Interview: Co-creators Matt Enos and Michelle Cajolet-Couture talk “Shakespeare in the Ruelles”

New outdoor theatre fest to take over alleyways of Montreal from September 7 to 9

This September, Shakespeare will take the alleyways of Montreal by storm with the first edition of SHAKESPEARE IN THE RUELLES, an interactive series of short performances based on the plays, scenes and characters of the Bard’s works. (Photo courtesy of Shakespeare in the Ruelles)

MATT ENOS and MICHELLE CAJOLET-COUTURE, two self-proclaimed “punk-rock Shakespeare lovers, born in different houses”, along with twenty-some-odd local artists from a handful of different disciplines, will be invading the alleyways of St-Henri this September 7th, 8th, and 9th, 2018 to bring you the first ever edition of Shakespeare in the Ruelles, an experimental, bilingual, outdoor theatre extravaganza.

Montreal Theatre Hub’s Jasmine Winter sat down with these two star-crossed innovators, one from the English theatre scene, and one from the French theatre scene to talk about the ancient grudge between both languages, the outdoor theatre community, and reinventing Shakespeare in today’s modern world.


Image courtesy of Shakespeare in the Ruelles

AN INTERACTIVE, SITE-SPECIFIC CREATION

Starting with their site specific location – two alleyways just north of St. Jacques street. One between Green Avenue and Avenue Brewster, and the other just a little ways west between Irene Street and Laporte. Audiences will depart in groups on this immersive theatrical journey, through original works inspired by the Bard, and evolve with the performers and their pieces.

This isn’t the first time Shakespeare’s work has been adapted to the streets, but this isn’t just any Shakespeare performance. “At the beginning what we imagined was that we wanted an ambiance sort of like a festival. With people everywhere, two or three numbers at the same time and people have a list of the pieces and they can say ‘oh, I want to go see that one, then that one, and that one.’” Cajolet-Couture announced, “Mais en fait, avec [la façon] que les ruelles sont faites, ou justement comme elles sont un peu petites et tout, on a réalisé qu’il faut vraiment plus faire un trajet. So we’ll do sort of like two groups, one at alley A and one at alley B and both groups will start at the same time in the different alleys. And then we’ll do a switch. And we’ll have the walk between, with characters.”

“And it’s going to be fun to have that interactive nature of Shakespeare too. It’s really important to have that happening. And while this is far away from traditional Shakespeare, it’s still got that aspect of ‘you’re involved in the story’, because you’re provoking the audience with what you’re asking them, or what you’re showing them. So that’ll be really fun for the audience, and for the performers as well,” added Enos.

Both were originally inspired after seeing a production of Shakespeare in the Park a few years ago. Slowly and then suddenly, the idea began to develop. “We thought we’d really love to see some Shakespeare but more from the roots, you know? To really use the landscape. Bringing in a stage and a set is one artistic choice. But sometimes the natural landscape is so beautiful that we thought c’est dommage de pas utiliser le vrai décor. D’arriver avec des décors construits au lieu de faire le spectacle vraiment dans la ville. Apporter des petits éléments pour compléter ce qui est là.” remarked Cajolet-Couture.


Shakespeare in the Ruelles co-creator and artistic director Matt Enos (Image courtesy of Shakespeare in the Ruelles)

BREAKING LANGUAGE BARRIERS

With the aim to form and strengthen collaborations between the French and English, Enos and Cajolet-Couture were also inspired largely by Theatre Sainte Catherine’s ability to consistently feature bilingual work. “Every single week there’s a show in French and a show in English. One after the other.” Enos explained, “Other places might be like, ‘Oh, tonight’s the french night, once a month.’ But it’s a regular thing [at Theatre Sainte Catherine]. We actually have a huge following now, from France for the Improv. It’s sold out almost every night.” Theatre Sainte Catherine is also where Enos and Cajolet-Couture had the chance of meeting for the first time. Enos, active in the Theatre’s improv scene, and Cajolet-Couture, showcasing her passion for clown at the Theatre’s open mic nights.

“I was really into the french scene,” recounted Cajolet-Couture, “and then I met Matt and all the crew of Theatre Sainte Catherine. It was there that I realized that there was really a very active scene on the english side, and that this is a place to really mix both, and where the two communities can meet. I think that even if [the separation between French and English] is an old war, it’s still something that is in the back of our minds. Something to be against. It’s still very real. I just realized, when I met everyone at Theatre St. Catherine, that it’s a beautiful strength that there’s a place that’s really bilingual where the two languages can live together.”


Shakespeare in the Ruelles co-creator and artistic director Michelle Cajolet-Couture (Image courtesy of Shakespeare in the Ruelles)

OLD STORIES, NEW INTERPRETATIONS

That’s a cause we can all get behind. However, it still begs the question as to why they chose the works of Shakespeare, iconically English, whose uproarious play-on-words are often lost in French translations, as a central body of work for which to inspire their project.

“What interests us about this project and about Shakespeare, I think, is that it’s an archetype already,” imparted Enos. “Everyone knows the stories, more or less. You think of Shakespeare and the first thing you think of is Hamlet holding a skull. That’s the image that’s there. So there’s already something to play against and looking for new interpretations of old stories.”

Playing against the traditional and finding new facets to explore from the tried and true stories is exactly what we can be expecting from this event. Having pulled together a troupe of theatre artists, clowns (more specifically, bouffon), musicians, puppeteers and even circus artists, they’re jumping, rather than stepping, out of the box and bringing an interactive, playful and festival-like atmosphere to the Bard’s works.

“There’s nothing wrong with doing Shakespeare as it was written.” Enos elaborated. He himself directed a more traditional rendition of Macbeth at Theatre Sainte Catherine a few years ago. “But it’s fun to look at it and say ‘What’s happening here, and how can we push that into a more physical, clown-esque perspective?’ How can we take the most interesting thing in the story, or in the character and explore that, and set it in a totally different context.”

“For me, I came to know Shakespeare through clown.” Cajolet-Couture revealed, “I did a workshop about ‘Shakespeare and clown’. Before that I didn’t know Shakespeare at all, except for, you know, the classic lines like ‘to be or not to be’.”

Yet, despite the clown-esque, festival-like atmosphere the two mises en scène are going for, it seems they have attracted more pieces based on Shakespeare’s tragedies than on his comedies.

“We have Hamlet, Macbeth, Henri V, Richard III, Titus Andronicus…” recalled Cajolet-Couture.

“We’re trying to line it up so that we don’t have too many from the same play,” added Enos.

“The interesting thing is, there’s clowns in every Shakespeare play – even the tragedies,” remarked Cajolet-Couture. “So that’s really what made me interested in it.”

You can catch both Enos and Cajolet-Couture in their own numbers as you travel through the alleys. “I have a clowning number from Macbeth. And maybe Matt and people will be playing music with it.” divulged Cajolet-Couture. While Enos mused, “For sure I’m going to be playing music with a couple of other people. But I’ll probably do a short clown number too. It’s not that playing music is too easy, but it’s way too comfortable for me. It’s too easy to hide behind. Even if we’re playing music that I’m not comfortable playing. Clown is different. It’s so ‘to the audience’. Yeah, it’s a lot scarier to do the clown thing than the music thing.”


The Cast of “Shakespeare in the Ruelles” (Image courtesy of Shakespeare in the Ruelles)

ON THE HORIZON

What both hope for in the future, is not only to create a bilingual theatre community, but to add to the growing outdoor theatre community, one that has its share long standing companies, but still lacks a constant presence. “I feel like there could be more outdoor theatre in general.” Enos observed, “There’s not very much of it that happens in the city. We’re always amazed at how fast Shakespeare in the Park goes by. We’re always kind of like ‘Oh no! Gotta go see it because we’re gonna miss it!’”

“We’ve discovered that there’s actually another festival de théatre dans les ruelles – on the same weekend as us! Except I think it’s in Rosemont.” Cajolet-Couture confessed, “It’s like when you have an idea in your mind and you’re writing about that idea and the next day you see that there’s another artist that did your idea like a year ago. You can take it like ‘aww’, or like ‘wow, that’s a good sign. There’s something that’s happening in the air.’ So it falls in the same weekend, but you know that just means that people want to get out in the streets, get together, and make art accessible. So, good news!”

Site specific and small spaces means tickets are very limited. Capacity is thirty people per alleyway, so both our creators highly recommend buying your tickets in advance! The possibilities of this show are endless. “I like to say that Shakespeare is dead. So don’t worry about making him happy. And that’s not saying ‘disrespect his work’, but really enjoy deconstructing it and reinventing it.” concluded Cajolet-Couture. “Shakespeare is dead. Long live Shakespeare.”

Get your tickets at the door or book them in advance online at http://www.lavitrine.com/activity/Shakespeare_In_the_Ruelles.

Check out the official Facebook event page at: https://www.facebook.com/events/1997235320587347/

Interview conducted by Jasmine Winter, August 22nd 2018.


MATT is an actor, musician and improvisor who sometimes plays cops on TV and sells Red Bull on the radio. Drink some Red Bull for God’s sake!!!!!!

Clown, theatre actor and director exiled to France for an indeterminate amount of time, MICHELLE returns every August to her true love, Montreal, pour faire la revolution. One LUV!!!!!!


TICKETS: http://www.lavitrine.com/

Jasmine Winter

Jasmine Winter

Theatre Reviewer at Montreal Theatre Hub
Jasmine Winter is a Montreal based actress and creator whose love of theater and the dramatic arts began when she was only ten, playing Colombina in aCommedia Dell'Arte show in elementary school. She has recently graduated from Dawson's Professional Theatre Program where she got the opportunity to interpret such beloved and classic characters as Romeo (Romeo and Juliet), Mrs. Bennet (Pride and Prejudice), Alice Sycamore (You Can't Take It With You), and Middle Daughter (Friends by Kobo Abe). Most recently, she appeared as Jen in James and Ziggy (Tantalus) at the 2018 Montreal Fringe Festival. She is looking forward to working with Cirque du Soleil this summer as a pre-show clown in their new show "Juste une p'tite nuite" premiering in Trois-Rivières. When not on stage, she reviews local theatre with Montreal Theatre Hub and teaches a theatre class to kids aged 4 to 12.
Jasmine Winter

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