes were part of that very first season, staking claim to the company's tri mandate of performing great classical theatre, artist mentorship and youth outreach right from the start.
Working with a $700,000 budget, the company members raised funds in every way possible, courting generous corporate partners and writing grant applications. They even went so far as to sell hot dogs to raise money for Soulpepper! The company received an incredible outpouring of support from fellow artists across the country energized by Soulpepper's monumental undertaking. Cheques for $100 and $200 flooded in from people who wanted to see the company succeed.
A New Company is Born
The first season at Harbourfront was a huge success. The critics and audiences raved. Soulpepper had delivered what Toronto audiences were craving.
" Soulpepper Theatre has descended on the local scene promising rigorous, vigorous and relevant interpretations on the classics. And it has made a thrilling first step toward achieving that lofty ambition…Don Carlos is nothing short of a revelation."
- Vit Wagner, Toronto Star
Under the leadership of Artistic Director Albert Schultz, Soulpepper's staggering growth over the past decade remains unrivaled in Canadian theatre history. The company has moved from a two play summer bill at Harbourfront to year-round programming of over 400 performances in a brand new state-of-the-art facility, the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.