Arts Arts and Culture Theatre

Still Life: The Complexities of Emotional Health

A theatrical dive into the shadows of womanhood.

A 30th birthday? What’s there to fear about hitting that milestone? But what if it’s a convergence of all things going wrong? 

Society’s expectations grow heavier with each passing year. Every added responsibility feels like a suffocating weight. Your once-familiar room now feels estranged and echoes with a profound emptiness. Imagine commemorating three decades of existence in a state that mirrors death more than life itself. Welcome to Still Life, a gripping theatrical experience freshly translated from French to English, debuting at the 2024 Wildside Festival in Montreal.

“It is a big play, that jumps around in time, and through the psychological and physical states of a woman trying to understand what is happening to her,” said Emma Tibaldo, director of Still Life.

Annually, the Wildside Festival—taking  place from Jan. 18 to Feb. 8 this year—spotlights independent and experimental theatrical works from Quebec and beyond. Still Life is the starting act of a total of six plays, and it was written by playwrights Marie-Ève Milot and Marie-Claude St-Laurent of Théâtre de l’Affamée. It is currently in the process of being reworked for its official release this fall.

The play features five actors—a main character and four others that serve as a chorus—simultaneously portraying the protagonist’s inner thoughts as well as those of the other characters in the narrative. 

The use of lighting is significant, creating intense moments of claustrophobia in the protagonist’s mental landscape. Thoughts may seem fragmented and elusive, yet they resonate with a raw sense of authenticity, even when they verge on the surreal.

Scene from Still Life, The protagonist isolated in her apartment shares a moment with her concerned best friend. Photo courtesy of Talisman Theatre

From Hannah Wilke to Joseph Beuys, the main character effectively employs art references to vividly capture universal feelings of anxiety. 

Such was the case for Nidaa Badwan, a Palestinian artist who voluntarily confined herself to her 100-square-feet apartment for 20 months in 2013. Badwan tried to construct her own reality through art as a form of liberation from the constraints of womanhood in Gaza. Her experience became a recurring reference in the life of Still Life’s protagonist, mirroring aspects of her own emotional turmoil. 

But capturing such intense emotions presents its challenges. Cary Lawrence, a cast member of the play,  spoke about the potential impact that embodying such raw emotions may have on an actor’s emotional health: “Especially when we were rehearsing the chorus work, we were heavy breathing to the point where we were so lightheaded,” said Lawrence. “You know as actors, that’s our job—to take the words and physicalize them by putting a lot of meaning behind them.”

Director Tibaldo expressed her aspirations for what the piece communicates to its audience upon release in the fall. “I want folks to be aware of the unpredictable effects of anxiety and depression. The way it can cut you down, and completely disempower you,” said director Tibaldo. “The improbable becomes that which can save us. A chance meeting, an extreme act, a possible connection. Maybe just being open to the unexpected can be enough to pull us through.” 

Arts and Culture Community Theatre

Montreal theatre opening the stage for an inclusive approach to live performance

Imago Theatre’s success at the META awards demonstrated their dedication to diversity and inclusion.

On Sunday, Nov. 12, The Quebec Drama Federation and the Conseil des arts de Montréal hosted the 11th annual Montreal English Theatre Awards (META) at the jaw-dropping Gesù Theatre—a repurposed Roman Catholic Church in the heart of downtown. For its acclaimed production of “Redbone Coonhound,” Imago Theatre received six  awards.

Amongst those awards, Imago won Best Pact Production, Direction, New Text, Costume Design, Emerging Artist, and Supporting Performance, highlighting their success in many different aspects of production. Their celebration showcases their success in pushing artistic boundaries and approach to live production with inclusivity.

Theatre and live performances are an experience many would consider a luxury, and yet, at its core, drama is a form of societal critique, utilizing the stage to provoke contemplation. Theatre itself has been an object of criticism for its rigidity and conservatism as it remains entrenched in traditional story structures, remaining limited in its representation and casting. 

Through its critical nature, performance art is changing from the inside out, opening its horizons through processes of inclusion. Indeed, theatre has always been a tool for socio-political commentary, and now it finds itself undergoing a systemic transformation, adapting to an audience that demands an increase in inclusivity, transcending performative diversity on stage. Stage productions like Peter Pasyk’s “Hamlet” starring Amaka Umeh, a Black woman as the lead, at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, highlight a change in theatre that embraces inclusivity, activism, and a commitment to positive change across Canada.

Adam Capriolo, a 31-year-old actor working at the Segal Centre’s box office, finds that there is a lot of inclusive performativity in contemporary theatre, but it  only focuses on “a person’s attributes, being mainly their sexuality, their ethnicity, their race, their religion.” “It’s almost like, look, we did it, we included the people, but how are we making them speak? What are their beliefs? What are they saying? Are they full people?” Capriolo said. He claims that inclusive performances are very identity based, categorizing individuals and only using their identities for political debates, instead of including them in day-to-day entertainment. This claim is not novel—inclusive art performances are often called out  for tokenizing actors or for being too political.

In contrast to Capriolo’s critique of performative inclusivity, the Imago Theatre stands out for its commitment to go beyond simple token representation. The theatre  believes in community building in their creative process, and actively works against backward narratives, ensuring that the inclusion of diverse voices extends beyond mere symbolism. . . According to EKOS Research Associates, 82 per cent of Canadians believe that engaging with the arts contributes to individual well-being, with 65 percent perceiving significant community benefits. Imago Theatre’s commitment to community-based productions echoes these beliefs, resonating with a diverse audience. 

Krista Jackson, Imago’s executive and artistic director, explains how  her artistic direction is not only focused on hard hitting topics. Jackson said “I’m looking for pieces that are feminist in their structure, in disrupting sort of patriarchal forms of playwriting,”. The theatre’s inclusivity focuses on the creation of their plays. For example, in trying to dismantle confining structures, Jackson explains how the Imago looks and rejects the dominant five-act structure, as a way to look beyond established structures in both form and content. This signals a departure from structural norms that dominate live performance, and aligns with a broader goal of diversifying theater. 

The theatre also addresses the economic disparities associated with theatre attendance today. The traditional theatre experience has become financially inaccessible for many, as the cost of tickets has risen after the halt in live performance brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Imago Theatre bucks this trend with a pay-what-you-decide model, making live performance accessible. This approach challenges the notion that theatre is a luxury, creating a space where economic barriers are dismantled.

The decline in performing arts attendance among the 15–29 age group in Canada stands in stark contrast to Imago Theatre’s demographic. National statistics indicate a drop in attendees from 51.6 per cent in 1992 to 27.5 per cent in 2023 for this age range. However, Imago Theatre receives an audience demographic that is almost entirely younger generations ranging from 20- to 35-years-olds. 

“This idea that we’re speaking to a young demographic that wants to go and see a live performance is unbelievable to me because most theatres around the country are saying, ‘How do we get the young people? Everybody’s so old.’ It’s the plays and it’s the topics discussed,” Jackson explained. This demographic shift goes against the narrative that young people are disinterested in live performances. The theatre’s commitment to align with the changing preferences of the new generation sets the stage for the new forms of art production.

When it comes to participating in live performance, Imago seeks to be accessible to performers, casting over 130 people for a six-person show. Indeed, open auditions, diverse casting, and a commitment to dismantling predetermined roles, define the theatre’s inclusive artistic direction. 

The Artista mentorship initiative, currently celebrating its 10th year, serves as a testament to Imago Theatre’s dedication to empowering young women and gender-diverse individuals in their journey through the world of theatre. The free mentorship program is available for women, gender-diverse, trans, and non-binary people, aged 17–22. It is a 15-week program held every Monday night 5–9 p.m. from January through May, with dinner included for participants.  

Imago is looking forward to staging Leah-Simone Bowen’s production of “The Flood” from Feb. 15 to 25, at the Centaur Theatre. The play explores the ways the legal system has failed women, based on the true lives of women that were incarcerated in the 1880s under the St. Lawrence market in Toronto.

Arts and Culture Student Life Theatre

The Rocky Horror Picture Show returns to Concordia!

FASA teamed up with CAST to put on a smashing live production of the legendary 1975 film.

Stilted dialogue, heavy makeup, fishnets, cheap wigs, sequences, musical numbers that just grasp the right keys, and dialogue so stiff it might crumble if you take it too seriously—nearly 50 years after its original release, the musical comedy tribute to science fiction films of the 30s and B movies from the late 40s to early 70s, The Rocky Horror Picture Show returns to Concordia for another year. 

To celebrate the excellent shadow performance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show from Fine Arts Student Alliance (FASA) x Concordia Association of Student in Theatre (CAST) on Oct. 27, we will journey into a brief history of the film and how it became a cult classic to screen and perform every year on Halloween. Indeed, not despite, but rather because of the glorious gender-bending oddities of this film, Rocky Horror is a cultural powerhouse.

CAST actors reenacted Tthe Rocky Horror Picture Show. Courtesy of CAST. Photos by Ian McCormack and Kaleigh Wiens.

Originally titled They Came from Denton High, Richard O’Brien began work on a busy script to keep himself occupied between gigs. Something of an homage to his childhood of science fiction, rock and roll, B movies, and struggles with sexual identity, O’Brien eventually shared the script with theatre director Jim Sharman who saw the play’s potential and reserved a space in London’s Royal Court Theatre for O’Brien to bring the show to life. The original runtime was a mere 40 minutes, but the cast was more concerned with fun than phenomenal success. 

The Rocky Horror Picture Show originally premiered in a small 60-seat venue, but quickly moved onto larger venues in London. The musical comedy horror caught the attention of Ode Records owner Lou Adler, who, charmed by the unique and campy heart of the performance, decided to purchase the U.S. theatrical rights to the show. He and film producer Michael White loved the musical so much that they wanted it adapted for the silver screen. 20th Century Fox did not share this faith, and gave the project a small budget of $1.6 million and six weeks to film. 

The film was finished without much oversight from the studio, and premiered at the UA Westwood Theatre in L.A in September 1975. The studio claimed that many of the people attending the sold-out shows were repeat offenders, but other test screenings received poor reviews from critics and general audiences. The national release was quickly cancelled, but the film continued screening at the Waverly Theatre (now called the IFC Center), an arthouse theatre specializing in midnight shows to salvage some money. 

From here, The Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings became, and continue to be, something of a festival. Adoring fans return screening after screening, year after year, making friends with other loyal fans of the mesmerizing dialogue and cues. This has led to the creation of a community who gathered around this film to celebrate and lovingly mock its quirks. Eventually, this has also evolved into playful heckling—for which the film is perhaps best known—as fans shout at the screen to mock the film, dialogue, and characters. 

The heckling tradition began with Louis Fariz yelling “Buy an umbrella you cheap bitch” to Janet, played by Susan Saradon, as she held a newspaper over her head as a shield from the rain. This became a culture of quick quips and other funny remarks intended to get a laugh out of the audience. Next, fans began dressing up like the film’s characters and eventually shadow-acting the film underneath the stage. Word quickly spread about the spectacle of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and midnight screenings popped up across the United States and into other countries, as many were interested to experience the antics and freedom of a film, experience, and community that centres personal expression and provides an opportunity to explore a new side of your gender and sexuality.

CAST actors reenacted Tthe Rocky Horror Picture Show. Courtesy of CAST. Photos by Ian McCormack and Kaleigh Wiens.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show creates a space to challenge social norms, to explore gender and sexual identities, and to find a community who accepts you regardless of the shade of cheap red lipstick kissing your lips. The film is the ritual, the film is the community. The film was put on wonderfully by FASA and CAST, and I recommend you catch it next year.

Arts Theatre

Théâtre du Nouveau Monde’s Abraham Lincoln va au théâtre makes a mockery of nuance

This 2010 play by Larry Tremblay is a combination of meta plot lines and comedy

The Théâtre du Nouveau Monde production debuted on March 14, and follows the story of two actors who went viral in a buddy cop series. They are hired by a cunning director who puts on a play about John Wilkes Booth, the infamous actor known for Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. 

The fictional director, renowned Marc Killman, expresses the idea that American entertainment has always revolved around violence and finding ways to control the people. 

As rehearsals roll on, the tortured genius gets lost in a plethora of nuances that he bears down upon his actors, eventually completely losing track of the play’s theme. 

Writer Larry Tremblay was inspired by what he calls “America’s schizophrenia,” or the political polarity in the United States: the extremely poor versus the extremely rich, Republican versus Democrat, North versus South. 

“If I had to redefine my play today, in the era of post-truth in which we dove in, I would only choose one pair of antonyms: truth versus lie,” states Tremblay in the playbill. “And, with great pleasure, I would call my play Donald Trump goes to the Capitol.”

The playwright heavily twisted the presentation of the original theme by bringing layers of meta-fiction and absurdity, sending the audience in different directions. Each line had the audience questioning the direction in which the story was going. At times, it was even tough for the characters themselves to understand Killman’s ideas. 

“It’s a show where the first time you read it you say to yourself, ‘Oh boy, what are we getting into?’ But that’s what’s the best part about theatre,” exclaimed Bruno Marcil, who played Marc Killman in TNM’s production of the play. 

“We broke our necks for two months trying to understand what we were going to play, how we were going to play, and how we are going to approach it, and sometimes there were ideas that at the beginning held up the whole time, suddenly we said, ‘No that’s not it.’” 

According to Marcil, the only script in his career that was tougher to understand was Les Hardings, a play inspired by the Lac-Mégantic disaster that follows three men, each named Thomas Harding, from around the world who are thrust into each other’s lives by the disaster.

Actor Didier Lucien, who makes a later appearance in the plot of Abraham Lincoln va au théâtre, explained that “[the] script is never portrayed the same from one day to the next. Yes we rehearse, but each character is completely different. Just when we thought we’ve understood it, we realize that we’re way out in left field, and we have to restart. We were like detectives for this script.”

According to Marcil, the team working on the play has fantastic chemistry, and it shows on stage. Luc Bourgeois and Mani Soleymanlou play protagonists Laurel and Hardy, and have been long-time friends.

“The four of us plus our director together were in stitches the whole time, but at the same time we can have fun and when it’s time to put our heads down we make things work.”

Director Catherine Vidal did a fabulous job turning this complex and dark subject into something understandable and intriguing for the audience. She was also able to bring humour and satire in at the perfect moments. 

“The atmosphere during rehearsals was absolutely joyous because of our designers, engineers, and actors. Together, we were able to get through this cathedral script,” said Vidal.

I was at the edge of my seat trying to guess how much further the play within the play would be twisted, and what the next turn would be. This play was captivating, and brought me to unexpected audible laughs. I highly recommend you see it before the closing day on April 8.

Arts Theatre

The radical importance of gigues in Quebecois culture

Pas Perdus | Documentaires Scéniques presented this year at the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde

The Théâtre du Nouveau Monde presented Pas Perdus from Feb. 24 to a crowded room filled with an excited public. 

The design and direction of the play was helmed by Émile Proulx-Cloutier and written by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette, who also acted as a silent narrator. 

The performance was prefaced with a short reading of the Ukrainian play A Dictionary of Emotions in a Time of War to commemorate the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Theatres across Montreal read excerpts to signify their solidarity with Ukrainians. The crowd was extremely moved. 

The play centers around eight characters, who seem to at first live categorically different lives, but are in fact united by their passion for dance. They are introduced within their life stories, and how dancing gigue orients their existence. 

The Quebecois gigue was inspired by Irish stepdancing upon their immigration to Canada in the late 19th century. It is a lively dance that consists of steps, the last one being more emphasized.

It is danced alone or in front of an audience, usually in a room, each dancer revealing their steps. Most Quebec gigues dances are on a two by four tempo, while some places like Outaouais dance on three by four tempo. Gigue is a staple of Quebecois culture. 

Pas Perdus was conducted in a unique fashion, as characters did not speak, while a voiceover resonated between them, composed of excerpts from a podcast series Barbeau-Lavalette had created, centering the voices of the dancers. 

The actors were merely dialoguing through the movement of their bodies. This silence plays a symbolic role in the demonstration of dance as a language, and of spoken words as only parallel to the meaning of dance. They are introduced within their life stories, and how dancing gigues orients their existence. 

Each character is introduced separately, completing their daily tasks while the voiceover explains their lives. The first character, Réal, is from a rural town and spends his time knotting a pair of snowshoes and explains how dancing is a part of who he is, while others like Odile are presented in the workspace as the voiceover explains their life path, and what brought them to dance. 

This play questions the meaning gigue has in Quebecois culture, the shame that surrounds the dance, and the risk of forgetting it as time passes. 

The play layers on the tone of humour despite difficult times.

Barbeau-Lavalette discusses themes of shame around Quebecois culture, and how it directly produces erasure. One character talks about “collecting steps,” as she meets people within the gigues community, learns their unique steps, and is thus able to carry them with her. This prevents the steps from being erased, even when the person dancing gigue dies. 

Pas Perdus is a demonstration of the adaptation of Quebec culture to modern times, noting the importance of not constraining our history to the past. Although there are fewer people dancing gigue, culture cannot be forgotten. This play is an homage to preserving culture and steering it away from erasure. 

Arts Theatre

Manikanetish: What it means to belong

See the play at Jean-Duceppe Theatre from March 8 to April 8

Manikanetish is based on Naomi Fontaine’s novel by the same name. An author and teacher, Fontaine has published four books and translated various others. Manikanetish is her second novel, published in 2017, and her most recent work Shuni was published in 2019. 

This play is set in Uashat, a small Inuit community in Northern Quebec close to Sept-Îles. 

Most scenes are set in a high school classroom as the protagonist, Yammie, recalls her beginnings as a teacher to her son. 

Manikanetish discusses the author’s life as a teacher, while centering the voices of the children she teaches. Themes of death, resilience and belonging dominate. 

The resilience of these children is notably highlighted by the death of several of their relatives throughout the story. 

Fontaine plays a central role in the play, though her character is taken on by another actress. She acts as a parallel to herself, an omniscient character, of what she wished she had said. 

Though originally from Uashat, coming home to her community, Yammie finds that she is not accepted. She only speaks a bit of Innu, and admits not wanting to speak it because of her accent. She struggles with having left the community to study, and upon returning notices that the community has changed: she does not know anyone and is not trusted. 

This is notable in a scene where one student is disgusted that the teacher does not know why one of the students is struggling because their parent is dying. The community is so small and close that everyone knows everything about everyone, and Yammie at first does not fit into that space. 

Along the play, the director parallels the past and the present: what Yammie’s life could have been and what it is not. She voices spending her nights alone drinking wine, with a partner back in Quebec City, not making any time for herself. 

The first part of the play is conducted by her sadness and not understanding why her dream of being a teacher in Uashat is not what she thought. The second part focuses on the students’ strength facing the various hardships thrown at them. 

As the play goes on, she slowly constructs a relationship with her class as they start to understand her intentions. 

For instance, when Yammie shouts at a student for sleeping in class, Fontaine’s character mirrors her and talks to the student in an understanding tone, offering a more sympathetic response. This serves as representation of what she wished she had said in those difficult moments. 

The audience gets to know six characters, their perils and their passions, their difficult upbringing in a remote town far from access to healthcare, and surrounded by discrimination. For instance, one student with a child brings up the injustice of their lack of access to proper medical care, while another speaks about the few future prospects they have because of the racism they suffer in school. 

The play concludes with united voices saying “our voices are heard,” both defying the public to question their existence and showing the strength of their resilience.  

Exit mobile version