Q&A: The Road To Mecca

Soulpepper newcomer Shannon Taylor talks about her role in the company's production of Athol Fugard's award-winning play

Presented by Soulpepper Theatre Company
Written by Athol Fugard
Directed by David Storch

Shannon Taylor, Diana Leblanc and David Fox in The Road to Mecca. Photo by Nathan Kelly.

Ontario native Shannon Taylor makes her Soulpepper debut this spring in a new production of Athol Fugard's The Road To Mecca directed by David Storch (previews April 30 at the Young Centre). Set in a conservative village in Apartheid-era South Africa, the play is based on the real story of Helen Martins, a free-spirited artist who turned her yard into a controversial work of art. Taylor plays the challenging role of Miss Helen's fiery young friend Elsa Barlow.

Here, Taylor talks about getting into character and performing alongside Canadian theatre veterans Diana Leblanc and David Fox.

Theatromania: How would you describe Soulpepper’s production of Athol Fugard’s The Road to Mecca in a few sentences?

ST: The story is set in 1974 in South Africa during Apartheid. At the core, it centres around an elderly woman who has spent the last 15 years of her life transforming her home and yard with her unorthodox art. Two of her dearest friends, who come from very different worlds and ideologies, pull her in different directions as she faces a significant decision in her life. It was inspired by a real life story.

Theatromania: Tell us about your character, Elsa. What motivates her and how did you prepare for this role?

ST: Elsa’s got guts! She is feisty, passionate and vulnerable. She speaks her mind, acts quickly and sometimes has to deal with the consequences. She stands up for what she believes in but she is also scared. Aren’t we all? Elsa is determined to make an impact on this earth and dares to question the status quo. To prepare for the production I read a bunch of Fugard’s other plays to get into his world. Most of the real learning though happens in the rehearsal hall. It is only in saying the words to the other characters (with the help of our director) that we begin to tell our version of this story together. It is a very collaborative process.

Theatromania: What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered with this particular play?

ST: The challenges change throughout the process. Some days it is think quicker, connect faster and other days it is take more time, allow myself to sit in it. It is an ever-evolving process. My character, Elsa Barlow, is similar to me in many ways but she is can also be very different, specifically in the way she deals with conflict. A challenge can be to try to make those differences my own. I have to understand how Shannon interprets Elsa’s way of thinking.

Theatromania: Have you learned anything new or significant from this process?

ST: I learn something new every day of rehearsal. It can be as insignificant as, carry the sandwich plate in my left hand so I can open the door with my right, and sometimes it is a lot more complex. We are now at the point in the process where we are running through the entire show, which is always an exciting time because we are learning how it all fits together. The big lesson there is usually, one moment at a time. But the most significant learning simply comes from working with the masterful artists Diana LeBlanc, David Fox and David Storch.

Theatromania: This will be your Soulpepper debut. What has been the best part of this experience so far?

ST: It feels great to be welcomed by Soulpepper! One of the best parts is working with the talented artists that they bring onboard. There is a great amount of trust and support in the rehearsal hall and that makes for daring and vulnerable work. It is a privilege to share the stage with Diana and David and to have David Storch at the helm. And or course our stage management duo and our designers. We’ve got a fantastic team!

Theatromania: What’s next for you?

ST: Up next I will be performing in the premiere of Rosa Laborde’s new play True at the Toronto Fringe Festival.

See Shannon Taylor in The Road To Mecca from April 30 to May 28 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. Visit soulpepper.ca for more information and to buy tickets.

Show Dates: 
Wed, 2014-04-30 - Wed, 2014-05-28



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