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July 2, 2015

Designer Ken MacKenzie reports on Soulpepper at the Prague Quadrennial 2015

Soulpepper’s Dora Award-winning set and lighting design for Of Human Bondage created by Resident Designer Lorenzo Savoini was selected to represent Canada this summer at the Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space, often referred to as the “Olympics of Scenography.” A team from Soulpepper attended PQ2015 this past June.


There’s a question that seems to be in the cultural make-up of Soulpepper that hovers over everything we do: Is this the best way to do things? And invariably, is there a better way?

This organization, I think, tries not to take anything for granted and tries to make ‘what’s next?’ one of its self-reflective cornerstones. As a bit of acknowledgement of that ethos, one of Soulpepper’s recent successes, Of Human Bondage, was featured as a part of the Canadian Exhibit at the Prague Quadrennial (PQ2015): an international exhibit of performance design that takes place in the Czech Republic every four years.


Lorenzo Savoini’s designs were amongst six other designs chosen by an Associated Designers of Canada panel that were looking for works that were on the avant-garde of Canadian theatre. So this became an irresistible opportunity for a contingent of Soulpepper directors and designers to head over to the continent and take in what the rest of the world is up to from a design perspective.

The PQ2015 consisted of professional and student exhibits from 68 countries, with lectures and workshops led by various international icons and luminaries in the field of design.


Our experience was to immerse ourselves in equal parts quadrennial and beautiful eastern European city.

The quadrennial was a great opportunity to look at other ways of making design and engaging an audience. Some countries exhibited their best models, costume sketches, and production stills. Some counties created room-sized installations for viewers to experience and others brought performances that showcased a design idea. The overall experience isn’t so much about who does it best, as it is about looking at varying forms of cultural expression. The wild, political irreverence of the Brazilian production shots couldn’t be more different from the folk installation of Mongolia but both speak volumes about the culture they represent.

The PQ was the kind of experience that requires a lot of consideration and unpacking and I think I’ve only just begun to really consider all the things I’ve seen, but the one thing that is clear is that what we do here, at Soulpepper, is express our culture. It’s easy to forget the while we do produce some of the best work in Canada, it is specifically Canadian, and that as we become more inclusive, and more representative of our city and its inhabitants, we should be as open as possible to all of the different, international cultural forms of expression that should feed into what we do at Soulpepper.


Photo credits: Ken Mackenzie, Albert Schultz and Leslie Lester, photo: Lorenzo Savoini. Shots from PQ2015 by Ken MacKenzie.