Theatre Without Borders

Theatre Without Borders



About the book

  • Manuela Dias Book Design of the Year Award finalist
An in-depth look at the puppeteers, clowns, raconteurs, and solo performance artists who influence and invigorate the current theatre scene in Canada. Included: Theatre Beyond Words, Les Deux Mondes, Yves Dagenais, Theatre Smith-Gilmour, Theatre Columbus, Axis Theatre, Wendy Gorling, Ronnie Burkett, and Jest in Time.

About the author

Astle, Robert

Robert Astle is a writer, director and teacher. His solo plays Heart of a Dog and The Hats of Mr. Zenobe have been produced and performed in Canada, the USA and Europe; the Toronto production of The Hats of Mr. Zenobe  garnered him four Dora Award nominations. In the 1980s he was a member of Small Change Theatre, a company that toured clown and mask plays around the globe. He taught  clown and bouffon theatre at Concordia University as well as playwriting at the National Theatre School of Canada and was the Playwright in Residence at Montreal's Centaur Theatre. He presently lives in New York. 


from Taken from the interview with Daniel Meillieur from Les Deux Mondes theatre company

RA: What would you say are the real tangible benefits of taking your work beyond the borders of Canada?

DM: I always say that if I were the prime minister of a country, I'd invent a universal social law that would oblige everyone to go on a trip, one trip to somewhere in the world, outside of their own country some time after the age of 18. Get out and see the world. Because when you see it for real, when you feel it, when you touch, look, talk, communicate, you get a different understanding of humanity. You grasp the complexity of cultures, religions, and languages and the reasons whether they be historical and geographical that determine certain behaviours or desires. When you see parts of the world where people won't let go of the geographic land their ancestors have lived on for centuries‹when you're there, you understand, it becomes evident. It's a question of opening up and it's very inspiring.

RA: It must¹ve been tough to create a demand for your work, because Canada was certainly not known as a theatre powerhouse.

DM: In the beginning, in the 1970s, the image of Canada was still very folkloric. And that's not that long ago. Only 25 years. It was an image of endless landscapes, forests, wooden houses, Eskimos, etc. So it was surprising to see a theatre that was contemporary, modern, avant-garde, political, activist, up to speed with the rest of the world [coming from Canada]. And in just a few years, in Montreal anyway - if you think of Robert Lepage, Denis Marleau , Gilles Maheu , - theatre, and dance as well, became an international attraction. At festivals, symposia, there are tons of people from here. When we do CINARS and invite people here to Montreal, 200 people come from 80 countries. Because they know that in Montreal they'll see things that they won't see elsewhere. Why, I don't know? I do know, though that people imagine that there exists a formula to make an international show. We get told: "you have formulas to make it universal..." That's completely false. Take L'Histoire de L¹oie. It's a little story from a remote part of Quebec in the 50s. It's a show based on our childhood. When we talked about the show to theatre directors, they would tell us that there's enough about that on television, in the movies, it didn't interest them. And we were sure that we wouldn't tour the show, because no one was interested. And then little by little... because it was profound... To make something universal is like writing a novel that becomes universal because it speaks of very profound human truths.

RA: Can you speak about your process of developing your work?

DM: What's difficult with the creative process is that when I'm developing such and such show. I'm not thinking about what a child will think or what the reaction will be for example in the States or Japan. I just think of a general public, because theatre is for the public, and the idea is to go as far as possible, as an artist, in the far as possible... After that, every show has a destiny. Some shows we created haven't worked. Some work, some don't. That's destiny, You can't explain why. It's mysterious.

RA: Is your work created collectively, that is to say, many voice working to create a whole?

DM: We do collective creations or collective productions. Now, I just call it collective work. It's different because each artist "signs" the work, they sign the music, the video, the props, the directing, the actors sign, and everybody signs. Collective work is when you put forward your proposition and someone else suggests another and that's how you progress. It's not hierarchical; it's based on the idea that seems best, strongest. That's collective work. That's why our work takes so much time.

RA: With this process of collective work, as you describe it, how do you make decisions on holding on to the good ideas, and letting go the bad, or not so good ideas?

DM: It's a long process. Within this process you keep holding on to your ideas. There are ideas you won't give up for the world. Because you believe in them! But 3 or 6 months later when you watch the video, you sometimes realize the problem lies in what you believed in most. You¹ll say: "The idea may be great, but not in this show." It's a distance you don't have when you're right in the action, when you won't give ideas up, when you're too close to them. So it's a process that leaves room for reflection, for some distance. When you're working on a show from morning to night, wherever you're always thinking about it‹when you¹re reading an article, or even making watching a TV show. You're always thinking about it. That's very important.


Theatre Without Borders emerges as an engaging series of interviews with nine off-the-beaten-path theatre companies and performers, some well known(Ronnie Burkett, whose adult marionette shows have played the MTC Warehouse several times) and some less so, but all intriguing.

Uptown Magazine

Montreal writer and director Robert Astle has had his award-winning plays produced across North America and in Europe. He has also taught clwoning, which made him realize how little has been published about it. This book is his response--and it's… >>

The Globe and Mail

Join us on Facebook Facebook Follow us on Twitter Twitter

up Back to top