Behind the Curtain

Guy Sprung, Artistic Director of Infinithéâtre

by Caleigh Crow

In this edition of Behind the Curtain, we depart form our typical interview style to look at the upcoming six months or so with Guy Sprung, Artistic Director of Infinithéâtre.

First up, a limited run of a visiting Theatre Office Natori project, Godot Has Come by Minoru Betsuyaku. The title alone should pique the interest of theatre-goers, as of course, every student of theatre worth their salt knows that Godot isn’t supposed to arrive. There are only 5 performances of the Japanese slapstick comedy, but since everything sold out, one more matinee has tickets for this Sat, Dec 2nd.  The production is on a world tour, stopping in Paris, Berlin, Dublin, the Caucuses and now Montreal. “It’s a bit of an ironic, tongue in cheek play,” says Guy, “It’s a making-fun-of-Beckett play, but it’s also quite political in its statement about the universe today.”

The show is billed by Guy as the sequel to Samuel Beckett’s modern absurd masterpiece, Waiting for Godot, sacred among artist-types. This is evident even on the Facebook event page for Godot Has Come, where one commenter objects to Infinithéâtre’s description of Betsuyaku’s play as funnier than the original – it’s almost blasphemous to question Beckett, but it does speak to the talent and power of Betsuyaku, Japan’s foremost absurdist playwright.

It’s apt then, that the Godot be invited into Espace Knox, a new community arts centre housed in an historic church in NDG, that’s opened its doors to Infinithéâtre, among others, this year.  “The moment we saw the space we said, bingo, yes please,” recalls Guy.

I ask Guy about what it means to be performing theatre in a church. “Our Western theatre tradition starts in the church. it then proceeded to the back yard of inns and pubs, and then from the pubs backyards to the specially built theatres,” he explains. “I like the spiritual presence, the awe. It feels good to have god on your side.”

The 70-year-old building, along with Guy Sprung and Infinithéâtre’s general manager, Simon A. Abou-Fadel, was profiled in an article in the Gazette earlier this month. You can see from the pictures that there’s a lot to be excited about with Espace Knox, especially when you consider Infinithéâtre’s precarious venue situation for the past few years.

For over a decade Infinithéâtre played out of Bain St. Michel in Mile End until the city slated the building for repairs in 2014. “It’s owned by the city, and it was getting dilapidated,” Guy admits, “but we were the company that had the equipment and the lights and sound to make it into a theatre, and we helped a lot of people present in there.”

The city now estimates the building will be finished in 2019, though I can tell by the slight sardonic tone in Guy’s voice that he’ll believe it when he sees it. Even though Infinithéâtre had to make some serious adjustments, but it gave them the opportunity to explore found spaces. “I love the fact that the audience comes to a space where theatre isn’t, and they come into a weird situation,” Guy says. “It really dose liven up an audience, it makes you more aware and readier for something to happen, so the plays are more powerful.”

After Betsuyaku’s Godot has gone, Infinithéâtre will present The Pipeline, a public reading of four new works from Quebec from December 8 – 10. Two of the plays are from Write-On-Q!, the company’s annual playwriting competition that is the most lucrative English literary award in Quebec. This year, Michaela Di Cesare (QDF board member!) won the esteemed prize for her play Extra/Beautiful/U. “It’s a play that asks what is beauty? Where is beauty in the body, inside, outside… It’s very much about our obsessions of the external nature of beauty and it comes at that pretty harshly,” Guy says.

What Guy is looking for with The Pipeline series is audience feedback, specifically looking at which plays should be produced, if not by Infinithéâtre, then elsewhere. It’s part of the company’s mission to encourage and develop new Quebecois works. Another piece of that puzzle is the 12-month long program The Unit, designed to help playwrights develop their work from the early draft stages to until it’s production ready with dramaturgical sessions and one-on-one support. “The first cohort was remarkable, and out of seven, four will be getting production in other theatres,” Guy says, “That’s kind of neat and proves the value and I suspect that lots will happen with this year’s cohort as well.”

After that, Infinithéâtre is taking a break for the holidays but returns in February with Alison Grant’s play Conversion, the third play of Alison’s the company has produced. Guy Sprung will direct with Diana Fajrajsl, Timothy Hine, Mike Payette and Denise Watt performing. “It’s an intense play that takes place around supper and a family falls apart over one of them wanting to convert to another religion,” Guy explains, “It’s pretty close to the bone. If you know Long Day’s Journey into Night or Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, it has that kind of familial internal meltdown feel to it.”

That takes us to April, when the company will hold a series of public workshop performances of a play Guy has been developing about a real Northwest Mounted Police officer, Francis Dickens, who arrived in Canada in 1874 to participate in the British colonial project. He also happens to be Charles Dickens’ third son, and the play includes numerous nods and homages to the great author. “Francis was 5’2”, he had a stutter, he’s lame in one leg and deaf in one ear,” Guy grins, “So, he’s the perfect comic hero. If you know Blazing Saddles, he’s very much that kind of anti-hero.”

Over the course of the eleven years the play spans, Francis Dickens, meets “a huge amount of characters” and eventually concludes colonization isn’t for him, and leaves the NWMP. The workshop performances are meant to test the technical vision Guy has for the play, as it calls for video projection, mask work, and a lot of quick changes for actors.

All in all, the next six months at Infinithéâtre look to be fruitful. They support the Quebec theatre community from the time the play is no more than a draft, through all the development stages, from readings to workshops, all the way through to production. The theatre community here is lucky to have such a dedicated team. Keep your eye on Infinithéâtre this season!

For more information on all things Infinithéâtre please visit their website. Get your tickets for Godot Has Come now!