Weyni Mengesha is an award-winning director and dramaturge. In 2018 she moved from LA to Toronto to become Soulpepper’s Artistic Director. Mengesha started her career directing da Kink in my Hair across North America and in London – a production that sold out some of the largest houses. She directed Kim’s Convenience (2012), one of the most successful shows in Soulpepper’s history, which has since gone on to become a successful CBC television series.
She has been an instructor at the National Theatre School of Canada, and Co-Artistic Director and teacher with The A.M.Y. Project for nine years. She’s been a longtime role model and passionate advocate for Canadian voices that weren’t represented on stage.
In honour of International Women's Day, we are celebrating five Torontonians who inspire us and who are each making a lasting impact in their own unique way.
Elle: What’s been your biggest adventure to date?
Weyni: Moving my whole family back to Toronto from LA. Even though this is the home I grew up my children don’t know it and my husband doesn’t know it as well. It’s different now compared to what I used to do as a freelance artist and director. Back then my responsibility was just to do the show. Now I feel more of a civic responsibility, programming an important space in the city. Now I think about my relationship to the city as opposed to just one show. That’s one of my biggest adventures!
Elle: Who or what inspires you?
Weyni: I’m inspired by a vision. The vision is being part of building a community hub and an intersection. I myself feel like an intersection as a first generation Canadian. My parents came from Ethiopia and I grew up in Canada. Even within my own community as a black female I was the only one out of my friends that was involved in theatre. I would come downtown, from Scarborough, to go to festival shows. I feel like I have always been bridge building and it’s something I am very passionate about. I feel like the city is dying to be more connected and as soon as you give them the chance they are so happy to hear each other’s stories and break bread together. I’m so excited to be able to be a part of building a space for that.
Elle: Do you feel any pressure?
Weyni: I haven’t put a lot of pressure on myself to fit a certain mould. I feel a great honour to be in this position to inspire young people who look like me to do the same and follow their passion. I think it’s important that you can see people in positions that maybe you think were not made for you.
I think if I would’ve seen a black woman as an artistic director when I was in first-year university it would’ve made a big impact on me.
Elle: What drives you?
Weyni: The possibility of better things. The possibility of creating transformative, magical public spaces that make an impact on the city that I live in.
Elle: One person living or dead you’d like to have a conversation with.
Weyni: Nina Simone. She could speak about her fears so articulately. She is virtuosic, so talented, such a hard worker and I just find her and her music so inspiring. I play her music when I need to do some work and really buckle down and be inspired. I find it electric.
Elle: First word that comes to your mind if I ask you to describe yourself.
Weyni: Curious. I like to learn and have new experiences. I love to meet new people and am fascinated by new perspectives.
Elle: What is your favorite word or phrase in Amharic?
Weyni: "Kes bi kes enkulal begru yehedahl". It means slowly, slowly the egg starts to walk.
Elle: Finish this sentence, I know for sure...
Weyni: I know for sure that I can’t do this job alone and I have no intention to. What excites me are all the conversations I am having, bringing like-minded people and incredible artists to push the city in positive way.
Elle: At Zvelle, we believe we are in the business of inspiring women to use their voice through fashion. What does using your voice mean to you?
Weyni: It means that I have a point of privilege that I must honour, be conscious of and use for the betterment of everyone, and to consider it wisely.
Photography: Mark Binks