Montreal English Theatre Awards: What's in a prize?

Move to Toronto and work as a waitress or stay here and multi-task, that's advice from one of the panelists on Cinq à six this week. Four theatre people talk to host Jeanette Kelly about the challenges to Montreal's English theatre scene and whether or not awards ceremonies help.

Star system or fewer plays about aging white men: Tips on saving Montreal English theatre

Book prizes, music awards, Oscar nominations, Genies, Polaris Prizes…Our cultural landscape is rife with awards ceremonies.

We walk red carpets, stop and strike a pose but, ultimately, what's the impact of the ceremony?

Three years ago the Montreal English theatre community decided to create its own awards gala. The METAS spotlight and celebrate our community's outstanding work on the stage and the 2015 edition was held earlier this week.

Do they work? What would make a healthy live theatre scene? Does it matter if actors drive down the 401 to Toronto?

Here is what four Montrealers who care deeply about English theatre had to say:

Mike Payette

Co-founder, artistic director of Tableau d'Hôte Theatre and Assistant Artistic Director of Black Theatre Workshop

Mike Payette is the co-founder and artistic director of Tableau d'Hôte Theatre and Assistant Artistic Director of Black Theatre Workshop. (Frank Opolko/CBC )

The Tableau d'Hôte production of Hosannah by Michel Tremblay won 4 META awards, Outstanding Independent Production, Outstanding Direction, Outstanding Lead Performance Actor and Outstanding Supporting Performance-Actor.

This is the third year and there's a learning curve of how to use the METAs for the community. It's important to raise the stakes of what we do and to have a collective conversation about how we engage our audience.

I noticed at Monday's ceremony though the majority of people who were there were theatre artists and theatre goers but there was a good number of people who were aware of the METAs and their importance and so came. So the general public being invited to engage is really important if we're going to elevate what it is that we're doing.

Marianne Ackerman

Playwright, novelist and journalist

Marianne Ackerman is a playwright, novelist and journalist. (Frank Opolko/CBC)

I've had the feeling it's a very happy, vintagely important community group. I've worked in indie theatre and the companies were so torn apart then and competitive. Now you have all this collaboration. Many of the jury members got prizes. How cute is that?

Given that you want the general public to be involved, why not find 20 people who love going to theatre and put them on the jury? I think you have a serious perception issue here.

It's next to impossible to make a living here in theatre. How do you live without becoming a waitress?

Amy Blackmore 

Director of Mainline Theatre and the Montreal Fringe

Amy Blackmore is the director of Mainline Theatre and the Montreal Fringe Festival. (Frank Opolko/CBC)

I have to admit that most of the young artists that I work with all do want to move to Toronto. Or rather they don't want to move but they feel like they have to. That was kind of the joke all night and I'm really sick of that joke. Montreal is such a beautiful city. It's so diverse. The language is so beautiful here. It's so unique the situation our English artists are growing up within. Because it's a small community, there are so many mentors out there. Friends I know who move to Toronto become waitresses and that's it.

The advice I give actors who come through Mainline is be well-rounded: so many of them are actors, they're also writers, they also teach. I think the more skills you can acquire in Montreal, the more successful you can be.

Gideon Arthurs

CEO of the National Theatre School

Gideon Arthurs is the director of the National Theatre School in Montreal. (Frank Opolko/CBC)

We're watching the experience across Canada of the decline of large institutions which are struggling to find new audiences. Whereas at the level of the Fringe or festivals in the summer, droves of young people are coming out to see artists they've never heard of before because they value the experience. They recognize themselves on stage. I think the notion of star power is being replaced by collaboration, by exploration of new spaces and new ideas, stories. And if there is audience growth to have it's in carving out space for people to recognize themselves on stage.

I would argue that we're still fairly obsessed with telling stories of old white men on stage. And if you can't recognize yourself in the story and your own experiences why would you fork out 50 bucks plus transport, plus dinner, plus babysitter?

We've been encouraging [students] to explore new markets. We manage a residency for technical students in Winnipeg for example. In fact there's probably an easier path for them working in a small market rather than in the megamarket [like Toronto].

Listen to the complete conversation Saturday on Cinq à six with host Jeanette Kelly.  

Tune in at 5 p.m. on CBC Radio One or listen here.


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