Seven Questions About Complicated Characters, Dora Awards, & Coming to NYC with Soulpepper Star Michelle Monteith
July 17th, 2017
by Josh Ferri
Canada’s most acclaimed theatre company, Soulpepper, makes its New York City debut in a festival showcasing their award-winning plays, musicals, concerts, and cabarets. Two-time Dora Award winner (think Canadian Tony Award) and company member Michelle Monteith makes her NYC stage debut recreating her starring performance as Mildred in Of Human Bondage, as well as appearing in the Dora winner for Outstanding New Musical, Spoon River.
BroadwayBox caught up with Michelle to discuss bringing these pieces to New York, the complicated ladies she's played for Soulpepper, and more.
1. What was the first Soulpepper show you saw that made you want to work with the company?
The first show I saw of Soulpepper’s was Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. It was actually the first show I had seen since arriving in Toronto (from Vancouver). Diego Matamoros and Albert Shultz were in it, as were Liisa Repo-Martell and Kristen Thompson among many other amazing actors. It was an extraordinary production unlike anything I’d ever seen before. It was a very visceral production and the acting was extraordinary.
2. Which role with the company would you say challenged you the most as performer?
Well, every role has its own challenges that always feel insurmountable at first. But once you find your way in, you start to understand the person behind the words and the actions. Some for me might be: Heidi in The Heidi Chronicles. She was perplexing to me in her subtleties and her perspectives and her quiet observations, Mildred in Of Human Bondage in her motivations and her psychology, and Harper’s imagination in Angels in America. All three of these characters have fascinating inner lives. I’m very intrigued by the inner workings of the characters I get to play. There are little secrets I keep that help me understand them, help me fight for them, defend them, live them.
3. What’s your pre-show like for Of Human Bondage? How do you get into Mildred’s space?
My pre-show for Of Human Bondage is very routine now. There’s the physical act of getting ready, hair, layers of dress, talk in the dressing room with the other women. I may run lines to touch base with her, feel the dialect again. I also have a ritual of walking around to the cast and crew with angel cards. Each person picks a card with a word on it such as patience, kindness, honesty etc, that can serve as a point of focus for the show. It’s a nice way to connect with everyone beforehand. And after that, it’s a matter of standing in the wings, feeling my feet beneath me, breathing her in. All of the rehearsal, the research, the work, the notes are in me now.
4. Where do you keep your pair of Dora Awards?
Well I actually only physically have one, which sits on a shelf in our living room at home. The other, I believe is in the offices at Soulpepper, because it is the ensemble award from Of Human Bondage, so it’s shared with 11 other people!
5. So far, what’s been the most surprising part of bringing the company to NYC?
So far the most surprising thing about bringing the company to NYC has been the incredible generosity we have received. From fellow artists, to patrons, to crew, everyone has embraced us and welcomed us here. It has been very humbling.
6. What’s your favorite moment in Spoon River to share with an audience each night?
One of my favourite moments to share with audiences during Spoon River is at the end of the show when the ensemble is singing the song “Edmund Pollard with Mike Ross”. We have the opportunity to look into the eyes of each person there in the audience. To reach out and to say (with beautiful music and lyrics), how lucky we all are to be alive, to celebrate this moment, as a community of people under the same roof. I get chills every single time we start stomping. Some of the happiest moments I’ve ever had on stage.
7. What is something you’re dying to do while you’re in NYC for the run?
I can’t wait to see Indecent! And I just want to soak up as much of the city as I can. It is so wonderful be here and to be working, and to have an extended amount of time here. We are very grateful. And I’m so lucky to share it with my husband, fellow company member and one of Soulpepper’s founding members, Stuart Hughes, and our daughter who is here with us.
Don't miss Michelle Monteith in the Soulpepper Theater Company productions of Spoon River and Of Human Bondage through July 27 at off-Broadway's Signature Center.