Soulpepper’s first season programmed by Weyni Mengesha breaks ground

Free theatre for those 25 and under and a diverse lineup of new and classic plays are on the bill for artistic director's inaugural season


An eclectic mix of new plays and classics, and a new program making theatre free for young audiences, are on the bill for Soulpepper‘s January-August 2020 season, the first programmed by the company’s new artistic director Weyni Mengesha.

The theme of the season is “breaking ground.” 

“As we plan the future growth of this company, I was inspired by looking at plays that broke new ground when they premiered,” says Mengesha in a Soulpepper press release. “What I found was a body of work that continued to speak profoundly to our community today…. These are stories of identity, struggle, passion, and change.” 

In addition, the company has launched a new Free 25 & Under program to offer audience members 25 years and younger two tickets to all Soulpepper mainstage and concert productions.

There are six plays in the company’s mainstage programming.

Premiering in the new year is Mother’s Daughter (January 14 to February 9), the latest play in Kate Hennig‘s Queenmaker series, directed by Alan Dilworth and originally produced by the Stratford Festival. Soulpepper has mounted the previous two works in the series, The Last Wife and The Virgin Trial. The cast remains the same as the Stratford production, with Fiona Byrne replacing Irene Poole in the role of Katherine of Aragon.

Mengesha directs a terrific cast (Diana Donnelly, Daren A. Herbert, Xavier Lopez, Tony Nappo and Gregory Prest) in Stephen Adly Guirgis‘s Jesus Hopped The “A” Train, about two men awaiting trial for murder. The play runs from January 23 to February 19.

Daniel Brooks directs a new production of Chekhov‘s The Seagull (March 26 to April 22) in a translation by Simon Stephens. (I was lucky enough to have seen Stephens’s translation of The Cherry Orchard at the Young Vic, and it was astonishing.) Incredibly, this will be Soulpepper’s first production of Chekhov’s revolutionary play. The cast includes company members Raquel Duffy, Hailey Gillis, Oliver Dennis and Michelle Monteith.

Germany’s Roland Schimmelpfennig has many local fans, thanks to excellent productions of his plays Idomeneus and The Golden Dragon. Dilworth, who directed Idomeneus, helms Winter Solstice (May 7 to June 3), a dark comedy that shows how fascism can creep into polite society. (Gee, wonder how that applies to today’s world?) The cast of this co-production with Necessary Angel Theatre, where Dilworth is the new artistic director, includes Nancy Palk, Diego Matamoros and Cyrus Lane

Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu has directed two of Soulpepper’s biggest hits, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and The Brothers Size. Now she’s taking on Sizwe Banzi Is Dead (July 9 to August 5), one of South African playwright Athol Fugard‘s most acclaimed plays. The production stars Tawiah Ben M’Carthy and Daren A. Herbert.

And Factory Theatre artistic director Nina Lee Aquino makes her Soulpepper directorial debut with a new production of David Henry Hwang‘s iconic M. Butterfly (August 13 to September 9), inspired by a real-life story about international intrigue, betrayal and Chinese opera. The show stars Jeff Ho and Oliver Dennis

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In addition to the six mainstage productions, Soulpepper announced two partner presentations: Haley McGee‘s The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale (May 19 to June 7), co-produced by Outside the March and directed by Mitchell Cushman (a show I loved), and Draw Me Close (June 23 to July 12), writer/director Jordan Tannahill‘s acclaimed interactive mix of live performance, virtual reality and animation, co-produced by the National Film Board of Canada and the National Theatre of Great Britain

And the company’s hugely successful series of concerts continues with The Secret Chord: A Leonard Cohen Experience, created by Frank Cox-O’Connell, Marni Jackson and Mike Ross Revolutions: Songs That Changed The World, created by Amanda Parris, Ross and Mengesha 88 Keys, by Tom Allen and Ross and Behind The Bars: Legendary Prison Songs, by Cox-O’Connell, Ross and Sarah Wilson

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The company’s accessibility initiatives include the 25 & Under program. Starting January 14, 2020, at 8 am, all remaining tickets for that day’s Soulpepper shows become available for online booking. Audience members 25 and under can book two tickets to bring a guest of any age. Info is soulpepper.ca/waystosave

And if you’re older than 25 but can’t afford regular ticket prices, the company is offering a limited number of $25 tickets to all its mainstage and concert performances. These are in addition to the current Artsworker, Stage Play (Under 30), Rush, Youth Rush and Student Group tickets. 

Find more info about the season at soulpepper.ca.

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