Art is such an important part of today’s busy world – I personally think it keeps our human souls closer to the tangible aspects of life in this crazy machine-run world. For the Montreal art scene, Anik Matern is an important part of keeping Anglophone theatre alive and thriving. Through her company Dynamic Theater Factory, talented actors (young and old) have the chance of succeeding personally and professionally in all of Canada and the US. I was lucky enough to interview her a few weeks before this year’s big performance and she told me a bit about herself, DTF and their current production “Temptations”. Anyone who has interest in quality theatre (even those who are normally a bit tentative about sitting through a live production) should check this show out.
Here’s a little bit about Ms. Matern and DTF:
It all started off when she was living in Leon, France in the early 90’s (92-94). Matern was supporting herself as an actor and teacher while following her passion to direct original productions. As a teacher she had plenty of access to young aspiring actors eager to perform; the whole process quickly established itself as a huge success. The seed was planted in France and when she returned to Montreal, she founded a great opportunity for the Anglophone acting community. She concedes there is a certain challenge to being an Anglophone in Montreal; trying to fit in, find a voice and identity when surrounded by such rich French culture. DTF was to be a small but strong island that provided identity and voice for actors and a big dream for Matern.
In 1998 she opened the Dynamic Theatre Factory and has never looked back. The budget is not overly large but the talent is the best of the best. The productions themselves make the best efforts not to suffer from lack of funds but things can be pretty tight, especially the advertising department has unsatisfied needs. The DTF is a charity organization: Matern works for her passion rather then money and has a deep commitment to support actors and their art. The main mandate is to present excellence in training, the opportunity to meet industry people and combine a love of acting with everyday living (many of her students have day jobs or daytime school). Actors start training in the fall by attending a session once a week and continue until spring. There are 85 members who range from the very young to adult. February marks the ‘final exam’, when there is the audition (in front of a panelist of reputable casting agents and agents) to select the best students to perform in the June production. The competition is stiff but even those who are not chosen often end up auditioning for other projects or DTF. Actors like Emily Van Camp are part of the success story. Van Camp joined DTF after her sister did and spent a year and a half performing with the school before being cast in CTV’s and Fox’s show Everwood. Amanda Tilson is another DTF student to find success with DTF, after leading roles in the movies Aftermath and Deadly Betrayal she found American representation. A local agent Susan Glenn decided right away to represent one of DTF’s fresh faces, which resulted in a commercials and one television.
One of the ideas behind DTF is to allow people to train slowly, almost dabbling, in acting instead of the rushed, intensive workshop format. Matern wants to offer an alternative to the traditional National Theatre School format. She allegorized training once a week in acting like going once a week to the gym to keep the system primed for action. The focus of preparation is for all aspects of theatre, film and television and DTF regularly has special guest artist workshops with their own specialties in training. Workshops have varied from stunt fighting to a professional singer explaining the complexities of speaking and singing for the stage. Nadia Rona and Vera Miller from Elite Casting gave a workshop last year to inform young and aspiring actors about the responsibilities of the casting agent and what really goes on. Gilles Plouffe has an amazing workshop going on right now for the next 8 weeks (including fourteen extra-crazy days in June) that focuses on camera work. It’s about all those details that are so important to keep acting natural once the camera’s on! Learning to work with instinct and impulse but also learning how to cheat(!) will be covered. Matern explained to me that one must develop as sense of vulnerability, the ‘public privacy’ to work the camera but only if it can be combined with quick thinking about angles, continuity and presentation.
The energy and enthusiasm generated by close to ninety people is what keeps DTF going forward with new hopes and dreams. She feels passionate about teaching people their responsibilities as actors and their rights. Actors are not servants to the industry and they need to learn which mistakes are the worst to make (before they make them!). Working with determined people, some who come back to DTF year after year, to improve their skills is a satisfying (if demanding) part of Matern’s life. Actors are a special sensitive breed who need the support available at DTF and learning to deal with rejection has to be the biggest challenge for any human being!
As mentioned before, there is an amazing new show coming in June which is the culminating event for DTF’s season. Developed by Matern, Claire Jacques (the assistant Artistic Director) and the cast of 15 actors the production is 90 minutes of fast paced entertainment. The annual production is based around a theme, this year its temptations and expect the unexpected because the company loves to keep the audience surprised. The typical is crossbred with the eccentric in order to provoke the audience in their thoughts, feelings and visual expectations. Matern and company devote eight weeks to create a ninety minute production – to script, polish, edit (with brutal last minute cuts always possible) and perform. Always working on several plains at once, Matern uses the experience to teach the actors that this is a microcosm of what they will need to survive as career actors. Some may have an idea that this is a quick step start to the big times and they quickly learn how difficult and demanding acting can be. The true test often comes when companies stop working with published plays – instead of passively following every word of the director, the players at DTF are encouraged to offer ideas and character development. Actors learn to invest themselves in the work, to be leaders instead of followers when they work along with other professionals by giving their best to their art. Matern confides that actors must be ready to take and make their place no matter how insecure and afraid they might privately feel.
Matern, Jacques and the cast are excited to offer a show that is hilariously funny at times and serious drama at other times. There is a wonderful rhythm piece developed by Jacques about the temptation of eating chips – it’s a very quirky, very precise offering. There is a short spoof about a modern Adam and Eve which involves a waiter as the archangel Rafael and God with a Quebec accent. On the other side there is a biographical piece about a cross dresser and even darker issues so common to our human world. Interesting enough, some of these vignettes have little to no verbal aspect. Instead, Matern and Jacques often combine strong elements of dance and movement into the production in order to with the body speak the unspeakable. While they want to push the envelope they never want to make anyone uncomfortable. Influence from the French dance troop Carbon Fourteen has helped Matern develop original styles of theatre and presentation. From raw inspiration the director and actors work with amazing energy (around schedules that include work and school and daily life) to complete their final offering at their normal high standards.
Look forward to wonderful music, choreography, dancing, singing and acting of course! Some stories are fiction based on truth, some are influenced by this crazy modern world and some are meant to make you dream bigger dreams. It’s a show as satisfying to watch as it is to perform.
Tickets are available ahead of time and at the door. Get in touch with the Box Office by calling (514) 288-3161, they are available for pick up at the Centaur Theatre (453 St-François-Xavier). Tickets are 18$ for adults, 16$ for students, DTF and QDF members; 15$ for groups of 10 or more. There’s a 2$ service charge added by the theatre to these tickets. It should be noted that Friday evening is pre-sold only, tickets are 50$ with a 30$ tax refund receipt. This is the night when the industry invited and a post show party is to be held afterwards. The show is held at 8:30 pm nightly.
For further information, please check out the website: www.dtfactory.com