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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Theatre review: Ce qu’on attend de moi pushes boundaries

Innovative work not only entertains, it is therapeutic and inspiring

Anyone who was bowled over by Le Soulier earlier this year, should hurry to Performance Works on Granville Island, where Ce qu’on attend de moi pushes boundaries that some of us may not have known even existed.

The title translates from the French as “What is expected of me”. However, if the opening night performance is anything to go by, it might well be translated as, “How much more can I expect of myself.”

Before the show proper begins, co-directors Philippe Cyr and Gilles Poulin-Denis stand in front of a screen and an extensive stash of technical equipment inside a tent rigged beside Performance Works’ main theatre. The two explain to the audience that one of its number will become the sole actor in the multimedia show about to be performed.

The process to find the audience member who would best fit the part is extensive and thorough. Actors, journalists, psychologists and those with physical, emotional or mental health issues are among those eliminated.  After the general elimination process, the co-directors choose five possible candidates from the few that remain. That’s when the audience decides who of the five volunteers will become “the actor” – based on his or her response to a simple question – in the imminent performance which at this point is a total mystery to all concerned.

Poulin-Denis then proceeds to lead the chosen audience-member-turned-actor through a labyrinth of personal questions and experiences with a skilled dexterity and sensitivity worthy of becoming a master class in stage direction. His aim is to release inhibitions in order to explore how far he can push past the participating “actor’s” current limitations and free him or her to become someone more than who they are.

On opening night Poulin-Denis transformed a fulfilled ESL teacher, comfortable with
herself and her life, into a poet glowing with energy, courage, and a determination to take more risks.

She travelled from scene to scene, each pre-set in the main Performance Works building. Some of the things she agreed to do were uncomfortable. Others she refused. Her progress was filmed and projected simultaneously from the theatre to the screen in the adjacent tent. The audience’s empathetic response was palpable, confirming the conclusions drawn by the company’s research and experimentation that human emotions are universal.

Different “actors” chosen from different audiences would obviously experience the process differently. It’s likely that the outcome would be similar each time.  But who knows?

The imaginative lighting, sound, costume, and set design projected from theatre to tent gave motivation and inspired the “actor” in this instance in her progression from scene to scene. It was all masterfully created and executed.

The visually translated surtitles usually employed by Théâtre la Seizième were replaced by headphones for this show. Mounting surtitles in the restricted headroom inside the tent would no doubt have been impossible. The switch worked well even though immediate vocal responses from the Francophones present occasionally drowned the otherwise excellent audible translation.

While congratulations are due to the woman who bared her soul and risked her reputation before three of her ESL students whom she’d invited to attend what became “her performance”, the entire experimental experience deserves accolades.

Ce qu’on attend de moi not only entertains, it is therapeutic and inspiring.

Ce qu’on attend de moi created by Philippe Cyr and Gilles Poulin-Denis. A Théâtre la Seizième presentation of a 2par4 and L’Homme Allumette production. On stage at Performance Works (1218 Cartwright St, Vancouver) until May 25. Visit for tickets and information.

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