“[...] when people see a Théâtre de l’Œil production, they can better understand the level of complexity, the savoir-faire that has been developed...”
Nicolas Germain-Marchand, Puppeteer
PROFESSIONAL PUPPETEER Interview with the Puppeteer
“To be a puppeteer, you need big arms and a small ego,” says André Laliberté who has a knack for just the right words. Indeed, manipulators often hide behind the object they bring to life. “And it’s harder to do than you think!” adds Nicolas Germain-Marchand.
Since graduating from the National Theatre School in 2006, Nicolas Germain-Marchand has performed in several shows for young audiences, including Alice in Wonderland (Théâtre Tout à Trac) and Nœuds papillon (Théâtre Ébouriffé). As a puppeteer, he has worked on six Théâtre de l’Œil productions.
It all started back when he was in his fourth year at the National Theatre School. Thanks to a special training program, students had the opportunity to work on improving their singing, writing and dancing skills. “Estelle Richard and I chose puppetry,” says Nicolas Germain-Marchand. “Denise Guilbeault, then NTS Director of Studies, suggested we contact the best puppetry resource in the Montréal area. It was André Laliberté — and he welcomed us with open arms.”
Rather than explaining various puppet techniques, André Laliberté suggested that the two interns put together a show. The show? Un Autre Monde / A New World. “At the end of our internship, we learned that we were to present the show the following season at Montréal’s Maison Théâtre. And that’s what happened! Estelle and I have been a part of the Théâtre de l’Œil family ever since.”
Nicolas went on to work as a substitute on La Cité des loups and Ah, la vache! / Holy Cow! before working on La Félicité / Dear Fizzy. Then he followed up with Corbeau and Le cœur en hiver / A Heart in Winter, performing in both the French and the English productions.
The ups and downs of a puppeteer’s life
“I had to learn a new technique for every production. Direct table top manipulation for A New World, Bunraku and rod techniques for La Cité des Loups. Puppeteering is a very physical craft; we need to put all our energy in the object being manipulated. Sometimes, certain positions can be painful, but we have to learn to hold them and get over the discomfort. When it comes to acting, our performance depends on a material thing. We are at the mercy of an object that has its own constraints. It can be stressful. If a puppet loses a foot during a performance, what do you do? You have to think fast, know how to compensate, repair and perform all at once... As an actor, the puppet allows me to extend myself. Improvising with a mask or puppet is easier, we tend to censor ourselves less. We are not the focus of attention, and neither is the character: it’s the object. The puppeteer disappears behind the character.”
Even though suffering may be an inescapable part of being a puppeteer, rest reassured, the craft also has its moments of great joy: “I like to perform for children,” says Nicolas, “and I love the discussions after the show, which allow me to get a sense of what the children have understood, enjoyed, or even of what bothered them. They ask a lot of questions and often answer them themselves. Their answers can be amazing. Théâtre de L’Œil shows always convey important themes. In Corbeau, the grandmother’s passing can be interpreted in multiple ways. I remember a child who wondered where the grandmother went. And then he said, ‘She’s in the country where the animals speak...’ ”.
Diverse and varied experiences
When you’re self-taught, learning is a longer process, and Nicolas Germain-Marchand knows first-hand what this means: “Students who have trained at the graduate studies program at UQAM (DESS) know how to build puppets and they’ve practised various manipulation techniques. In my case, I need to learn these things as I go. On the other hand, my training as an actor has proven very useful when creating different characters and using different styles. Everything we learn about acting with humans also holds true with puppets.”
Along with Stéphane Heine and Estelle Richard, two puppeteers from the Théâtre de L’Œil family who founded their own company (Échantillon 23), Nicolas performs in La Fourmilite, a street show that experiments with the fusion between puppet and manipulator: “It is something completely different. With this short piece, we can perform just about anywhere...”
Don’t even try to tell Nicolas that puppetry is a minor art: “There are still many popular misconceptions about puppetry, but when people see a Théâtre de l’Œil production, they can better understand the level of complexity, the savoir-faire that has been developed...”
Interviewer: Michelle Chanonat
LE COEUR IN WINTER
For more than 30 years now, Micheline Chevrier has worked across Canada and abroad as a stage director and dramaturge. As Imago Theatre’s artistic director, she works in both official languages, although mostly in English. She was the English voice and speech coach for A Heart in Winter. We asked her: What's is involved in making the move from French to English?
“First of all, you need to understand each actor’s ability and ease with the language they need to learn,” says Micheline Chevrier. “Then, once this has been determined, you work on the language’s musicality and what the text is meant to convey. Understanding each character’s intent is very important for me so that I know where to place the emphasis. A line in French can have a certain intent, but when it is transposed into English, it can communicate something completely different and have a totally different impact.”
“For actors, the most difficult part is to feel comfortable and free when performing in another language, without worrying about word flow or sentence structure... For those who speak English fluently, it’s a matter of finding a more sophisticated tone, of communicating with ease and of finding a more refined musicality. With the A Heart in Winter team, it was easy: everyone speaks English! The Anglophone audiences may notice a slight accent, a few words, or a few sounds that will betray the actors’ origins. But the understanding will be perfect. And yes, it’s hard to lose the French accent entirely...”
SHORT BUT BRIEF
On the road...
True to his reputation as a great traveller, Le Porteur / The Star Keeper treated himself to a Western-Canadian tour. He was spotted in Banff and in Calgary, at the Vertigo Theatre. Next season, The Star Keeper will be celebrating 20 years on the road with a series of performances at Montréal’s Maison Théâtre in March 2018. In an interview published this spring in the theatre magazine JEU (#163), André Laliberté looks back at the The Star Keeper’s exceptional career.
After a series of performances in the Greater Montréal area, Le Cœur en hiver / A Heart in Winter set out to conquer the English-speaking public at the Ottawa Children’s Festival, the Calgary International Children’s Festival and the Vancouver International Children’s Festival.
For the upcoming season, A Heart in Winter will be presented in Sudbury in the fall. The show will then tour the city’s maison de la culture network as part of the Conseil des Arts de Montréal’s Touring Program, making a few stops along the way in Longueuil and Laval. And we’re also preparing a surprise for you for the holiday season.
At the invitation of Festival de Casteliers director Louise Lapointe, Un Autre Monde / A New World was presented in March 2017 at the Théâtre Outremont. Notice to presenters: a new video recording was made after the festival. The show is available for touring in 2017-2018. It will be presented at different venues, including at the Villeray–St-Michel–Parc-Extension maison de la culture in May 2018 as part of the L’enfant et les arts community arts program.
Playwright Larry Tremblay, stage director Martine Beaulne and set designer Richard Lacroix are secretly putting together Théâtre de l’Œil’s next production: Même pas vrai ! (Not Even True!) With such a (working) title, it’s next to impossible to guess what their creative minds will come up with!
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A Heart in Winter Script: Étienne Lepage Stage Direction: Catherine Vidal Artistic Consultant: André Laliberté Puppet and Set Design: Richard Lacroix Sound Design: Francis Rossignol Lighting: Alexandre Pilon-Guay
The Star Keeper Storyboard: Richard Lacroix, André Laliberté, Richard Morin Stage Direction: André Laliberté Puppet Design: Richard Morin Set and Prop Design: Richard Lacroix Music: Libert Subirana Lighting: Luc Désilets
A New World Script: Réjane Charpentier Stage Direction: André Laliberté Puppet and Set Design: Richard Lacroix Assistant Director: Muriel Desgroseilliers Music: Silvy Grenier Lighting: Gilles Perron
Newsletter Text: Michelle Chanonat Translation: Denise Babin Coordination: Marie-Claude Boudreault Template: Julien Bertier Graphic Design: Marie-Claude Boudreault Photo Credits: (1) Julie Artacho -
(2) Léon Gniwesch - (3) Michel Pinault - (4) Léon Gniwesch - (5) Richard Lacroix - (6) Richard Lacroix -
(7) David Cooper - (8) Léon Gniwesch