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Spotlight on alumni

Sarah Koehn is one of eight young actors from across Canada selected to be part of the 2011-12 Soulpepper Academy, an intensive 12-month training and performance residency with the renowned Soulpepper Theatre Company. The bachelor of fine arts grad, who has starred in shows at Grand Bank Regional Theatre Festival and Grenfell Campus, talks about the academy's show Dirt and reflects on her time at Memorial University in this interview with Gazette contributor Jennifer Batten.

JB: Can you tell me about Dirt and how the idea of dirt – soil – evolved into theatre?
SK: The show Dirt is a collective creation that the Soulpepper Academy is working on as the final portion of the academy training program. It was our director, Leah Cherniak, who first suggested the idea of using dirt as a springboard for the creation of the show. After a lot of consideration, we all agreed that dirt could serve as a metaphor for the wide variety of interests we all had. We have since explored endless topics using the sixty bags of topsoil we now have in our studio. Having physical dirt in the room has not only been useful in exploring its potential in a theatrical context, but I think it has helped us all gain a new appreciation for its value on this planet.

JB: What is your role in the production?
SK: The seven other academy members and I have been primarily responsible for generating material, whether it is in the form of a monologue, scene, song, dance or simply an inspiring image. We are constantly discussing, presenting, playing and refining and have managed to come up with a body of material that we are now working to string together into a whole – with dirt being the common denominator. It has been a process of constantly questioning what we want to say to the audience through our work. The show is in a constant state of flux, as we keep refining and fitting things together. The process so far has been truly collaborative and a very exciting challenge.

JB: What stands out as your fondest memory from your time at Memorial?
SK: I have so many fond memories of Memorial. I was born and raised in Kingston, Ont., and I fell in love with Newfoundland and made so many good friends. I was part of the outdoors club, so I have great memories of snowshoeing on the Tablelands, climbing at Captain Cook's Lookout and camping in Gros Morne. And of course, I will always fondly remember the shows I was in while I was at school: Romeo and Juliet, Three Sisters, Top Girls and Hamlet.

JB: What did you learn at Memorial that you've been able to carry through in your post-graduate life as an actor?
SK: The biggest thing I took away from my experience at Memorial was an awareness of the rigor and work ethic you need to get anywhere in the theatre/acting industry. You really have to love the work and be willing to persist when it feels impossible to continue. I also came away with a sense of the importance of curiosity and how essential it is to explore and ask questions, and figure out what you want to say through your work.
I feel that going to Memorial was one of the best decisions I have ever made. The theatre program really fosters its students. I'm not sure I would be on the path I am today if it hadn't been for the encouragement of the directors and coaches I had at Memorial.

For more information on Sarah Koehn and the Soulpepper Academy, visit