As creator and artistic director of the freshly established company creature/creature, founder and acting president of the Freestanding Room, co-curator of the Centaur Theatre’s WildSide Festival, and ‘one of Montreal’s finest actors’ (as previously dubbed by former theatre critic Pat Donnelly), JOHANNA NUTTER‘s omnipresence within the Montreal theatre community is truly something of a feat.
Best known among theatregoers for her international hit solo My Pregnant Brother and for her META-nominated performance as the tough-as-nails Margie Walsh in Centaur Theatre’s acclaimed 2012 production of Good People, Nutter’s making a splash again at the historic Centaur this season as she joins Roy Surette’s farewell cast in You Will Remember Me in March and prepares to direct the English Premiere of CHLORINE from October 19th to 29th.
Perhaps the true Hub of Montreal Theatre, Johanna is at the forefront of taking down walls and creating bridges for artists of different continents, languages, disciplines, and aesthetics to come together and develop meaningful new partnerships and collaborative works. The busy bee’s tenacious work of cross-polination is at the heart of her current projects, fuelled by her enchantment with the process of curation.
In an effort to further fuse the familiar with the unfamiliar, the aptly named CREATURE/CREATURE is the trans-disciplinary artist’s most recent venture. The plan?: to curate a collection of artistic associates and form a base of creative administrators who share a passion for increasing the reach and scope of theatre communities.
“I find Montreal has a fair amount of smaller social circles, but I would like for us to be a bit more of a bigger circle,” she deliberates. “I’ve been trying to use the Wildside Festival as a way of opening up people’s spheres of understanding and getting them to step outside of their comfort zones. I think about the festivalgoer and wonder ‘how can we surprise them?’, and one thing we do to encourage artists to check out shows they wouldn’t normally see, for example, is to offer four-play passes.
“Every time they go see something unexpected, the potential for individual and collective artistic expression grows because they develop a wider perspective.”
An impassioned Johanna further elaborates: “So, I thought, why not apply all of this to one mandate, one unit? That same energy that I’ve been using to curate the Wildside with is what feeds creature/creature. By using the association as an umbrella, I want to help collaborators find each other, help new work find audiences, and use our combined strength to access greater shared resources. It’s a uniting force based on the idea of juxtaposing things that are from different worlds and then seeing what artistic relationships develop as a result of that.”
On the curious choice of name for the company: “you call something a creature if you don’t know what it is,” she explains. “You don’t make any assumptions, and it’s in that place of reception, hospitality, and discovery that I want to be in when I make art. I like being taught new things and being open to what other people have to bring while not taking it for granted that I already know what that’s going to be.
“I also named it creature/creature because I was inspired by working on the francophone side of things and I wanted to make sure it was a word in both languages.”
Nutter adds: “above all, I wanted it to reflect an association whose guiding principle is to remain in a constant state of redefinition; change is inherent in the mandate. If we’re constantly seeking something new, we don’t sit into a specific, comfortable idea of what we are, and I think I like art, myself, my relationship with my art, and my community to be always evolving. That’s ultimately how I would like to be defined – as undefinable.”
CHLORINE, Centaur Theatre’s 2016 selection for their “Brave New Looks” slot, is creature/creature‘s inaugural production; it also marks Nutter’s highly anticipated directorial debut – a sound culmination of experiences which include working as co-curator of Centaur’s own Wildside Festival for five years, an international touring artist for six, and concierge of the member-driven art space FreeStanding Room for eight.
A coming-of-age story based on true events, Chlorine is a darkly comic play set in the Eastern Townships in the early ’80s about a boy-next-door named Nathan (Augustus Rivers) and the deep bond he forms with his tetraplegic neighbour, Sarah (Catherine Lemieux), whose paralysis is the result of her being forced to swallow chlorine by two kids ten years earlier. (Rounding out the cast are Brian Wright and Linda Smith as eighteen-year-old Sarah’s parents.)
Written and choreographed by Florence Longpré and Nicholas Michon and first presented at Montreal’s Théâtre La Licorne as Chlore in October 2012, Johanna here summons the two aforementioned co-creators to present at the Centaur what is intended to be a faithful reproduction of the original francophone work. “The show that I initially saw four years ago was pretty much perfect, I thought… so the only thing it really needed to bring it to an English audience was a translation,” says Nutter who, in addition to directing and producing the piece, also wears the hefty hat of translator.
“I think it’s very interesting for translations to be completely new. Talisman [Theatre], for example, does all sorts of fascinating things with their adaptations. What I’m trying to do here, however, is essentially take the show that I saw in French – which was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen on stage – and do what little I have to do to get it to live in English. That requires anglophone actors, of course, but a lot of the original elements will still be there, because, well… why fix something if it isn’t broken?”
Behind the scenes, Chlorine is a linguistic and cultural mishmash: returning from the original production team are stage manager Marjorie Lefebvre and sound designer Gabriel Lavoie-Viau, with Cathia Pagotto coming onboard as set and costume designer and Jody Burkholder joining as lighting designer and technical director. “In our cast we have Augustus from British Columbia, for example, who doesn’t speak French and some ballerinas who don’t speak English, and it’s been amazing to see how the language barrier has helped all us learn how to become more simple in our words and actions. We’re much more direct, focused, and objective in what we say and how we treat each other because we know we’re working with differences,” Nutter reflects.
Upon being asked about what drove her to resuscitate this particular script, Nutter reveals: “it was a perfect combination of poignancy and irreverence. I really like the idea of taking ourselves completely dead seriously while laughing our heads off at the same time – I think it’s important to be able to do that. Life is all about paradox and this play is a paradox.
“Also, on a very personal level, this story reached in and grabbed my heart,” she shares. “When I was a little girl I wanted to be a ballerina and I loved The Sound of Music. Coincidentally, this play has both, so of course it thematically spoke to me.” Chlorine combines elements of theatre and dance, featuring three ballerinas (Catherine Gonthier, Mélanie Lebrun, and Erika Morin) that throughout the narrative provide a visual, materialized manifestation of Sarah’s interior world and buried dreams.
On whose heartstrings Chlorine seeks to pull, Nutter asserts: “There’s something for everyone, but I really think this play will speak strongly to younger audiences – between 17 and 27 – as they will find themselves watching something that’s really relevant to them.” (With the exception of opening night on October 20th, Johanna has promised to make herself available in the Centaur Gallery after every performance of the first week to speak to young theatregoers about their experiences.)
“Above all, this play has inspired and taught me so much. Here you have this character who people might have a tendency to dismiss because she can’t communicate with anything but her eyes, but she has this wonderful, incredible purpose of being.
“After seeing it for the first time, I remember leaving the theatre feeling like I desperately wanted to go spend more time with the people I loved right away and be like Sarah: not speak, not move… just listen. We live in a time right now where everyone’s trying to get everyone else to pay attention to them… ‘like me, see me, watch my thing’… and I think it’s good to have a reminder that sometimes life’s more meaningful moments are experienced when we’re on the receiving end of a story.”
Interview by Montreal Theatre Hub Editor-in-Chief Camila Fitzgibbon
To support creature/creature and to contribute to the Chlorine IndieGogo campaign, visit: www.indiegogo.com/projects/creaturecreature-presents-chlorine#
CHLORINE presented by creature/creature plays at Montreal’s Centaur Theatre (453 Rue Saint-François-Xavier, H2Y 2T1) from October 19th – 29th, 2016. Performances are held from Tuesday to Saturday evenings @ 7:30 p.m. with one matinée @ 2:30pm on the 29th.
Approximate running time: 75 min
Talkbacks and experiential sensitization workshops offered on Tuesdays & Fridays post-show
Tickets: $28.00 (regular) | $25.00 (senior, student, QDF, artist) | $15.00 (groups)
Box Office: 514-288-3161 | centaurtheatre.com/brave-new-looks.html