Mathieu Murphy-Perron

Self Isolated Artist

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Joe Szekeres

I had heard about Montreal’s Tableau D’Hote Theatre, but I was never able to combine seeing a production while I was in the city. When I saw that a colleague had connections to Tableau D’Hote, I thought I’d take a chance to introduce myself electronically and see if they would be interested in being interviewed for this series.

When Co-founder, Artistic and Executive Director, Mathieu Murphy-Perron got in touch with me and said he was very interested in an interview, I jumped at the opportunity to get in touch with him. You’ll see from some of Mathieu’s responses that Tableau D’Hote takes on projects that are highly artistic indeed with some world premieres that have me intrigued.

Mathieu co-founded Tableau D’Hote Theatre with Mike Payette in 2005 and they managed the company together for eleven years prior to Payette’s appointment in 2016 at the head of Geordie Productions. Mathieu sits on the Board of the Conseil québécois du Theatre as the Quebec Drama Federation representative and chairs the Board of the Pointe-St-Charles Art School.

We conducted our interview via email:

1. How have you been doing during this period of isolation and quarantine? Is your family doing well?

I’ve been doing surprisingly well. I’m more on the introverted side of the spectrum, so the lack of social contact has not been too difficult, and the love and company of my partner and our feline companion has also helped tremendously. Family is holding up okay, though some are grappling with loneliness, which is hard to watch from afar.

2. I see the world premiere of Erin Shields’ ‘Thy Woman’s Weeds’ was postponed on account of Covid. How far along was the production before everything was shuttered? Will ‘Thy Woman’s Weeds’ become part of any future slate(s) for Tableau D’Hote Theatre?

We were a couple of weeks from the beginning of rehearsals when the crisis hit, but we thankfully had yet to begin our set build which was a relief. We remain committed very much to re-staging the world premiere of Erin Shields’ ‘Thy Woman’s Weeds’ with our production partners Repercussion Theatre. Repercussion commissioned the play years ago and have been developing it with Playwrights Workshop Montreal since.

This is too many years in the making. We won’t back down now. We would prefer to stage it once distancing measures have been lifted as it would not do justice to the story or the cast to arrange for an iteration of it where these seven powerful women all need to stay two metres apart.

3. What has been the most challenging part of the isolation and quarantine for you personally and professionally?

I miss my bike. I live a life that requires me needing to zip through town quickly several times a day. I average 150-200 km a week. That’s down to 20-30 km. now. Not because I can’t bike, but I just have a hard time finding the motivation when I have less practical reasons to do so. There is always work to be done from home, so leisurely jumping on my bike for a stroll doesn’t quite get me going.

Professionally, it has been imagining all the various scenarios and what they mean for our medium. The vast majority of creation models in North America are incompatible with the present crisis. Shows take years of planning and a certain level of certainty, and it seems we may not have that luxury for quite some time. I believe that this will call for more spontaneous creation although I remain unsure what that will mean globally for the craft of our art.

4. What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time of lockdown?

Tableau D’Hote is one of few companies creating theatre in English in Quebec. As an official language minority company, there is a lot of work to be done to make sure that English-speaking artists are not forgotten in the Quebec government’s plans to support the sector, particularly seeing as how the contracts that govern our Equity productions are very different from those of our French colleagues under Union des artistes.

I’ve been involved in a fair bit of advocacy work to that end as well as mapping out our various scenarios and losing myself in grant writing.

5. What advice would you give to other performing artists who are concerned about the impact of COVID-19? What words of advice would you give to the new graduates emerging from the National Theatre School?

Follow your instincts, stay safe and don’t be too hard on yourself for not creating or not being happy with your creations. My go to mantra has always been a quote of Martha Graham’s. I think it still applies in Covid times:

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable now how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.”

6. Do you see anything positive coming out of this pandemic?

There seems to be a better sense of community where once there was little. Neighbours helping neighbours. People caring for one another, particularly those in more vulnerable situations. If that could continue, we’d all be stronger for it.

As a staunch cyclist, I also hope this forces us to examine our cities relationship with cars. So many streets have been transformed to make room for pedestrians and cyclists, and it really makes you realize how much of our landscape is dedicated to parked cars. It’s sad. Hopefully this will push us to imagine our cities as a place for neighbours to interact and gather freely, on a human level, and less as a place for us all to be driving around in metal cages never really seeing one another.

7. Do you believe or can you see if the Quebec and Canadian performing arts scene will somehow be changed or impacted as a result of COVID – 19?

It’s hard to imagine how it wouldn’t be. Knowing the economic tendencies of bot the Federal Liberals and the Coalition Avenir Quebec, I predict that there will be some drastic austerity measures when all this is over. Will the arts be spared? Maybe, but a weakened social safety net and gutted social services will undoubtedly have an impact on artists. We will need to remain vigilant and demand that our representative place people over profit, even more so after the crisis.

8. Many artists are turning to streaming/online performances to showcase/highlight/share their work. What are your thoughts and comments about this? Are there any advantages or disadvantages? Will streaming/online/ You Tube performances be part of a ‘new normal’ for the live theatre/performing arts scene?

If streaming becomes part of the ‘new normal’ it will mean the emergence of a form of digital art. That’s fine. But it’s not theatre. I’m not here to say one is better than the other, but I am a theatre artist, and the very nature of our art calls for artists and audiences breathing the same air under the same roof. Our art will not be replaced by streaming. We won’t let that happen.

9. As co-founder, Artistic and Executive Director of Tableau d’Hote Theatre, where do you see its future headed as a result of this life changing event for all of us?

I have the luxury of little to no overhead. We are a project-based company. I have years of projects lined up that I very much hope we will be able to produce but, if we can’t, we’ll put them on the backburner and think of projects that are better suited to this reality. We can wait this out. We’ll find new ways to create (we may even have a very small experimental summer project in the works), and we’ll take whatever time is needed to listen and heal to do just that.

With a respectful acknowledgment to ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton, here are the 10 questions he asked his guests at the conclusion of his interviews:

1. What is your favourite word?

Flabbergasted

2. What is your least favourite word?

Crazy

3. What turns you on?

Collective resistance

4. What turns you off?

Capitalism

5. What sound or noise do you love?

The rhythm and chants heard at protests.

6. What sound or noise bothers you?

My Fridge was made by a Spanish Workers’ Co-op that closed down in 2015. It beeps incessantly as soon as it gets warm and I have yet to find a mechanic that services them given that the company shut down. I hate the sound of my beeping fridge especially at 2 am.

7. What is your favourite curse word?

Ostidecalissedefuckshitdetabarnacle. (Personal note and aside: Gotta love the Quebeckers for their cursing)

8. What profession, other than your own, would you have liked to attempt?

I’m a big believer in parallel universes. They ease my anxiety. Whenever I like to tackle something in the world but that I have neither the time nor the skills to do so, I tell myself that an alternate me is taking care of it in an alternate world. That said – bike messenger.

9. What profession would you not like to do?

Police officer

10. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates?

I’m agnostic, but I believe that in the off-chance God exists, they are more concerned with the life you live than whether or not you believed in them. So I’d like a knowing smirk that says it all.

To learn more about Montreal’s Tableau D’Hote Theatre, visit www.tableaudhote.ca.

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