Toronto native Sarah Thorpe studied Theatre at York University, receiving her Bachelor of Arts Degree with Honours in 2007, and also the theatre department’s Mira Friedlander Award for achievements in theatre writing, criticism, world and Canadian theatre studies. Sarah’s affiliation with director/actor/ choreographer Michael Greyeyes at York led to her involvement in the world premiere of Thomson Highway’s Pimooteewin: The Journey, the first opera written in Cree, produced by Soundstreams Canada in February 2008.
In 2009, Sarah co-founded Soup Can Theatre, a Toronto based company dedicated to reinterpreting older works for a modern audience, and new works inspired by older pieces. Their inaugural production – a cabaret homage to the music and artistic influence of 20th century German composer Kurt Weill called Love is a Poverty You Can Sell – was remounted in the 2010 Toronto Fringe Festival, and was selected to be part of the Best of Fringe series at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. Soup Can has continued to have several successful productions, becoming a well-known company in Toronto’s indie theatre community, and Sarah has received local award nominations for her directing work. In 2015, Sarah wrote and performed in Heretic, a solo piece about the life of Joan of Arc, hailed as ‘a stunning one-woman show’. Soup Can produced the premiere production, and Sarah’s performance was met with acclaim from the press and public. Working as an actor, director, producer, and arts administrator, Sarah credits her well-rounded theatre education for giving her the perseverance and knowledge to thrive in Toronto’s artistic community.
On the occasion of the remount of Heretic in November, I asked Sarah ten questions: five about herself and five more about her work with Soup Can Theatre.
1-Are you more like your father or your mother?
I inherited great qualities from both of them. They’re both musicians and business owners, so they get the artist lifestyle and running a small business, and how difficult, unpredictable, and incredibly satisfying such a lifestyle it can be.
2-What is the best thing or worst thing about being a theatre artist?
Specifically in the indie theatre scene, I’d say that the worst thing is feeling like you constantly have to scrounge, for anything, because there’s so little money so you can rarely just simply pay for something, like a newspaper ad or an expensive prop. And when you wear so many different hats as an indie artist (performer/ writer/ director/ producer/ publicist/etc) it just gets so exhausting. But there’s a flip side to that, of course. Having to scrounge also teaches you how to be resourceful, how to make the most of your budget and stretch your dollars. And certainly, I think the best thing is seeing the final result on stage and (hopefully) how all the hard exhausting work paid off.
3-Who do you like to listen to or watch?
Oh man….. my tastes in entertainment are all over the place. What I watch and listen to really depends on the day, my mood, what I’m doing. Two constants I’d say are Tom Waits, since his music is so varied that there’s always something of his that will suit my mood, and nine times out of ten I have to end my day with an episode of Coronation Street. I find it has a great balance of serious drama, comedy, and banal ‘every day’ plot lines. I’m addicted to it….. and I must be a middle aged British woman at heart.
4-What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
Other artistic pursuits that I didn’t pursue as much as acting and directing, like music, dance, and visual art. I miss doing those things sometimes.
5-When you’re just relaxing and not working what is your favourite thing to do?
Cooking, going to the movies, going to theatre, and hanging out in my favourite places in the city, like Kensington Market, the Beaches, and Roncesvalles.
Five more about writing/perfoming HERETIC!
1-Please talk about how you reconcile the different sides of yourself, as you function as a writer, as a performer & co-director.
For this reboot, I focused on the writing first: what parts of the earlier version did work, what didn’t work, what did I want to change, add, or cut? So I was definitely in writer-mode first in order to ensure that I was telling the story the way I wanted to tell it, the way I felt it. Once that was done, it’s in the hands of the rest of the creative team to help make it a living thing, and I’m in actor-mode at that point to put these characters on their feet. My goal as a co-director is to have some say in the execution of the piece, design elements, etc. Our team on this reboot is so fantastic, so talented and hardworking; it was so easy to put what I had written into their hands. There’s a lot of trust and collaboration, which for me has made the process so enjoyable and so easy to jump around in my different roles.
2-HERETIC was presented in another form earlier this year. Please tell us about the work and how it’s changing in this new incarnation.
The first production, more of a workshop, that we did in April 2015, was the first play I had written. The inspiration for even creating a piece about Joan of Arc initially came from being so moved by one of her monologues in Shaw’s Saint Joan (a piece I’ve performed for auditions before) that I felt compelled to explore this emotional connection further. I’m not religious, but I don’t think one needs to be to find her life fascinating. Joan of Arc is often presented and portrayed in this very holy and patriotic light: the courageous martyr who was burned at the stake, a national hero of France. What I find doesn’t really feature in renditions of her (whether artistic, literary, etc.) is that she was a teenage girl, the daughter of farmers, illiterate and uneducated, and how extraordinary it was that she managed to challenge the patriarchic and clergy-dominated status quo of the time. What interested me was finding the vulnerable human beneath the saint. We meet Joan in her afterlife, and she is reflecting on her life and the decisions she made, breaking down the preconceptions of her to say “This is me. This is who I was. This is how I felt. This is why I did the things I did.” I reconstruct her life, playing Joan as well as a number of other characters that play prominently in her story. I set out to create the private, personal moments that people wouldn’t have seen, moments that wouldn’t have been recorded in historical volumes. This new incarnation keeps the same tone and style of the original piece, but I wanted to dig a bit deeper into her private moments. What was going through her mind when she picked up a sword and stepped onto the battlefield for the first time? Did her faith wane at all when she was put in prison and accused of heresy? If it did, how would that have affected her?
3-Please talk about monodrama. How did Joan move you and how do you feel about this as a portrayal…Do you identify closely to her, and why did it feel like the ideal way to tell the story?
What I identify with in Joan’s story is how she never gave up her cause, no matter how dire the situation or impossible the task. While my circumstances certainly aren’t a matter of life and death in a war-torn nation, as an indie artist I identify with that because sometimes creating art, presenting that art, and trying to make a living out of that art seems impossible with little to no administrative infrastructure, no annual operating or project-based grant funding, and no physical ‘home base’. We rely on ticket sales, donations, and fundraising, we rent spaces that we can hopefully afford, we do a lot of bartering, and do all this while working at other jobs and having multiple other commitments. It’s exhausting and does seem impossible at times, even to me. But I love what I do so much that I know I could never give it up for anything. I always want to keep going. I always want to keep getting better. I get a buzz and happiness from it I don’t get from anything else. That’s how I know I’m doing the right thing by not throwing up hands, yelling “Screw this! I quit!”, and walking away.
Heretic is the only solo theatre I’ve done as an actor. What I still find challenging about it is not having another actor to feed off of. When you’re working with other actors, you are (hopefully) tuned in to each other as scene partners, and you simultaneously support and challenge each other; there’s a give and take. There’s play. With doing a solo piece, I’ve found that I’ve had to rely on my own imagination to create that give and take among the multiple characters I play. It’s like I’m still that weird little kid I was playing dress up alone in my room or in the backyard, relying on pure imagination to make it real and immediate.
4-Please talk about the politics of your show, and why it’s important.
This is medieval France, towards the end of the Hundred Years War (essentially an inheritance dispute over the French throne between France and England, and England was winning): a very male-dominated, church-dominated, superstitious, and war-torn time and place. Joan was so devout in her beliefs and so focused on her mission to drive the English out of France that she didn’t let the societal status quo deter her in any way. Even though it was considered a sin, she wore men’s clothing and cut her hair short due to the practicality of such gestures: she was living the life of a soldier, fighting, leading, and working with men, and it was a method of protection against sexual assaults. The Dauphin, who eventually became France’s King Charles VI thanks to Joan, even had a suit of armor made specifically to fit her. Even without education, she had a deep understanding of Catholic doctrine and could hold complex theological debates and discussions with men of the cloth. Priests were peoples’ first point of contact with God, but the people regarded Joan as that point of contact, seeing her as a holy vessel. The time of her joining the French army was when they finally had militaristic successes in the war. People believed in her and that her mission was truly divine, but the English feared her and believed that the voices she claimed she heard were evil. She was a strong, intelligent, and independent young woman who was just doing what she felt was the right thing to do, and that made her a dangerous force in the eyes of many who ultimately did everything in their power to remove this ‘threat’. With the longstanding but renewed focus on women’s rights and equality, this story is still important now because Joan was a woman who was very ahead of her time. Even though it ended up costing her her life, she challenged those who accused her of ‘upsetting the order of things’ until the very end.
5-Is there a teacher or an influence you’d care to name that you especially admire?
I have had so many wonderful teachers and and influences over the years, but I have to give credit to the theatre program at York University. I majored in theatre there, specializing in devised theatre and collective creation, and we did a bit of everything from acting and writing to directing, producing, and other production and administrative duties. Those four years prepared me so well for what I’m doing now as a multitasking artist/wearer of many theatre hats.
Soupcan Theatre’s HERETIC starring Sarah Thorpe opens November 11th at Theatre Pass Muraille Backspace, 16 Ryerson Ave, Toronto, running until November 22nd.
- Wednesday to Friday at 7:30pm.
- Saturday at 2pm and 7:30pm.
- Sunday at 2pm.
- Online at www.artsboxoffice.ca
- By Phone at 416.504.7529 (Wednesday-Saturday 12pm-6pm, Sunday 11:30am-2:30pm, with hours extended to 7pm on performance nights)
- In Person at Theatre Passe Muraille, located at 16 Ryerson Ave. (Wednesday-Saturday 3pm-6pm, Sunday 11:30am-2:30pm, with hours extended to 7:30pm on performance nights)