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Behind the Curtain: No Resolution but Revelation with Dale Hayes of Late Company

by Caleigh Crow

“From what I’m seeing from the actors, it’s truthful, it’s unbearably truthful. It’s really hard to watch,” says Dale Hayes of her production, “It’s like watching a car accident, you want to look away, but you can’t.”

It’s odd to promote one’s work by declaring it hard to watch, but given the production, it is fitting. Dale is the artistic director of d² productions, whose latest, Late Company by Jordan Tannahill, is as unsettling as it is commonplace. Inspired by a real-life Canadian case of homophobia and cyberbullying pushed to its most tragic end, the play takes place at the Shaun-Hastings’ residence, a home permeated with grief. Debora and Michael Shaun-Hastings’ son, Joel, took his own life after a series of increasingly violent and homophobic encounters with his classmates both online and in school. The Shaun-Hastings have invited one of these classmates, Joel, and his parents, Bill and Tamara Dermot, over for what is supposed to be an evening of reconciliation that, even in this synopsis, is plainly doomed.

The two families created by playwright Jordan Tannahill are almost vulgarly honest representations, and they tend to poke at parts of North American cultural foibles we’d like to think we’ve left behind in favour of an inclusive future. Bill and Tamara Dermot exhibit behaviours that would make any millennial worth their salt cringe – strict adherence to ‘traditional’ familial and gender roles underlie Bill’s philosophy, and Tamara’s kindness is superficial at best, something she has in common with Debora, but that’s where the commonality ends. While a certain defensive tone underscores Tamara’s dialogue, Debora’s white-hot rage is barely contained by her polite conversation, while surly Curtis and Michael, a conservative politician, just want the evening to come to a quick conclusion, regardless of resolution, for their own sakes. None of the five want to be pinned with anything, and they’ve all got their reasons for doing and saying what they do. They’re playing everyone’s favourite dinner party game ‘Who’s to Blame For Joel’s Death’ and of course there can be no winners here.

The story is brought to life by a cast of five and being truthful on stage is that much more challenging when your character is less than admirable, though it is a sign of great writing. According to Dale, the key to portraying characters is to “justify everything that comes out of their mouths” even if it’s somewhat distasteful because “the script is so truthful.”

The Late Company cast features Helena Levitt, Sterling Mawhinney, Anthony Schuller, Leigh Ann Taylor, and Nick Walker, minted Montreal performers all.  Dale says of her cast, “I have great actors who have great instincts. They are so wonderful, they did their research, they understand their characters, the relationships. These are five very different characters and they’ve developed them fully.”

Dale deliberately chose a small and intimate venue, the MiniMain at MainLine Theatre, and the actors responded accordingly. “Once they got into that room and they realised there’s only 43 seats,” Dale explains, “you can really see the spit coming out of their mouths now. It’s almost like film, because you’re so close.”

The themes of the play will be both familiar and challenging to anyone, across identities and circumstances. As a former educator, I know these issues are played out in schools and online in Canada every day. When it comes to young people suffering, we’d all like easy answers and a concrete solution, but the reality of solving this crisis is very complicated, and as an honest play, there aren’t many answers to be found in Late Company. This is one of the strengths of the show. “Don’t expect a resolution,” cautions Dale, “nothing important can be resolved in an hour and a half.”

So, what can the audience expect? “I’m just hoping that for an hour and a half the audience are engaged, interested, and surprised, pleased, and they want to start a conversation, they want to talk about this,” Dale says.

In the program, audience members can find Canadian statistics and resources that underscore the need for this play today, and the need for conversation and action around these issues. “I’m hoping the audience will go home and kiss their kid, call their mother, call their brother – even if they’ve never had any experiences with bullying, I hope they’ll just be touched by the play.” She continues, “To think that these people – inspired by a true story – it’s real. This really happens. I want people to understand that it’s real life, and it’s happening around us, and they have to take action.”

Our conversation turns emotional when I ask Dale where hope is to be found in this play, if anywhere. She mentions a quote from Anne Frank’s diary: “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” She pauses and allows the thought to flutter above our heads. “That just makes me want to cry,” she says, and follows her train of thought. “What causes a person to do these things? Why are some kids mean and some kids not mean? Or are we all mean, and we just have to learn not to be?” While there might not be room for a resolution in Late Company, revelation is possible for both the audience and the characters. Dale sums it up thus, “I really do believe that people are good, we just have to ask ourselves, what is my good?”

One of the places d² productions has found their good is in the work they do, and Dale has a lot to say about the privilege of being a theatre maker. “I’m so grateful for what we do, I’m so grateful for being able to create work for actors in Montréal, and I’m grateful that we are able to put on a play and have people come with their hard-earned cash to pay to come and see us,” Dale says. “What a privilege and a responsibility that is, and none of us take that lightly. You can’t have an off night because there’s someone there who paid their $15.” With low ticket prices, Dale is hoping to encourage people who have never seen a play before to give live theatre a chance. She very aptly notes, “Unless you’ve seen a play, you don’t know what a play is. The magic of walking into a theatre and just being there in the moment and watching these people spit out their dialogue and their emotions – it’s wonderful, I hope that we can get more people interested in theatre by keeping our prices low.”


Late Company is playing at MainLine Theatre until November 19. For a more detailed schedule and ticketing information – the show has been selling out so get your tickets in advance! – click here.

Quick Selfie: Anne-Marie Saheb

In this Quick Selfie, Anne-Marie Saheb tells us about some of her faves! Be sure to check out Imago Theatre’s Her Side of the Story: Revision to Resist, the festival that takes four iconic stories and revises or retells them to center women’s perspectives.  Click here for more information.


Anne-Marie Saheb is playing Canary Mary and one of the Hunters in Fucking A by Suzan-Lori Parks.

What was your favourite activity as a child? 

‘’Living’’ our ‘’Life’’. My sister and I invented realities in which we each had a circumstance and a role, and then we’d live in that world for hours. Our cue to begin was ‘’1, 2, 3, la vie commen….CE!’’. If anything needed clarification, we would call a time-out and talk things over. For example, when we were in a reality where we spoke English (but hadn’t yet learned), we’d speak gibberish, call a time-out, explain what we would say, and pick up the life again. ‘’Méli-Mélo’’! That’s what we called the game.

What inspires you?

People who are genuinely and consistently good humoured. What a treat that is! And it always reminds me that no matter the circumstance, you can choose how you deal with it and how your interactions will be affected. At least, that’s the inspiration. Now for putting it into practice…

Person you would most like to have a cup o’ with?

My father. He passed away when I was very young, and I’d love to hear his thoughts on many, many subjects, and on some of the choices I’ve made. Perhaps I wouldn’t actually ‘’enjoy’’ hearing some of what he has to say, who knows, but I’d certainly love the opportunity. And it’s only the time of a cup, so… should be fine!

What’s your dream project?

Building a home for the elderly, for youth and for people experiencing homelessness which would be attached to a restaurant using produce grown on the premises and which would employ the elderly, the youth and the people experiencing homelessness who are staying in that home.

Where did you train?

Dawson College Professional Theatre Program, for the most part.

 

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This piece was written and submitted by Anne-Marie Saheb.

 

Roundtable Discussion: Six Artists from Imago Theatre’s Her Side: Revision to Resist

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CiwJsvrBodI]

The Quebec Drama Federation presents a roundtable discussion with six of the artists working on Imago Theatre’s upcoming play festival, Her Side of the Story: Revision to Resist.

The Participants:

  • Jen Viens, lead actor in What Happened After Nora Left Her Husband
  • Tamara Brown, director of The Last Wife and lead actor in Fucking A
  • Jen Quinn, director of The Penelopiad
  • Gabriel Maharjan, actor in The Last Wife
  • Oliver Koomsatira, actor in Fucking A
  • Kathleen Stavert, actor in The Last Wife From

 

From October 31 to November 5 at Centaur Theatre, Imago Theatre will present Her Side of the Story: Revision to Resist, a festival of performances, encounters and exchange around women who revision known narratives to reclaim Her Side of the Story from the footnotes.

Tickets are $20 or $15 for students/artists/seniors or Pay-What-You-Decide at the door. Tickets can be purchased by calling the Centaur Box Office at 514-288-3161 or online at centaurtheatre.com

Quick Selfie: Stefanie Buxton

In this Quick Selfie, Stefanie Buxton tells us about some of her faves! Be sure to check out Imago Theatre’s Her Side of the Story: Revision to Resist, the festival that takes four iconic stories and revises or retells them to center women’s perspectives.  Click here for more information.


Stefanie Buxton is a maid in The Penelopiad.

What was your favourite activity as a child? 

Building snow forts to resemble the interior design of Yoda’s kitchen from The Empire Strikes Back.

What inspires you?

Innovation: like a magnificent blue electric current; like the seed of a new venture.

If you were not in this career, what do you think you would do for a living?

Chef, culinary creator of deliciousness for everyone’s tummies.

What is your dream vacation spot?

Scotland, and even though I’ve been there five times there is always more land to discover and every time I’ve been there, I feel like I am home

What was the last book you read?

The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace. One of the most remarkable reads I have had in a long time — hilarious and eerily on point with the state of things in our world — in terms of the environment, the North American political climate, religious fanaticism, gender relations, the Internet, the output of information in media (true and false) and trust between lovers.

 

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This piece was written and submitted by Stefanie Buxton.

 

Behind the Curtain: Joseph Shragge of Oedipus Part One: Assembly

By Caleigh Crow

 

“We don’t think of the Greeks as musical theatre,” says Joseph Shragge, “even though the choruses were sung and danced to.”

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Joseph sits across from me at the ubiquitous wooden table that dominates the Quebec Drama Federation’s main meeting space. It’s a large table, long, darker in color; the varnish on it lovingly dyed by the consequence of hands and light on its surface. It’s expansive and weighty. As far as ubiquity goes, I know my dear table would be obliterated by the might of the three choirs portraying the Chorus in Scapegoat Carnivale Theatre’s production, Oedipus Part One: Assembly.

Joseph adapted the text from Lynn Kozak, a professor of classics at McGill University, who wrote the direct translation. It was while Joseph was working with Lynn on the script that something struck Joseph that would eventually lead to the involvement of the choirs. Joseph explains, “Oedipus opens with a mass movement of people supplicating, not just at King Oedipus’ palace gates, but all throughout the city. There’s one line that indicates others are at the marketplace and by the river, and I asked Lynn about it. ‘What do you mean there’s others? Other groups?’ She said yes, throughout the city. I had never thought of that before.”

If you’re familiar with classical Greek plays, you know the inclusion of the chorus can be a hurdle to a creative team, and for Joseph it was no exception. For the Oedipus team, it made sense to “think of the Greeks as musical theatre”. Joseph tells me that in a certain headspace, the question wasn’t how to portray the Chorus, but what even is the Chorus? “It’s like a poem, but if you think of it as a song, it works dramatically so much better than having people chant,” he says. “I’m hoping that having the chorus sung will add a magical dimension to it.”

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Before the production reached this point, Joseph, Lynn, and dramaturg Anthony Kennedy, had been working on the script in conjunction with director Andreas Apergis, who translated the first quarter of the play before Lynn took over. The entire writing process has persisted over two years. “It’s really closer to translation in many ways,” Joseph says. “The impulse is to tear it apart and do something contemporary, and I’ve done that on other projects, and for some reason with Andreas we’ve always come back to thinking, this stuff is really interesting, the scenes are so rich.” Joseph laughs, “It’s better than what we could come up with, so we just keep tinkering and tinkering away at these sentences.”

Joseph notes that working on the script for so long has made him a little numb to some of the extremes of the play (in a word: incest), especially compared to other classical works. “It’s not like we’re all walking around worried about being accidentally married to our own mothers,” he says bluntly. “It’s so particular, that I don’t even know what kind of feelings that should engender in anyone. It’s a more difficult tragedy because we don’t relate to Oedipus the same way we do to Medea or Clytemnestra, or those power imbalances that are much more accessible.” So, how will audiences connect with the play? Joseph responds, “It begins with a horrible plague, a city in turmoil, that’s easy to understand. The cause of this is a murder, and we have to find the murderer. Now we go into this mystery then we just keep getting all these strange turns. All these turns start to relate back to the initial problem. It becomes this horror detective story.”

If it’s a translation then, it comes with all the quirks of trying to extract meaning from a highly representational art form: language. Joseph recounts the challenges that arose from trying to decipher two words: ‘the same’. In the scene, Oedipus is speaking with Tiresias, whose translated line ‘You’re speaking against the order of the cosmos, so speak no more, and spare me suffering the same’ had Joseph in a tizzy. “What’s the same? There’s certain ways if you order the sentence it seems like it makes sense, but why the same? The same suffering? It means Tiresias is outside the cosmic order or…” he shakes his head. “There’s a lot of that.”

I glean that Joseph is fond of Tiresias (who doesn’t love a blind prophet), from his care in determining what’s ‘the same’, and that he and I agree casting Leni Parker in that role is inspired. When asked what scene he’s most excited to see brought to life, Joseph answers “When Tiresias comes out and tells Oedipus you’re the pollution – and oh my god, that word…” he pauses to think about it. “For now, it’s pollution. But it could be contagion,” he can’t help himself, he’s a writer. He continues, “When Tiresias comes out and says you’re the cause of this plague, it’s such a powerful attack, revelation. That character has so much ferocity, and that is Leni Parker, and I know she’s going to excel.”

As our conversation continues, my once grandiose meeting table now seems increasingly diminutive. There are so many performers, singers, actors, and writers on board, each bringing their own artistry to this massive show. We have Choeur Maha,  Zakynthines Phones Choir, and The Montreal Artists Choir bringing a towering presence to the role of the chorus. There’s an impressive cast, including Leni Parker, Chip Chuipka, Alison Darcy, and Mike Payette to name a few. Sophocles and a crack team of writers, translators, and dramaturgs, present us with a berserk plot built around a horror-murder mystery that intensifies to a dreadful, frightful, excellent climax–  it’s oh so Greek.


Oedipus Part One: Assembly is playing from October 20 – 22 at the Centaur Theatre. Opening night is already sold out! Hurry and get your tickets by calling the Centaur box office at (514) 288-3161. For more information, check out Scapegoat Carnivale’s website here. 

Behind the Curtain: Cultivating Confidence with Gabriel Maharjan, director of Gruesome Playground Injuries

By: Caleigh Crow

For Playground Productions, new swingers on the Montreal independent theatre monkey bars, there’s only the future ahead, laid cleanly before them like white-painted hopscotch squares, still un-scuffed by sneakers and loose pebbles. Their first kick at the can (last playground joke), Gruesome Playground Injuries, offers the story of two characters brought together by injury and illness. The show spans their entire lifetimes and see-saws back and forth in time, and the audience too takes a spin on the merry-go-round of life (okay, that’s enough, for real).

The company was founded by a group of five emerging artists, including Gabriel Maharjan, director of Gruesome Playground Injuries. “It’s really important to the play, the reminder that we all have flaws, and we can all love and be loved despite our flaws,” Gabriel says. “Sometimes we do things we don’t want to do or we do the opposite of what’s best for us. We push people away when we should be letting them in. It’s those kinds of things. It’s not a play of good decisions and bad decisions, but hard decisions for the characters,” Gabriel pauses. “I think everyone’s made a hard decision in their life.”

Gabriel hopes audience members come see Gruesome Playground Injuries to catch a glimpse of the human condition. “I like when a play shakes my perspective of life a little bit, and takes me out of balance, and I feel a little less comfortable on the ground,” he says. The play is “almost existential in the sense that it’s about life. No matter what age you’re at, you always aging, and that’s something that everyone has in the back of their mind, the fact that we’re constantly getting older and nearing a certain end point of life.”

We spend some time talking about the Montreal English theatre community, which Gabriel describes as a “small and feisty”. He’s eager to see the community grow, and has already recruited new member into the fold, Emon Barua, sound designer, who had never worked on a theatrical production before. When reading the script, he asked Gabriel what the playwright meant by ‘beat’ – is that a sound design note? Gabriel counts Emon’s curiosity and willingness to try an entirely new artform as a step in the right direction, saying, “I think it’s important that since we’re quite contained and we like to work amongst ourselves, we need to make sure we get people outside the community in, and part of that is by reaching out to other artists who haven’t worked in theatre, like Emon.”

Working with characters whose entire lives are laid bare onstage and shared with the audience out of time can be a challenge for an actor, as it requires a lot of setting the record straight within the production, another place Gabriel can lend his director’s eye. “We had to make very concrete decisions for ourselves what have the characters going through that is not said. You do that for any show, you make those decisions, but this show has thirty years of making life decisions for the characters,” Gabriel says.

Gabriel and the Playground team have made use of movement in their transitions between scenes, giving the rearranging of furniture and passage of time in the play a performance-based aspect, and to help guide the audience through the misfiled scenes. “For the actors to be able to jump from eight years old to twenty-three to thirteen and back and forth, these transitions help them use the limited time onstage to help switch their acting styles and the characteristics they’re playing with,” Gabriel says. “The transitions offer an opportunity for the audience to reflect on what just happened because what happens next is not a continuation of [the characters’] lives, it will be another side of the story, but it’s not linear in that sense.”

The heightened elements of the show aren’t strictly relegated to scene transitions. There’s a scene towards the end of the show that takes place in a mental facility, and the play didn’t call for much more than chairs, a desk, and some dialogue – a typical meeting setting. “It felt a little empty,” Gabriel admits. “It felt like there could be more for this, we could do something more to represent the characters and what’s going on inside them. So, we decided to play with that and turn that whole scene into a movement piece, and no other scene is like that.” The creative choice to elevate one scene stems from the group’s rejection of style markers as rigid categories that must apply to the entire play. “I like being able to branch out and let the show be more than just one style. I think it makes it a lot more interesting for us as creators to spread our wings out and stretch and feel the different possibilities,” he says, “but also for the audience not to expect the rest of the show.”

It’s a director’s choice to elevate one particular scene in such a way, and though he might not have made it completely alone, it’s up to Gabriel to turn his and his creative team’s visions into reality. As a first-time director, getting used to leadership is an exercise in cultivating confidence. “If anybody who doesn’t do theatre were to watch a rehearsal, they would probably think, what is any of this?” Gabriel refers to common rehearsal hall exploratory exercises, such as “walking around throwing balls around, walking around picking blocks up while turning around, just weird stuff” that might not be instantly recognizable as craft-honing drills but that nevertheless have a place in many actors’ and directors’ toolkits. “As an actor, I love doing the weird stuff, I think if it’s useful let’s do it, but as a director now I definitely have moments where I wonder if the actors will think it’s too weird to be useful.” He explains, “That’s where the confidence comes in. You have to make the decision of what’s going to happen in rehearsal. It’s the difference between being told the wackiness and actually deciding the wackiness for the group. You have to let go of any inhibitions in that sense, and any sort of insecurities about your ability to foster creation.” He pauses to reflect, “It’s a very different role.”

I leave you with a final thought from Gabriel on theatre: “Stories are wonderful, but the story needs to pull at the heartstrings a little bit, or the brain strings or any strings in the body, it could pull at anything depending on the show, but it needs to pull.”


Gruesome Playground Injuries runs from September 22 – 26 at the Harold Greenspon Auditorium, 5801 Cavendish Boul, Cote Saint-Luc. For more information and for tickets, please click here.

 

 

 

 

 

Quick Selfie: Joy Ross-Jones, ARTISTA Program Director

In this Quick Selfie, Joy Ross-Jones of Imago Theatre answers five quick questions about some of her favourite things, inlcuding a nostalgia trip back to Matilda with a pick-me-up video mashup! To support the ARTISTA mentorship program, Imago Theatre is pleased to offer a selection of workshops in this year’s Atelier 2017. Please click here for more information and to register for classes.


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Joy Ross-Jones is an actor, puppeteer, improviser and theatre educator of mixed Venezuelan and Canadian descent. Her studies include McGill University and Concordia University were she studied as Theatre and Theatre for Social Change. She is presently doing her Masters in Art Education at Concordia with a focus on the empowering effects theatre performance has on its practitioners. For three years she worked at Imago Theatre as Artistic and Administrative Associate where she supported the creation and presentation of If We Were Birds (Erin Shields), Random (Debbie Tucker Green), Have We Forgotten Yet?, Pig Girl (Colleen Murphy) and Her Side of the Story. During her time at Imago, Joy also created ARTISTA, a free theatre mentorship for young women in need, which is now entering its third annual session. All proceeds from the 2017 Atelier Workshops will go in support of this program.

What was your favourite activity as a child?

Charades! it stimulates so much laughter. I still can’t get enough! It is not surprising to me at all that I’ve ended up in theatre.

What book could you read repeatedly?

La casa de los espíritusThe House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende. It follows one Chilean family through several generations, as magical realism tends to, tracking the impact of one person’s actions on the rest of the family and society. It’s about the repetition of history. It is imaginative, dark, and deeply political.

If you were not in this career, what do you think you would do for a living?

I consider my imagination to be quite vivid, and yet I cannot imagine a life for myself outside of theatre and performance. I have a romantic notion of what it means to be a writer, so I like to think that one day in the future, I will be writing, gardening and taking care of my grandchildren and animals in the country.

What is your favourite comfort food?

Tajadas, baby! (Fried plantain). And french fries…(which I accidentally first typed as friend fries. Yup, that sums it up).

What is your pick me up song?

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mY7X_3uBRAY]

This piece was written and submitted by Joy Ross-Jones and Imago Theatre. Joy’s headshot and bio appear courtesy the Imago Theatre website.

Spotlight on: The Unboxed, Unlabelled, and Unafraid Aiza Ntibarikure and Dayane Ntibarikure

By Caleigh Crow

“She was born dancing, my dad says,” Aiza says with a sly look at Dayane, “It’s true! He’s always said that.” It’s clearly an old family yarn, the kind that might elicit a preteen’s eye roll, but Dayane returns a graceful smile. It’s a learn-to-love-it story passed down from parents, grandparents, aunties; the kind of story that eventually everyone in the family knows by rote, and as people get older, they cease to be the subjects and start becoming the tellers. These little familiarities rang clear as a bell as I was talking with Aiza and Dayane; sisters in every way – blood, art, and soul.

“What I want to say about Dayane is that every single thing she said she wanted to accomplish, she’s just done it,” Aiza says firmly, recounting her sister’s previous work. Dayane and Aiza both landed roles in Hairspray shortly after Dayane made the decision to act full time. “Boom! Hairspray,” Aiza says.

Then Dayane decided she wanted a lead role. “Boom! Sister Act. She played the lead role in the Just for Laughs musical of the summer, the biggest one in Quebec,” continues Aiza proudly. “And now she’s directing! When she puts her mind to something she just does it.”

“If we’re going to do this we’re going to be here all day,” Dayane interjects, slightly sheepish, “I could talk about how my sister inspires me! You know, you want to be an artist but you think you need a plan B, plan C, and my sister was just doing her thing. I looked at her and thought, I want to do that.”

Dayane and Aiza were both first introduced to theatre through musicals in grade school in Montreal, but as they continued their studies and later joined the artist workforce, neither of them were interested in relegating themselves to one kind of performance or another. Perhaps it was musical theatre’s marriage of the big three performance elements, theatre, dance, and music, that informed their holistic approach to the arts.

“I’m so interested in song as dance, or chant, or voice. I can’t see them being apart,” says Dayane. “That’s how we’ve been telling stories since the dawn of time. As a director that’s what I’m interested in. I want to see how we can make that natural, because it is natural. Even in speech, there is a song in speech. There is a chant in speech and there’s a specific way people move. How can we make that into something more?” As Dayane speaks, Aiza nods in agreement, “The fact that I studied dance helps me overall, as a performer,” says Dayane, who advises everyone to take a dance class, especially if you’re a classic emphatic wallflower.

“Anything that you like, that you find interesting. It loosens you up, it gets you out of your head and inside the rest of your body.” She concludes, “It’s such an important part of any piece. We can’t underestimate the power of it. It’s a whole package. It’s why I love performing arts.” It’s difficult to find one career so varied at such an early stage, never mind two, and yet here are Aiza and Dayane, who tell me several times during our interview that they don’t believe in labelling themselves as anything – as actors, musicians, directors – and they credit this approach for their continuing success, ongoing work, and most importantly, peace of mind. “I always try to remember that at the end of the day, I’m an artist and I can do it all” says Aiza. “I realise now that it’s good to have a sense of what I want but then I just release it as much as possible and I allow life to bring it to me, and I realise the bounty that is available to me when I surrender to what’s happening.”

“That’s one part of the equation, and another part is, and this is something else I learned from Aiza, is don’t be afraid to say no,” Dayane remarks. “When there’s a project that comes to you and it’s not good for you, it’s good for somebody else. Sometimes you go see a show, especially with my director’s eye, you look at an actor and you can see they’re a good performer but you can tell they don’t want to be in this show.”

“Doing something that you enjoy is such an important part of what we do. Being human. Not just as artists, but every human in the world should do something they enjoy,” Aiza advises.

“We’re human beings,” Dayane says, “Not human doings.”

Aiza Ntibarikure & Dayane Ntibarikure

Left: Aiza Ntibarikure. Photo by Sabrina Reeves Right: Dayane Ntibarikure. Photo by Andreanne Gauthier

Dayane studied dance and music in CEGEP, all while honing her acting practice by taking workshops, auditioning and acting in plays, which continued all the way up until as recently as last year, when Dayane was accepted into Black Theatre Workshop’s Artist Mentorship Program, opting to participate as a director, what she calls her “new tip” as she hadn’t yet made a professional foray into that field. She reflects positively on the experience, saying, “I owe a lot to Black Theatre Workshop because they invest so much in the artists in the program. Ever since I did the program I’m directing all the time.” The transition to move from centre stage to the director’s chair doesn’t feel sudden to Dayane, on the contrary she describes the change as “completely natural”. She says, “It got to a point where I was always looking at what people were doing in shows I was acting in and asking myself ‘why are we doing things this way’?” Without missing a beat, Aiza steps in.

“Or she’d be calling things out before the director himself or herself would fix it. Dayane would say: ‘that doesn’t work’ and then weeks later the director would say ‘oh that doesn’t work.’”

A moment passes before Dayane and Aiza say, in unison, “Called it!”

They present a united front without any hint of mimicry. Rather than one sister parrot the other out of sibling devotion, when musing on a theme they tread different paths, expand on each other’s ideas; when one sister steps into the tangential, the other is happy to explore whichever new direction the conversation takes. They can finish each other’s sentences perfectly, then seamlessly returning to their own perspectives and reflections.

Dayane continues, “When I finally made that shift, I realised that there’s many things that need to be put in place, and even though it doesn’t work right away, you have

to let it not work, and then fix it. But there are other things -”

“That need to be fixed right away,” Aiza finishes.

“Yeah for sure,” Dayane agrees, “It was super natural. In alignment with everything.”

The pair did a school tour with Black Theatre Workshop called Binti’s Journey, which resulted in the sisters themselves journeying to as far away as Nunavut. “Fellow actors know what a school tour is about, I didn’t know!” Aiza laughs, “That was a real school tour. The beauty is we got to fly to Iqaluit and besides being cold we went and had a really great time. We held a workshop with the teens there who are not very exposed to theatre, and I thought, I’m here with my sister in Nunavut! What is going on?”

“I am so grateful that we’ve been there but it was a place that was –“

“Not even on my radar!” say the pair simultaneously.

“It was lovely,” Dayane concludes.

Aiza, for her part, is still taking things as they come. Aside from playing new officer Roxanne Dionne in the fourth season of Bravo’s hit show 19-2 and landing a long list of TV roles and commercials this past year, she’s been busy working on a lot of music, having released her first single ‘Criminal’ this summer, and travelling to LA and Guadeloupe to participate in a variety of music festivals with other established artists. “Last year, I landed a role that changed my life forever and I’m so thankful for the experience. Playing Roxanne surrounded by such an amazing cast and production team helped set the bar higher for myself as an actress. As for my music career, I’d say it’s just the start of a nice little transition. I’ve been focused on my acting for a while but now it’s a nice blend of both,” she says. “I don’t need to box myself in.”

 Her unboxed undertaking has led to frequently working with youth, not something she went out of her way to do, but has reaped the benefits of her experiences nonetheless. “I love talking to young people because they’re so bright, and so raw. That’s another thing about performing for young audiences, is they give it to you straight,” she says, grinning, and Dayane laughs in agreement, “If they don’t believe you, you can hear them in the audience. I’ll admit that at times there’s something comforting about a nice polite adult audience who claps at the right time, and laughs at the right time, when you’ve been jabbed at by young audiences for a while,” she says fondly. Aiza recently had the opportunity to attend a conference called Women in the Arts, which brought a panel comprised of artists of all sorts – a DJ, a dancer, a singer songwriter and radio host – to a school on the West Island, when it occurred to her just how much working with youth has been an unexpected part of her career. “It’s been such a huge part of my path without me realising; I’ve done a lot of theatre for young audiences shows, a lot of talk backs.” Aiza considers, “When you’re given the chance to talk about what you do, you realise you’ve been doing it for longer than you think. I have a few tips to give! I want to use my skills and passion to create something that’s going to inspire and uplift people somehow. If we don’t do that with the arts, there’s something missing.”

Besides setting out to work with youth, Aiza is reaping and sowing simultaneously. She concludes, “Eventually you can take that art and turn it into an act of service.”

Alternatively, Aiza and Dayane tell me there’s a lot about working in the arts that they just don’t buy. They don’t buy into the “starving artist” mentality and they don’t really believe in “scarcity” of work. “I was given a gift, and I’ve learned to hone it. Because of my very introspective nature and the people I’ve had around me, I have a certain level of confidence that I’m proud of and that I work for every day. Because of that mindset, I think doors have been opening in a way that they may not for somebody else, not for lack of talent, or for lack of drive or vision, but because of limiting thoughts they may have about what’s possible. That’s what’s been helping me move forward. We learn to play small or say sorry for being good at something. But I think that the more we can learn to shake those fear-based thoughts and replace them with love, the more we show up, and the more we can accomplish and be happy,” Aiza muses.

Their statements catch me off guard – I consider myself very much a starving artist, though not by choice, but because in my experience, work is scarce. In the hours and days after our interview, I give their remarks some thought and concluded that the sisters have a point. Maybe work is scarce, maybe it isn’t. Maybe there’s one big reason for it or a thousand small reasons. Either way, why dwell on it when there’s life to be lived?

In keeping with this attitude, the pair have some guidance to offer workaholic artists: stop. Dayane advises, “Have something you do that’s just for fun. If it’s rollerblading or whatever, go have some fun. It will feed your process!”

“This false notion that you have to keep plowing through even though it hurts,” Aiza agrees, saying, “I took a step back, I focused on my music, I spent time with my family, I cried, I wrote, I slept, I ate, I went back to basics. I came back energized. Then I was showing up again, I was feeling like myself, so I started booking jobs like crazy. That’s another warped notion that we have: don’t you ever give up! Don’t you dare! Never give up!”

“But it’s not giving up! It’s letting a thing breathe,” Dayane points out, “It’s like that in the rehearsal room too. If it’s not working, leave that thing alone, move on to the next thing, or if you can’t move on, call it a day. Come back tomorrow and for some reason it all falls into place! You have to trust in the process. Ebb and flow. That’s just the way it goes.”

 

Going Home: A Conversation with Roy Surette

By: Max Mehran

On a beautiful spring morning, when the sun finally decides to make an appearance, Deborah Forde and I are seated in the beautiful Ted Katz Family Trust Gallery at Centaur Theatre to meet with Roy Surette, the outgoing Artistic Director and Executive Director of Centaur Theatre. As he sits in front of us, I am faced with the reality of his imminent departure and, as a newcomer to the Montreal theatre scene, I am left wondering about who Mr. Surette is, where he is coming from, and where he is going. Deborah asked the questions I wanted the answers to, and with this intimate interview and my role as silent observer and note-taker, I found myself absorbed in a fascinating conversation about theatre and Mr. Surette’s legacy.

As the questions left Deborah and the answers came from Mr. Surette, I got to know better who the man is and where he came from. Originally from British Columbia, Mr. Surette found his passion for theatre right in the middle of high school. As with many other high school students today, at the time he wasn’t sure of the path he wanted to take in life. Though he recognised a passion for visual arts in himself and saw a career in the creative arts for himself, a clear path wasn’t evident. That is until he joined the High School Drama Festival in his junior year and started getting involved in the theatre scene where he met a diverse palette of people from different backgrounds- which is the beauty of the theatre scene – and got a taste of the life in theatre.

A wonderful surprise was to learn more about Mr. Surette’s private hobbies: a passion for playwriting and puppeteering developing since middle school. Then he had the cast of Laugh In made of marionettes, or, as he playfully tell us, “a cast of actors that do not talk back, which is a director’s dream.”

At this point, I start to know the man behind the Centaur better, and oddly find similarities with my own story, which makes me eager to hear more. After High School graduation, he still didn’t know where he wanted to continue his studies, but he knew it was going to be in the arts.

“To be honest,” he admits, “I didn’t look for other fields.” He had heard of a new theatre program near his hometown, and although the program wasn’t as professional as he hoped, he met a lot of great people who became his colleagues and friends.  There, he was introduced to Studio 58, a program founded by professional actor Anthony Holland, as one of the alumni accepted to the school and invited him and his friends to watch a production. This is when Mr. Surette saw such impressive work on stage that it inspired him to apply to the program the following year.

“The good thing about Studio 58,” he explains, “is that they invited professional teachers for each department and involved every student in the different aspects of creating theatre.” He also explains that the school was treating its students as they would treat professional actors in the field. “We were under the same watchful eyes professional artists were,” he says. He explains the press was allowed in during performances and were giving reviews of their work, which can be harmful and incredibly enlightening. Studio 58 is where Mr. Surette trained in the theatre discipline, and it is with pride that he says he was the first student to graduate as a director from the program.

The conversation then jumps to many years later after Mr. Surette graduated from Studio 58 when he was faced with the decision to either stay in theatre or move to the film and television. After he ran Touchstone Theatre for 12 years (the company he is going back to when he leaves Montreal), he was shortlisted to run the Vancouver Playhouse. When he learned he didn’t get the position he thought about switching gears and moving to the television and film industry. A lot was happening in Vancouver at time in that sector; The X-Files were still shooting and there was more work offered in those industries. Instead he accepted the position of Artistic Director at Belfry Theatre, which he couldn’t refuse, and we are happy he didn’t because this is what led him to Centaur Theatre ten years later.

Mr. Surette was also offered the position to coordinate and lead a group of fifteen recent graduates from Studio 58, Simon Fraser University, and other training facilities for a program called Opportunity for Youth (OFY) for three summers. With his team, he produced great classical and contemporary plays and first started to notice what brought people into the theatre and what didn’t. This is when Mr. Surette learned about programming for the arts, which ended up being a tougher role than expected.

Looking back on his time at Centaur Theatre, Deborah’s follow-up question resonates the inevitable dispute every Artistic Director is faced with that tackles the challenges of presenting captivating works on stage while maintaining good box office numbers.

“I beat myself up regularly” he jokes. “I had to make sure to bring programs that will please the audience, challenge the artists, but also bring in the money, which is the hardest thing to do,” Mr. Surette openly confesses.

I can see he is enlightening us about the challenges of trying to please an established audience, while trying to attract new comers and present a landscape of different works and trends all in a themed program. One of the biggest challenges remains meeting ambitious box office numbers, but Mr. Surette thrills at the ability to offer opportunities for young, emerging artists to produce their work on a Centaur Stage.

“One thing that really excites me,” he says, “is the level of skill and talent out there that gets better every time.” Programming also means giving opportunities to young artists and taking on the role of mentor, which Mr. Surette was able to do during his time as Artistic Director at Centaur Theatre.

Deborah, already driving an incredible conversation about theatre that allowed me to glimpse this man at a very intimate level, asks about his first arrival in the city and what surprised him city.

He answered honestly that he “was a little surprised of how conservative much of the audience was here.” He had visited Centaur Theatre in his past as an audience member, and looking at some of the shows that were presented, such as Angels of America, he was very excited at the idea of this position. However, Mr. Surette was surprised of how much more careful he had to be of the language and themes of the plays programmed. Being a small Anglophone community in Montreal, he quickly realized that “if 60% of the population was satisfied, I did my job well. You have to factor this reality and expect a variety of responses to any given shows. You can’t ignore your audience,” he tells us.

After 10 years in this position, Mr. Surette is most proud of the access he provided to the community and “the fact that [Centaur Theatre] has weaved in young, emerging, and diverse artists” and given opportunities to emerging directors and playwrights to showcase their work in a larger theatre. He is also very proud of opening the door to High School and CEGEP students who can now start a fruitful and intelligent conversation about theatre. However, he admits it is very hard to get the older student population and the twenty-somethings involved. “It is as hard to get people committed to going to the theatre as it is to get funding and give salaries. Finding ways to nurture new audiences was a big challenge,” he says. “I also wish,” he continues, “we’d managed to get more young aspiring theatre people to see more work at the Centaur – there’s great QDF ticket deals, if you plan ahead!”

As we are getting close to finishing this interview, it is with melancholy that we tackle the final questions. Mr. Surette fondly tells us that his experience in the city was amazing. “I loved that the people really enjoyed the variety and programming I brought to the Centaur,” he says. Something he observed and appreciated about the Montreal Theatre Community was how resilient and scrappy artists are here and the sense of play that resonates in the community. “I am going to miss being part of that play.”

“It’s time to go home,” Mr. Surette tells us. He wants to be close to his mother and to the friends and colleagues he started his theatre practice with. His first hundred days will be filled with vacation time, but also a lot of real estate visits as he still needs to find a new home in the city of Vancouver.

He will dive into September when he starts rehearsal for his upcoming project, Touchstone’s Happy Place by Pamela Mala Sinha. As Mr. Surette says goodbye to the city and to the community, I feel fortunate to have been able to see his latest work on stage, Bakersfield Mist and You Will Remember Me and to get to know the man behind Centaur Theatre, someone who has done so much for the community and opened doors for so many emerging theatre artists. It is with pleasure that I was part of a friendly conversation between Deborah Forde and this man who contributed so abundantly to the theatre community in Montreal for a decade. A deep, wide, and warm thank you is most deserving as we bid farewell to Mr. Roy Surette.