The new face of La Nouvelle Scène
By David Ménard
In the hands of Anne-Marie White (BA ’95), theatre projects that at first seem impossible to produce turn into stage successes. White’s great creativity and artistic vision recently earned her the position of executive and artistic director of Ottawa’s La Nouvelle Scène Gilles-Desjardins.
I had the pleasure of meeting White when I was publishing my poetry collection Neuvaines, in 2015. To my great surprise, she told me that she wanted to bring it to the stage. A few weeks later, she did a stunning theatrical adaptation, co-produced with the Théâtre du Trillium and the National Arts Centre’s Ontario Scene.
While her new appointment represents a major challenge for While, she welcomes it as a “natural progression,” as she had already been acting executive director of La Nouvelle Scène — now known as La Nouvelle Scène Gilles-Desjardins — for several months.
“I was already putting together a team of collaborators and was swamped with big jobs. That’s how things were when I found out I was appointed. I felt a strong sense of being grounded, of being in the right place at the right time.”
After lengthy reconstruction work, La Nouvelle Scène Gilles-Desjardins reopened in January 2016, inviting the community to discover its rich, multidisciplinary programming. The theatre’s founding companies, Théâtre du Trillium, Théâtre de la Vieille 17, Vox Théâtre and Théâtre la Catapulte, also returned to the fold after two years in exile. Anne-Marie White was there to welcome them to “the heart of the action,” to use her words.
“I’ve never been afraid to pull out the necessary stops to achieve what I’ve wanted to do,” she says. Today, White dreams of breathing life and energy into the new theatre, as well as giving it a clear, unique and strong identity.
White is a theatre pro who acknowledges the extent of the work that awaits her. “There’s a heavy administrative workload. My days aren’t made up of only creative work. There’s a lot to be managed, be it finances, human resources or grant applications.” Nevertheless, she feels that, as executive and artistic director of the theatre, she’s helping to make Franco-Ontarian history, as well as being at the centre of a community project.
White received her bachelor’s in theatre from the University of Ottawa in 1995. She has great memories of her time on campus, where she says she was “pleasantly surprised by the real coexistence of languages.” For her, the Department of Theatre offers a nice mix of theory and practice that leaves plenty of space for the imagination.
It was where she met many mentors, including Dominique Lafon, Tibor Egervari and Jean Herbiet, who gave her the independence and the leeway essential for trying things out and creating. “If they hadn’t given me so much space to experiment, my path to creativity would have been longer,” she says.
This freedom helped bring out the entrepreneur in her, enabling her to form her theatre companies and later, be named to head La Nouvelle Scène.
She’s still connected to the Department of Theatre, which is, for her, “intimately linked to the training of Ottawa theatre professionals.” White also makes a point of attending department productions, when her schedule permits, to spot top aspiring young talent. In addition to beginning a dialogue with theatre students, she uses her time on campus to talk to other departments about the topics raised by the different productions.
“In theatre, there is often content closely linked to that addressed elsewhere at the University,” she says. “The arts are increasingly in dialogue with other disciplines. It’s to our advantage to spend time with people of different backgrounds, to feed off of each other.”
White encourages students to meet her and get to know people working in theatre here or elsewhere. “If you’re drawn to theatre more than anything in the world, come to me running and screaming. If you think you can do something else in life and be happy, don’t hesitate for a second: do something else. Because unless you’re crazy about what you’re doing, you won’t survive in the arts scene.”
So what should we wish for White in her new job? “The inspiration and perspective needed to bring off the projects to be completed in the coming years — and massive crowds for arts programming at La Nouvelle Scène Gilles-Desjardins,” she says, with a twinkle in her voice.
David Ménard is a uOttawa Faculty of Arts (lettres françaises) alumnus. He received a Trillium Book Award for Poetry in 2016 for his collection Neuvaines.
Anne-Marie White, executive and artistic director of La Nouvelle Scène Gilles-Desjardins. Photo: Robert Patterson