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A Rising Star: Nicolas Billon

by Archives February 14, 2007

One of Nicolas Billon’s assignments for playwriting class at Concordia brought him out into the spot light and received major media attention. His teacher and fellow classmates enjoyed his 10 page play so much that he decided to turn it into a full-length piece. The play – which had its world premiere in 2004 at the Stratford Festival – finally made its way to Montreal. Infinitheatre at the Bain St. Michel is now presenting the play until Feb.17, 2007.

The play – directed by Guy Sprung – might seem to be light and entertaining at first glance but has deeper meaning.

The Elephant Song is an inspiring story that revolves around three main characters: Dr. Greenburg, the hospital director, Miss Peterson, the head nurse, and patient Michael Aleen, who is known for his mischievous behavior.

On Christmas Eve, Dr. Greenburg is determined to interview Michael Aleen as Dr. Lawrence, an eminent psychiatrist, is missing from his office. Only two things are known about him: his car is missing from the hospital and the last patient to have seen him is Michael. Dr. Greenburg believes that Michael is hiding something from everyone. Miss Peterson tries to stop Dr. Greenburg from interviewing Michael without sufficient information but to no avail.

Michael is least interested in talking about Dr. Lawrence. He wants to talk about elephants. He plays foul games with Dr. Greenburg by declaring his affair with Dr. Lawrence and confessing of killing his mother. The arguments between the Doctor and the patient keep the audience curious until the climax of the play with the frequent switching of the power between the two. If Dr. Greenburg is to unfold the mystery, he has to be “patient” and listen to Michael’s stories of elephants.

Michael promises to reveal the truth on certain conditions: Dr. Greenburg cannot read his file, nor speak of anything he says to Miss Peterson, and must give him the chocolate covered nuts. In his hastiness of solving the mystery, Dr Greenburg agrees to these conditions — a decision that will cost him a life in the end. This unpredictable end of the play gives a joint feeling of grief and laughter.

This is not merely a story, but addresses a broader issue faced by our society. The lack of attention from parents and broken families give rise to disturbed children like Michael. It portrays the lives of these attention-starved children who only want love and would even kill themselves to get others’ attention.

Although Mr. Billon claims that his plays do not carry a message, the viewers think they do. “I learn about my plays through other people’s opinion,” says Mr. Billon, “I did not want to give any messages. But the things that are important to me, somehow, make their way into my writings.”

Billon has always been interested in writing. When he was six, he used to write comic book stories on index cards and would sell them to his mother.

He then started working as an actor for theatres before actually commencing his career as a playwright. In 2000, he began working on his first play, after quitting university. He believes that “discipline, intelligence, and talent are much more important for an artist than a university degree.”

At the young age of 28, he has already become a familiar name to most theatre lovers. Being the son of a French couple, it’s amazing to see his writing qualities in English. His father is a French writer, so as to have a “non-competition clause” with his father, he decided to write in English. Besides, most of his education is in English as well. He did however translate his play in French right after it was introduced in English. La chanson de l’éléphant was well received in the French theatre scene.

His second play Measure of Love, had its World premiere in 2005 at Stratford Festival. But the play has not yet made its way to Montreal. Neither is he planning on bringing it soon. He is now a writer in residence at Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre Company on a three year contract, and is working on co-adapting Chekhov’s Three Sisters, which will open there in September 2007.

Billon likes to work in “gregarious environments” like cafes and libraries, rather than working at home. He feels “satisfied and pleased” with his work but is still not sure if his pieces are “finished.”

He keeps on making minute changes in his plays until the last days of the show. Billon wishes to continue writing with a glare of “success,” until he accomplishes the highest level of performance.

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