Justin Peter Quesnelle is a familiar face on the London stage, and has also made his mark as a director of such productions as The Miracle Worker, Blood Relations and this October’s double bill of Play and One for the Road. With Eva Blahut, he co-artistic directs The Passionfool Theatre Company, and he appears with Tyler Parr and Meaghan Chenosky in Passionfool’s presentation of Never Swim Alone, which opens on Friday.
I had the opportunity last week to ask him a few questions via email about the new company, the next play, and plans for the future.
Although Passionfool as an entity is relatively new, you and Eva have a lot of theatre experience, in London and elsewhere. What was the trigger that made you decide to start a theatre company?
Eva and I founded the company a little over a year ago. She and I had worked together as actors in a local production of Angels in America: Millennium Approaches in 2004 and the idea for Passionfool arose out of conversations in and around that process. We began discussing the possibility of another project together which eventually led to the idea of forming our own company. Our goals in doing so were relatively specific:
- Stage finely polished and considered productions of well crafted scripts;
- Challenge and engage our audience;
- Stage a 3 show playbill each year out of an intimate black box theatre space;
- Collaborate with like minded artists who feel that the work always comes first.
Passionfool is closing in on its first birthday with three diverse and acclaimed productions under its belt. What about them do you think has appealed to and attracted London audiences?
We decided to open with a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in October 2007 as a means of promoting our 2008 season of Les Belles Soeurs by Michel Tremblay in April, Never Swim Alone by Daniel MacIvor in June, and a pairing of one act pieces by Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter (Play and One for the Road respectively) in October. We chose contrasting pieces in an effort to give London audiences a unique and diverse theatre experience. From the classical to the absurd, from the comedic to the tragic, from the existential to the enlightened — we wanted to stage thought, emotion and discussion provoking stories told in unique and contrasting ways. We have been very pleased with the reception of Dream and Belles with a sold out run of the latter this past April.
Passionfool productions have been performed exclusively at The Arts Project since its inception. Was it your intention to become a resident company there or just a happy coincidence that you’ve since embraced?
We strive to give Passionfool audiences three powerful, separate and distinct theatre experiences each year and were in need of a space that could accommodate this goal. We decided on The Arts Project for three main reasons — location, size and versatility. Easy to find and intimate with a playing space that can be converted to thrust, proscenium, and round orientations. These three features made TAP a perfect fit for Passionfool.
You’ve presented an original dramatic one-woman autobiography, a classic ensemble comedy, a modern drama featuring an all-female cast of 15, and Never Swim Alone is a contemporary three-hand satire. On the surface they don’t appear to have much in common; is there an underlying thread? What have been the factors in selecting works to produce?
Selecting a combination of Canadian and international scripts is very important to Eva and myself. Canadian playwrights have such a unique voice — a way of telling stories that blend comedy and tragedy with an attention to honesty found nowhere else on the world stage. Les Belles Soeurs was a perfect example of this comic/tragic mix. Never Swim Alone by Daniel MacIvor is another prime example. Rare is a script that can have you howling with laughter one moment and choked with fear the next while managing to remain true to character and story. MacIvor’s script is incredibly fast moving and hard hitting which will provoke and engage our Passionfool audience. In the end, these are the attributes Eva and I look for in a script we’d like to produce — provocative and engaging. And by provocative, I mean that it elicits or provokes a profound emotional and intellectual reaction from the audience. Theatre that affects and prompts lively discussion — that is what we strive to deliver. And Never Swim is bound to deliver on both counts.
In terms of future plans for the company. We have a number of initiatives in the works which should come to fruition over the next couple of years.
- We plan to commission a play from a local playwright every year, giving them access to actors and a dramaturge to workshop drafts of the piece throughout the year culminating in a staging of the piece prior to the start of our regular season;
- We plan to tour our June production across the Canadian Fringe circuit;
- Each year we would like to move either our April or October production (depending on the show and availability) to a small black box venue in another city — Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Vancouver.
Other than these 3 goals, we plan on continuing with our 3 show season format of stories well told.
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