Soulpepper, Toronto’s largest not-for-profit theatre company, rolled TAKING THE A TRAIN – DOWNTOWN MANHATTAN – THE MELTING POT into Port Hope’s historic Capitol Theatre this week. The group is under the leadership of Artistic Director Albert Schultz who is from Port Hope. He is also the writer and on-stage host of the production which creates a concert exploring the history and culture of the birthplace of the American song, New York.
Performers include singers like the award winning stage vet Jackie Richardson and fresh new voices like Kelly Holiff, Meher Pavri, Andrew Penner and the amazing Cassius Crieghtney (who actually did a back flip during his solo performance). The troop also features dancers Travis Knights and Stephanie Cadman in a thrilling battle between celtic step and tap. Along with narration from Schultz the cast sing and dance from the past to the present.
They are all backed by talented musicians Jacob Gorzhaltsan (Reeds), Steve Hunter, Piano (Guitar), Andrew Pacheco (Bass), Mike Ross, (Piano) andLowell Whitty (Drums). From Klezmer to Tin Pan Ally and Gershwin the concert stops for Schultz’s creative explanations including a little known story about Leonard Cohen and Janis Joplin bringing the audience to a final heartfelt tribute sung by Richardson to the New York of today, still mending from the horrible events of 9/11.
There are so many more stories to tell and Schultz has sectioned the island of Manhattan off in a series of such concerts. Each revolves around a time, place, or artist, crafted by this team of impressive performers led by Slaight Family Director of Music, Mike Ross. Ross said, “New York gives me a sense of awe when I visit. The older I get, and the more I travel, I can start to more accurately determine why. At first I thought it was simply the height and number of buildings that I was surrounded by. Then, as I went to more places, I realized that wasn’t it. Then I thought it must be the architecture, but that didn’t quite solve it for me either. Finally I started to realize that it was simply energy. My intellectual brain sought to identify the energy and give it a reason, but the reason is un-namable. What happened in New York City, from a cultural standpoint, from the mid 19th century until this very day, is more important to my artistic sphere than any other happening ever in the history of the world. That is what I was feeling and still feel every time I’m in New York. So when it came to building a concert around defining how all of that transpired? You had me at “hello””.
TAKING THE A TRAIN – UPTOWN MANHATTAN
“Uptown Manhattan”, the next show in the series will play this summer at Soulpepper’s multi-venue home the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto’s Distillery Historic District. The show will tour this fall and will include another stop at the Capitol in Port Hope.
If there was one fault with the production it is how it ends. Toronto is tied into the story by Richardson as she sings Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” with slides of both city’s skylines and people. While I suppose Toronto has a similar story it distracted from the focus of the show. The further the group travels from home the less significant and harder to understand the Toronto connection will be. Beyond that this show is a creative look at the birthplace of the American song as told by some very talented Canadians. It left me wanting to see the next in the series for sure and I’ll want to see it in the beautiful Capitol Theatre.
The theatre is well preserved with much of its original exterior and interior detail remain after eighty years of almost continuous operation. It is a very rare intact example of the “atmospheric type”. The Capitol was built at the dawn of the Great Depression and the beginning of the sound film era.
It was the first fully fireproof public building in Port Hope and as a building constructed for the sole purpose of displaying talkies, it was made with the latest acoustical plaster and equipped with one of the earliest sound projection systems then available.
The most unique and lasting fact of the Capitol Theatre’s heritage significance is its ‘atmospheric’ character depicting a night sky created with placement of a pair of Brenograph Junior cloud projectors, hidden from view behind foliage, opposite one another high on the castle walls of the auditorium.
These motor driven units projected a slowly rotating series of images of the clouds on the midnight blue night sky plaster ceiling of the auditorium, and in so doing completed the courtyard atmosphere of the auditorium where the audience waited like royalty for the command performance. The whole point of the use of these projection devices was to satisfy the need for a theatrical experience without the cost and uncertainties associated with live performers. The device was successful and the theatre used the projectors as installed up until the 1950’s. By that time, a significant modernization of both the building and its patrons had occurred and the simple cloud effect was temporarily forgotten. One of the original projectors is in the possession of the Capitol Theatre Heritage Foundation along with the original cloud disc that was projected from it. Today the clouds have been replaced by small lights that twinkle in the shapes of well known constellations.
In June of 2015 Soulpepper announced a five-year strategic initiative to expand the scope of the company’s mission to build a National Civic Theatre. To support Soulpepper’s future growth in activity and programming, the company launched a $10 million Creative Capital Campaign to foster innovative investment in artistic growth. Said Schultz, “A National Civic Theatre is a place of belonging for artists, audiences, and aspirants. We believe such an institution must deliver cultural enrichment, organizational innovation and civic engagement, and it must have the capacity to train theatre artists from the ground up. It should also strive to present an eclectic repertoire that looks to our collective cultural inheritance while focusing on the creation of original work. It should create seasons that listen to the world while focusing on our national voices, including the voices of our First Nations and the myriad cultures that have collectively defined the vibrant artistic life of this country. A National Civic Theatre needs to be committed to taking its work to national communities large and small, and to represent Canada on the world stage. It also needs to make a serious commitment to sharing its work with the nation through broadcast and digital platforms. That is what being a National Civic Theatre means to Soulpepper. Over its short history we have achieved many goals, but we still have lots of room to grow, and over the next five years we will take all of our platforms to new heights.”
ABOUT THE SLAIGHT FAMILY FOUNDATION
Established in 2008, The Slaight Family Foundation is committed to making a difference. The Foundation supports projects related to health care, social service initiatives, arts and culture. The Foundation is particularly supportive of projects that help at risk or disadvantaged youth. To date, the Slaight Family has supported over 100 projects within Canada and overseas, assisting at-risk youth, supporting various health research initiatives, encouraging new works of art and providing bursaries and endowment for students in need of financial support to continue their studies.