Interview: Theatre returns to the Centaur with “The Portico Project”

Artistic and Executive Director Eda Holmes unveils details on Centaur's 52nd season

Artistic and Executive Director Eda Holmes speaks to Montreal Theatre Hub about the return of live theatre to the Centaur this fall of 2020 with The Portico Project. The inaugural event kicks off the company’s 52nd season – an unusual, “lightly seasoned” year of creation in times of COVID-19.

(Photo Credit: Olivier-Clertant)


With hundreds of live performances suspended in the city since March of (the unspeakable year of) 2020 and with the fate of many events still uncertain due to the omnipresent coronavirus, Montreal theatre is hurting. Even with the government’s green light for industry reopening earlier this summer, numerous companies and artists remain in the dark amid financial, health, and safety restrictions. The show won’t go on still for most in the season ahead, and some will have even closed shop for good.

Vital to the pulse of the local cultural scene as one of the city’s flagship presenters, the return of performances at the Centaur Theatre is a significant step forward for the arts sector. It’s not quite “business as usual” just yet, but it’s a path paved for an injured artistic community seeking direction, reconnection, and healing.



ON THE STEPS OF THE PORTICO

Opening the Centaur Theatre’s 52nd season – and essentially kicking off English theatre in Montreal as the city’s first live-in-person event of the 2020-2021 artistic year – is The Portico Project. “This is our first step toward so-called normalcy”, reveals Artistic and Executive Director Eda Holmes, who has been instrumental in bringing the brand new initiative to its feet.

“When the pandemic hit, we had to cancel so much work,” she begins in our phone interview. “Then we started facing the reality of perhaps not having a traditional season ahead. When it finally became clear that having people gathered inside wasn’t going to be feasible for us any time soon, I started to think about what we could do to continue to create opportunities for artists and bring theatre to audiences without putting anyone at risk.”

In that consideration of the community’s needs and of the limitations imposed by the COVID crisis, the concept for an outdoor, socially-distanced performance festival emerged.

Aptly named after the grand entryway that the historical Old Port theatre is well known for, The Portico Project will transform the front steps of the Centaur building into an open air stage from September 24th to October 4th. On each performance date, a combination of 3 different short works from a lineup of 6 main acts will be played in rotation. With the generous sponsorship of the Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation, the inaugural event will be presented as part of this year’s Les journées de la culture activities.

FROM 80 SUBMISSIONS, 6 SELECTIONS

To curate the festival programming, a jury of 4 (namely: Holmes, Julie Tamiko Manning, Eo Sharp and Nalo Soyini Bruce) went through 80 proposals of original works sent in response to an open call for play submissions.

“The response was stunning, really.” says Eda. “Artists jumped on it immediately, and I was actually quite humbled by the quality of the work we received. Whittling it all down to just six was heartbreaking.”

Selection criteria included creations that would be an easy slip on/off for the portico space and that would visually draw in passersby on St-François Xavier street. With the project’s central theme of “unpacking” in mind, shows were also chosen for their relevancy in addressing urgent social issues of the present moment.

“I wanted to be able to give a space for reflection on the whole of this summer’s experiences,” explains Eda. Thus, in the diverse mix of comedy, clown, dance, poetic storytelling, and musical theatre pieces, expect stories that touch upon the universal human experiences of isolation, loss, fear, and uncertainty brought on by the pandemic and the protests for justice around the world.


Eda Holmes in Centaur’s C1 theatre. The space is being temporarily repurposed as a streaming studio for various digital activities and events to be potentially presented by the company throughout the year. (Photo Credit: Vanessa Rigaux)


PORTICO IN-BETWEEN

Between the six main stage performances of The Portico Project, audiences will be also able to enjoy during the festival the “micro-immersive theatre” of The Red Phone Project. This unique installation piece by Vancouver’s Boca del Lupo allows two participants at a time to re-enact a teleprompted script with each other by phone, in separate booths installed on the portico. The Centaur has commissioned playwrights Alice Abracen and Omari Newton to develop the script for the Montreal version, and a French version translated by Lydie Dubuisson and Mishka Lavigne will also be made available.

“It’s a very safe way for the audience to engage with theatre. But it’s also a really provocative way to take on the moment,” notes Eda.

As an additional celebration to the Portico festivities, Julie Tamiko Manning’s Daily One Song Dance Isolation Party, a digital initiative that has kept local artists active and connected over the past five months through dance jam sessions over Facebook live, is being iterated into a collective Dance Flash Mob. Audiences are invited to join in for two scheduled flash mobs choreographed by Nadia Verrucci on September 26th and October 4th.


Photo Credit: Olivier-Clertant


NEXT STEPS

As for the remainder of Centaur’s undecided 2020-2021 season, the director is taking it day by day.

“I’m still trying to figure out the combination of things, to be honest” shares Eda. “There’s a few events that we know for sure will happen, and then there’s a bunch of others that may or may not take place depending on the course of the pandemic.”

Programming that has been given the go-ahead so far this autumn are the Saturday Salons online talk series and a digital streaming of the Children’s Series from the C1 theatre. The annual Wildside Festival is also expected to make a return, but with an unknown combination of virtual and in-person performances. “Who knows, maybe we’ll do an outdoor winter festival?”, she hints. With 70+ fresh works in hands left from the successful Portico call, it’s possible that shortlisted submissions could resurface in future programming.

For now, The Portico Project is Centaur’s inspired contribution towards recovery of the Montreal theatre community.

“We will need to take care of the arts going forward,” Eda reflects. “We need for people to be re-excited about having theatre in their lives and supporting it as we live through to the other side of this. My hope is that what we’re doing will serve to bring the flow of culture back into our city. “


THE 6 PORTICO PROJECT EVENTS

BLACK BALLOON: PORTICO EDITION 
Produced by Theatre Nuaj, with the support of The MAI and PWM
Written, Directed & Costume Design by Sophie El Assaad

COVID VS MENOPAUSE
Written, Directed & Performed by Dayna McLeod

FANM REBÈL 
Presented by Collectif Théâtral Potomitan
Written & Directed by Maryline Chery

IN MEMORIAM: THE WAKE OF CHEDDAR FANDANGO
Presented by Sermo Scomber Theatre
Written & Directed by Sarah Segal-Lazar

IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE I CAN DO FOR YOU? 
Created by Amy Blackmore

PANDEMONIUM 
Presented by Company Monsieur Joe 
Written by Tim Tyler & Joe De Paul
Directed by Aline Muheim, Joe De Paul & Tim Tyler

For more information, visit:
www.centaurtheatre.com/portico-project


Camila Fitzgibbon

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