Marie Brassard dreams theatre

Jimmy and The Glass Eye on stage at Centaur Theatre in November and December

Actress and theatre-maker Marie Brassard, known for her collaborations with Robert Lepage, doesn’t shy away from the strange. Her first solo work, Jimmy (originally Jimmy, créature de rêve in French), revolves around a gay hairdresser who comes to life first in the dream of a homophobic American general in the 1950s, and fifty years later, in the dreams of a Montreal actress. In The Glass Eye, Brassard’s collaboration with 40-year theatre veteran Louis Negin, reality and fiction combine, creating a play within a play which touches upon celebrity, theatre, movies, sex and love.

The English versions of each play will be presented at Centaur Theatre for the first time in November and December, something Brassard is “really, really excited” about. Which of your roles — director, playwright, performer — is most you?

Brassard: I think I’m basically an actress but I would say that above everything I’m an artist. That’s the way I perceive myself, so when I create a theatre play I don’t see it as a fragmented medium. I see it as one thing. When I’m building my plays, I create everything at the same time, so for me it’s like I’m creating an object. It happens to be a theatre play. What’s your writing process like?

Brassard: I really write from an actress’s point of view, which means that I’m improvising my text and I record myself. I take the most interesting bits and I build my plays that way.

When I did Jimmy, I started exploring the possibilities of using sound processors that allowed me to transform my voice. By doing so, I could play different characters in a more realistic way, but as well in a more hyper-realistic way. It allows me to do very strange, twisted characters because my body doesn’t correspond to the voice. How did the idea for Jimmy come about?

Brassard: I wrote my dreams for a couple of years in a book and I thought the stories in my dreams were really interesting and surreal and I thought it would be a great idea to do something out of them. Very often people try to depict dreams in theatre plays or in film and usually you have the dreamer as the main character. I thought that maybe it would be interesting to do it the other way around, meaning to have the person dreamt as the main character and the one telling his story.

It’s in a way a philosophical play as well because it raises questions about our own existence. Do we really exist? Are we being dreamt? It’s a play about creation and about love. How did you develop The Glass Eye?

Brassard: A few years ago, Louis Negin said, “I wonder if you’d be interested in staging the play I wrote [Polo’s Fantasy].” So we read it together and I thought it was interesting. Then we started talking and he was telling me about the real stories of his real life and I thought it was fascinating. So I proposed to him for us to create a new play inspired by his theatre play as well as his own life.

Louis is a great actor. He’s very, very touching and really a very charismatic person. I thought it was just so interesting just to have him on stage telling his stories. It’s a very simple play but I think it’s quite moving and it brings us to reflect upon our own lives, and time passing, and the world changing. You’ve toured Jimmy all over the world. Do you have any tour stories?

Brassard: I have an impression that’s very moving. I’m talking about dreams and sometimes I’m staging kind of very — how would I say? — not common, but dream situations. I’m amazed to see that all people, no matter their background or their origin, seem as if we’re somehow digging in the same pool of symbols, or dreams. When I bring people in that territory, it seems that we all share the same ability to decipher all those symbols. Somehow they have the same emotional input for each of us.

In a way, basically, at least, in the Western world we share kind of a very, very basic human knowledge. It reaches everyone and it touches everyone.

Jimmy runs Nov 25 – 28 at 8:30pm, Nov 29 at 2:30pm. Centaur Theatre, 453 St François-Xavier. 514-288-1229.

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