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QUINTESSENTIALLY COLLABORATIVE: Interview with Cherry Orchard director Soheil Parsa

Dec 11, 2018

Written by Walter Strydom
A “quintessentially Canadian approach to the classics,” the Globe And Mail called their Dora Award winning production of Federico Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding (2015), highlighting Parsa’s ability to emphasize the individuality of the performers instead of forcing a “nebulous idea of diversity.” And indeed, Modern Times Stage Company has become known for the simplicity of their approach to diversity.
 “Theatre is a collaborative art form,” says Artistic Director, Soheil Parsa. “As a company we have been interested in exploring how the themes of our plays and our approach to theatre can connect us to our city and to our world.”
Soheil and fellow York University graduate, Peter Farbridge, founded Modern Times Stage Company in 1989. Now, on the cusp of their 30th anniversary, the company boasts more than 60 Dora Award Nominations, 16 wins and Parsa has been shortlisted for the prestigious Siminovitch Prize twice, and honoured with the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Award for his contribution as a theatre artist to Canadian society. Staging works that range from original work, to adaptations of classics, to English translations of Iranian plays, the company has produced more than 40 productions nationally and internationally.
Soheil chalks their achievements up to the power of collaboration: “Without  many fantastic actors, designers, stage managers and technical people,” he says, “we would have not been able to create some of the most memorable and high calibre productions in this city.”
We talked to Soheil about Modern Times’ mandate, the importance of theatre and what draws the company’s interest when it comes to taking on new projects.
With your company’s passionate involvement in outreach and borderless collaboration, you have been described as a fervent advocate for social action through theatre. Why would you say is the theatre important for a modern society?
I believe that creating theatre is in itself an act of social action. Theatre is about the human-to-human connection between actors and audiences. This intimate, live, direct and immediate relationship between artists and audience occurs only in theatre. The “liveness” of theatre is what makes it an important, necessary and irreplaceable art form. Given the dominance of the digital media and communication in this age, sharing an experience between live actors and audience is necessary more than ever for human connection and human empathy.
Considered one of the most multicultural cities in the world – with more than half of its population being foreign-born – Toronto would seem to be the ideal landscape for Modern Times’s mandate of “inclusive humanism and formal experimentation.” What endears you to creating theatre in Toronto?
It has been a real privilege to work in this city and have access to a huge poll of amazing actors, designers and artists from different cultural backgrounds, many of them who have profoundly contributed to our creations.  Given my Iranian background, I have always been interested in how the diversity of Toronto could be a creative asset in the productions. I saw no need for contradiction between the plurality of a streetcar and the plurality of a cast.
Recently co-artistic director, Peter Farbridge and I have been trying to extend this concept beyond the company through the Postmarginal Project, which is about looking past European and North American theatre tradition to help inspire more inclusivity in Canadian theatre. We think that it is possible to see cultural diversity not only in terms of political and social identities, but also as a source of creative inspiration through the different physical and emotional characteristics of performers.
How do you go about deciding on a next project?
We don’t choose our projects based on their marketing potential, but on the beliefs, core values and philosophy of the company. Mostly, our selection process is based on my intuitive response to the material. We are also attracted to classical plays for their mythic, archetypal and philosophical qualities. So, we have a list of our favorite plays in that category. We also develop and create new projects and are open to new plays by Canadian playwrights. The decision on the next project is always necessitated by its artistic/stylistic and thematic necessity.
(TOP LEFT) Bloom (2018): Peter Farbridge and Liz Peterson photo by John Launer(TOP MIDDLE) Waiting for Godot (2008): Peter Farbridge, Peter Batakliev & Darrel Gamotin, photo by Guy Bertrand (TOP RIGHT) Headshot of Soheil Parsa by Sean Howard. (ABOVE) Blood Wedding(2015): Steven Bush, Beatriz Pizano, Jani Lauzon, Carlos Gonzalez-Vio, Liz Peterson, Mina James, Sebastian Marziali, Bahareh Yaraghi, Derek Kwan, photo by Brian Damaud.
Book now to see Modern Times’ take on Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, hitting Streetcar Crowsnest next spring as part of Crow’s Theatre’s 2018-19 season.
The Cherry Orchard is one of the 4 exciting productions that are part of our 4-Play Packages. Book your package today and save!