Celebrating Montreal’s English Theatre Community

The English-speaking Montreal theatre community poured into the Rialto Theatre on Monday night for the second annual Montreal English Theatre Awards. This ceremony was created by a group of avid theatre-mongers hoping to elevate and celebrate the work produced within Montreal’s growing English theatre scene.

In a city filled with different languages the METAs stand as a testament to the dedication of Anglophone artists.

The awards are peer-juried, meaning the awarding body is made up of prominent Montreal theatre figures and managed by a volunteer committee. The award itself is a gold, heavy-looking cylinder with “META” carved into the side.

The night was glamorous and elegant. The Rialto’s classical ornaments and decadence felt somehow overly opulent for artists working mostly in small black box theatres, but filled with impeccably dressed attendees the setting only served to heighten the magic of the evening.

The ceremony was hosted by the ever-talented Marcel Jeannin and Holly Gauthier-Frankel, who kicked everything off with a hysterical song and dance number. The hosts came back throughout the night with several other numbers, one of which included a humorous flute battle. There was a moment of sombre silence to remember those the community has lost this year, but for the most part the organizers tried to keep everything upbeat and silly.

A few new awards were added to the roster this year, including the Unsung Hero Of The Theatre awarded to Melanie St-Jacques for her stage managing prowess, the Norma Springford Founder Award (given to Elsa Bolam of Geordie Theatre) and the Inclusive Vision Award, which was not given out but announced as new for next year.

Among it all were the artist themselves, humble, dressed to the nines and for the most part speechless. Leni Parker walked on stage to accept her award for Best Actress, only to read out an email she received from another nominee.

Parker wasn’t the only one to be unprepared for the win—many of the artists came up just to say thank you, shake their heads in disbelief and walk away stunned that they won anything. For the most part these acts of shock were charming, but one can’t help but wonder what it says about the state of English theatre in Montreal.

When approached for a quick interview, an artist’s friends would often nudge them and say, “Oh, look who’s famous now,” but the organizers and patrons of art in this city were more than happy to answer questions and provide insights.

When asked about the specific challenges English theatre-makers face Donald Rees, creative director of Brave New Productions, said that venues are limited and that “no English venue is turning away French money.” When asked the same question Roy Surette, artistic director of the Centaur Theatre, lamented the loss of English alt-news publications like the Mirror, saying it has become increasingly hard to reach the English audience.

Yet despite these challenges, everyone interviewed had encouraging advice for emerging artists. Leni Parker, Eo Sharp, Donald Rees, and Roy Surette all had similar words of inspiration, advice and wisdom to share with the next generation: “love what you do,” “make your process enjoyable,” “know that what you do is important for storytelling modes around the world,” “start big,” “trust your instincts—you will be the same inside at 20 as you are at 40,” and “if you can get through the bullshit in the middle you will succeed.”

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