Arts & Entertainment, Theatre

‘En Pointe’ is an optimistic return to Montreal’s in-person theatre

For several months, COVID-19 brought Montreal’s theatre scene to a halt, but as public health measures are slowly being lifted, Tableau D’Hote Theatre has emerged as one of the first production companies to offer its patrons a safe theatre-going experience. En Pointe, their current production, is a series of bilingual short plays which follow 16 residents of Montreal’s Pointe-Sainte-Charles neighbourhood as they begin to emerge from social isolation. 

En Pointe features nine short plays which were showcased once per week at a location that was only announced on their social media, just hours before each performance. Each play is written to allow the audience to interact with the larger narrative at any time, so that each vignette presents its own self-contained story. This gives audience members the freedom to attend episodes selectively and out of order. 

This series of short plays was innovatively staged: Each performance was orchestrated in various outdoor locations in Pointe-Sainte-Charles. This enabled the episodes to be set in natural environments, highlighting the neighbourhood that the characters inhabit. Local parks, community centres, intersections, and even laundromats were used as backdrops, providing the audience with a safe and immersive experience. This simple, voyeuristic nature brought viewers right into the action and created an uncanny feel of realism. 

The first episode, (Partial) Reopening Day, sees two neighbours interacting for the first time in months, as Quebec began to lift quarantine rules. Rather than establish narrative continuity, this episode set a thematic foundation for the rest of the series: Short performances of community members reintegrating into society, and learning how to co-exist with one another in a time where isolation is encouraged. Various other thematic elements relevant to the pandemic are intertwined throughout each following episode. 

One standout episode was the series’ sixth, Lost Cat, which tells the story of neighbours coming together to help find a lost cat. Playwright Mathieu Murphy-Perron slots anglophone actor Ryan Bommarito in the show to integrate a witty subplot depicting the dynamic between Montreal’s francophone and anglophone populations. The actors communicated using elaborate hand gestures, and grasped onto the few words that they knew in the others’ language. This particular episode felt like a moment of comic relief in comparison to the others, and effectively worked to highlight the dramatic ranges of En Pointe’s actors. Each character was fully developed, with their own unique quirks, though the personalities portrayed sometimes appeared larger-than-life which contrasted with the otherwise realistic portrayal of everyday interactions that other aspects of this production were grounded in. 

Each location was set up to ensure the safety of all viewers, with social distancing markers placed on the ground, and the mandatory use of masks. Actors were miked, so the background noise of the surroundings would not distract the audience, especially as some performances happened across the street from the designated seating area. On average, each show attracted 30 viewers, though episodes taking place in less spacious locations had a capped attendance to ensure everyone’s safety. Tableau D’Hote Theatre worked with Playwrights’ Workshop Montréal’s COVID-19 coordinator, Lindsay Petts, to guarantee that regulations were properly followed and provide a sense of safety amongst audience members.

Tableau D’Hote Theatre used the dreary state of our world as inspiration, and put together a lighthearted series based upon social connection. Their resiliency in creating a return to in-person theatre amidst a pandemic speaks volumes to the importance of theatre in our communities. Given the right precautions and community solidarity, En Pointe holds true to the saying: “The show must go on!”

The ninth and final installment of En Pointe is set to happen on Sunday, September 27th at 3 pm. To those looking to watch the show as a whole, En Pointe records each of its episodes and makes them available online. Follow @tdhtheatre to find out where it will take place.

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