Theatre of dreams

“We teach our students to create their own work, to initiate projects with their companies, to be proactive and make art happen. We are very much against the cookie-cutter attitude.”

— Joël Beddows

By Mireille Piché and Mike Foster

Our alumni usually put in a strong performance at the Rideau Awards and this year was no exception.

When the curtain fell on the eighth annual gala, which was first held in 2006 to shine a spotlight on French and English professional theatre produced in the Ottawa-Gatineau region, nine alumni had won in 10 categories.

And the English winners’ envelope, please...

Margo MacDonald (BA [Theatre] '91) won two awards, for outstanding new work and outstanding performance, female, for her play The Elephant Girls.

Fellow alumna Mary Ellis (BA [Theatre] '79) won an outstanding director award for The Elephant Girls, which was produced by Parry Riposte Productions. The one-woman play is a monologue delivered from the perspective of Maggie Hale, a fictional member of a real female criminal gang that was active in London, England, during the 1920s. The entire play is set in a pub.

MacDonald says she was inspired to write the work of historical fiction after reading Brian McDonald’s 2010 book Gangs of London.

MacDonald did further research to chart the character’s emotional journey, including spending time in London.

MacDonald, who has won two previous Rideau Awards, for Outstanding Female Performance in 2008 and 2013, says she is especially pleased to win for the work she wrote.

“It is not only sweet but unexpected. I had no idea how well the show was going to do,” says MacDonald, who is currently trying to generate interest to take the show on tour, possibly to England.

Ellis was equally thrilled to finally win a Rideau Award after being nominated nearly every year as an actor or director.

“I have been an actor for decades now and I only started directing in the last five years, so to win it in the director’s category was especially meaningful for me,” says Ellis, adding that directing one actor in the single location of a pub had unique challenges.

“The story is very compelling and Margo is a very compelling actor. But as a director I had to look at ways to make it visually interesting, partly with light, but also with how Margo uses the space,” says Ellis.

It has been a big year for MacDonald. The theatre company she co-founded with Heather Jopling (BA [Theatre] '90), A Company of Fools, celebrated its 25th anniversary. MacDonald and Jopling started out as uOttawa students performing Shakespeare for spare change on the streets and in parks. Although MacDonald no longer runs “the Fools,” she still works with them.

And now, the French winners...

On the French side, seven Department of Theatre alumni took home Rideau Awards. We spoke to two of them, Caroline Yergeau (BA ’09 Theatre) and Louis Philippe Roy (BA ’08 Theatre), who won the award for best new work for the play Fucking Carl. The two wrote the play and portrayed the main characters, a “white trash” couple.

“The couple lives in both financial and cultural poverty,” says Yergeau. “An unusual situation leads them to go before a committee to ask to adopt a child. At one point, they decide that it will be easier for them to show rather than tell the committee moments of their lives.”

Roy says that they “decided to use the audience as a jury, breaking the fourth wall.”

There is role reversal in the play, both in the writing and the acting. Roy wrote the lines for the female lead, Jessica, and played her, while Yergeau was responsible for the lines of the male lead, Jason, and really got into his character.

“It was director Kevin Orr’s suggestion, and it worked like a charm,” says Roy. “I think it adds a layer to the production. The lines came across better spoken by the opposite sex. We had much more fun without falling into clichés or stereotypes.”

For Yergeau, it was a way to talk about the couple “without judging them.”

So why did they choose such an edgy title? It actually comes from “Sapré Carl,” a friendly nickname for the friend of the male lead, akin to “Bloody Carl.” Jessica is not that fond of Carl, whose presence is felt throughout the play, even though he’s not actually seen.

“Yes, it is vulgar,” says Roy, “but I hear people using this type of language so often.”

As for how they feel about winning the award, Yergeau says: “We’re really happy, because Louis Philippe and I worked super hard for it and it’s really our first play.”

Curious? Interested? If you want to see a couple whose language is as lively as it is colourful, the play will be presented at La Nouvelle Scène from July 14 to 30, 2016.

Setting the stage

The future for uOttawa theatre looks bright. A joint project between uOttawa, the City of Ottawa and the Ottawa Art Gallery is under way to build a 17,000-square-foot space with four studio-classrooms and a 120-seat black box theatre on Waller Street. Construction began in August on the complex, which will include a renovated home for the Ottawa Art Gallery and a revitalized Arts Court. It is set to open in 2017.

Joel Beddows, chair of uOttawa’s Department of Theatre, says the new space will allow the University to develop a conservatory-style bachelor of fine arts academic program for theatre.

“Francophones outside of Quebec do not have access to professional conservatory style acting training anywhere. They come to uOttawa to get a BA but it is not a BFA. Also, theatre in English in Ottawa is exploding. But there is no BFA program. This allows us to meet the BFA requirements with one project,” says Beddows.

The state-of-the-art facility will include a moveable stage management booth with enough space for teachers. The “black box” format of the theatre will enable maximum flexibility for seating arrangements, says Beddows.

“You can turn it into any kind of theatre. You can do Shakespeare, the Greeks, political theatre… Right now, we have Academic Hall — the oldest theatre in Ottawa — she is a grand old dame and we love her for everything she is,” says Beddows, adding, however, that the space is not flexible and the department’s performance and rehearsal space is nearly always fully booked.

As for this year’s alumni winners of the Rideau Awards, Beddows says the strong performance demonstrates that uOttawa’s program instills a “can-do” attitude in students.

“We teach our students to create their own work, to initiate projects with their companies, to be proactive and make art happen,” says Beddows. “We are very much against the cookie-cutter attitude.”

“When our University adopts slogans like it has recently (Defy the Conventional), telling us to think outside the box, I feel incredibly at home,” Beddows adds. “When we say that Canada’s economic success is about creation and new thoughts and new ideas and risk-taking I think, ‘Gosh, did they copy our mandate at the Department of Theatre?’”

Other alumni winners this year were:

Marie-Ève Fontaine (B.A. 2014), Emerging Artist;

Kira Ehlers (B.A. 2000), Outstanding Director, for À toi, pour toujours, ta Marie-Lou;

Andrée Rainville (B.A. [Théâtre et Lettres françaises] 2007), Outstanding Performance, Female for Cinéma;

Marie-Pierre Proulx (B.A. 2009 et M.A. 2012) and Benoît Brunet-Poirier (B.A. 2012), Outstanding New Work, Cinéma (scénographie-vidéo).


Margo MacDonald as Maggie Hale in her play The Elephant Girls

Margo MacDonald as Maggie Hale in her play The Elephant Girls, which won three Rideau Awards. Photo: Andrew Alexander.

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