Legends, Myths and Remounts: In Conversation with Sarah Thorpe – Writer, Co-Director & Solo actor of Soup Can Theatre’s “Heretic”
Interview by Madryn McCabe
I sat down with Sarah Thorpe, writer, co-director and solo actor of Heretic, to talk about legends, myths, and doing it all over again.
Madryn McCabe: Tell me a bit about Heretic?
Sarah Thorpe: Heretic is essentially Joan of Arc in this afterlife space, looking back on her life and the decisions she made, and questioning whether it was worth it in the end. Should she have made the decisions that she did? I wanted to frame it in that way because, obviously, Joan was killed when she was nineteen because of what she did, so every account of her story is from someone else’s perspective, someone else’s opinion… so with some artistic license, it’s her side of the story – what she was feeling, thinking, going through… I wanted to present her in a way that takes down the saintly persona that surrounds her. She’s always depicted that way in plays and in literature, and I just thought that I wanted to explore her as a regular, vulnerable human being.
MM: What inspired Heretic? Where did the idea come from?
ST: It came from a monologue from Shaw’s Saint Joan that I had done for auditions before, and I found that it really hit an emotional note with me. I thought it would be interesting to explore this emotional connection further, and explore this person. I realized that I had all these questions… What was she thinking before her execution? What was she thinking when she stepped onto the battlefield for the first time? What was going through her mind? Was she terrified? Or thinking ‘No, I’ve got this!’
MM: How much research did you have to do into Joan’s life?
ST: A fair amount of research, but I’ve certainly taken a lot of artistic license as well. Not much of Joan is known before she joined the French army and started fighting in the 100 Years War.
MM: We seem to only know about Joan of Arc the Warrior, who heard voices from God, and only just the very brief period of time when she was fighting in the war.
ST: Right! So, we know about that, and we know that she was captured and executed. But, not a whole lot is known about her life before that. We do touch on that and how she was living this life on a farm with her parents and had a simple, medieval farming existence. The 100 Years War started in the 1330s, so she was born into a period of war going on around her, born into this environment where that was sort of what they were used to. It had gone on for so long. How I interpreted the aspect of her hearing voices was her wanting so much to say ‘No, we shouldn’t put up with this. This isn’t right. We’re being occupied, and it shouldn’t be an English king on the throne. We should do something about it.’
MM: Do you have a writing partner, or did you tackle this story on your own?
ST: I wrote it on my own. Justin Haigh did the dramaturgy on this remount. I re-wrote the script from the original version that we did in April.
MM: I was just about to ask, how much of an overhaul has this version gotten? Is there a lot of new stuff going on? What might bring people back who have already seen it?
ST: It’s not a huge overhaul. Some scenes were rewritten, some scenes were cut completely. In doing the remount, I thought that I could write some stuff better, and go into more depth of what I could interpret into what she was thinking and feeling and going through. So, for people who saw the April production and want to come back, I would say that there’s more emotional depth, and a bit more action. It also looks completely different. We have a whole new design team. The look of the show is totally different, yet still keeps with my vision. The way I always pictured it was people coming into a space resembling a medieval tomb. It’s kept with that same idea, but in a totally different way.
MM: Did you find that things changed much in the rehearsal room as well?
ST: Rehearsal was, again, a bit different. We have the same stage manager as last year, which is great. Directing-wise-Matt Bernard directed the April production, and this time around Scott Dermody and I are co-directing. Matt and Scott have different directing styles, so it’s been different rehearsing just because of the different approaches. I feel like I’m working harder this time around! It’s not that I wasn’t into it the first time around, and I don’t know how or why, but I feel extra committed now.
MM: Do you find that you can easily separate all your roles as writer, director, actor, or does each one influence what the other does?
ST: I’ve gotten better at knowing when to turn off the producer brain and turn on the actor brain, or the writer brain. Certainly when I was doing the rewrites, it was really just writer brain. I wasn’t thinking about anything else. But once we started rehearsals and looked at the script from an acting perspective, I’d sometimes think ‘Why the hell would I write something that way? What was I thinking?!’ I’ve gotten better at differentiating, and what helps me is making that bit of time to focus on the different things. I have to write a little schedule… so it’s 12-1 I’ll run lines, 1-2 I’ll do a bunch of social media and post things, then I’ll look at the design that’s just been sent, and look from that perspective. And luckily, I’m sharing the directing responsibilities. I wanted to have a hand in the directing this time, as well, to have a say in the design concept but Scott really is the eyes that are making sure I’m delivering a good performance.
MM: Do you prefer this avenue of creating your own show and having so much say in the producing versus the more traditional auditioning for another company and being directed in a specific part?
ST: As an actor, this is the first time I’ve done anything like this. I hadn’t written anything outside of theatre school. I have to say that it’s really satisfying to create my own work from the ground up. As an artist, overall I’ve really enjoyed that process. I do also enjoy the more traditional process, though. There are some scripts that I’d love to tackle as a director too.
MM: What do you want people to know coming into the show?
ST: What I find exciting and compelling is that we’re introducing people to a person who is always portrayed as higher than other humans. She’s a saint, she’s holy, she’s perfect, a saviour. I find her way more interesting when we see that she screwed up sometimes and made mistakes and bad decisions and maybe she shouldn’t have done some of what she did. I find her, and I hope everyone else does, compelling to see as a vulnerable, flawed being just trying to do what she feels is right.
Presented by Soup Can Theatre
Written and Performed by Sarah Thorpe
Co-Directed by Sarah Thorpe & Scott Dermody
Scenography – Alyksandra Ackerman
Lighting Designer – Randy Lee
Sound Designer/Production Manager – Wesley McKenzie
Dramaturge – Justin Haigh
Stage Manager – Kathleen Hemsworth
When: November 11 – 22, 2015
Where: Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, 16 Ryerson Ave.
Tickets: $15-22, online: soupcantheatre.com phone: 416-504-7529, in person: 16 Ryerson Ave.
Soup Can Theatre: @SoupCanTheatre
Sarah Thorpe: @thorpe_s
In the Greenroom: @intheGreenRoom_
Madryn McCabe: @FuriousMAD