Les Zinspirés “gives youth a voice”: SesayArts in Conversation with Guy Mignault

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.

Guy Mignault, Artistic Director of Théâtre français de Toronto (TfT)

Guy Mignault, Artistic Director of Théâtre français de Toronto (TfT)

If you’re a French-speaking Ontario teen with some Molière in your soul, then Guy Mignault wants to shine a spotlight on you. On November 20, five Toronto-area teens will, once again, get a chance to shine as playwrights, when Théâtre français de Toronto (TfT) presents Les Zinspirés Puissance 4. Now in its fourth year, Les Zinspirés Puissance 4 will debut five 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 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 2013, its inaugural year and again in 2015, Les Zinspirés was nominated for 2 Dora Mavor Moore 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. So SesayArts caught up with the Artistic Director of Théâtre français de Toronto (TfT) and the founder of Les Zinspirés , the dynamic and visionary Guy Mignault, 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. In 4 short years, Les Zinspirés is thriving, with more schools participating each year. How do you select the final scripts from the many submissions that you get? (What do you look for in each submission? If you receive 2 scripts on a similar theme, how do you chose the “winner”?)
Les Zinspirés Cast; photo by Marc Lemyre

Les Zinspirés Cast; photo by Marc Lemyre

The texts are chosen on many criteria: the story, the originality, the relevancy, the talent with which the story is written. Then, when we approach the show, we analyze which 5 texts can go together to create a “show balance,” considering comedy vs. drama… punch and poetry, etc. And at the end, we try to see to intermingling the stories, creating links between the stories and possibly having characters participating in the other stories.

  1. At which point in the 4 years did new director Sébastien Bertrand get involved, and how did he come to be this year’s director?

Sébastien got involved about 4 years ago. Being an author himself, he became writing coach. And this year, when I spoke to (previous director) Pierre Simpson about the season, we decided that he would step down. I immediately asked Sébastien. I have been working with him since 1999 when I directed him in a show for children and in 2000 when he played an traumatised youth.

  1. When audiences leave Les Zinspirés puissance 4, what do you think they’ll be talking about?

I guess they might be talking about a guy kissing a guy.

  1. Someone recently said to me that playwriting is “highly specialized” and therefore not a form of writing that young people should attempt. What would you say to this point of view?
Matt Raffy and Geneviève Dufour; photo by Marc Lemyre

Matt Raffy and Geneviève Dufour; photo by Marc Lemyre

Actually, what we ask the kids is to write stories, ten-minute long stories. We create the show with the stories. I agree that to be a playwright is highly specialized, but storytelling is easier. And we at TfT hope to give those kids the will to tell stories and, eventually, they might specialize in playwriting.

  1. What advice do you have for aspiring playwrights? 

Write, for crying out loud write. Read out loud in front of people, and listen to how your work is heard. Make corrections, and write–and write again.

  1. Famous last words

I am very proud of everything that has to do with les Zinspirés. And Sébastien is, with a couple of the actors, the new links to making les Zinspirés grow more and go further.

News You Can Use

Who: Sébastien Bertrand, director; featuring Mélanie Beauchamp, Geneviève Dufour, François Macdonald, Matt Raffy and Alex Weiner.

What: Les Zinspirés Puissance 4, presented in French with English surtitles

  • Alex Weiner and Mélanie Beauchamp; photo by Marc Lemyre

    Alex Weiner and Mélanie Beauchamp; photo by Marc Lemyre

    Soliloque d’un menteur (Soliloquy of a Liar) by Mande Tonde (École secondaire Saint-Frère-André – Toronto): Proud and sure of himself, Jérémy Laval is a skilled liar. He’s been lying since before he could walk. He just can’t help it. Lying is his drug of choice; a bad habit that will eventually teach him a hard lesson.

  • Amoureuse en route (In Love En Route) by Stephanie Kroone (École secondaire Étienne-Brûlé – Toronto): Madeleine is a young teenager, awkward and a bit of a recluse, who prefers to bury herself deep in her books rather than speak to her classmates. Her life is turned upside down when she meets the boy of her dreams. In order to find the courage to breakfree from her shell, Madeleine will draw her inspiration from the novels of Jane Austen.
  • Destination célébrité (Destination: Celebrity) by Laura Jackson (École secondaire Père-René-de-Galinée – Cambridge, ON): Funny and full of life, Sophie is not afraid of doing whatever it takes to accomplish her dream andbecome a famous actress! When Sophie goes to New York to audition for an important role, she meets a mysterious man at the airport who offers her a deal she can’t refuse.
  • Jugements (Judgements) by Eric Vanhauwaert (École secondaire Étienne-Brûlé – Toronto): Opinionated and sarcastic, Luc comes from Hearst. Much to his dislike, he goes on a school trip to Toronto. When Luc gets lost, he must make the best of his rudimentary English in order to find his classmates. In the process, he discovers what this massive foreign city has to offer.
  • Peur du placard (Afraid of the Closet) by Jennie Morrison (École secondaire Confédération – Welland, ON): A young teenager reveals his homosexuality to his family and is immediately surprised by their acceptance and understanding. However, when news of his sexual orientation reaches his school, it’s a completely different story.

When: November 20, 25, 8:00 pm and Nov 28, 3:30 pm

Where: Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley Street (Upstairs), Toronto, ON

For Info and Tickets: theatrefrancais.com and (416) 534-6604 or 1-800-819-4981

© 2015 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya

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