By Amélie Langlois
Alexis Martin, writer-in-residence at McGill’s Département de langue et littérature françaises for 2016-2017, would have loved to stay on. “I was just beginning to find my bearings a bit,” he says. “I could have gone farther. I could have done more.”
Martin, who gave a workshop on dramatic writing (“It was three hours long! That made me pretty nervous in the beginning”), is a practitioner through and through. He says his stay at McGill was ”really enjoyable,” giving him the opportunity to apply a rich, nearly three-decade-long career in the theatre to his new role as a professor. “I got them to talk, I became the ‘host’ of the table. I glided into it quite naturally because basically, bringing a play to life means talking about a subject you have in common.”
The writer and actor strongly believes in the importance of constructing a linear narrative and learning to give and receive criticism. “What I wanted to explain, to put across, was that theatre is the art of teamwork,” says Martin. “In the end, directors and actors always influence the writing – they interpret the writing.”
In addition to attending a performance of a play by Martin, co-written by Pierre Lefebvre, Extra moyen, splendeur et misère de la classe moyenne, the students had the opportunity to “dive into the concrete universe of fabrication” at a rehearsal. “Now that was fun,” he says.
The writer-in-residence decided to base his course on “the avatars of dialogue” by presenting different techniques for building drama, looking at both classical and contemporary artists – Tremblay, Chekhov, Racine, Aristophanes and Êvelyne de la Chenelière, who even made a personal appearance. The students were encouraged to write short plays and a pastiche of a well-known playwright. “I said, ‘Go get lost downtown and spy on people, listen to conversations, find an idea for a sketch and write it, but à la manière de”..’”
“We’re all in our tunnels going from point A to point B, but playwrights and authors (I checked this with my writer friends), they’re on a bus, then all of a sudden they open their ears and there are people there, people who really exist,” says Martin. “I think that’s the fundamental posture of the playwright.”
In addition to Êvelyne de la Chenelière, Marie-Êve Trudel, Jacques L’Heureux and Emmanuelle Jimenez were invited to come into class. “The students heard their texts read by professionals, and that was a concrete experience of incarnation.” Similarly, they read and participated in texts written by their classmates. “It was an experience in ‘orality,’ in the theatre,” he says. “We write for the lungs, not for the eyes, for readers.”
Alexis Martin is passing the torch to novelist Perrine Leblanc, who will give a workshop on narrative writing this winter.
Get more information on the Mordecai Richler Writer-in-Residence Program