By Stephanie Hayne
A curtain opens to reveal a tiny, cozy room. Black and white photographs paper the walls and the smell of fresh-brewed coffee floats in the air. Micheline Chevrier sits on a well-worn couch and talks about leaving the Great Canadian Theatre Company (GCTC), the place she has called home for the past four years.
Chevrier, the company’s artistic director since November 1995, is set to leave in February after programming her last season for the theatre.
The GCTC’s theme for 1999-2000 is Images of Family. Chevrier says it seems the logical way to conclude her work at the company since she feels a personal connection to the area that wasn’t there when she first arrived.
“The first season was about connecting to my Franco-Ontarian roots and now it’s a different connection to roots,” she says. “Now it’s mine. It’s not in my ancestry. It’s my own.”
This season marks the 25th anniversary of the theatre on Gladstone Avenue. It includes six plays that explore issues of family, community and identity.
Chevrier directed this season’s first play, Michel Tremblay’s Bonjour, là, bonjour, and will direct Kimberley Orton’s An Act of Ruth in January. She says she wants to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the actors in the region who have become like family.
It seems, though, that the cast and crew of Chevrier’s theatre family would rather pay tribute to her.
Nancy Oakley, the company’s general manager, says Chevrier’s creative programming has raised the profile of the theatre. Subscriptions sky-rocketed from 1,700 to 2,700 after Chevrier’s first year as artistic director.
“She’s done a great deal for the company. It’s been an honour to have her lead us,” says Oakley.
Chevrier says the honour has been hers.
“It is an honour to run a theatre company,” she says. “No matter how hard, how frustrating, how demanding – it is the highest compliment anyone can pay you. I’m the lucky one.”
Chevrier says she is very particular about the plays she chooses to showcase.
John Koensgen agrees.
“She never picks easy plays,” he says. “They always challenge the director and the actor.”
Koensgen, who stars in Bonjour, says Chevrier’s drive and creativity motivate actors like himself to work hard.
“She brings a lot of heart and a lot of intelligence to her work,” he says. “With some directors, you go in and punch the clock. You do your bit, you leave. It’s never that way with Micheline.”
Chevrier’s work in theatre has taken her throughout Canada, from New Brunswick to Saskatchewan. Although she spent nine years in Toronto, she says she prefers the intimacy of small, regional theatres.
Chevrier says that is why she will miss the GCTC, but she is proud to hand over the reins to incoming artistic director Lorne Pardy.
“Lorne will bring in new plays, new ideas, a new sense of aesthetic, and I think that’s very healthy for a theatre,” she says.
As the curtain falls on her career with the GCTC, Chevrier reflects on her time there and her decision to remain in Ottawa until her career takes her elsewhere.
In February, it will take her to the prairies where she is set to direct two shows.
Until then, she is happy right here.
“When I came to Ottawa I felt like I was, strangely, coming home. But in fact, now I am home.”