As an Albertan in Montreal, I feel like everyone is mentally constructing a Stephen Harper mask to go over my own face. These are interactions I would never have with people from my oil-sucking homeland, and I love it. Through the French slang and “tabernacles”, I hear someone daring me to find common ground with them.
I love the thrill of my own identity being in motion. This kind of motion challenges my certainty of the world. This is the kind of feeling I want to bring to the theatre.
I thought being bilingual as a director at the National Theatre school would instantly open up new collaborative doors, but no matter how much people talk about French and English artists collaborating, it rarely occurs. I don’t think this is a problem of language, but rather a difference in artistic practice. We have different union rules, we are interested in different kinds of writing, but most of all, our theatre traditions come from different roots.
This difference in aesthetic has somehow kept a lot of English and French artists in Montreal (and in Canada) from working together, although there are some great examples of collaborative success: my favorite show of the year so far, Michael Mackenzie’s Instructions to Any Future Socialist Government Proposing to Abolish Christmas, put a seemingly realistic setting from a real-time unity play into the hands of metteur en scene Marc Beaupre’s incredible interpretation. Beaupre brought to Mackenzie’s script a sense of play, a setting and use of the theatre that turned the story into a game the audience was implicated in. Also on that list is Theatre Prospero’s inclusion of everything from Russian to German to British works, as well as Theatre La Licorne’s illumination of the palpable cross-over between Quebec’s working class history in Canada with Scotland’s relationship with England.
It’s this cultural cross-over that I’m digging into right now.
I’m a little scared to go down this side bar, but here goes:
I love games.
I love video games.
I was raised on them.
There are huge similarities to me between designing a game and writing and directing for the theatre: you put something personal onto the stage, you strive to have the audience (or the “player”) sympathize and understand their hero’s quest, and you build a world in which the player has room to learn and process on their own.
There is so much competition in the video game industry today that high-budget graphics alone don’t cut it: many companies have reverted back to the basics of what connects us to games, and in Video game design, rule number one is Give the player obstacles that force them to teach themselves how to play rather than shoving instructions down their throat.
Following the next Quebecois inside-joke my Francophone roommates say isn’t easy, but sitting down and playing an old school video game is, because it’s connecting us through our universal desire to play and literally solve the puzzles of our world.
I’m starting to scratch at something I want to uncover. I believe in a theatre where my English and French colleagues combine their artistic traditions to create a new aesthetic. I feel that this aesthetic will flourish out of the same values that connect my roommate and myself: a reduction of language, a return to the basics, and a commitment to connect with an audience on that basic level that new video games seem to have achieved.
I want to find anyone out there who is curious by the idea of French and English artists creating in the same room. None of this theoretical “wouldn’t it be great” talk.
This is something that is starting soon. If you’re out there, speak both languages, and are curious about what puts you out of your cultural comfort zone, and maybe even grew up being told that the concepts behind video games are irrelevant and childish, I invite you to get in touch, and start a conversation.
(firstname.lastname@example.org). You can also reach me on Facebook, it’s Jon Lachlan Stewart. I’m serious here. Je t’invites.
Come out and play.
After all, the French call acting jeu.