Joey Tremblay

Joey Tremblay



Hello my name is Joey Tremblay, and this is thought number lucky 13. All my life I’ve had this recurring dream.  It takes place in my home town, Ste Marthe, Saskatchewan, amongst all of my family relatives well the community in general, because we are having a family reunion.  And in the middle of the proceedings I discover that I have the ability to fly.  Well, It’s not really flight, it’s more like I take a deep breath and I become suddenly buoyant and I start to float and swim in the air.  And I’m able to float so high, that I place my foot gingerly on the tip of the cross that sits atop the Ste Marthe Church steeple.  “hey everybody look I can fly.”

 And far below my family looks up in horror. They find my newfound ability disgusting and start shouting, “Get down from there. That’s embarrassing. Stop bragging about your stupid float-flying. Stop acting like your gift makes you better than all of us.  Be humble. You’re embarrassing your mother.”  So I let go of my breath and I slowly come down.  Fully shamed – fully humbled.  And you know, all my life I thought this recurring dream was teaching me humility. “don’t get too full of yourself.  Be humble with the gifts you have.  In fact –  better to keep them to yourself.”

But I’m at the point of saying,  “fuck that. I don’t need to put my gifts away. I don’t need to hide my special abilities.  If I can suddenly fly, then hell that’s a great thing.  It’s not shameful.  It’s my gift.”  And that’s how I’m starting to think about my place in theatre.  I was born with the gift of being able tell my stories through the medium of theatre.  Whether, it’s by acting, or writing or directing or all three.  And I’m not going to be all prairie humble about it.  I’m not going to be apologetically Canadian about it.   I’m not going to be demure and shy.  I’m not going to be afraid of being too proud. I’m going to promote my little gifts.  They are what I have to offer the world and they are worth something.  They are worth giving.

Hello my name is Joey Tremblay, and this is thought number 12 Theatre in Canada, is one of that last standing bastions of colonialism. Still, in 2016 we have not managed to shake off the specter of our colonial history.  And worse we are totally reluctant to tear down the colonial system of how we make art.  We insist on prioritizing work and narratives that come from elsewhere, and we have a suspicion and a deep disdain, or a tendency to dismiss work created directly from a Canadian experience.  Locally created work is still considered alternative to the colonial mainstream.  If you think I’m exaggerating, just take a gander and see how non-present First Nations work is within a Regional theatre’s programming.  As we know, the system of colonialism had never been that friendly and inviting towards First Nations people.  And, also, at the same time, it has never been that interested in the perspective of new Canadians or settler culture either.  In fact, New Canadian Plays, are still in 2016 relegated to the margins of the practice, as we again, prioritize and fund and stage the cultural accomplishments from Britain, from America and sometimes even from Europe.  And if you live in a small region like Saskatchewan, we even prioritize the work of larger centers within our own nation.  HEY! In 2017, I want to break free of colonial shackles. I’m vowing to prioritize and celebrate, and promote and create work that springs from the culture of Here. . . of this place. . . Of my home.

Hello my name is Joey Tremblay, and this is thought number 11. I’ve been working on a wee theory about theatre.  It’s my “go to” musing whenever I get disillusioned with the day to day practice of making art.  You know, when I lose the sense of meaning, or purpose or value of this particular art form.  In those dark moments when it all seems meaningless, and I think “I’ve got to quit.  Why the fuck am I still doing this?” My little musing is this. . . Theatre is the relentless forward moving ritual of the birth, life, death cycle.  Think about it.  We are in the business of birthing moments, letting them live briefly and watching them die and moving on. This is the ebb and flow cycle of experiencing theatre . . . the very heart beat and the breath of our practice.   Always moving forward, no time to sit indulgently in moments, no rewinding moments to re-experience them or to mourn them…. But one has to forever and forever, let go, and move to the next moment. And keep breathing and continue to experience.  Theatre is the art form of living.  This is its most important value.  Humans need to practice, need to relearn again and again, what it means to be alive.  We need to practice and celebrate the cycle of birth, life, and death.

My name is Joey Tremblay and this is thought #10. You know, the older I get the harder it is for me to be an actor. To perform in front of an audience.  I’m not sure why, part of it is because it is harder and harder to memorize lines at my age, and that is terrifying to think to go in front of an audience…. But I think the other part of it is, acting for me, was always an instinctual, fearless act, in that I just propelled myself by going into the unknown and not really knowing what I was doing, not really relying on any kind of technique that I learned in theatre school…but really relying on my intuition as I propelled forward in performance.  And you know the older you get the less sort of naïve fearlessness, maybe stupidity that I have. I always, sort of, in the middle of performing, look at myself and go, “oh my god you suck, you don’t have any technique, you spent your whole life drawing on the gas tank of instinct and your primal self and there’s none of that left. You don’t have technique to draw on.”  So it’s so frightening for me to go in front of an audience and hear that self-criticism running through a performance. So I just kind of avoid it.  I wish I was 25 again, and fearless and naïve and just doing it because I was stupid.


Hello, my name is Joey Tremblay and this is my thought, number 9. I was asked recently to define what I felt was successful about my practice.  Or, okay, more clearly how I defined success.  My immediate response, is that, you know, I feel successful when I’m not drowning.  When I’m somehow managing to stay afloat, in just attempting to keep my small theatre company buoyant and relevant and operating.  When I’m managing to move from a constant state of crisis to a kind of cautious calm.  Well, other than that. . .  success for me, comes when I tell deeply personal stories, in an engaging way, that takes an audience on a full journey.  I feel successful when whatever primal and personal material I draw from starts to resonate in a universal way.  I feel successful when my little stories, engage and inspire other narratives. . . and maybe awaken the personal and the primal and the untapped memory banks of every audience member.  For me, that feels like success.

My Name is Joey Tremblay and this is my thought number 8. Have you noticed that Theatre Critics are dropping like flies? Well the ones that work for newspapers seem to be going into oblivion. But, uh, my reaction is ambiguous to say the least. I’m not sure we ever had a culture of critical discourse when it comes to theatre and newspapers in this country. I think at best, the reviews, in papers were simply, a kind of consumer watchdog forum. Is it worth spending money on this show or not? Will you I get my money’s worth? I don’t think that kind of criticism is truly serving a legitimate engagement with the art. For one, reviews are one-sided one-offs of a single voice. I think to really engage a community; we need critical forums that are dialogues and discussions. A feedback loop between the artist, the critic, the audience. I think we need to create a milieu where new work is discussed in a manner that will deepen the work, and seeks to incite an interest and better understanding that the public has on how work is made? and what artists are attempting to do in making it? and how are they successful with their vision? and how have they failed? A review with a star ratings system, places the value of art in terms of the dollars exchanged. It does nothing to promote the great value of exchanging – oh I don’t know -empathy, exchanging ideas, and exchanging the creative act.

Hello, my name is Joey Tremblay and this is thought number 7.

I think people are losing the ability to empathize. For a bazillion reasons. I dunno. Pick one. The internet. Facebook. The increasingly digitized, digital world that we live in. My favourite pet peeve – Neo liberalism. Consumerism. But I really think it’s true. We are slowly losing our ability to feel empathy for other people. And, yet, in my least cynical way, I think that Theatre is the one place where empathy is encouraged, practiced and taught. Empathy is necessary for the creation of theatre and empathy is required in the participation of theatre. In this way, and everybody can discuss in more depth amongst yourselves, theatre is a place of hope. It’s a place that can I imagine the revival and survival of the human species. I can imagine it’s possible in theatre. That’s all.

Hello, this is Joey Tremblay and this is though number 6.
What’s with all these musical reviews – you know, these musical biographies of famous pop singers? Like, Patsy Cline. Buddy Holly. Johnny Cash. Elvis. You know, like They are everywhere? Ok, I get it. They make money. They fill the big houses… they please the palate for baby boomer nostalgia… but ultimately, I kind of think they reduce the art of theatre to mimicry and cheap impersonations. Because the writing is always horrible. You know the talking parts in between the songs. They are never original. They are kind of paint by numbers. Ok. They are the cover bands of our art form. Is this the best of what theatre has become? A practice as unoriginal as a good ole cover-band? Yeesh, I hope not.

Hi, my name is Joey Trembly and this is my thought #5.

Theatre needs to veer toward becoming a truly subversive art form. In every way. I mean, how it’s made, to why it’s made and where it’s made. and who it’s being made for…it’s just that in this horrid neo-liberal hostile world that demands submission and compliance and a general numbness, theatre needs to be a rebel, it needs to be punk rock. Theatre needs to stop being an opiate that pleases the bourgeoisie. Pleases the funders. Pleases the patrons. . . the patrons of the arts. Theatre needs some teeth for god’s sake and it needs to start biting.

My name is Joey Tremblay and this is my fourth thought.

I hate Shakespeare. I hate watching it. I hate reading it. I hate studying it. I hate performing in it. I hate directing it. There I said it. Okay, I’m a Scrooge of Shakespeare. And I hate the way it’s force fed to us like a cultural tonic that we are forced to swallow but we are told that it’s ultimately good for you, good for your soul. Is it really good for me to sit for 2 hours bored and disengaged , rolling my eyes and wanting to die? Is it really good for me to bow down reverently to a culture of another country, from another era, from another dead white guy? Bah Humbug.

My name is Joey Tremblay and this is my 3rd thought.

I think that we need to keep repeating the mantra that theatre is essentially a live event. It’s ephemeral, it’s of the moment, it’s full of possibility and full of potential failure. It can’t be rewound but is perpetually forward moving. I mean despite the failure, despite the accidents, it just keeps chugging ahead. So, let’s make theatre that embraces this. Let’s not make theatre that requires a passive disengaged audience of distracted observers… you know, a T.V audience. Let’s make theatre that endows the audience with an essential role. Let’s make them an active part of this exchange. Let’s always be always aware of the essential feedback loop of between the performer and the spectator. And let’s please acknowledge that everyone in the room is shaping and altering the work.

My name is Joey Tremblay and this is my second thought.

I like to believe that the key to revitalizing theatre lies within the multitude of independent, off the grid, small-scale theatres that are cropping up across the country. I believe that it’s in these spaces.. these flexible and nimble organizations that Canada is seeing a cultural revolution in terms of innovative new work, you know, where authentic expression of our local narratives are possible…. and maybe even a direct and intimate community engagement can actually take place. I think the trend in Canadian Theatre is not a move toward large admin-heavy institutions, but rather towards the innovative indie theatres that can take on the burden of risk which is required to create new work.

Hello, this is Joey Tremblay with my 1st thought.

Process before Product.

Okay, lately I’ve been obsessing with the ‘phrase process before product”. It’s kind of become this guiding principle – a wee mantra that informs my theatre practice and it shapes how I try to approach every new project. Is it pretentious? Probably. Is it navel gazing arts speak? Ya, most likely, but I guess it is just my response to the dominant practice that seems to prioritize and enables the commoditization of theatre (NOTE: I meant commodification of theatre). You know, theatre has become a kind of consumer item to be produced and sold and consumed.

I think how we make theatre in Canada is very formulaic and cookie-cutter, and prescriptive and we’ve become these experts at the three-week rehearsal process that churns out plays that suit a consumers palate . . . sold, you know, in a 6 play subscription series. Process before product, for me, is a rejection of this notion and of this paradigm- It’s an acknowledgement that every work of art demands it’s own unique and messy process of creation. If we don’t honour process, then – I don’t know – I think we risk recreating the same dull play over and over again.



Previous articleBehind the Scenes of “Make Love, Not Art”
Next articleCdnTimes Volume 8, Edition 3: BLACK LIVES MATTER

About the Author

Joey is an auteur-director, playwright, theatre-maker and actor. He grew up in South East Saskatchewan in a hamlet called, Ste. Marthe. He received a B.F.A. in Drama from the University of Regina (1987) and a Diploma from the Vancouver Playhouse Acting School (1989). After working several years as a freelance actor, Joey co-founded Noises in the Attic, a theatre company mandated to produce and create new Canadian plays on the fringe festival circuit across Canada. From 1996 to 2001, Tremblay was the Artistic Co-Director of Catalyst Theatre in Edmonton. During this period, he wrote, devised, co-directed and produced as many as fifteen performance events and full-length scripts that toured across Canada, Great Britain and Australia. Tremblay was a member of the English Theatre Ensemble at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. In essence, all of his work in theatre has been predominantly in the sector of new play development. However, the process in which he has tackled each new project has varied immensely – from non-linear, interactive, environmental installations to more linear, narrative scripts, where his involvement arguably began as a traditional playwright. Many projects, began as translations of classic work and then through re-writes and rehearsal, they evolved into hybrid interpretations that were far from their original sources. Combined, this work has garnered over thirty awards and nominations for outstanding direction, production and acting, including two Scotsman Fringe First awards for outstanding writing.