(This post is part of the Canadian theatre salon curated by Chantal Bilodeau for the World Theatre Day 2014/Crossing Borders salon series.)
Les Exportables has a vibrant, living mission: To translate and produce English-language premieres of Québécois plays for diverse audiences. The company seeks to foster North American cross-cultural exchanges, bridging the gap between English speakers and native French speakers. Les Exportables brings to life original scripts written by the next generation of Canadian playwrights, creating a unique point of view, and mixing Québécois original style with an American contemporary artistic vision.
In August 2012, we launched The List by Jennifer Tremblay at the New York International Fringe Festival. The 6-performance run was our maiden voyage. We used a published English translation by Shelley Tepperman for our American premiere. The experience was monumental – not only did we receive strong reviews and recognition from Time Out magazine as one of the top picks of the festival, we also received an award for Overall Excellence in a Solo Performance at Fringe NYC.
As we were making preparations to launch our second show the following year, we received an opportunity we could not pass up: A chance to present yet another international premiere of The List, this time in Mexico, as part of the Fringe Festival San Miguel. So in September 2013, we put our next project on hold and headed down to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico.
How different was the response from SMF compared to Fringe NYC?
Sofi: What surprised me was that it was not that different. No matter where we are, as humans, the same things touch us all. It was really interesting to feel the same reactions, and see the same emotional or comical moments land on a Spanish/English-speaking audience as they did the year before on our New York audience.
Katie: I have to agree with Sofi. I was surprised at how the play affected our Mexican audience. Tremblay writes with universal themes that carry over borders and languages elegantly. Much of the feedback after the play was similar to that of our show in Fringe NYC. People connect to the struggle of Sofi’s character in very emotional and personal ways, no matter where the story is told
What’s the next challenge for Les Exportables?
Sofi and Katie: Last August, our mission was simply to premiere a play by a well-established, French-speaking playwright in New York City. The List was already translated into English and was touring in both English and French in Canada. This year, we chose an emerging Québécois playwright, and we have started work on translating the play. We will premiere the piece in English in NYC, and then we hope to return to the Fringe Festival San Miguel. Waiting for Goddreau preceded by Shut up Kathleen is a brilliant and skillfully written play by the newly published, award-winning playwright, Sébastien David. Both Sofi and I are equally inspired by Sébastien’s poetic structure. Similar to Jennifer Tremblay in The List, Sébastien uses sparse punctuation and short sentences in order to give way to artistic interpretation. This play shows the economic hardship and the struggle of the working class in Montreal. We feel it is relevant to what any world city is facing in this time of destructive weather systems, job instability, and social divide.
We are also excited about working directly with our translator, Chantal Bilodeau. Chantal is an award-winning playwright as well. We have a unique opportunity to collaborate closely with her and Sébastien throughout the process, and to develop this play into an unforgettable American premiere.
Will you approach things differently with this future production?
Sofi and Katie: We are passionate about the process of bringing new stories to life for New York audiences. It was our goal, when we began our company two years ago, to bridge the gap between French-Canadian and New York natives. But as we build relationships with theatre companies across our southern border, we have a new excitement for cultivating cross-cultural partnerships not only with Quebec, but with Mexico as well. So with this new production, we have the opportunity to create a piece that will speak to both New York and Mexican audiences alike. Allowing ourselves to be inspired and influenced by our experience with the Mexican contemporary theatre will be an interesting new approach to the translation and conception of Waiting for Goddreau preceded by Shut up Kathleen.
Born in Québec, Soﬁ Lambert is an award-winning actress now based in New York City. Soﬁ studied drama in London and New York with Jack Walzter from the Actor’s Studio. She has portrayed complex, tortured, sexy and bittersweet characters. Sofi is well known by Montreal theatre and TV audiences; she last appear in the popular TV show Toute la vérité and on stage in the well acclaimed Autour de ma pierre il ne fera pas nuit as Dolores at Monument National. In New York, she is well known for her voice-over talents, both in French and in English. Her credits include: Nintendo, Benjamin Moore and Kellogg’s.
Katie McHugh is an award-winning, New York-based director, teacher and producer of theatre and film with an MFA in directing from The New School for Drama. She is the Founding Director of the Southeastern Teen Shakespeare Company, Co-Founder of the Teen Shakespeare Conservatory NYC, and Co-Artistic Director of Les Exportables. She is currently producing the Playwright’s Gallery reading series 2013-2014 and is co-producing and directing a contemporary retelling of Ibsen’s Enemy of the People, to be premiered in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, in 2015. Katie is an Associate Member of the League of Professional Theatre Women. www.katiemchugh.com. (Photo by John Painz.)