In the second week of August, Tableau d’Hôte Theatre brought live theatre back to Montreal after our time in lockdown with their series of short plays En Pointe.
“To the best of our knowledge, we were the first in Montreal and the third in Canada,” says Mathieu Murphy-Perron, Tableau d’Hôte’s artistic director and the writer and director of En Pointe.
En Pointe is a series of nine bilingual short plays staged in various outdoor locations around Montreal’s Pointe St-Charles neighbourhood. Viewers watch as residents of the area grapple with how to live and find connection amidst social distancing measures and the feelings of isolation they can bring. Some characters reappear throughout the episodes while others show up once and never again, and despite the anthology style of the series, audience members don’t need to see all performances to follow the scenes, which are usually about 10-15 minutes long.
The structure, by no means a usual one for Tableau d’Hôte, came out of the same pandemic constraints the series’ subject matter deals with. Murphy-Perron started thinking about how they could make a return to the “stage” in the summer pretty early on in the lockdown.
“How could I make it as safe as possible, and still have a cultural offering for people? And that’s when I started thinking of short plays,” he explains. “I would not feel super comfortable having an audience together for an hour and a half, and I also wouldn’t feel comfortable doing a full-length play that I would have to rehearse for four weeks and then maybe at the end of the fourth week, for whatever reason, you get shut down again.”
En Pointe is an exercise in spontaneous theatre, so rehearsals have only been taking place in the five days leading up to each scene. The settings are the streets, apartments and cultural hubs of the neighbourhood, so no set design is required.
Viewers of their previous productions will notice it’s a far cry from the elaborate stage design of past works, like 2019’s Blackout: the Concordia Computer
Riot. But one thing the series has in common with previous productions, notably their award-winning Angélique production from 2017, is their commitment to shedding light on little-known or misunderstood stories resilience in the face of oppression.
En Pointe is in dialogue with the history and current reality of Pointe St-Charles. A working-class neighbourhood rich in stories of community activism, the area is now dealing with the complicated issues brought about by condo development, “renoviction,” and gentrification.
“When I started reading about the long history of resistance and resilience of this community, to be one of the places in North America where there were the most social housing and co-ops, the fight against bringing the casino here in 2005 — which was a giant fight of community against Loto-Québec and Cirque du Soleil, two of the biggest corporations you could take on — I was very much inspired by the spirit of this neighbourhood and I thought that could be an interesting throughline throughout these stories as well.”
One En Pointe episode discusses the real-life closure of the Pointe St-Charles YMCA, which had been operating in the area for 160 years but closed earlier this year for financial reasons. In the scene, viewers encounter Eliza and Léopold, a wealthy couple who are buying up housing and apartment complexes in the area to flip and resell.
“We’re the bad guys, basically, especially my husband,” says Delphine Bienvenu, who plays Eliza. “My character is more conflicted because she’s from a poor background. She feels for the people of the neighbourhood and she understands the consequences of gentrification, but at the same time she’s very ambitious.”
This is Bienvenu’s first production with them. She was cast in the role along with her partner Frédéric Paquet, who plays Léopold. Murphy-Perron looked for real couples to play in the series in order to minimize transmission. Undoubtedly, this posed a challenge in casting.
“It’s kind of hard to find couples of actors that are available and willing to do a project,” says Bienvenu. They were put in touch with Murphy-Perron through a mutual connection and agreed to take a look at the script. “We read the script and we understood what Mathieu wanted to do, and we were touched by the whole idea.”
When they were offered the parts in the series, they did weigh the risks related to the pandemic, but Bienvenu says that she knew the actors’ safety would be a priority and she felt the benefits outweighed any potential risks.
“We have children and they were about to start school anyways so we thought, we’re going to be exposed, so let’s have fun doing it at least and be part of something creative and full of purpose and for a good cause,” she says. “I really love les arts vivants, the arts that are in front of people, in flesh and blood, and I had no opportunity to do it since March, so I longed for that contact with a live audience.”
Bienvenu and Paquet’s characters will reappear twice more, on Sept. 10 and for the series’ finale on Sept. 27. Another episode is scheduled with different recurring characters on Sept. 17.
As for the rest of Tableau d’Hôte, they had to put on hold a world premiere of Thy Woman’s Weeds by Erin Shields, which they had been working on for years in partnership with Repercussion Theatre. It was meant to go up in May at the Centaur Theatre, and it’s on the back burner until actors are allowed to touch again, which could be over a year away.
“It’s an ensemble of seven women on stage talking about their experiences in Shakespearean productions. It’s very much ensemble-driven and it would be a shame for these seven women to not be able to touch and hold and feel and support and uplift one another,” says Murphy-Perron.
If all the current uncertainties related to the pandemic and funding play out alright, Tableau d’Hôte is hoping to grace the stage as early as next April. “But who knows?”
The play they would present at that point is yet to be revealed, but Murphy-Perron did divulge that it is about the climate crisis, “the looming climate catastrophe, so there’s already very much that kind of post-apocalyptic vibe to it, which I think lends itself well to what we’re living right now.” ■
To see video excerpts of previous En Pointe episodes (put together by AJ Korkidakis), please visit the Tableau d’Hôte website. Follow Tableau d’Hôte on Facebook to be notified about the locations of upcoming plays.
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