Rise Up—Find the Joy!

INTERVIEW BY MARIE-CLAIRE MARCOTTE

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I want to call Emilie Leclerc a Creator, Actress, Director, Mover, Producer, Dramaturge and Writer but… she’s not convinced she can take all those titles on… yet! We settle on Actress/Creator, though I let it slip that I might still call her all those things for this piece in She Said Notes. She’s OK with that.

I met Emilie in 2011 at the Banff Centre for the Arts where we were both taking a voice/diction workshop. For the next two years, we continued to meet at the Banff Centre, both participating in various workshops. It got to the point where we thought ‘let’s stop crushing on each other from afar and DO something together!’ For a brief period she participated in the creation of one of my plays and I participated in the creation of hers. Though we live in opposite ends of the country (she’s based in Vancouver, I’m in Toronto) we still keep trying to figure out the next theatre project that will bring us back together. I manage to steal her away from her projects for a sweet hour.

Salut!

Allô Emilie!

Hey, guess what? Facebook told me yesterday that we’ve been friends for six years!

Six?! Already? Wow. I can’t keep track of you! Where are you now?

I’m actually in Montreal and then I’m going to see my family for the holidays.

Right, you were born in Quebec. I keep forgetting that.

Yup. From a settler’s narrative, I guess I’m a 13th generation Canadian!

Are all your ancestors French?

No! Not too long ago I hired a genealogist. People kept asking me if I was First Nations because of the way I look so I got curious. Turns out I also have Mi’kmaq, Anishinaabe/Nipissing and Algonquin ancestry on my mom’s side. I’m hoping to look more closely at my dad’s side… part of my 2018 goals!

You’re the only one in your family who ever researched your ancestry?

I think so. After my grandmother died, my mom showed me old pictures of her and her cousins as kids and it was so obvious to me that they had Indigenous features. I asked my mom, “How could anyone not know? Look!” But they were all living in the country in Quebec and at that time people didn’t want to celebrate their First Nations’ ancestry. It’s something they tried really hard to hide… and forget I guess.

And boom—you’re like ‘no more lies!’

(Laughing) Boom!

You have a great story in your hands! The fact that your past was hidden from you… and with our current political climate. Now that you know more about your heritage, do you feel a certain pressure or desire to create something from that?

Hmm, tough one. I’m afraid I can’t…

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But it’s your story.

Maybe I’m already creating a show in the back of my mind but… I have a lot of questions about identity. My First Nations’ roots were erased from my family. I don’t feel I can call myself First Nation because it wasn’t part of my upbringing. I have a lot of internal conflict about how to present myself… about what is right for me to tell and what is wrong for me to tell.

How are you confronting that conflict?

Right now, through honesty and curiosity. Mainstream culture tends to identify First Nations people as one thing but there are so many different indigenous ways of doing and living. I’m trying to be smart and honest in my approach and my questioning. I come at it with an open heart and right now, that’s all I can do. I think that if more Canadians were curious about their ancestors, their culture, and looked into the First Nations’ narratives with more curiosity and respect, our society would have a healthier relationship with our First Nations people.

I see your curiosity (and curiosity in general) as a form of activism. Do you see it that way?

I do. And if that curiosity leads to the creation of a show some day, then great. If not, at least it got me questioning.

You’re involved in so many new creations. This year alone you’re pursuing your own collective-based creation Anonyme, then creating with companies in Singapore, and then touring a show to Australia! How do you pick your projects? The exciting locations?

Ha! Maybe! No, no—I tend to look at what the piece is saying and doing and then decide. Creating new pieces is so hard and there’s so little money involved that it’s important to be very very stimulated! (Laughing) I don’t create a lot of theatrical ‘entertainment.’ For example, the co-production in Singapore is a new play about colonization, mixed identity and immigration. Singapore has also been colonized and has different ethnic groups so there are similarities with Canada. The creation in Australia is about a young girl who immigrates to a new country because of political uprising in her country of origin. All to say, I am extremely stimulated!

How do you pick your team for your own creations?

When I’m creating and producing my own stuff I always have a majority of women in my projects. You’ve inspired me to do that.

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Oh. That’s nice to know.

It’s about rebalancing things. 70% of people who buy theatre tickets are women and yet only 30% of playwrights are women. Those numbers mean there are always more male voices being heard. And there are always more men working on stage and behind the stage. So we’re still rebalancing all that. There are so many strong inspiring women around me—kick-ass women who are courageous with their art and the teams they assemble. I just need to rise up to the level of my friends! (She laughs.)

Ha, so simple, right?

Rise up!

Are those your parting words?

Parting words… that’s stressful. (We laugh) Umm, I guess… my parting words would be rise up and find the joy, you know? It can be so difficult to be an artist that sometimes we forget to play—we forget the joy. They’re more like parting words for myself!

No I hear you. Rebecca and I often stare at each other and ask ‘Is this fun?’ If it isn’t any fun, we need to shift something because this work is too damn hard for there to be no fun, no joy!

Joy is good!

Sometimes I forget why art is so important. Can you remind me?

I wink at Emilie who laughs a little and then pauses to think of a response.

I think art provokes movement. Movement of thoughts. People act upon these thoughts. Art propels us forward, that’s for sure.

Thanks for that.

Emilie and I chat about a few of her (many more) ideas in development and reiterate our desire to work together again. In the meantime, we’re staying curious… focusing on the joy there is to be found in our work… and wish each other a ‘Joyeuses fêtes!’

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Emilie Leclerc is a Vancouver-based actor and theatre creator. She works in both French and English on stage, behind a microphone or a camera. A Jessie Award recipient, she had the pleasure of working with companies such as Théâtre la Seizième, Hardline Productions, Carousel Theatre, Presentation House Theatre, Babelle Theatre, Chemainus Theatre Festival and Twenty-Something Theatre amongst others. This fall, she is performing in both productions Unité Modèle (Théâtre la Seizième) and The Ridiculous Darkness (Alley Theatre). With Vortex Theatre, Emilie is creating Anonyme, an original piece that explores our intimate relationship to our cell phone and the virtual world. She also co-created ishow—an award-winning performance which toured all over Eastern Canada and France with the pan-Canadian collective Les Petites Cellules Chaudes. Emilie received two prizes by the Foundation for the advancement of francophone theatre in Canada. She is a graduate of Studio 58's acting program and holds a B.A. from McGill University in International Development Studies.

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