Jimmy Blais, Artistic Director of Montreal's Geordie Theatre
Jimmy is a member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation; he is of Plains Cree and French settler heritage.
Born and raised in Tiohtià:ke/ Montreal, Jimmy graduated from Concordia’s Theatre Performance Program. He is a seasoned stage and film actor. He has worked professionally for over 10 years, for companies like The Stratford Festival, The Centaur, Geordie Productions, Porte Parole and La Licorne. Jimmy’s most notable tv role was playing Watio for five seasons in APTN’s hit series ‘Mohawk Girls’.
Jimmy is also a writer, director, mentor, and coach. He was the Indigenous Artist in Residence for the 2016 Students On Ice Expedition to the Arctic. Jimmy successfully completed the Indigenous Artist In Residence at The National Theatre School of Canada in 2019.
He is the current Artistic Director of Montréal’s Geordie Theatre.
I had the opportunity to interview Jimmy the day after I had seen ‘Celestial Bodies’ which he directed at Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre. My review of this solid production can be found here: https://www.ourtheatrevoice.com/items-7/'celestial-bodies'-by-jacob-margaret-archer
There were at least two school groups in attendance the afternoon I had seen the production. I was curious in wondering what has the reaction been from the school groups in attendance. ‘Celestial Bodies’ which has existed for two years was done as a part of Geordie’s live-stream tour. When the pandemic hit, ‘Celestial Bodies’ was one of the offerings to schools and it could be streamed live.
At YPT, this is the first time the production could be staged for a live audience. Jimmy acknowledged he had received a couple of reports from the Stage Manager and from Molly, the Senior Education Manager at YPT who said she had heard from students whom she followed down the stairs:
“I gotta be honest. That was pretty lit.” (Translation: ‘Lit’ means the students liked it.)
Jimmy jokingly stated from a middle-aged man’s perspective (meaning him), he said it was great to hear.
Blais acknowledges how tough it is to navigate as we are still in the throes of Covid. As an artist himself, Jimmy missed the theatre dearly. There were only so many Zoom readings of plays that could be done. As the Artistic Director of Geordie, he is ecstatically happy stories are being shared once again with audiences and people are back in live theatres watching shows.
He further added:
“I think we’re doing a really good job making sure everyone still feels comfortable. Depending on where audience members are within the country, shows will be offered either as ‘masked only’ performances or patrons will be strongly encouraged to continue wearing them while in the lobby and theatre. The most exciting thing for me as Artistic Director is to ensure we get that exchange of energy back between the actor and the audience.”
Blais felt Geordie Theatre had done a good job in continuing to bring theatre to students during the pandemic. Based in Montréal for the last forty-two years, Geordie has been involved as the longest-running tour theatre in North America. During Covid, Geordie was still live-streaming shows to students in their classrooms. Blais received feedback that students and teachers appreciated the experience of streamed theatre in the classroom, but for him “there’s nothing like getting back into that room and sharing that energy between actor and audience.” The response from students and teachers has been phenomenal as they all wanted to come back to the live setting of the theatre, and teachers wanted Geordie to tour shows to schools.
For Blais, it’s a good sign the demand and need are there to return to a live setting.
‘Celestial Bodies’ is a powerful monologue that deals with body imaging and how young people see themselves regarding it. Do youth experience more challenges regarding their understanding of their body image today compared to twenty-thirty years ago?
Blais paused for a moment to think. He then said yes to the question on account of the pressures of social media. For those of us who are on social media regularly, we are constantly bombarded with images of people taking photos of themselves or posting photos others have taken of them. For Blais, there is this constant comparison that is innate within certain platforms. On top of that, we have crazy apps on our phones that beautify people, that alter the constructs of our faces or 'slimify' ourselves or add makeup all to fit what societal standards deem to be beautiful or handsome.
On the flip side of this not holding this much weight, there is a bit of a better understanding of how society does pressure us to think in certain ways, specifically someone like the artist Lizzo. She is popular and has succeeded in carrying herself in a certain way to break down stereotypes of body image empowering youth to try to do the same. In ‘Celestial Bodies’, the character Stella has an athlete parent. Stella is not like her mother at all, and the pressure is on Stella to try and conform to what society dictates, and Stella will not do that.
What is one message that Jimmy hopes all audiences will have gleaned from ‘Celestial Bodies’?:
“It’s important to remember no matter how people or society sees you, our dreams are just as valid as anybody else’s dream.”
What’s next for Jimmy Blais once ‘Celestial Bodies’ concludes its run at Young People’s Theatre?
As Artistic Director of Geordie, there are some things in the works. There is Geordie Theatre Fest, an annual mini-theatre festival running in Montréal that will kick off the week of January 23. Blais also sees co-productions between YPT and Geordie in the future. The two companies are always in conversation about what’s going on in their season since both companies have the same audience base.
‘Celestial Bodies’ continues until December 9 at Toronto’s Young People Theatre.