Live theatre returns to Montreal, with outdoor series of short plays inspired by pandemic

In his new series of short plays, set to run in outdoor locations in Pointe-Saint-Charles from Aug. 6 to mid-September, Mathieu Murphy-Perron portrays a universe not so different from our own, where human connection has been disrupted by a global pandemic.

Tableau D'Hôte Theatre is producing 9 short plays to be performed once a week from August to September

Mathieu Murphy-Perron, artistic director of Tableau D’Hôte Theatre, pictured with stage Manager Charley Hausknost. (Jaclyn Turner/Tableau D’Hôte)

It would be tempting for any artist faced with creating new works of theatre during a time of immense social upheaval to lean in to escapism. 

After months of confinement, distancing and mandatory hygiene measures, settling down to watch sitcom re-runs or live performances filmed pre-COVID provides a certain comfort.

But Mathieu Murphy-Perron, artistic director of Tableau D'Hôte Theatre, isn't avoiding the pandemic.

In his new series of short plays, set to run in outdoor locations in Pointe-Saint-Charles from Aug. 6 to mid-September, Murphy-Perron portrays a universe not so different from our own, where human connection has been disrupted by a global pandemic.

Murphy-Perron, himself a resident of Pointe-Saint-Charles, wrote the nine short plays (which last between five to 10 minutes each) as a way to bring art to his community.

"Why not give my neighbours, who have spent the last four months cooped up in their homes, a chance once a week to go outside, watch something for five to 10 minutes and walk back home," he said.

"We'll have lived something together. I think there's something magical about that."

Actresses Anne-Marie Saheb and Devon Hardy in rehearsal for the En Pointe series. (Jaclyn Turner/Tableau D’Hôte Theatre)

The plays will be presented at secret outdoor locations which will be revealed on social media a few hours before the performances. 

Murphy-Perron said, as far as he knows, this is the second live, in-person theatre performance to take place in Canada since the beginning of the pandemic.

He said along with inviting the public to experience the arts outside and in small doses, he felt it was important to create opportunities for theatre artists who may be struggling financially.

"At the end of the day, people are getting work," he said. "It's not going to tide them over till Christmas, but it's something."

The bilingual performances are free of charge for audiences and are funded through various government arts grants created specifically to fund outdoor events during the pandemic.

He said designing a show that doesn't rely on box office revenue was a relief, as many arts organizations grapple with how they can break even playing to significantly limited audiences.

"If five people show up, then those five people will get a hell of a show," he said. 

Thinking outside the box

Tableau D'Hôte Theatre normally is mandated to produce Canadian plays which haven't been produced before in the city, but pulling together a full-scale production on short notice and in a safe way posed too many challenges.

Instead, Murphy-Perron chose to seize on what he called a "window of creative possibility," taking up his pen and writing plays inspired by the struggles of the last six months.

"I just decided to think a little bit outside the box," he said.

The plays are interconnected with some characters reappearing in more than one, but they are episodic and standalone, so seeing them all is not necessary to appreciate them, said Murphy-Perron.

For this production series, keeping everyone safe meant the company hired a COVID-19 coordinator, with a health background, to ensure distancing and hygiene measures were being respected from rehearsal to live performances.

It also involved the clever casting of three real-life couples who already share a household and can kiss and hold hands onstage without any risk.

For performances, audience members will be directed to sit in designated distanced spots on the ground and will be asked to wear a mask during the short play as a precaution.

The first play in the En Pointe series will be held somewhere in Pointe-Saint-Charles on Aug. 6. The exact location will be announced a few hours before online. Admission is free but audience members will be asked to wear masks or face coverings. 


Marilla Steuter-Martin has been a journalist with CBC Montreal since 2015.


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