Preview: Soulo Festival (Soulo Theatre)

SOULO Festival 2016 POSTERSolo Festival plays in Toronto, dedicated to showcasing solo works!

The Soulo Festival, now in its fourth year, returns to combine acclaimed solo stage performances with classes and workshops.

Performers, audiences, teachers, and anyone interested in personal storytelling are encouraged to head to the Red Sandcastle Theatre between May 26 – 29, 2016.

Creator Tracey Erin Smith and Artistic Producer Franny McCabe-Bennett took some time to answer a few questions about the festival.

Could you talk a bit about the Soulo Festival – the back story, how it began – and explain what it is for those who may be unfamiliar?

Tracey Erin Smith: I had been teaching SOULO classes for a decade and noticed there was a strong community of graduates that keep coming to see the new students shows and taking more classes themselves. So I had the idea: let’s do a festival.  This way we can get everyone who’s part of the SOULO family together in one place and introduce SOULO and the best one-person shows around to a whole new audience.  Six months later, with the help of my incredible team, we had our first festival!  It was a hit and surpassed all of our expectations.
Franny McCabe-Bennett: I had taken a weekend intensive with Tracey in November 2012 and loved the way she worked, her approach to claiming your own story, and her skills as a teacher and director to turn real life into compelling solo theatre. She invited me to that first planning session and I never left! I stepped into a paid role as the Artistic Producer this January.

The festival is half performances and half educational, but everything is geared towards solo shows. Our performers have included stand up comedians, clowns, storytellers, dancers, musical theatre actors, health care workers, graduates of Tracey’s classes and more. Many of the shows we program are funny, some are more serious but they are all brimming with life and heart.

Most of our performers are Canadian but every year we have featured at least one international artist; this year is Bill Bowers, a Broadway veteran and gifted mime who reveals all in “It Goes Without Saying”. Our festival opener is Rachelle Elie in her solo show with music “Shit I’m In Love With You Again”. Rachelle sold out as the closer in 2014 and we are so pleased she’s back with another hit.

You have what looks like an amazing workshop lineup. Could you talk specifically about those, who they’re geared to, and who may benefit from them?

Franny McCabe-Bennett: The educational side is a huge part of the festival for us. SOULO Theatre believes everyone has a story and everyone deserves to tell it onstage – we help them tell it really well.

The workshops and panels are open to the public and we get a real cross-section of artists who want to further develop their work, learn how to market or brand before a tour (perfect timing right before Fringe season), network with other solo artists, or get a skills refresher. We also get folks who are ready to take the leap between audience and creator.

Do you have any new or different plans for Soulo going forward? If resources were unlimited, where would you envision it going?

Franny McCabe-Bennett: We are interested in getting a season running, similar to other indie theatre companies and produce more solo work throughout the year. We have also started more niche classes with public class showings, like our Clergy Project and Project Drag Queen.

Next will be a class with a showing for indigenous folks that will be free of charge for participants. We would also love to take SOULO on more international trips […], to develop some artists in residence, and produce more work in Toronto on a larger scale.

Tracey Erin Smith: With unlimited recourses we’d have our own space: for rehearsal, classes and performance and a huge mobile home that opens up into a stage, that we’d travel the world in and camp in as we went from town to town helping people tell their stories.

Our goal is to give a voice to, and shine the spotlight on, groups that are under-served or thriving in the margins. The old rule, and it’s true, is that the minority knows everything about the majority and the majority knows nothing about the minority.  I’m interested in putting voices on stage that aren’t often heard speaking in their own person. That’s why I created The Clergy Project and Project Drag Queen, with drag artist Vicki Licks.

If folks want to know more, donate, get involved, follow you online, etc., how could they do that?

Franny McCabe-Bennett: Our website has lots of information including a donate button, or they can email Or swing by the Red Sandcastle! We’ll be there tonight, tomorrow night and all day/night on Saturday and Sunday.

Tracey Erin Smith: You can volunteer for our festival and class shows.  We are on Facebook and twitter. If you’d like to get involved send me an email and we’ll make it happen!

Finally, anything you’d like to add?

Franny McCabe-Bennett: SOULO Theatre is a transformative thing, whether you come to it as a performer or an audience member. The positive energy and community-mindedness is something we actively cultivate and there is always room for more!

Tracey Erin Smith: Come to the festival. You will see amazing and transformational solo theatre, learn how to put your own story on stage, and – I promise – you will make at least on new friend.  We are, after all, the world’s friendliest festival!


Image provided by company. This interview has been condensed.