Montreal-based director Brigitte Haentjens has won Canada's richest prize in theatre, the $100,000 Elinore & Lou Siminovitch Prize.
Haentjens, 56, receives $75,000 of the award and has named two protegés, Quebec City director Christian Lapointe and Montreal-based Théâtre de la Pire Espèce to split the remaining $25,000.
Haentjens, in Montreal preparing for a production of Blasté (Blasted), a controversial playby Britain'sSarah Kane, flew to Toronto on Monday night to accept the award.
The director said she was "almost crying" when she found out she had won the award because it presents her with the breathing space to seek inspiration.
"I'm 56 years old, I'm at the top of my career, but you feel sometimes very lonely, very discouraged, because it's very hard," said Haentjens. "This kind of prize gives you a lot of energy."
Haentjens's new production opens next year, marking the return to the stage of Roy Dupuis, who played General Dallaire in the feature film of Shake Hands with the Devil. Blasted' sscenes of rape and other brutality made it controversial in Britain.
After that production, Haentjens said sheplans to travel and see plays in Europe.
"It's good, just to think about what you do," said Haentjens. "Here, I'm working so hard, I'm working usually 12 hours a day…. This prize is giving me the time to think, which is great."
The Siminovitch jury recognized the forceful and often uncomfortable impact of her productions.
"In Brigitte's world, ideas bleed, bodies think, space throbs," the jury said in its citation.
"This is écriture scénique that defies classification; that displays a breathtaking tension between meticulousness and brutality; and wherein people, even as they are excited and inspired by the show itself, will find themselves forced to question the very foundations of their existence, of their identity, without any possible escape."
Passionate about theatre
Haentjens has run her own theatre company, Sibyllines, since 1997, producing critically acclaimed works such as La nuit juste avant les forêts, Tout comme elleand Vivre.
"Theatre has the effect on me of a cut, of a burn, of a punch, of a lash. Theatre stimulates me, upsets me and can even enrage me," Haentjens said.
She studied theatre in Paris before moving to Ontario in 1977 to be artistic director of the Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario. From 1991 to 1994, she was artistic director of Nouvelle compagnie théâtrale in Montréal, and from 1996 to 2006, she was artistic co-director for the Carrefour international de théâtre de Québec.
She also has been active as an independent director, creating Combat de nègre et de chiens and Marie Stuart for Théâtre du nouveau monde, and Électre et Antigone and Strindberg's Mademoiselle Julie,bothat l'Espace Go.
Her protegé Lapointe has also mounted plays by Claude Gauvreau, Sarah Kane, and Mark Ravenhill, andwill travel to Berlin in December to participate in a workshop on new dramaturgies.
La Pire Espèce isa workspace of artist-companions who use techniques such as marionettes, cabaret and storytelling and have performed in France, Quebec and New Brunswick.
The Simonovitch Prize, named after scientist Lou Siminovitch and his playwright wife Elinore, recognizes direction, playwriting and design in alternating years.
There were 26 directors nominated for this year's award and a shortlist of four was named earlier this month.
The other nominees were:
- Edmonton's Ron Jenkins, a founding member of November Theatre.
- Toronto's Alisa Palmer, co-founder and co-director of the performance company Froth Productions.
- Toronto's Soheil Parsa, whose three-decade career has focused on oppression and loss of freedom.