Dimanche matin

Dimanche matin très tôt, suspendu entre l’ordinateur et la radio.  The music, rock and folk that brings together Maritimers at this time every week, always shapes a space for reflection, but this is not like those early Sundays spent wrestling with emerging characters and scenes.  On dit que la nuit porte conseil.  Dimanche aussi.

Les personnages se sont imposés, les scènes se sont enchaînées, et l’Île de Hurlevent – ‘la Hîle de Hurlevent’ – est sortie du brouillard.  Thanks to so many people, for it  takes a village to make a play.  At this point, Ray Stevens is singing “Everything is beautiful,” a soporific number from 1970.  C’est pourtant vrai.

La vie est belle quand on parcourt deux provinces avec douze comédiens qui partagent nos idées,
leurs personnages, leur talent et leur élan exceptionnels, avec tant de jeunes spectateurs. Like the young man in Grade 5 or 6, sitting on a gym floor, who started the post-show talkback by saying “Tell us how you conceived the play and rolled it out.”

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Never pre-judge, or under-estimate, a spectator.   They are the most important players in the magical ritual we call theatre.  Like the Grade 12 student who said how much he had enjoyed the references to Mister Bouffe, the fast-food restaurant we created and shared with him when he was in Grade 9.

Ou les trois professeurs qui sont restés après le départ des étudiants, et qui ont discuté avec les comédiens et moi jusqu’au moment où il fallait que nous partions pour une autre école.  “Pour moi, Hurlevent était le Cap Breton, a dit l’un d’eux.

We need convincing and radical stories for an age where we all deal, every day, with radical discontinuity.  “Depuis quand est-ce qu’on ferme les îles? demandait Pilote peu après le début du spectacle.  Our plays aim to be “absurdo-réaliste,” stories that are only absurd until spectators have had some time to think about them.  Maybe this is why a middle-school spectator wrote, after we had left,  “It’s live, it’s not old, it’s right there, it’s cool that you invented it yourselves, and it made me think of when they closed the ferry.”

I could dedicate this post to so many spectators we met at our twenty-two performances.  Like the restless fellow in the green hoodie who was “spoken to” by a teacher during the performance. But was he talking in spite of the play he had been brought to watch, or because of it?  I’m still not sure, but he did ask three excellent questions, told 200 peers he liked the play, and asked the cast to repeat the “gumboat” dance favoured by the Hurleventeux.  He also raised two approving thumbs when Makyla explained to the audience that gumboot is a physical language of resistance and joy developed by South-African miners who were forbidden to speak their first language.

Plutôt comme Philippe qui s’est transformé en Philip avant de partir à la recherche d’un boulot.

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Qu’est-ce qui reste quand on enlève la résistance et la joie?  L’acceptation et l’apathie qui sont trop souvent au rendez-vous dans notre monde passif et consumériste.  Monique, the homeless Hurleventeuse who left her island because her natural habitat was disappearing, knows all about passivity and consumerism because she does not ascribe to either.   Vive le théâtre qui nous encourage à articuler, avec respect, nos résistances.

As the ferry arrives, Hurlevent is “fast disappearing over the sea” in more ways than one.  But not as long as the Hurleventeux, real or in spirit, have words, music and dance, trois stratégies de résistance.  Michel Bouquet disait que “le théâtre est le seul endoit où toutes les questions sont posées.”  On September 10th Natalie and I told those who had come to our improvised rehearsal hall they had come to a safe space.  Un endroit  sécurisant où il est permis de jouer, de rire, de faire du bruit, voire du brouhaha, de poser les questions les plus difficiles.  A one-time visitor would be excused if they did not discern our efforts to be deep listeners in the midst of the pandemonium.  On ne fait pas d’omelette sans casser des oeufs.

And when we listened, what did we hear?  Cliifs eroding.  Livelihoods eroding.  A light-house crashing into the sea.  Sounds of protest.  ¨Peculiar power ballads and dances that involve a lot of thumping.”  As far as I know, the New Brunswick  light-house that  fell into the sea did so after I had written this event into the script.  I had wanted to record the fictional demise of an iconic structure on the Island of Hurlevent.  Something to dramatize both physical and socio-economic erosion, a metaphor for their convergence.  Perhaps an attempt to be phare-sighted.

Notre formule se veut très simple : une comédie bilingue – et activiste.  Pour ce faire, il faut écouter le monde qui nous entoure.  Et celui-ci finit par nous répondre, nous dépasser.

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Que les cyniques nous disent que nous exploitons les malheurs d’autrui pour créer des spectacles saisissants.  I doubt that will worry the young spectator who said our work is “live,” “right there,” and reminds them of cutbacks in services.

And why was VILLAGES  ”right there”?  Because it’s theatre, not television which the play parodies?  Because we were invited into the spectators’ communities, and into their space, to share our story, our characters, our ideas?  Parce que nous avions tenté d’évoquer le vivant de nos publics?  Parce que ceux-ci ont vraiment ressenti l’anxiété éprouvée par les personnages qui se trouvent dans l’oeil de la tempête socio-écono-éclimatique?  À cause de l’énergie irrésistible des comédiens?  I hope it was for all those reasons.

VILLAGES met en vedette deux villages.  But its success depended on four villages : the somewhat blasé mainland village of Port-à-Petit, the mysterious and marginal island of Hurlevent, the communities of spectators; and the team of actors, supported by everyone whose names appeared on the program, not to mention the spectators who had gone before.

Actors who have not toured before must be at least a little bit surprised by the warm welcomes, the hugs, the occasional lunches, the treats, the energy exchanges, and the “Come-back-next-year” farewells that await us in schools.  Nos hôtes sont invariablement des personnes dévouées qui veulent faire une différence positive dans la vie, et dans le monde, de leurs étudiants.

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This year, in fracking country, a spectator said “You have no idea what your visit has meant to us.”  And he can have no idea of what his  disponibilité has meant to us.

We have been to that spectator’s school more than twenty times. This year we went to another school, also in fracking country, for the first time.  The contact teacher was absent due to illness and, no matter how well-prepared the students were, they could not possibly have had clear expectations of the actors, for it was “a theatre presentation,” not “this year’s Tintamarre visit.”  As I was  starting to welcome the spectators, the prinipal rushed breathlessly into the gym to say that not everyone was there.

I asked the actors to sing two more warm-up songs;  the false start was the best thing that could have happened because the spectators warmed even more to the actors as the fourth wall evaporated.  The applause was warm, the talkback seamless, the principal came outside afterward to thank the actors and ask us to return next year, and a teacher posted this Facebook message a day or two later :  “Our kids LOVED the play.”

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Their village loved the play because our village gave themselves to their spectators with no strings attached.  Dare I say the love was reciprocal?  Quoique les comédiennes et comédiens ne soient plus avec moi, j’ose croire qu’ils diraient que oui.  Les échanges que j’ai vus récemment révélaient un véritable pacte de générosité, d’attachement, d’amour, malgré les innombrables distractions qui guettent à tout moment tous les participants.

A Beckett character, encased in an urn and hovering above or beyond the humdrum,  says “All that was just play.” (Play).  Is there any more luxurious fun than playing with the fourth wall, which our actors are already doing as they warm up as spectators are entering the space that will become a theatre?  To go over the fourth wall you have to build it first, then you have to rebuild it if you are tempted to go over it again.

When university students venture into schools, they rediscover the world of bells and announcements.  Whenever a bell rings, everyone on the stage freezes, and the speaking actor uses split-second judgement to decide whether to start up again at the next syllable (Vive le comique) or to return to a previous beat (Vive la compréhensibilité).  Inevitably, this humble display of  commitment and presence of mind brings everyone closer together, a point that more than one spectator has pointed out so far in written post-show evaluations.

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I, as Director, am not absent from this equation.  How I loved that fact that the actors made what was probably the least compromising space appear as if it had been designed for VILLAGES!  Another example: in one school the ferry that plies between Hurlevent and Port-à-Petit travelled the width of the stage in front of the performance space, more or less in the audience.  The pride was palpable when we told the audience how much we enjoyed playing in their space.

Its seemed that the entire school was glowing with satisfaction when a teacher said, towards the end of a talkback : “You’ve demonstrated everything I try to teach in my Drama courses.”

I have just watched with fascination a video entitled “Sur le lit” and filmed by Bernard, our actor-webmaster-magician.  Douze comédiens s’étaient donné rendez-vous sur un lit énorme à la fin d’une journée où ils avaient monté VLLAGES trois fois, et roulé plus de 200 kilomètres.  As I listened  to the more than eighteen minutes of seamless, tireles, hilarious conversation about their day and their tour, one  thought kept recurring : C’est radical, ce projet qui s’appelle Tintamarre!

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Alex, le 25 mai 2014

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