Joelle Prefontaine - Featured Playwright Q & A

1. As you are aware Joëlle, PGC offers a mentorship program, for which we are very pleased that you avidly took part in! What would you say was the single most significant thing that you learned about yourself as a playwright, from having had a mentor?

Learning about my creative process is a continuous journey, but the single most significant thing learned from having a mentor is to not shy away from conflict within the action of a play.  Conflict is interesting and relatable.

 

2. And moving on to some of your own work, can you talk about your current play Huh?!. What can you share about its first run, a couple of months ago? And more specifically, how did your experience of being mentored, contribute to its development?

Well, Huh?! is a Plurilingual Immersive Theatre for Young Audiences piece written and directed by myself as part of my MFA in Theatre Practice at the University of Alberta.  The purpose of this project is to reflect the linguistic diversity found in additional language programs through a play that offers audiences an embodying experience, transforming them into specticipants (audience and participants) who have to make decisions on the paths they choose. Those that enter the world of Huh?! encounter gender neutral characters that speak various languages such as French, English, Franglais, Spanish, Arabic and Body Language, each trying to help specticipants on their pursuit to reunite a family. This story finds pre-teen Mémix searching for their older sibling Hermandine after fleeing home and Grandparent, frustrated by this latter character’s expectations on language and tradition.
There was a very short run in mid-May as part of my thesis project that saw the cast perform Huh?! seven times in two days in various locations throughout École J.H. Picard in Edmonton. Tailored to grade four through six, these students worked together to understand the information the characters gave them on this quest play. The reactions from the kids were very positive. They really loved the moments of interaction in the show where the habitants of Huh?! used the specticipants suggestions to advance the narrative.
The mentorship offered by Playwrights Guild of Canada allowed me to choose accomplished playwright, director and educator Yvette Nolan.  Our work together started at the end of December, 2016, a couple of weeks before starting a one-week creative residency through L’UniThéâtre (Alberta’s only professional Francophone Theatre company, also in Edmonton).  Her feedback on this incarnation of the script pushed its development even further with a completed script for the start of the residency. As there was an invited staged reading the final day, I was able to record the performance and share it with Yvette.  Reflections on this presentation incited some major structural changes strengthening the overall arc of the story. The following months found Yvette and I on a several Skype dates further discussing points in the story that needed to be clarified or cut.  By mid-March, I had a script that I felt confident to start rehearsals with - though Yvette and I did continue to chat about the process and the direction of the piece until just before the performance dates in May.

 

3. With the huge success of your first play Récolte, nominated in 2014, for an Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Award in the category of “Outstanding New Play”, did you ever imagine that you would be utilizing the services of a mentor? And what message would you send to aspiring playwrights who may choose to employ the services of mentor, so that they can get the most out of it?

Mentorships and/or collaborations are an important part of my creative process. I find writing tremendously solitary work and involving others in my practice helps to reduce seclusion. Throughout two of my three years of writing Récolte, Québecois playwright Philippe Soldevila mentored me, guiding me through the writing of my first full-length play. Having a very positive experience with him encouraged me to apply for the PGC Mentorship.

For aspiring playwrights, being a mentee can be a tremendous experience, however, it is important to choose the right person for the project. Yvette came highly recommended to me by L’UniThéâtre’s artistic director Brian Dooley who also plays a mentor role in my creative life. My main piece of advice would be to write about your play as much as possible, applying for initiatives and grants, or just in a personal journal. These are opportunities to further reflect on the goals of a specific project. Creating a fantastic image bank also helps. Know why it is important to write the play and this will help to guide in some of the future choices to make on the journey. Working with a mentor or another creative partner can be difficult at times, especially if the intention of the piece is not clearly communicated. Finding someone who is patient, supportive and constructive is important, as writing can be a sensitive thing. Being open to change is another tremendous thing as well as accepting that you will be sharing some (at times) shitty writing with another person.

 

4. It is almost a certainty that you are at least somewhat inspired by your mentor, Yvette Nolan, (and with good reason!) However, are there other Canadian playwrights that provide you with inspiration and/or motivation?

Yes, Yvette is a tremendous inspiration!  She is an artist that is always working on new projects with people from different communities and in various styles of theatre. Philippe Soldevila is a great collaborator and plurilingual playwright, penning some of his plays in English and Catalan.  Colleen Murphy motivates me to create theatre that reflects the grit of life. I feel like I could mention another twenty playwrights but, for the sake of not making this question into a twenty page monologue, I will stop.

 

5. What does the future hold for Joëlle Préfontaine? Future projects? And is being a mentor something you’ve ever considered?

Well, I am in the process of reintegrating myself into the public after getting my masters. I’ve been a bit of a hermit these last couple of years…
In September, I am going to Ottawa to attend Les Zones Théâtrales, which is the Francophone equivalent of the Magnetic North Festival. I will be there as part of Rencontres professionnelles entre des jeunes créateurs. There will be a week of meetings surrounding the plays viewed at this festival as well as individual creative processes, with 15 other Francophone artists from Canada and other French speaking countries.
This coming year I am a Playwright in Development with Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre. With this same company, I will also be Education Director for the #writesofpassage program which I have been involved with for the past two years.  Part of this work will be to offer playwriting workshops to Francophone and French Immersion schools, in addition to expanding existing ties to this program within Anglophone High Schools.
In March, I will act in my new short piece Mémix, presented as part of L’UniThéâtre’s serie fabula fabulis. This interactive story is a play for 2-5 year olds that finds one of the main character of Huh?! sharing their adventures and self discoveries with an audience, in addition to certain rituals and languages learned along their travels.
In the past years, I’ve had multiple occasions to work as a mentor through different theatre and music shows especially in the Francophone community in Alberta. I’ve also taught Drama workshops at many different schools and worked as a dramaturge with several high school productions. Working as a mentor and educator continuously reminds me of why I started my journey in theatre so many years ago – to share the infinite complexities of human life.