Theatre Conversation in a Covid World
As soon as I had read of Karine’s appointment as Artistic Director for Théâtre Français de Toronto, I had to do my best to get an interview booked with her. I took a chance and contacted her through Messenger to see if she might be available for a conversation.
And I was ecstatic when she got in touch with me quickly.
Karine is an established artist who is well known in Toronto and throughout the Franco-Ontarian community. She has worked with TfT on several occasions, both as a performer and as a dramaturg for Les Zinspiré.es, the company’s annual writing competition.
Originally from Montréal, Karine studied at the École de Théâtre de St-Hyacinthe. She began her career creating and co-writing the cabaret Les Effeuilleuses presented at the Lion d´Or and the Casino de Montréal. She then self-produced a variety of works, including François Archambault’s Adieu beauté at the Théâtre Prospero. She worked for several years with the Alliance théâtrale haïtienne de Montréal, where she wrote and directed a number of productions. In 2004, she moved to Toronto where she directed at the Fringe Festival.
She has appeared frequently on the TfT stage: Le Misanthrope by Molière (2007), the TfT’s 50th anniversary show Ici, les arbres s’enracinent dans l’eau (2016) and La Seconde Surprise de l´amour by Marivaux (2018). Perfectly bilingual, she has also performed in English, notably in The Numbers Game (2016), a series of theatrical pieces presented at the Storefront Theatre.
On the small screen, Karine has performed in such television series as The Detectives, The Coroner, Orphan Black, The Covert Affairs, Météo+, Toi et moi and La Malédiction de Jonathan Plourde. In 2020, she wrote Les Septs Péchés capitaux, presented as part of the Les Feuilles Vives playwriting festival as a podcast. Currently, Karine is shooting a children's series which will be presented in French and English on Radio-Canada and CBC.
She will succeed Joël Beddows effective July 1, 2021.
We conducted our conversation via Zoom. Merci beaucoup pour notre entrevue, Karine:
In a couple of months, we will be coming up on one year where the doors of live theatre have been shuttered. Today is the first day of the anniversary of the first confirmed case here in Canada. How have you and your immediate family been faring during this time?
Quite frankly, I have two children at home so they’re online schooled at this time. They’re in Grade 3 and Grade 5. They’re kids. They like to chit chat with their friends and in between the blocks of learning they have. It’s quite an adjustment for them to be so involved in the electronics of the learning world and having to be in front of a screen all day.
That’s been something I’ve been trying to prevent so that changes a lot of things.
It’s been a challenging year just to be able to continue working while being a coach and teacher for the kids.
How have you been spending your time since the theatre industry has been locked up?
Funny enough, just before Covid, I had just received the news that my play which was still a work in progress had been accepted for a festival called ‘Les Feuilles Vives’ which is a festival that happens every other year. It encourages new plays and new playwrights.
My play had been accepted except that it was incomplete at that time. With Covid, I’ve got a little bit more time to focus and to finish the play. I had a deadline the end of May. In June we worked again, but with a coach so that it would be ready for the festival which was in September.
So, I spent a lot of my time writing. And being Mom to the kids and trying to take some fresh air even for myself, and to get away from the computer.
The late Hal Prince described the theatre as an escape for him. Would you say that Covid has been an escape for you or would you describe this near year long absence from the theatre as something else?
I don’t find that it’s an escape. What I do find for most people who are not struggling to put food on the table or more emerging matters, for the rest of us who were fortunate enough to work from home, what it gave us is the opportunity to just stop as everything was going so fast all the time. We’re being required to do so much, as parents with so many activities with the kids.
Covid gave us a moment to gather our thoughts and to slow down for a moment. There is some good in this slowing down period for artists. For some people, it feels like they can never catch their breath.
I’ve interviewed a few artists several months ago who said that the theatre industry will probably be shut down and not go full tilt until at least 2022. There may be pockets of outdoor theatre where safety protocols are in place. What are your comments about this? Do you think you and your colleagues/fellow artists will not return until 2022?
You know what, I’ve hoped that it would be sooner; however, now that we’re at the beginning of 2021 and Théâtre Français de Toronto (TFT) is already talking about a program for next year. We’re wondering is it possible and does it make sense to plan something right now for next fall 2021? We don’t have the answer.
Yes, the desire is there but I think we’re going to have to be more patient. The general feeling is things aren’t really going to start happening until 2022. The kids are going to be the last vaccinated. At TFT we’re trying to reach out to work with kids and teenager, and we know they won’t be vaccinated in time for the fall for them even to consider coming to see a show with their family or with a school.
Yes, there may be pockets of theatre. We’re going to have to be creative and perhaps be outdoors. As much as we all want to return to the traditional form of the theatre, we have to be safe. We want to feel the warmth of a real show. The same thing is happening with sports and concerts. We all want to get to see these events, but it probably won’t happen until at least 2022.
I had a discussion recently with an Equity actor who said that yes theatre should not only entertain but, more importantly, it should transform the actor and the audience. How has Covid transformed you in your understanding of where TFT is headed?
Honestly, my head is going in two different directions when I think about this question.
If you think about Covid, all of the active theatres had to offer some online programming. We’ve started to see things that you would not have seen before like readings online. TFT organized many contests for playwrights to write short plays and to perform them online.
Of course, that’s not the future of theatre to be online. We don’t want to go there but what it did do:
a) It made us focus on more creative projects on encouraging new artists that we wouldn’t have had time to see.
b) It brought an extra platform to supplement what is happening on stage. For example, there might be discussions on Zoom after the play or on a Saturday there might be an opportunity for a discussion on what is happening at TFT.
At TFT, we’ve learned a few things and have come up with some new ideas that we’re going to keep.
What Covid brought for most artists are questions – what is the future of theatre? What is the future of the art? Are we losing an art form as theatre is not television.
Again, theatre needs that presentational element so how is this going to be transformed? It’s an exchange between artist and audience.
Fear not. People and audiences will always want that live connection and to have that exchange between audiences and actors.
The late Zoe Caldwell spoke about how actors should feel danger in the work. It’s a solid and swell thing to have if the actor/artist and the audience both feel it. Would you agree with Ms. Caldwell? Have you ever felt danger during this time of Covid and do you believe it will somehow influence your work when you return to the theatre?
Obviously, artists must never feel personal danger to themselves in the environment. That is a given first.
Ms. Caldwell is right. What’s strange about this is that not everyone has the same comfort level. Some people will feel safe as long as masks are worn while others might say I don’t feel safe coming in until everyone involved has passed a Covid test.
I work in film and television and the protocols are all in place in these two mediums. But I don’t blame those if they don’t feel comfortable returning to work until everyone has been vaccinated.
It brings an extra thing – do I want to do this project? Do I like this play? Is it going to pay enough but on top of that: is it safe to do this play? On top of this, people still have their bubble and if I bring Covid back home it’s a chain effect. So yes, danger is added on top of all this since there is talk and possibility this variant of the virus could or might produce a third wave according to recent media.
Now the media can make us feel guilty even though we are doing everything we can.
The late scenic designer Ming Cho Lee spoke about great art opening doors and making us feel more sensitive. Has this time of Covid made you sensitive to our world and has it made some impact on your life in such a way that you will bring this back with you to the theatre?
Well, I’m grateful for some of the things this time of Covid has brought especially in making us aware of the social justice issues of Black Lives Matter and the Indigenous and First Nations issues. We have had the time to listen to these matters.
My partner is First Nation, born and raised on the Reserves, and my kids are identified as First Nations.
Once all of us become aware of these issues and light has been shone on them, it’s easier to begin and to open conversations. I sit on a variety of panels as school board trustee. We’re talking about systemic racism within the educational setting.
Again, the late Hal Prince spoke of the fact that theatre should trigger curiosity in the actor/artist and the audience. Has Covid sparked any curiosity in you about something during this time? Has this time away from the theatre sparked further curiosity for you when you return to this art form?
Covid has brought us time to open our eyes and pique our curiosity to listen to the voices that were unheard before.
Emerging artists who have things to say and who are witnessing things right now in the world are inspired by what’s happening. When we return to live theatre, and this is something I want to put forward on TFT’S agenda, we cannot ignore what is going on in the world. Yes, the projects I will choose, and we will choose, to bring forward to TFT will speak of these different issues.
Live theatrical art is crucial to bring these issues forward. It’s important to have entertainment where people can laugh and cry, but it is also equally important to examine these issues in which we find ourselves now and address them through art and plays.
To learn more about TFT, please visit the company website: www.theatrefrancais.com.
You can also visit Théâtre Français de Toronto Facebook: Theatre Francais de Toronto