Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
Whoever said youth is wasted on the young never met Guy Mignault, the recently-retired artistic director of Théâtre français de Toronto.
Les Zinspirés, the French-language student-playwriting festival he created is by far one of the best inventions of the theatre world. Now in its 5th year, it is a prime example of giving youth an avenue for creative expression . . . and youth running with it! Les Zinspirés has not only given GTA youth a vehicle to communicate their unique perspectives — it has also yielded great theatre. Since 2013, it has garnered a whopping 9 Dora Mavor Moore Awards — and in 2016, it earned last year’s director Sébastien Bertrand a Dora Award for Best Direction.
This year’s offering, Les Zinspirés: cinq sur cinq presents five new stories revealing the fears, dreams and aspirations of the Generation Z, directed by Chanda Legroulx Gibson. “I feel honored to be a part of it,” enthuses Gibson, who has already experienced many surprises during the creative process. The biggest yet, she says, has been the enthusiasm, the motivation and the generosity of the young authors: “They are very driven and have worked extremely hard. These kids have devoted themselves to this project, and I am so proud of them.”
The opportunity to direct the project has also brought Gibson a host of thoughts and wonderings. “What do they want to share with us?” is a recurring question that excites her. What the process has revealed to her is the young playwrights’ desire to “share a glimpse of who they are. They want to share themselves with us wholeheartedly, “ she emphasizes. “What I have most observed is how courageous they are.”
Indeed they are – exploring through their plays a variety of challenging themes and genres. For instance, two plays explore the theme of domineering parents: “WIYAMO” by Muhammad Alhideq and “Touchdown” by Rob Dean. “Le Bicycle” by Benjamin Kersey finds a young boy having to face up to–and ultimately defy–a headmistress teetering on the edge of madness. “733 jours” by Delphine Sandall-Guay explores youth’s need to identify generational shortcomings and doubts. “Netflix pour les survivants” by Anna Witulska is a comedic satire in which an adolescent named Izabelle perceives the world through the streaming series she compulsively watches and rewatches.
As in previous series, this year’s Les Zinspirés truly has something for everyone. And Gibson hopes that youth in the audience find it a catalyst for “interesting conversations” with family at the dinner table and with friends–that it “sparks curiosity and creativity…and that it shows them the value in art and theatre.”
As an inclusive, accessible and unique experience for young writers and theatre enthusiasts, Gibson credits Les Zinspirés for involving students in the theatrical process. Les Zinspirés shows them that theatre isn’t this “old and dusty pursuit of the elite, that theatre can be human and down to earth.” It highlights for youth their ability to create and participate actively in the theatrical art form. Ultimately, “Les Zinspirés is a demystification of theatre for youth,” she asserts, “because it is a show written by them. Their voices are being heard, and their ideas, thoughts and stories are being brought to life on stage.”
When asked what she would like Toronto audiences to know about Les Zinspirés: cinq sur cinq, she says simply, “come see this show!” And she advises bringing friends, family, children . . . and nieces and nephews: “Just come and be a part of something unique and creative and fun. You will laugh. You might cry,” she warns, “and no matter what, you will be entertained and have a really good time!”
If previous editions of Les Zinspirés are any predictor, there can be little doubt of that!
News You Can Use
What: Les Zinspirés: cinq sur cinq, a Théâtre français de Toronto production, featuring Felix Beauchamp, Alex Côté, Krystel Descary, Sheila Ingabire-Isaro and Maxime Robin; directed by Chanda Legroulx Gibson
Clever, alert, and witty, Izabelle loves to spend her weekends glued to her favourite shows on Netflix. When her father plans a family trip into the heart of the Gaspé forest, Izabelle is torn away from the virtual world she is so comfortable with and propelled into an adventure of her own. Will they make it out alive? It’s Netflix for survivors!
2. Touchdown by Rob Dean
Athletic, motivated, and totally dedicated to his college football career, Joe suffers a horrible concussion that strips away any hope at a bright future as an athlete. Abandoned by his father and his friends, Joe is devastated and depressed. Will he find the strength to find his true self and create new goals? Most of all, will he find support from his dismissive father.
3. WIYAMO by Muhammad Alhideq
Moe has a great sense of humour and loves to make people laugh. Always ready for a good time, he embarks on an adventure with his two best friends as they explore an abandoned house to uncover powerful secrets.
4. Le bicycle (The Bicycle) by Benjamin Kersey
Steve is a bitrochosophile: he loves riding his bike. When his most prized possession is vandalized, Steve follows his father’s advice to stand up for himself. Will he be victorious? Or will he end up in pieces, like his bikes?
5. 733 jours (733 Days) by Delphine Sandall-Guay
Éloïse suffers from acute social withdrawal. For the past 733 days, she has confined herself to her room, cutting herself off from family and friends. Isolated, she is paralyzed by fear when she is confronted by her inner demons. Will she find the hope and courage to confront them, and finally break her withdrawal?
Who: Audiences of all ages
When: November 17 – 26, 2016
Where: Théâtre français de Toronto at the Berkeley Street Theatre, Upstairs, 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto, ON
For Info and Tickets: theatrefrancais.com and 416.534.6604
© 2016 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya