Jordan Laffrenier, Associate Artistic Director of Canadian Stage

Looking Ahead

Sandro Pehar

Joe Szekeres

There was quite a bit of positive buzz online I saw from other artists regarding Canadian Stage’s new Associate Artistic Director, Jordan Laffrenier.

So, I thought I’d find out more and introduce myself to the new Associate.

When someone has a new position within a company, I wasn’t certain if he would be available for an interview, but I was most thankful when I heard from Canadian Stage’s press rep that Jordan was able to chat with me via Zoom recently for a few moments in the morning before the crux of his workday began.

When I congratulated Jordan on his new appointment as our conversation began, he was very thankful and stated his new position would be a lot of work and fun in the process.

He completed his theatre training in 2015 at York University and specialized in playwrighting and Devised Theatre with a minor in Creative Writing.

I began the conversation that has always made many of the artists smile because it gets right to the heart of who they are. Given the fact we’re still living with Covid, how does Jordan view his role as a Canadian artist within a five-year trajectory of where Canadian Stage is headed?

First and foremost, he believes it’s important to prioritize everyone’s safety and remember that we are still in a pandemic. So, the way we move through rehearsal halls and the ways seasons are programmed along with audience relationships must consider the safety of everyone involved.

He added further:

“One of the things the pandemic asked people to do was to think about they make work, why they make work and how the work was being created. In some ways, I feel really emboldened coming back during this time because I think we’re coming back in a time where people are questioning the ways they are practicing theatre.”

Jordan stated theatres operate in a place that works best when it asks questions. He’s also understood that he loves theatre but that it can be very harmful. And so, he thinks examining theatre practices right now, examining who belongs and how we make people feel that they belong is vitally important.

What is it about the theatre industry and the art that still intrigues and excites him?

“The theatre is the place that has always been about the sense of curiosity for me and a sense of wonder. I think there’s a lot of magic in the theatre. At its best, the theatre has this wonderful ability to speak locally and to the time in which it is speaking. I can make theatre at this moment right now about our conversation here on Zoom that will respond to each of us directly.”

Jordan loves when this can be done as theatre works well when it’s played out in metaphor. He recalled ‘Wrecking Ball’. Monthly, there was a topic that related to Toronto in some way and what was going on in the city. Over the month, writers would be invited to work, and they would perform that show at the end of the month. One of the shows Jordan remembers was the raccoon issue and the writers had all written pieces about the raccoon problem.

We laughed about this as Jordan reiterated that no other medium could respond as quickly to this issue as the theatre did.

The rehearsal period in theatre is rather unique. Film rehearsals are short periods and artists are usually alone with the director and operators behind the camera looking at monitors. Theatre rehearsals involve people gathered in a room, experiencing, playing, and making art.

And where does Jordan hope to see Canadian Stage move within the next five years?

He became rather silent, and I wondered if I put him on the spot. He laughed and said even though he has just started in his role as the Associate Artistic Director it’s still a great question to ask.

He hopes to see Canadian Stage continue to represent Canadian artists and our people and our stories and to find and make spaces for ALL people and voices. Since the company is called ‘Canadian Stage’ what does that mean? Whom do we need to represent as part of that? Whom do we need to hold space for?

How will audiences respond to where Jordan hopes to see Canadian Stage move as so much has changed in our world over the last two years?

He hopes audiences continue to grow with the hope to see more types of people. For Jordan, as a person of colour, one of the things he has found disheartening is the few people of colour in the audience when he attends the theatre.

New ways are needed to be found in order to to bring new people into the theatre, and Canadian Stage is aware of this dialogue that takes place after the theatre production. If the five-year trajectory is one where we continue to tell our stories by our people, then Jordan hopes that includes a new set of listeners where dialogue takes place before and after the show with audiences. Of course, the play becomes a conversation itself between the audience and the actor. Along with that conversations need to take place with everyone at all levels; conversations need to happen with non-professional and community groups as well so future audiences can see the discourse happens completely throughout the entire theatre industry.

With each step of the way in this process, there is work to be done to improve the processes of how we include people in those conversations. Jordan acknowledges he has been in many rooms where heated discussion has ensued over these conversations. Sometimes in those rooms, he has been the only person of colour. Sometimes he has been the youngest person in the room. Both situations have their power dynamic in terms of powerlessness.

Jordan firmly avows this needs to change. He hopes this generation coming up after him isn’t in rooms where the people that hold all the power are all straight cis white men. That’s why the company is called ‘Canadian Stage’ as we need to see representation from ALL Canadian people.

As we began to wind down our conversation, I asked Jordan what was next on the docket for him:

“Right now, we’re looking at our onboarding process as to whom we onboard into our space. We’re looking at ways where we can make rehearsal halls more of a brave space. We’re looking at ways where we can be more transparent about our selection process – for example, how can someone become a writer within Canadian Stage? How can someone go about having a play selected and produced here? I’m also dramaturging a few pieces here at Canadian Stage that are about to happen."

To learn more about Canadian Stage’s upcoming season, visit www.canadianstage.com.

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