Q&A: Heretic

Soup Can Theatre's Sarah Thorpe reinvents Joan of Arc in bold new solo show

Presented by Soup Can Theatre
Directed by Matt Bernard
Created and performed by Sarah Thorpe

Sarah Thorpe in Heretic. Photo by Justin Haigh.

This month, Soup Can Theatre presents the premiere production of Heretic, a theatrical retelling of the story of Joan of Arc. Created and performed by the company's own talented director/producer Sarah Thorpe, the play explores the life of France's famous heroine from an unconventional angle. Was Joan of Arc a holy vessel or the victim of vivid hallucinations? A headstrong warrior or a delusional young woman elevated by the hope of a nation?

Here, Thorpe talks about taking on new challenges and getting under the skin of a remarkable historical figure.

Theatromania: Tell us about Heretic. What inspired this piece?

ST: The inspiration initially came from being so moved by one of Joan's monologues in Shaw's Saint Joan (a piece I’ve performed for auditions before) that I felt compelled to explore this emotional connection further. I’m not religious, but I don’t think one needs to be to find her life fascinating. Joan of Arc is often presented and portrayed in this very holy and patriotic light: the courageous martyr who was burned at the stake, a national hero of France. What I find doesn’t really feature in renditions of her (whether artistic, literary, etc.) is that she was a teenage girl, the daughter of farmers, illiterate and uneducated, and how amazing it was that she managed to challenge the patriarchic and clergy-dominated status quo of the time. Here is a young girl, in war-torn 15th century France, with no military experience who donned men’s clothing, led an army, and paved the way for the French king to be coronated—accomplishments which she credited to divine visions and voices that instructed her to do so. Whether you believe that or not, you can’t deny how extraordinary her story is. What interested me was finding the human beneath the saint.

Theatromania: How would you describe the production in a few sentences?

ST: We meet Joan in her afterlife, and she is reflecting on her life and the decisions she made, breaking down the preconceptions of her to say “This is me. This is who I was. This is how I felt. This is why I did the things I did.” I reconstruct her life, playing Joan as well as a number of other characters that play prominently in her story; her father, the king, the clergy, her inquisitor, etc.

Theatromania: How did you prepare for this iconic role?

ST: Research, reading other plays written about and inspired by her (Shaw’s Saint Joan, Brecht’s Saint Joan of the Stockyards, and Anouilh’s The Lark) and taking some creative license. Not much is known about Joan prior to her military career, apart from information that would have been gathered for her trial. Using the research as inspiration, I set out to create the private, personal moments that people wouldn’t have seen. What would a conversation with her parents have been like? What would she have been thinking and feeling while in prison before her execution? I wanted to peel back the layers of the saintly glow that surrounds Joan’s persona, because underneath she was a vulnerable teenage girl in tremendous circumstances.

Theatromania: What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered?

ST: This is my first time performing in a one-person show, and the first time I’ve written anything for public presentation in a performative capacity (whoa, alliteration!). Theatre-wise, I’ve primarily been working as a director and producer over the last few years, so getting back to acting has been really thrilling, but challenging. Once in a while I’ve had to remind myself to turn off the producer and director sides of my brain and not think “How will this affect the budget? How is my overall performance from beginning to end?” and leave those questions in the highly capable hands of the creative team so I could focus on telling the story as a writer and actor. I’m thrilled with how far Soup Can has come since 2009 and we’re in a good place right now, and I’m turning 30 soon, so I felt it was time to give myself a new challenge as an artist and try something different.

Theatromania: What have you learned from this experience so far?

ST: Writing and acting in a one-person show and presenting that work is not as scary when you have a fantastic team supporting you and helping you bring the piece to life. Being vulnerable and open to change, not as just an actor, but as a creator of an artistic work, is very liberating. Just sit down and write, even if you’re not sure what to write. The words will come. Then hand it over to the director and designers to bring it to the next level. That’s how it was for me and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this process. What we’ve created is very different from my original idea of what the piece would be like, but I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.

Heretic runs from April 8 to 12, 2015 at lemonTree {studio} Theatre – 58 Stewart St. (just south of King and Bathurst). Visit soupcantheatre.com for more information and to buy tickets.

Show Dates: 
Wed, 2015-04-08 - Sun, 2015-04-12


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