Kids Corner


A Prodigy at The Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake:
Harveen Kaur Sandhu





At a time when most roles for young female actresses were either ingenues or fallen women, Bernard Shaw wrote plays about what was then called the New Woman – strong, complex young female characters, many of which ended up having plays named after them (Saint Joan, Candida, Major Barbara).

Drawing from the repertoire of its namesake and his contemporaries, The Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada, regularly introduces its audiences to fresh young female talent.


Harveen Kaur Sandhu is new to The Shaw Festival and only a year out of Ryerson University’s theatre program, but was already an experienced actor, playwright, director and producer before she left her Ottawa high school, which had no drama program.

The Shaw Festival is a major Canadian theatre festival, the second largest repertory theatre company in North America. Founded in 1962, it is an annual summer-long ‘salute’ to Bernard Shaw.

Before Harveen joined the Shaw Festival, one of her teenage works was a play based on Jean-Paul Sartre’s hefty novel The Age of Reason.

“They were sizable plays,” she said. “I desperately needed to be heard.”

She convinced others of that need, and directed or produced several of her shows at Ottawa’s Youth Enfringement Festival and at the Sears Ontario Drama Festival, where one of her plays made the regional finals.

Harveen performed in two Soulpepper productions right after her Ryerson graduation, and played a central role in Natasha Greenblatt’s much talked-about first play, The Peace Maker, during last winter’s Toronto Fringe Next Stage Festival.

Shaw took her on immediately afterward, casting her in Lady Windermere’s Fan and Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia.

In spite of this clamour of interest in her talents, she says her choice of a theatre career “traumatized” her parents, who emigrated from Kenya when Harveen was 4. It doesn’t help that she’s fiercely devoted to fringe theatre and the bootstrap collaborative efforts of new-play creation.

“I’m sort of aching to go back to creative work,” she says, having put her own writing on hold during theatre school and the shows that followed. “When you have an idea and even a small group who believe in it, you can go quite far.”

She looks at her small roles at Shaw this year as huge learning opportunities, and has gone to every rehearsal whether she was needed or not. “I’m really enjoying just being able to listen,” she says – no doubt sharpening her own sense of what she’ll do next time she’s writing, directing or producing a play.

Harveen returns this 2014 season at The Shaw Festival, appearing in the only Shaw play on the main stage this year, The Philanderer. She’s enjoying her second season with the company and couldn’t be happier.

“I would say it’s the best place for a young woman in the theatre to work in the world. It’s challenging, it’s diverse and it’s getting more diverse all the time. The work we do here is difficult, but in the best sense of the word. You always feel like you have to do better and fix any mistakes you made last time.”

Harveen celebrates the fact that “underneath the quest for excellence, there is still a comfort and ease to the work here. And the women are a big nurturing part of it. I’m only 23 and it’s humbling to be around such talented women. Humbling, but encouraging.

“I’ve learned that it’s a long road and there’s a lot I’ve got to learn, but this is the place to learn it.”

Harveen is also appearing in another production in this year: Juno and the Paycock.


[Courtesy: The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star Edited for]
May 19, 2014


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Harveen Kaur Sandhu"

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