To our Montreal theatre community,
In light of the recent events relating to the harassment and abuse of students in our educational institutions, Persephone Productions wishes to express our support and solidarity towards the victims of these injustices.
In our specific mandate to nurture and uphold the talents of emerging professional artists, we also wish to reiterate at this time our ongoing commitment towards creating a safe environment within our company for theatre practice. We stand with our whole community.
For more information or for support, the Quebec Drama Federation has compiled a list of resources for survivors: https://www.quebecdrama.org/blog/resource-roundup-september-16-2020
Gabrielle Soskin, Artistic Director
and the Board of Directors
The unjust killings of George Floyd and many others in the Black community, who no longer have voices of their own, have led myself and my fellow colleagues into a time of deep reflection and discussion. Are we listening? Have we been complicit in prejudiced systems? Are we truly aware of the realities of the many ways that discrimination goes on in our immediate landscape?
This is a time to be honest with ourselves and with others. Persephone has not always been part of the solution and we acknowledge our past silence and contributions to the problem. To all in our artistic community that have been unintentionally harmed: we are truly sorry.
Our next steps are to listen, to learn, and then to accompany these words with actions.
In our commitment to addressing past and present issues of racism within our company, we are currently looking at the ways in which we can make our theatre more inclusive, safe, and welcoming for artists and audiences of all backgrounds. There is an action plan for clear structural change in the works that we look forward to sharing and implementing.
We stand in solidarity with the BIPOC communities and support those demonstrating for justice here in Montreal and across the globe. As theatre artists we have a strong platform to bring about change, and we are newly committed towards being a part of that evolution.
Gabrielle Soskin, Artistic Director
and the Board of Directors
To learn more about Black Lives Matter and how to help, we recommend the Quebec Drama Federation’s Resource Roundup: https://www.quebecdrama.org/blog/blm-resource-roundup
by Darragh Mondoux
(Miss Blake in Persephone's 'Blue Stockings')
Content warning – sexual assault, gendered violence, academic jargon.
In a little under a month, I will have the privilege of joining a cast of bad ass young women and supportive young gentlemen on the stage of the Studio Jean-Valcourt du Conservatoire to don corsets and kerchiefs and bring Jessica Swale’s Blue Stockings to life. Persephone Productions has always fulfilled their mandate of providing opportunities for emerging actors with ambitious and often politically pertinent plays. We may ask, as I believe we should of all contemporary art we take it, why this piece now?
I join this cast as a part-time student in the final year of my undergraduate degree at Concordia University. It was with no small degree of entitlement that I began my studies at the same institution my parents attended, where they were married and where I was baptized. I always knew I belonged at Concordia, and I was welcomed there warmly. In my several years there, only one instance of gendered violence stands out.
The Liberal Arts College of Concordia is famously a space of open and amicable debate, freedom of status quo challenges, and wicked parties. At out end of term celebration at the bar on campus a few years back, your humble narrator was only too happy to rise to the questions a fellow student had for me about the merits and even necessity of feminism in North America. Drink in hand, arguments in the other, we made the Enlightenment fathers proud for a while there.
The night went on. While we got a little looser the more we all drank, passions never ran high through my dialogue with this classmate. I tried to joke about a my “weak feminine constitution” and he joked about what a battle axe I was when I drank. Soon, a hole in my leggings was caressed, tugged at, and suddenly torn right across the generous width of my thigh. I felt like I had let things get out of hand, had invited this somehow, but stood my ground and brushed it all off.
This gross boundary crossing came to its pathetic apex upon my departure, strategically planned with a tall, more sober male friend. I went in for the bisoux I give everyone who lets me that close to them with the gentleman with whom I spent most of the night debating and coquettishly sparring.
“Thanks for the spirited exchange, and the push to get new pants!”
“Tell me,” he whispered while our faces touched the first time, “you really need a man,” he finished as our faces brushed to the other side.
“Huh?” I yelled over the music, but his meaning became clear to me when I felt him grab me presidentially, slipping his hand under the whole he’d made in my skirt.
I laughed it off, a de-escalation mechanism practiced to perfection since my adolescence, but never yet employed at Concordia, where I had always felt safe and sound and free. I told my friend on our walk to the metro what had happened, and for all his campus activism he seemed unmoved by such an act committed by his peer.
That whole summer, shame and confusion and anger brewed within my mind while I replayed the embarrassing evening committing the details to memory. You should have smacked him, came the belated advice of a girlfriend, you shouldn’t have been so glib about the debate, came another. Where was the fun and friendship and the joy in that?
Returning to class in September, I found that I now shared one of our small scale seminar classes with my interlocutor of yester-semester. Every word I heard him spoke, every opinion I heard him articulate so much more calmly and soberly than he was able to at our last encounter filled me with disgust. I approached him alone after class, and was not too surprised to find him very receptive to the idea of having coffee with me that minute and hearing me out.
“There we are, now I’ve paid you off,” he joked weakly, after buying me two cappuccinos and hearing the lecture I had been sitting on all summer. I was glad he was joking with me. I made him understand that what he did at our campus bar last semester was gross and uncalled for and a kind of violence and silence that I was so angry had worked on me. His pathetic pawing at me managed to both prove the point I had tried to make from the beginning and undermine my arguments completely. He listened eagerly, and told me of the ways in which he had thought about that encounter throughout the summer as well with a genuine remorse. I was satisfied, I laughed with joy rather than fear.
I have thought about this experience throughout our rehearsal process of Blue Stockings. I have thought about how proud the Fathers of the Enlightenment would be that what ignorance and violence was bred in inebriation was healed through compassion, equality, and fraternity over coffee.
I have thought about the gendered violence that endures on the campus grounds of the United States, the laws that keep women and girls from education in more conservative countries, and about how privileged I truly am to attend Concordia because of such a long history of suffrage and campaigning and a fierce conviction of my worthiness of this education that our forbearers had faith enough in to fight for.
And finally, I have thought about how valid and valiant a weapon against violence is laughter. Hyperbole, pun, and punchline are my very favourite tools of communication. It comes as no surprise that my favourite offense in a debate is also my best defense when confronted with ugly weakness. I think the comedy within Blue Stockings works in a double-edged strike; first, as a foil to those woke enough that the conflict of our story might feel preachy, and additionally, as the proverbial spoon full of sugar to make our message go down.
I hope audiences will leave our show feeling a sense of hope from Blue Stockings, that time’s arrow marches on towards social progress not by being passive passengers in a Darwinian project of improvement, but by stirring pots, rocking boats, and thinking for ourselves.
If you or a friend experience any kind of assault or intimidation on the Concordia campus, call campus security at 514-848-3717: Option 1 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Blue Stockings runs October 17-27.
by Stefanie Nakamura
When I was younger my father told me about the Japanese Canadian interment camps in Canada during WW2. I flat out told him he must be making it up because I had never heard of it. He reassured me it was true and gave me a quick history lesson. I was skeptical because I thought if this happened why was it not taught in class? I was well aware of the events that took place across the world during the World Wars but somehow that part was never mentioned.
Later on, feeling some sort of quest like duty, I went around telling my friends and sneaking some facts into conversations with whom ever would listen (especially in class). I was shocked how little was known about the subject. There aren't any Hollywood movies or TV series about it. But I thought people have the right to know. The people who suffered have the right to be heard and never forgotten.
Fear, resentment, and racism led to the largest mass relocation of an ethnic population in Canadian history. It broke up families, took away everything they had ever worked for, and treated them as if they were the enemy. Many of the Japanese Canadians had never been to Japan but based on their appearance were considered a threat. If we do not as a country look back on this event and bow our head and think hard about the repercussion of our actions what is to say we will not do it again?
I look back as a young Japanese Canadian and say, “that could have been me.” The idea of someone like me being considered a spy and being uprooted from their home is horrible. I can’t imagine the pain this caused.
I am incredibly touched to be a part of a production that will give a voice to those who had none. What I hope for after leaving the play is to hear the dialogue start. One person tells another “hey did you know that there were interment camps in Canada during WW2?” and then that person tells another and so on. What I love about the play is that you follow a young Japanese girl along in her journey. You get entertained but in the end you have learned something. I am very excited to be working with Paul and Persephone Productions. I hope everyone will enjoy the play and spread the knowledge!
by Christopher Moore
Persephone has it's next season right around the 8-part-harmony corner! It's got a Broadway musical, a Paul Van Dyck original, and a classic.
Those who got a ticket to last season's Spring Awakening The Musical, might be pleased to hear that we were picked up by Centaur Theatre as part of their Brave New Looks initiative. Those who didn't get a ticket last year might be even more pleased to hear that there's a second chance to see what I have been going on and on about for the past forever.
When a show ends, many times artists will have the feeling that they wish they could get another crack at it. This is certainly true of myself and to be able to work on this musical again is nothing short of a gift. The power behind this show speaks through the talent onstage. It's a musical about young people featuring young people who absolutely love the altissimo out of the show. This is the must-see musical of the new generation. Perhaps it's their age that connects them so well or the fact that the musical was running on Broadway around the time most of them were entering theatre school...or both, but either way the commitment is genuine and passion palpable. For myself, as much as I'm glad to be able to revisit certain choices or moments...I'm really just filled to the brim to be able to work with these people again.
Our second show of the season will be Paul Van Dyck's The Nisei & The Narnauks, about Japanese internment camps in Canada during WWII. It is a dark part of our own history, not usually discussed or even taught in schools. As with Persephone's production of Oroonoko by Van Dyck, we feel it is absolutely crucial that we continue to talk about these mistakes in our histories, lest we be doomed to repeat them. The piece tells the story through the eyes of a Nisei (second generation Japanese-Canadian) as she searches for her grandmother, meetings others along the way who help or hinder her journey, including Narnauks (First Nations mythological shape shifters). The show incorporates mask, puppetry, and music. I've always wanted to do a show that plays with these different theatrical arts, and am excited to see Paul put it together at Le MAI.
Originally, I thought I wanted to do another comedy for our third show. In searching through various scripts, I came upon something altogether different: an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde. I had never read the novella, but was well aware of the story. I read the adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher, more simply titled Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde and knew immediately I wanted to do it. I found out Mainline Theatre was available in April and decided it was the perfect venue. When things come together like that, I tend to pay attention. It's bold, intense, and haunting. There are only six actors, four of which take turns playing Hyde. It grabbed me from page one and I'm anxious to get started!
So that's our season! We are already underway with rehearsing our first show. In a few hours actually, I'll be running several of the scenes and bouncing my rhythmically challenged toes all along the way. I probably distract more than I help the production at this point, but they'll have to bare with me for another few weeks yet!
by Christopher Moore
I'm happy to say that my first season as AD for Persephone was one of my most interesting years to date. It was both exciting and challenging. I wanted to put together a season that was eclectic, that spoke to different people while keeping within the spirit of what Persephone is.
Last Fall saw the flagship production of the season in Spring Awakening: The Musical. Fourteen actors/singers came together with seven musicians, under the helm of two directors and one musical director. A lot of people and a lot of fun! It's an odd beast, in that the musical is quite heavy and sorrowfully poignant. The rehearsal room however, was never drab, never dreary. What I remember is a room full of energy, love, and more passion that I knew what to do with. I felt blessed to be a part of it! We went on to play to sold out crowds at Calixa Lavallee, regardless of the building's renovations. I am thrilled that we get a second chance at the piece as we are picked up by Centaur Theatre as their 2014 selection for Brave New Looks!
The Walnut Tree was a piece that was brought to me as a possibility the year previous by Gabrielle Soskin, the company's Founding Director. The play, about a Jewish girl's journey from war torn Europe to a safe life in Canada is semi-based on the life of the late Martha Blum. An elder version of the character looks back on her life as a way to deal with the demons of her past. Gabrielle was at first unsure when I suggested she play the part of the elder narrator version of the character, but got quickly used to the idea and agreed to take on the part. It had been a few years since Gabrielle had acted on stage in a full production, but as I had expected, she shone with a sophistication and power that brought the role the right amount of strength and pain. Persephone has a habit of doing shows that feature The World Wars, but it was the first time working on one myself with an actor so closely connected to these events. It was moving and I'm very happy to have worked on it.
Our final show was a departure from the norm in a few ways. First, it was a comedy! Strawberries in January is a romantic comedy set in Montreal. Another first was running it alongside the original francophone version Des fraises en janvier. Our first foray into the French scene proved another challenge! Budding director, Davide Chiazzese came into direct both versions of the play, using the same set and cast, alternating language each night. I knew I wanted Persephone to do a comedy, and Strawberries allowed us to bring something that was funny, but held a kind of message and substance we could all connect to....and in both languages! We saw many new faces at the theatre door and provided well earned Spring date night after a long and arduous Winter.
It really was an exciting season for me and after writing out this blog, I realize it's easy to forget how much it mattered to me. I haven't written any of the trials and problems and frustrations that are bound to happen...and they did and will always happen, because that's life....but I'm glad I wrote this. It reminds me of how lucky I am to get to do this, to be able to work with such talented, beautiful people, that audiences like you are moved or provoked to thought or given an escape for 2 hours by these stories, and ultimately that is why we do this....and why it matters.
Our 2014-2015 Season will commence officially on October 1st, with the remount of Spring Awakening The Musical at The Centaur, and you can believe that if I felt last season was special...this next one is going to knock it out of the park!
I suppose I should start by introducing myself. My name is Alex Goldrich, and if you come to see Spring Awakening later this month (and i hope that you will), you’ll be seeing me quite a bit, although I don’t play a major character.
In the program I'll be listed as “Adult Male.” In fact, I play all of the adult males in the show; I think there are about nine of them in total. I play the fathers in the story, the teachers, the doctors, the priests. As brought to life by Steven Sater’s script, Duncan Sheik’s music, and the direction of Chris Moore and Gabrielle Soskin, the world of Spring Awakening is one in which every grownup has the same face, the same voice. The young people are all different: dynamic, lively, beautiful, expressing through movement and song the thoughts and emotions that cannot be contained in mere words. The grownups do not dance. They do not sing.
This should tell you a bit about what this show has to say about the relationship between young people and adults.
It makes good sense to cast a play this way: it lets you populate your story with a variety of minor characters without needing to cast dozens of actors. It lets you introduce characters while keeping the focus where it belongs, on the young people and their stories. Naturally, though, playing nine different people presents some interesting challenges as well (such as, say, remembering who wears which pair of pants).
Since I’m playing so many different people it’s important that the audience is able to tell them apart, so the main goal for me in rehearsal has been finding ways of making each character a distinct, whole person, even if you’re only seeing them for a few minutes. As actors, we try to give each character an inner life, a personality and motivations that give them purpose and dimension. It can be both the most difficult and the most enjoyable part of being an actor, and in this show, I get to do it several times over. The goal isn't to fool you into thinking I'm nine different people, so much as just to make you believe in each of them as you encounter them.
The other big challenge this show has presented me is that, as the adults, I’m often playing the “villains” of the story. This is a play about the conflicts that arise between younger and older generations, about the ways in which adults can mislead, repress, stifle and abuse the young, and about the terrible damage that can be done to young people’s lives when those they turn to for guidance, knowledge and safety, have none to offer. You will see the story through the eyes of the young, so much so that, at times, the adults are perhaps more projections of the younger characters' perceptions than they are actual people. As such the adults may appear as caricatures, and their actions may seem exaggeratedly uncaring or cruel – as indeed at times they are – but my hope is that there will also be a hint at something beneath the surface of each of them. Each of the adults has, I hope, a humanity and a desire to do what’s right, even when what’s right is not at all simple or clear.
Which, I guess, means they’re not so completely different from the younger generation, or from you or me.
Most people know that Gabrielle Soskin was my first year acting teacher at John Abbott College. What most people don’t know about me is before that year my theatrical education consisted of a play that current Repercussion Theatre director, Amanda Kellock brought to my high school. A side note: go see Shakespeare in the Park’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (finishing this weekend).
All this to say, I didn’t know anything about theatre and it was in that first year at John Abbott with Gabrielle that I saw my first proper play at The Segal Center: “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams. I remember being moved and in the subsequent months I abandoned my previously conceived notions of movie stardom and realized my passion was for the theatre.
After leaving Abbott, Persephone Productions provided me with my first paid gig. I was cast in “Spring Awakening” by Frank Wedekind and went on to appear in several Persephone shows up to date. Seeing as how “Spring Awakening” meant so much to me it seemed quite fitting that in the second phase of Persephone’s life, we celebrate it by producing the adapted Broadway Musical version of “Spring Awakening” this Fall as my inaugural show.
It has been over a decade since being introduced to Persephone Productions and I find myself at 29 years old, embarking on another phase of my own life as it’s Artistic Director. I have never been an Artistic Director before and have no knowledge of my father being one, or his father, or his father’s father, or my second cousins either so I don’t imagine it’s in my blood. That makes this all a very elaborate trial run and every year, if people enjoy what I’ve done and everyone agrees, I’ll do it all over again.
Truthfully, I am very lucky. At the same time, being handed a company to run is somewhat like being given a puppy at Christmas. The gift is appreciated and one feels ecstatic to have received it, but at the same time the gift comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility and work to be done. I am terrified, to be sure, but at the same time I will take this gift and work my hardest to serve the Persephone Productions that has meant and given so much to me and of course, Gabrielle, the woman who made it all possible.
I hope to see as many of you out there in the audience in my inaugural season. Last year marked one of our most exciting seasons to date, in my opinion and this year is shaping up to excel even further than that so come join us!
I have also never written a blog before and am unsure of how to end one.
So here is a warning that it is about to end.