What got you started in theatre?
First was the desire to act and even though it was super scary I agreed to do a play when I was at Bishop’s University. The play was invited to the Quebec Drama Federation Festival where we competed with ten other plays. We won outstanding production and I won outstanding actor and with that came a little trophy and a cheque. And it was like something inside of me just gelled or popped and I had the first thought that I could perhaps do this for a living. Against the advice and support of my parents I changed my major from Business to Drama and devoted myself to learning the craft of theatre. I was acting but also we built our sets and we had opportunities to direct and create new plays. It was there at Bishop’s that I knew deep down that I was a director, I just felt like I had found my craft or my place.
Best advice you’ve ever received?
To not change how I work with actors from a senior actor. He said this when I was about to go and start my studies for my MFA in directing at the University of Alberta. He said this exactly to me “look…you get how to work with talented and experienced actors, don’t let them change that about you and make you think that directing is teaching a student.” So I never changed that part of myself and if anything it gave me more confidence on my approach to story telling and working with actors and then as well the designers and the technicians. I have improved my methodologies and now I have taught my approach or style of directing to students.
Biggest myth about directing?
That you have to have it all figured out and all pre-staged like a movie in your head. Think about that for a second. Theatre is not a movie and the director is a fellow collaborator with the other artists. Like Peter Brook explains “the director is like a guide at night with the map but without a flashlight. Your actors and designers and technicians and then audience are your flashlights.” What happened to Peter Brook was that as a young man he was able to work with John Gielgud on a production for the Royal Shakespeare Company and like a diligent director he took the Set model home and planned all the blocking and staging. Then when it came time to get on their feet he found himself yelling and barking fro everyone as to where to come and go and he was barking at Sir John Gielgud. At this point he stops and he says to Sir John “ummm where do you think your character would move next?” And so with that a complete comprehension that we must work together and use everyone’s expert abilities – as with most actors – John had a sense of where he wanted to move on the stage help the scene work. That there is an inner world to attend to with the actor and the outer world of staging that we can find together that becomes more holistic and makes more sense to the viewer because more than one mind sees the picture clearly.
Do you suffer for your art?
I do not suffer in the traditional sense of the younger artist whom are truly starving and working two or three jobs to fund their passion. I did that. I suffered in my twenties in the traditional sense. Now later in life I suffer in a different way – you dive into these worlds of the plays and try to follow the emotional journeys of the characters and usually that means drudging up their pain and reacting from that state. Comedy is painful to work on. As Carol Burnett said ‘comedy is tragedy plus time’. I think that as storytellers we get good at putting on the skin or feelings of someone else and we become emotional detectives seeking the truths and hurts of characters or even real people sometimes and we use them as triggers for our responses our lines in the play. To work that way is to suffer. And each play takes a toll upon the performers as we try to share the human experience with audience. It comes at a cost.
What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
That I was headed into environmental studies from high school, but I was unable to secure the funds to attend the University of Waterloo where I was accepted, and I have a great love for the outdoors and was raised in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, in beautiful lake and cottage country. That because of the former I am skilled at fly-fishing and that oddly enough the motion of throwing the fly is exactly the same as the throwing motion for cracking a whip. I discovered in rehearsals for Waiting for Godot that I could really crack a whip, with both hands and seamlessly from hand to hand, crack, crack, crack!
When you’re not at the theatre, what’s your favourite thing to be doing?
I adore my morning walks in the river valley with my dog, Bella. We venture out every morning in all kinds of weather and except for the serious minus stuff we walk the river along the Highlands Country Club. This last spring we helped to free a muskrat that was caught in the fence along the golf course. Bella found the muskrat trapped in the fence, the muskrat was halfway through but her hips were stuck in the fence. I went back home and got my cutting pliers and walked back to the park (minus the pooch) and set the muskrat free. She tried to bite me once she was out of the fence but she was on the other side of the fence. I went straight to a design meeting after that, feeling good about my good deed for the spring.
So many plays have had a big impact on me from seeing them the first time and having the realization that such a thing can be accomplished in the theatre. Then plays that I have then acted in or directed suddenly grab and move me in ways that bring a new understanding of the world we live. Then the new plays that I have helped to bring life and the great satisfaction that comes with creating a new play. To say a play would be wrong but perhaps a playwright or two – like Michel Tremblay, Sam Shepard, William Shakespeare, and Samuel Beckett all have had great influence upon me.
Greatest threat to theatre?
There is no threat. Theatre absorbs all art forms and uses them to tell stories. Music, dance, painting, multi-media, comedy, sports, whatever…they all eventually get put to use when a playwright creates a story and asks performers to stage it.
Biggest hope for theatre?
That we can create a common language where all our differences are included and accepted as building blocks of communication not road blocks creating obstacles of communication.
What got you started in theatre?