4 Questions: Sarah Thorpe
This article is part of our series 50 Years of Disruption, in celebration of the Department of Theatre’s 50th Anniversary. In it, we’ll ask each participant four questions about themselves and their time at York.
1. Who are you?
Sarah Thorpe (BA Theatre Studies 2007, specializing in devised theatre and collective creation). I’m an actor, director, producer, creator, writer, arts administrator, model, sometimes singer/ukulele player, and once-in-a-while puppeteer and stilt-walker.
After graduation, I spent a couple of years working wherever I could as an actor in between part-time jobs. I promised myself that any job I got to supplement my income had to be arts-related in some way, and I’ve been pretty lucky in that regard over the last 11 years: a costume house, box office jobs, performance-based contracts for interactive exhibits and escape games, standardized patient work, and modeling for life-drawing and other art classes.
In 2009, with a desire to direct and create my own opportunities in the theatre industry, I co-founded the Toronto-based indie company Soup Can Theatre, where we explore contemporary issues and societal challenges, offering audiences theatrical experiences that are both entertaining and enriching. Our projects include older and established theatrical works reinterpreted with a modern audience in mind, as well as new works and creations inspired by the past. Through Soup Can, I have directed such existing works as Marat/Sade (2011) and No Exit(2013), co-created our inaugural production (and subsequent versions of) Love is a Poverty You Can Sell (Toronto Fringe and Best of Fringe 2010, Next Stage Festival 2012, Toronto Fringe 2013), produced Antigone (Toronto Fringe 2012), A Hand of Bridge/No Exit double bill (2013), Circle Jerk, a co-production of original works with safeword and Aim for the Tangent Theatre (2014), and wrote and performed in Heretic, a modern solo retelling of the story of Joan of Arc (2015).
I’ve been a recipient of two grants within the last year: the first was for a directing mentorship with Alan Dilworth through Theatre Ontario’s Professional Theatre Training Program, and the second was an Ontario Arts Council recommender grant (recommended by Volcano Theatre) to create a piece called American Traditional about Maud Wagner: a circus performer who became the first known non-Indigenous female tattoo artist in the US in the early 1900s. I’ve been creating this piece with fellow York classmate and circus artist Tamara Salpeter.
Over the last decade, I’ve worked throughout Toronto’s theatre community in various on and off-stage roles, with a smattering of film and commercial work here and there.
2. What was your favourite moment during your time in the Theatre Department, and why?
There’s a lot, but one that really sticks out is going downtown to see shows for Surprise Surprise. The first show I saw in my first year was Remnants at the Tarragon, and I remember quite clearly thinking how different this was from all other professional theatre productions I had seen up until that point. It was my first exposure to original Canadian work in the Toronto theatre community.
3. What comment, quotation, statement, or action that a professor—or classmate—offered had the greatest impact on you?
Peter McKinnon once mentioned that if you don’t see the type of work being created that you’re interested in, to create it yourself. I really took that to heart, and kept it in mind as I began working after graduation. Creating and being in control of my own work has been very fulfilling as an artist.
4. Is there a way you incorporate a particular aspect of your theatre training in your current work?
As a director, producer, and creator, I like to work collaboratively. I see all the on-stage, off-stage, administrative, etc. roles as parts of one big partnership, and not a strict hierarchy, so I prefer to collaborate with everyone in order to create and present the best work possible. That’s the collective creation/devised theatre brain kicking in, which really expanded my ideas of what theatre was and could be and how it could be created. Had I not spent 3 years working that way alongside some fiercely talented classmates and teachers, I don’t think I would be doing what I’m doing now. My time at York taught me how to work collaboratively and multitask as a creator. That’s also the benefit of constantly jumping between both sides of the stage: you get a better understanding of and deeper appreciation for every role in theatre, and how they all feed into each other.