The latest lady of the arts is Kelly Read, part of the can-do dream team atSoulpepper. Kelly is definitely your go-to-gal if you ever need to get your hands on the moon on short notice, your furniture turned into a machine, or a lesson on how to incorporate multiple 4-syllable words into everyday language without sounding pretentious.
These are mad skills by my definition and totally merit a more indepth read of her below!
1. Where do you work? Can you sum it up in 3 sentences or less?
I am an Associate Technical Director at Soulpepper Theatre Company – a Toronto based, artist-founded classical repertory theatre company. This means I take the technical lead on a number of productions throughout the year – completing set construction drawings, sourcing materials, making schedules, running the load-in of sets, lights, audio, and anything else required for the show – all of the goodstuff. Look Ma, two sentences!
2. Why the arts? What’s made you focus your extra energy on theatre?
Theatre is a unique and beautiful experience. Although a performance you watch has been written and rehearsed, the events are still unfolding right in front of you. Live performance facilitates an interaction between its audiences and performers, as well as between audience members themselves. As audiences don’t usually speak and performers cannot directly react to them verbally, the connection and communication that takes place is largely emotional. This emotional interaction is what makes the theatrical experience so compelling. These experiences are perfect opportunities to educate, and motivate, and provoke, and inspire, and try and better understand ourselves and those around us. And they are further heightened by the sense of urgency that comes from the temporary nature of theatre. Discovering this after meandering in and out of different aspects of theatre while growing up, I couldn’t really do anything else. It’s incredible. I’m energized just by describing it.
3. The arts have a reputation for being lots of work and little pay – true or false? Care to elaborate?
I almost always care to elaborate. Yes, the arts are lots of work and if the reward you’re looking for is purely monetary, they are not the most direct avenue. However, I refer you to my previous response. If I was coming to work just for a paycheque I would still be working at a post office or a call centre or one of the many places I’ve worked to pay the bills. No, you can’t buy groceries with personal fulfillment, but I’m satisfied with a heart that is fuller than my wallet.
4. What’s the best thing about working in theatre in Toronto?
Community. Some find it in their neighbourhoods, some find it at their church; I feel it when I go to work. Working in theatre in Toronto allows you to feel as if you are a part of something greater than yourself – and when you are, you are. Sometimes it can feel as if we’re actively fighting a battle against ignorance, apathy, and disinterest. These shared enemies help to band the team together. As well, people from different theatre companies migrate, swapping roles from year to year, which helps to even more tightly bind and familiarize the names, faces, and practices of companies in the city. As a whole – or at least as much of the whole as I perceive – the community is very reassuring. It’s not that people in the theatre community lack a plucky and competitive spirit – perhaps they’re just too busy fighting the good fight to compete with each other in that way. Theatre in Toronto is a very supportive community, of which I am glad to be a part.
5. What’s the worst thing about working in theatre in Toronto?
Not working. My peers are in the first few years of their careers as technicians, actors, and administrators. At times, that’s a very difficult place to be. I doubt very much that difficulty finding satisfying work for a respectable rate-of-pay is unique to the Toronto theatre scene, but that unfortunately doesn’t help to improve the situation. The real frustration in this situation stems from the fact that there isn’t actually a shortage of creative work, but a shortage of money for those who craft and facilitate it. And you can fairly easily extrapolate from this that there aren’t enough people who watch and support this art. Potential audiences are suffering from a dangerous mixture of indifference and obliviousness, and the theatre community has to be responsible for changing this. Maybe we’d kill two birds with one stone if those without work found it as independent arts marketers! I can build it, but they won’t come when they don’t know that it’s there.
6. What’s an adjective that can describe most of your days at your job?
Unpredictable! One day I’m lining a rehearsal hall in plastic so that the company can roll around in potting soil, the next I’m asked to turn a couch into a car, the next I’m driving through a snowstorm to borrow the moon, and then I’m up to my ankles in mud trying to recycle scenery at the transfer station. It’s this variety that makes my job so exciting, and helps keep my energy level at the necessary maximum.
7. Describe (in 3 sentences or less) what your favourite memory is from your current job.
There are many – see the previous question. For a recent show, a designer requested rope the thickness of his finger, and held his finger up saying, “1/2-an-inch.” Mike, our Technical Director, and I simultaneously replied, “Looks more like 5/8’s!” A very small detail noticed at once by us both is a telling example, not only of the attention to detail that we pay to the art form, but of the aligned thinking we here atSoulpepper have, that helps us to work so effectively as a team. The successful execution of every production is evidence of this company’s unbelievable synergy.
8. What’s the last play that you saw that really made an impression on you?
WAR HORSE – I am obviously unafraid of sounding totally plebeian here. This show was a celebration. It was a celebration of the inspiring and uplifting beauty that is created when an endless list of production aspects are seamlessly, and so effectively, integrated. A showcase of flawless and skilful execution of wonderfully imagined theatrical effects, paired with a shamelessly maudlin and emotional story. I left the theatre with a greater love and pride for my job, which is ultimately helping to turn someone’s beautiful ideas into others’ powerful experiences. I’ll concede that the story clumsily tip-toed the borderline of almost unbearable cliché, but if I thought that the plotline was allthat was involved in a valuable theatrical experience, I probably would have become a playwright.
9. If you could do any other job, arts professional or not, what would it be?
For my culminating independent study at University, I designed, created, and implemented a “scent system” for a newly developed student theatre work. I was fascinated and obsessed with the idea of immersing an audience more deeply in the theatrical sensory experience. It was a more than marginally successful endeavour, certainly a springboard for an idea I’d love to one day pursue seriously.
I still have my scent machine. That yet-to-be-fully-realized dream lies in my parents’ basement, in a duffle bag that smells of sandalwood, peppermint, and promise.
10. If the Toronto theatre scene was a woman, what advice would you offer her?
Lighten up. Nobody wants to spend time with someone that takes themselves too seriously – female or otherwise.