This week in the Future of Ottawa series, we’re taking a deep dive into Ottawa’s theatre scene—what it’s like now and where it’s headed. Read on for a guest post from Pierre Antoine Lafon Simard on the future of French theatre in Ottawa, or read posts from Bronwyn Steinberg on independent theatre, Jacqui Du Toit on storytelling, or Cameron Bishop on community theatre.
Pierre Antoine Lafon Simard graduated from the theatre department of the University of Ottawa in 2004, from the Conservatoire d’art dramatique de Québec in acting in 2007, and from the directing program of the National Theatre School of Canada in 2009. Pierre Antoine has been the Artistic Director of the Théâtre du Trillium since October 2016. Throughout his artistic career, Pierre Antoine has directed several shows, most recently including MILF, Moon Mission, and Néon Boréal and co-founded La Scène Nationale du Son. His practice revolves around contemporary scenic writings and digital narrative tools, and he now focuses his activities around creation, programming and artistic exploration in live and sound art.
Apt613: What is the current landscape of French theatre in Ottawa?
Pierre Antoine Lafon Simard: The fundamental definition of live performance and especially theatre has been profoundly affected by this worldwide pandemic. The requirements to isolate, although necessary and right, have left a scar on all performance artists across all communities. At this point I feel it is important to acknowledge my privileged position in this situation both as a white cis male but also as the artistic director of a prominent cultural institution in Ottawa. Although all workers in the arts and culture sector have been forced into precarious positions—which have brought some to question the viability of their craft—we must stand in solidarity and recognize our frontline worker’s dedication and courage over the last year.
That being said, painting a portrait of French theatre today is both a tale of resilience and silence. As I write these words, our spaces’ doors close once again, and I cannot help but fear for the future. And my fear lies not with the inextinguishable passion and bottomless creativity of our artists, but for the ever-growing fragility of their livelihoods. Artists have always been wrongfully characterized as “nonessential” by our governing bodies—this term has undeniably taken a deeper meaning in the last year—and although our municipal and provincial governments certainly face critical challenges in the coming months, I hope our elected officials will remember the importance of culture, particularly in minority communities, and the hugely meaningful role all artists have played in these troubling times. I am happy that La Nouvelle Scène remains a beacon for new artists to get their start and meet their peers in a safe and challenging environment.
As our doors remained closed to audiences, Francophone theatre has transformed stages into sounds, screens, and pixels, often for free and always with caring, humanist intentions. We have cared for the soul and imagination of our own, often against the dominance of mainstream Anglo-centric culture. French theatre is and always has been a battle of passion and convictions—let us hope that when Bob Ross’s happy little clouds are brushed back onto the painting, we remember the importance of the many Francophone and Francophile artists who bring so much to our city’s cultural landscape.
If you care to make a prediction… where is French theatre going in 2021?
Over the last year I’ve mused with family members, colleagues, and journalists around predictions for the future, both near and farther away. I have always felt this somewhat attractive conversation to be both foolish and dangerous and implied a power of divination I do not personally have—as my short term guesses have more often than not been wrong by miles. I can only hope that what I know to be true will remain: that the strength and contagious energy of our young artists have always compelled them to flip the script on theatrical rules.
To be honest, that is what has kept me going. So perhaps not knowing is the most positive of futures as it keeps me and you on our toes and is a testament to the innovation and hunger of the faces we don’t know yet but will soon be unforgettable.
Where in your wildest dreams could French theatre go in Ottawa in your lifetime?
My wildest dream is to see an ever expanding and flourishing audience of all origins and from all the corners of our city gather around French performance, regardless of their language and cultural background. I have been blessed in my life to travel the world, seeing shows in languages other than my own, emanating from cultural communities I knew very little about and these were often my most thought-provoking and paradigm-shifting experiences. In my experience, I’ve noticed that some of my (most privileged) fellow citizens come back from Europe with stars in their eyes after a night of experimental French theatre in Paris and then, never set foot in places like La Nouvelle Scene—a place where emerging artists create work that is often toured in those same spaces internationally! Moreover, a place where it just so happens the same performance they enjoyed abroad is presented a month later for a fraction of the price! I’d like to say this: there is amazing work being presented and created next door, downtown, and I would love it if people didn’t succumb to language barriers or cultural divisions to silence their curiosity.
What is the best innovation to take place in theatre since the pandemic started affecting Ottawa?
During the last year the web has been re-appropriated by artists and French theatre is part of this techno piracy. I hope we do not forget the necessity of live art in general, nor that we consider temporary web experiments to be on the same level as the work of an artistic form that has been explored, cultivated and revolutionized by digital artists way before the pandemic. I must say that personally, as an artist myself, with my own artistic process, sound has been my favourite refuge. I find theatrical writing to be particularly “at home” in soundscape-based innovation, with the added benefit of being offered for free and on devices used by all generations.
Who is the future of French theatre in Ottawa?
At the risk of being laughed at by my colleagues, my answer is: YOU! To whoever reads these lines, YOU are the future of French theatre. We need you to show up, to talk about it, to be curious and encouraging, to defend it, to challenge and witness it. We cannot continue to confuse cultural originality as division, we must come together, not to merge or dilute our practices but to strengthen and acclaim our differences.
Tell us something you wish somebody told you when you started your career in theatre?
I come from a time in art education where success was a competition and I lost a lot of time trying to win what was never a battle. I will not pretend to be wise, but experience has shown me that benevolence is always part of a good recipe or any other pandemic bread-making metaphor.
Back in 2015, Apartment613 took a look at the future of Ottawa across several different sectors. In 2021, we’re bringing the series back, asking experts, artists, and community leaders to shed some light on their local field or industry, as it stands now and where they think—or dream—it will go over the next few years. Every week we’ll profile a different cultural sector in Ottawa, leaving no niche unexplored—from social justice to theatre, bars to sports, to the future of the municipality and its natural environs. Keep an eye out for a new batch of posts every Tuesday on Apt613.ca.