Love takes centre stage

Soulpepper co-founders go from playing star-crossed lovers to living real romance


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Nancy Palk and Joseph Ziegler recently celebrated their 32nd wedding anniversary and are still as happily in love as ever. When they’re not onstage, the actor-directors — currently starring in Soulpepper’s adaptation of Ibsen’s Ghosts — enjoy spending time with their three children in their Toronto home. Here, Nancy shares their story and the secret to their longevity:

How they met
We were in the same class in theatre school in Montreal in 1976. We did the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet.

I knew Joe was really something when he came over to my roach-infested student housing and attacked the problem like a manly man and then cleaned my kitchen on his hands and knees! I knew he was a keeper.

The courtship
We were in school together all day, and we lived in apartments across the street from each other, so we saw each other all the time. We went on a lot of group outings: movies and plays and dinners with the other people in our class, and we would end up sitting next to each other.

It’s hard to say when our first actual date was. Joe was engaged to someone when we first met, but, by the end of our first year in school, we were together.

The proposal
I had never imagined that I would get married at age 23! But Joe was American and would have had to head back to the U.S. if we didn’t get married. So after my many refusals (he’d been proposing to me for a couple of years!), he finally called my bluff, and said, “OK, I’ll have to move back to the States and see you when I see you.” That woke me up.

The wedding
We were married in September, after graduating in the spring of ’79, in Brantford, where my parents were living at the time.

Joe was doing a play in Toronto, and he got two days off: one for the wedding and one for the honeymoon, which was one night up near Lake Simcoe. A few months later, we actually did have a real honeymoon in London, England.

Their lives today
We moved to Toronto in the fall of ’79 and have lived here ever since. We are now in our third home — a sort of It’s a Wonderful Life house — with lots of cracks and things we should have repaired.

Right now, we’re acting together in Ghosts at Soulpepper. If someone had told us 30 years ago that in 2011 we’d be acting together, we’d have been thrilled.

We’re lucky enough to be doing what we always wanted to.

Work-life balance
We have always worked together, since theatre school, so it comes very naturally to us.

We co-founded the Soulpepper Theatre Company with others from the Young Company at Stratford. We established a real bond there and were granted a Guthrie Award to start our own company, which we talked about for 10 years and actually managed to get off the ground in 1998.

Shared goals
Travelling, seeing the world, seeing our kids be happy and successful.

Secret to their success
We’ve always been pretty good at listening to each other and hearing what the other person has to say. We were in our early 20s when we met, and we sort of grew up together.

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