2014 Ottawa Fringe – 5 Questions with ELISE GAUTHIER

ELISE GAUTHIER is a creative dynamo and incredible physical performer, well known to Ottawa as a frequent member of the Ottawa Stilt Union with whom she’s appeared in Fringe, SubDevision, and parks across the region.  She also took a memorable turn as Roxanne in Plosive Production’s CYRANO DE BERGERAC.  And this summer, she’s bringing her creative powers to bear with L’ARAIGNEE, a French theatre piece that she’s created and directed, that I saw an early version of at last year’s CARTE BLANCHE series in Gatineau.  The new full-length version will debut at this year’s Ottawa Fringe Festival via her production company, Filament Theatre.

The unstoppable Elise Gauthier.  Pic by Andrew Alexander.
The unstoppable Elise Gauthier. Pic by Andrew Alexander.

– How long have you been working on this show?

This show is thirteen years in the making! In 2001, I wrote a short story, or poetic tale, or something, called l’Araignée, about a little spider who’d created this beautiful, magical world. The world was destroyed when a dog, having a flea, came to scratch his back on the spider’s tree. I realised later that I’d written this tale of a destroyed world and of the loss of thousands of lives shortly after September 11.
Catherine Boutin and I performed this text as a “physical theatre” piece at an artist café in High School, and thought we were pretty artsy! (By the way, the recording of the original story which the audience will hear in the “pre-show” is Catherine and my voice, which we recorded while still in High School! The tape was uncovered recently, very serendipitously!)
After that, in 2010, we resurrected the text for another project, adding other poems to the original tale. This time, there were three of us (with Tracey Guptill), and Marie-Claire Saindon composed a beautiful score for us. We presented the workshop in front of an invited audience. Then, in 2011, we got to work with Kevin Orr and Theatre 4.669’s creator’s lab. Through this process, I completely rewrote the script, making it much more poetic, and much more of a theatrical piece (though not at all conventional theatre!)
In 2012, I got an exploration grant from the OAC and did a really informative workshop with the help of Alix Sideris and Fanny Gilbert-Collet. This eventually led to what you saw at the Carte Blanche in 2013. And now we’re in 2014, and this is (hopefully) the last iteration of this crazy piece!
Also, every single time we’ve done this piece, its story has been different. This time though, I think (I know!) we’ve finally found the real meaning of the story, and what my subconscious was trying to tell me years ago as I was writing this text!

– Ottawa audiences might know you best from your work with the Ottawa Stilt Union. How has your work with that bunch helped you as an artist?

It’s done so much for me as an artist! It’s helped me figure out what kind of art I want to do, and what I don’t. It’s made me realise how much I need contact with an audience, how much I want the audience to feel like it’s part of the experience, and not just looking in. It’s also helped me understand how to mesh various art forms to make good Art. I’ve seen too many bad physical theatre pieces where the physical and the textual don’t mesh well, and (I hope) I’m learning how not to do that!
– What sort of a show is L’ARAIGNEE?

Ouf. It’s an experience. It’s… an installation of some sort? It’s art… I hope. I call it theatre because that’s what I do, but there’s movement, there’s poetry, there’s music and rhythms and feelings…
What I really hope is that the audience comes out of the Gallery feeling moved. Changed, in some way or another. I don’t really care if they didn’t “understand” it all, on an intellectual level, but if they’ve felt something, if they’ve experienced something and feel closer to one another, then I’ll know I’ve done my job. When I go see (good) contemporary dance, I feel like I’m there with the performers, I’m breathing with them, making crazy facial expressions in reaction to their movements, I leave feeling like I want to move and create and do more! That’s what I want to give my audiences.

Chloe Tremblay and Catherine Boutin in L'ARAIGNEE.
Chloe Tremblay and Catherine Boutin in L’ARAIGNEE.

– When I saw an early workshop version of this show in Gatineau, you co-starred. Why did you choose to stay behind the scenes for the Fringe remount?

For me, directing this show is like an extension of the writing. Because of the nature of the piece, the writing of the words and the writing of the movements go hand in hand. In the past, I tried to make that happen while still being on stage, and Fanny and Alix certainly understood what I was looking for very well, but when I was thinking about producing this version, I realised that I couldn’t just ask a director to come on board and then impose my vision on them. This is my baby, I know what I want to create with it, why I need to do it, and it wouldn’t be fair to another artist to ask them to do that. I was totally ready not to perform in this production, and I’m so, so, so lucky to have found Chloé Tremblay to replace me! She’s a beautiful performer, and Catherine and Chloé are just magical to watch together. I made the right decision, and I’m reminded of that every time we rehearse.
– Who else have you collaborated with to bring this show to life?

I’ve got a killer team, really! So, on top of my actor-creators (they’ve contributed a lot of themselves to this piece, and I keep on pushing them, and they keep on giving me more!), there’s the wonderful Alix Sideris, who helped create the movement and helped clarify so many crucial moments. Then I’ve got Melody Louie (well known to OTS alumni) who has accepted the huge challenge of lighting a show set in an art gallery, where the audience can sit anywhere and move if they feel like it, and where there’s no grid, no accessible walls, and no set to speak of. Yeah, top that!
Alex Zabloski, of OSU fame, is creating my recordings and has helped us find the rhythm of the world.
And then there’s Marie-Claire Saindon, who’s composed beautiful scores for the show in the past. We’re only using one of her compositions for this version, but it’s gorgeous.

Playing with light in L'ARAIGNEE.
Playing with light in L’ARAIGNEE.

– Bonus Question: Will it be tricky at all for Anglo audiences to connect with this piece?

Nope! Well, you tell me, but really, since the movement is very clear, and the emotions are very raw, I don’t think you need to understand the words to “get” the story. In fact, Anglos might understand it on a deeper level! What I’m hoping, is that anglo audiences will be able to let go of the feeling that they might be missing something by not understanding all the words, and will just enjoy the sounds they’re hearing, since my poetry is written with a very clear rhythm in mind, on top of everything that the performers bring to the table.

L’ARAIGNEE plays in the Firestone gallery at Arts Court during the Ottawa Fringe Festival, June 19th to 29th. Full schedule details and advance tickets available HERE.

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