Montreal has a fascinating history of feminist theatre mainly discussed in the past tense and restricted most often to history classrooms. Although the Montreal Théâtre Expérimental des Femmes – founded in 1985 with a mandate to produce feminist theatre – no longer exists, there is another a company that receives little acknowledgement of their place in this history.
Founded in 1987 by Andrés Hausmann, Imago Theatre began as a bilingual company intent on producing socially relevant work, which remains in their mandate to this day. Imago continues to produce new work by women and femmes that unpacks some of their lived experiences that theatre is oftentimes hesitant to address. In 2013, Micheline Chevrier became the company’s Executive and Artistic Director, focusing the company’s mandate towards supporting both emerging and established female artists, or artistas, and telling their stories.
The Daily sat down with Chevrier to talk about supporting women’s work, making theatre accessible, and why socially responsible theatre matters.
The McGill Daily (MD): Imago embraces the idea of a women-led initiative towards making art accessible to all – could you speak about accessibility and what that means to you and your company?
Micheline Chevrier (MC): We want to make sure that everyone can come and see what we’ve produced, so we’ve removed any financial or physical impediment for coming to see our work. We’ve started to have a Pay-What-You-Decide policy […] People can pay for their ticket beforehand, and they can also pay for their ticket after the show. They can pay whatever they want – anywhere from a nickel to a hundred dollars [The policy] is there for people to have complete accessibility to have no financial barrier. It is also important to us to make sure we’re in theatres that are [physically] accessible to everyone.
Imago [produces] new work by women and femmes that unpacks some of their lived experiences that theatre is oftentimes hesitant to address.
MD: Do you feel that Imago’s emphasis on financial accessibility addresses a lack in the Montreal, or even Canadian theatre scene?
MC: There is a misconception on the part of many theatres that if you don’t give [the show] a price, you are removing value from the product, which I couldn’t disagree with more because there is a lot of work that is offered for free either by the city or by the provincial government and I don’t think it diminishes [its value] at all. For example the Jazz Festival, the outdoor shows at Place des arts – you can see all these things for free, and I don’t think it diminishes the value of the art. I don’t know if we’re addressing a lack – it’s more bringing in a belief within the company. We believe in making things accessible.
MD: Could you tell us about your “Artista” program?
MC: “Artista” is a mentorship program for women between the ages from 16 to 21. It’s a free mentorship program […] The idea came from us wishing to [facilitate] a safe space for young women who are really working at identifying the conversation they want to be having, or finding a creative way to manifest what they’re thinking […], experiencing, [and] feeling, and then being able to share that with more established artists under their guidance and with their advice […] So [we are] creating an environment of learning but also of pursuing a conversation about being a young woman in 2016 […] That’s the idea behind the Artista program. It takes place over 13 weeks, between January [and] May […] These young women [will be] taking workshops in all kinds of theatre disciplines.
“[We are] creating an environment of learning but also of pursuing a conversation about being a young woman in 2016.”
MD: It is in your mandate to take up urgent social themes. Why do you think theatre is the best medium for these stories?
MC: First, theatre chose me and then I developed a way to use it. It’s funny because when I started out, I really wanted to tell stories. I loved the immediacy and the intimacy of theatre – it’s live, [and] it’s never the same night [to] night. Your connection to the audience is extremely unique every night and I liked that immediacy and the physical, sensorial experience of theatre. I always have felt that stories are what define us – they help us link [ourselves] to the past and to the future, they tell us where we’re from, where we’re going. [Theatre is] fiction based on truth, based on real events – sometimes inspired by them – but it’s a safe place to experience them and discuss those particular issues. [For example] the last production we did [about] Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (Pig Girl) [tackles] a really difficult, complex topic. And we can do that while creating characters that are involved in the situation, but they are fictional […] Theatre to me feels the best way to experience both emotionally and intellectually a discussion around [difficult] topics.
MD: What is your five year plan for Imago?
MC: What I love about a small company is that you are free to let it become what it needs to be, so that it’s leading the conversation, but it’s also responding at the same time […] It’s hard for me to say where I think we’ll be in 5 years […] I hope we’re still doing the kind of work that we’re doing now, [and] I hope that we’re able to do more of it. I [hope] that we would have more activities involving more artists, that we would be able to diversify our activities so that we can have a [broader] conversation. [I hope] the work that Imago does [continue to excite] both artists and audiences alike to the point where it could have an impact on the community here in Montreal and beyond. Inspiring people […] to put on theatre that provokes, that takes risk, that is dangerous, work with a consciousness, and also that has a responsibility attached to it. So that’s what I would hope, is that we would lead the way of people saying “I feel braver”’ and put on plays that really get us to talk and to think and all the while making great art, of course.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Imago Theatre is offering a series of professional workshops for both emerging and established artists next weekend as a fundraiser for the Artista program. Workshops will be led by artists such as Leslie Baker, Martha Ross, and Anana Rydvald, and will cover a broad spectrum in development of theatre craft. For more information, visit http://www.imagotheatre.ca/atelier-workshops/.