Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
If you’re a French-speaking Ontario teen with some Molière in your soul, then directors Guy Mignault and Pierre Simpson want to shine a spotlight on you. This October, 5 Toronto-area teens will, once again, get a chance to shine as playwrights, when Théâtre français de Toronto presents Les Zinspirés 3D. Now in its third year, Les Zinspirés 3D will debut 5 short stories, all written by teens from across Southern Ontario, workshopped by professional writers and performed by professional actors.
The program begins as a writing contest organized in schools, followed by three dramaturgy workshops for the students whose texts have been selected. Eventually, five stories are reworked into a professional theatrical production, which is then performed at the Berkeley Street Theatre. This production is not child’s play. These are truly inspired aspiring playwrights and Les Zinspirés is no ordinary youth-development program. In fact, the final production is ovation-worthy. In 2012, its inaugural year, LesZinspirés was nominated for 2 Dora Awards: Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Performance – Ensemble.
And no worries if your French is rusty. The public performances are performed in French with English surtitles–making Les Zinspirés accessible to just about everyone. We at Sesaya are so, well, inspired by this program that we wanted to find out all that we could about this year’s production. SesayArts caught up with actor and comedian Pierre Simpson, the warm and genial director of Les Zinspirés 3D, and asked him for details about how this concept was born, what we can expect to see this year and some inspiration for budding playwrights.
1. Can you describe how Les Zinspirés come to be…? How did it start, and what was involved in getting it going?
Les Zinspirés was actually Guy Mignault‘s idea (he is the artistic director of Théâtre français de Toronto — and if you haven’t met him yet, he’s there to greet everyone before every show). TfT had been collaborating on a writing contest called Les Zurbains with Le Théâtre le Clou for 7 or 8 years prior, where GTA students (along with their counterparts in Montréal, Québec and Ottawa) were given the chance to write urban tales (contes urbains). Twelve in each city were then chosen to be workshopped, and ultimately four were chose to be turned into a professional production, put on by le Clou that also included a commissioned tale by a professional author. The production then toured to the four host citites. TfT alone received so many strong submissions each year that Guy decided we should attempt an edition where all 5 short stories would come from Toronto-area teens. Les Zinspirés were born!
2. What has changed between then and now?
Due to popular demand, we’ve since opened up the contest up to all of Southern Ontario. This year we have our first short story from further outside the GTA: Diable blanc by Mary Anne Bakos from Tecumseh (just outside Windsor). I’d also say we’ve created a following; teens have now seen two editions of the show, and I can feel that they are writing with the stage in mind. We’ve gone from monologue-centric pieces to having three stories this year that are practically all dialogue. And we’ve gone from only one show open to the general public to three!
3. Now, in 3 short years, Les Zinspirés is thriving. How do you select the final scripts from the many submissions that you get?
I have to admit that it’s always very difficult to choose the final five pieces that will make up the show. To choose the 24 semi-finalists that are invited to the two writing workshop weekends, we look for strong themes, character and plot development, overall quality of writing and a unique voice.
To pick the final five, I enlist the help of the awesome team of writing coaches and even some of the participating actors (as they say, it takes a village!). We do our best to find the ‘perfect combo’ — either stories that could fit together geographically (as in last year’s show which was centered in and around a hospital) or finding stories where the same characters could come back — like this year’s Marie-Claire, who is the sidekick BFF in Les Étoiles de Barcelone and returns to share the saga of her spectacular ‘fro in Mes cheveux, ma couronne.
4. What advice do you have for aspiring playwrights?
Write from the heart!
Each year, we can tell which young authors are writing about things they know about, events they’ve lived through, issues they’re trying to get the bottom of, the cultural richness that surrounds them.
Also, learn to be constructively critical of your own work: Have I really said what I wanted to say? How do I want my audience to feel after they’ve heard my story? Which parts are really working? Which ones aren’t clear yet? But most of all – have fun!!
5. How can we get more students to go to the theatre?
With projects like these! It’s so amazing to be in the theatre with them during a performance and feel their vibrant, positive energy when they’re into the show. Especially when a fellow classmate’s story is being performed on stage, you can feel their engagement in the piece. That’s pretty priceless. Hopefully having seen Les Zinspirés, they’ll be ‘inspired’ to see more theatre afterwards, be it at Théâtre français or elsewhere.
6. What have we neglected to ask that you wish to add?
I’m excited to share the show with a wider audience. The awesome cast and dynamic designers have created quite a production with these wonderful scripts. Beyond the energetic performances and intriguing visuals, surtitles during the three general public shows make the performance even more accessible to everyone!
News You Can Use
What: Les Zinspirés 3D
Who: Directed by Pierre Simpson; performed by Lise Cormier, Alexandre Côté, Djennie Laguerre, Alexis Soha, and Xavier Yuvens
When: October 24 and 29 at 8 PM and November 1 at 3:30 PM. In French with English surtitles
School matinées: October 23 – 31, 2014
Where: Théâtre français de Toronto at the Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs, 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto
FYI: theatrefrancais.com and (416) 534-6604 or 1-800-819-4981
© 2014 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya