As any independent artist knows, it takes a lot of time, effort, discipline, and sacrifice to live this kind of life. But I keep at it because when a project comes together beautifully and successfully, it’s worth everything I’ve gone through to make it happen.

Sarah Thorpe, artistic director of Soup Can Theatre

Toronto-based Soup Can Theatre provides reinterpretations of older theatrical works as a way to explore contemporary issues for a contemporary audience. In the company’s upcoming double feature of one-act pieces, Samuel Barber’s A Hand of Bridge and Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit, characters in dysfunctional, even hellish relationships are trapped in the same space for the span of a game of bridge and for all eternity, respectively.

It’s a thought-provoking theme, and fortunately one that is not reflected in the theatre company’s mutually supportive environment. Quite the opposite in fact, as artistic director Sarah Thorpe and music director Pratik Gandhi can attest. Check out this Q & A double-bill as the two team up to share their experiences, perspectives, and advice.  And be sure to catch their Valentine’s themed cabaret fundraiser on February 12!

Sarah and Pratik, what are your roles in the performing arts world, and how did you each come to be involved?

Sarah: I began performing when I was a kid in dance and acting classes, school choirs, community theatre productions, etc. Theatre and performance is just something I’ve always been drawn to. I was raised in a very arts-positive environment, and since I was as involved in the arts as I was throughout my early years and teen years, going to theatre school and pursuing theatre and acting as a career was the next logical step. There is nothing else I’d rather be doing with my life.

Pratik: I received two degrees in music from Western University, the first in music education and the second in conducting. Since moving back to Toronto, I’ve continued to find my place in its arts scene as a conductor, while also occasionally performing as a percussionist or a drummer. A Hand of Bridge will mark my debut as a stage director.

Pratik Gandhi, musical director of Soup Can Theatre

Tell us about Soup Can Theatre. What principles or mandate was it founded on? What are the motivations behind it?

Soup Can Theatre is a Toronto-based, independent theatre company dedicated to the reinterpretation of classic theatre for a 21st century audience. Our aim is to use existing works as a means to explore and comment on contemporary issues and societal challenges and, in so doing, to offer our audiences an experience that is both entertaining and enriching.

Can you tell us more about your upcoming production of A Hand of Bridge and No Exit, as well as your fundraiser?

Our upcoming production includes two one-act pieces: A Hand of Bridge and No Exit. A Hand of Bridge is unique as the shortest regularly performed operatic work. In it, two couples sit down to their nightly game of bridge, and in turn each player sings a monologue, revealing their secret worries and desires; they are long past enjoying the game itself, much less the company. In Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist drama No Exit, three people are in a room together in Hell. While they are trapped, they attempt to seek salvation and maintain their sanity, making revelations about their lives along the way.

Both of these pieces play on Sartre’s famous quote, “Hell is other people”: each of the characters in these pieces are trapped in rooms with people whom they can’t stand, they reflect on people in their lives whom they can’t stand, and their actions are driven by this disdain for others, creating a hellish environment and state of mind.

We always have fundraising events to make some money for our upcoming productions and to promote our work, and we really strive to offer people a great evening of top-notch entertainment. This year’s fundraiser is being held at the Hard Luck Bar on February 12, so naturally we’ve made it Valentine’s themed with an amazing lineup of performers, including musicians, comedians, sketch troupes, and burlesque dancers. We also have some great Valentine’s themed prizes in our raffle and silent auction, generously donated by local arts organizations, independent shops, and artisans. More info here:

What do you see as the main challenges for the performing arts in general and (music) theatre in particular?

Sarah: For our company, our main challenge is funding. We rely heavily on ticket sales, donations, and fundraising to pay for actors and crew members, royalty fees, venues for auditions, rehearsals, performances, and our technical and administrative needs. We have applied for grants and sought out corporate sponsorships, but with limited success. It’s tough for a new independent company to have a stable income, but we do the best we can with what we have, and I’m so proud of how we built this company from scratch with zero dollars four years ago.

Pratik: The arts have become more popular with young people and less popular with the general public. More and more students, convinced of the necessity of the arts, are pursuing it as a career, while public support for it is drying up. People are opting for the convenience and immaculate perfection of the recorded arts over the dynamism and connection of live performance, especially in the case of film versus stage. This surplus of performers and dearth of sponsorship have led to an ever decreasing share of the market for each performer.

Could you share some examples of the kinds of challenges that you have faced yourself, and how you overcame them?

Sarah: For me, it’s tough balancing being an actor, director, and producer and also working two part-time jobs so that I can still eat and pay my bills. As any independent artist knows, it takes a lot of time, effort, discipline, and sacrifice to live this kind of life. But I keep at it because when a project comes together beautifully and successfully, it’s worth everything I’ve gone through to make it happen.

Pratik: For me it’s been tough finding a balance between accepting performing opportunities that aren’t terribly rewarding and leaving myself open for ones that are but might not come. It’s hard to take the leap and say, “No, I need to be doing better things, more worthwhile things,” and not just doing something because you’re afraid to not be doing anything. But ultimately, satisfaction will only come from taking such leaps.

What words of advice do you wish you had been given when you were first starting out?

Sarah: Quite honestly, I feel like I’m still “starting out” in many ways, and I’ve had some great teachers and mentors over the years who gave (and continue to give) me wonderful advice, so nothing really caught me off guard when I finished theatre school, and started the audition circuit and planning a company. I felt very prepared to handle the stress and time commitment and everything else that comes along in this line of work. Of course, like everyone else, I feel like I’m going to crack under the pressure sometimes, or that I’m not good enough, but I truly do just have to trust myself. You have to surround yourself with work and people who inspire you.

Pratik: Like Sarah, I too feel like I’m still in a way “just starting out” in the sense that I’m not yet at the point I’d like to be. But as far as advice—I think the most common advice I get is to look for a new career, and obviously if I’d followed that I wouldn’t be where I am. As far as the company goes, I think the best advice that we’ve gotten has been from within, i.e., from each other. We’ve got a really good and diverse team running the show and, for the most part, we support each other with our advice and our expertise.